Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Stove By A Whale

Yesterday just before dinner we received a mayday call.

The boat was a catamaran, with three people on board.

They had been struck by a whale and were taking on water faster than they could pump out.

We put their coordinates in the GPS and found they were 54 miles from us - we assume that we could hear them on the VHF only because of repeaters that must be on the islands here.

We responded, and confirmed their location.  The man who had called mayday was very calm, was showing grace under the greatest of pressure.  He said he wasn't sure how long they would stay afloat.  'The water's only in one hull', he said.  'But if it comes over the top into the other hull...'

Later Alisa and I agreed that we were both surprised to be the only boat responding to a mayday call, given the density of yachts in the Marquesas.

The boat calling mayday had said that they were 18 miles south of Ua Pou.  I tried raising 'any boat anchored at Ua Pou' but got no response, so I came back up with the mayday boat and told them we'd organize a boat to come out from Taiohae, where we are.

Now it's obvious that it was a poor idea, but my first thought was that a yacht would have to go out for the rescue.  The gendarmes here have only a little powerboat, and all the yachts here are of course competent on the open ocean.  But it would have taken us a couple hours to get Galactic to sea.  Alisa and I talked over the different possibilities.  Elias interrupted to ask us if the whale was going to be OK.

I dinghied over to an Australian singlehander who I knew was ready to set off for the Cooks, and he was quite happy to put to sea with me on board.  But then, luckily, he had the bright idea that the gendarmes could organize a better rescue than a single yacht heading off by itself.  So, long story short, I ran up to the gendarmerie, and the gendarmes were soon talking to their counterparts in Ua Pou, and the rescue coordination center in Tahiti.

Alisa meanwhile had one more broken exchange with the mayday boat, who gave an updated set of coordinates and reported that they were sinking at that very moment.

After we got the boys to bed, Alisa and I played cards in the cockpit and listened to the military plane that was circling over the liferaft and talking to the sailors on the VHF.  They reported that a ship was en route to pick them up, and that, except for a refuel in Nuku Hiva they would stay overhead until the sailors were safe....

This morning the gendarmes tell me that the three sailors are all fine, and have been picked up by one of the island supply ships, the Taporo IX.  They're due here in Taiohae in half an hour.

(I won't put the name of the boat online just to make sure the story doesn't spread before the sailors involved can notify their people back home...)


  1. Thanks for saving my brother-in-law and our friends! Jim in Cologne

  2. Thanks a lot for helping our friends in this dangerous and very uncomfortable situation. With Elias I hope the whale is OK, and I hope the little deep sea creatures will learn to enjoy the cabines as safe places. All my best wishes for you, take care - Eva from Hamburg

  3. Thanks a lot for your help. I am happy you to know, that my brother and two good old friends came out save of this situation.
    All the best for you and your family

  4. Now after you have met the three and they are back home, I would like to thank you for your help. Our daughter and I are very happy that this all ended so well.
    The best wishes for you and your family on your way - Lina and Bettina from Berlin