How dangerous is long distance ocean crossing cruising? Each year, how many boats get into trouble and are lost?
A few months ago a French yacht that we know named Isis was sunk when she dragged anchor onto a reef at Chagos during a squall. We first met Isis in 2007 in the Marquesas, and got to know Karol and Pascal better during the refit season in New Zealand where we shared a dock. Here Karol sits on the rail of Isis waiting for a salvage attempt.
photo by David of Jipcho
When Isis hit the reef, we were hundreds of miles south, crossing the Indian Ocean on the windy south route. We heard about the loss on the radio net and started thinking about the risks and dangers of sailing. We tried to estimate the ratio of disaster to success. In a season, in an area, how many yachts come to grief versus the number successfully cruising? What are the statistics? We know of no one that keeps track of such things.
Last season, in the Pacific, Ginger relayed radio contacts for Nereida, a Najad 36 on a singlehanded trip around the world. June 19 of this year while the skipper slept, Nerieda went up on a beach in Mexico just a few miles short of completing the circumnavigation. Jean was ok, but the boat was a total loss. (www.svnereida.com)
Recently, on Nov 21, an Amel named Sambaluka was lost on Chesterfield Reef. Well, OK, the skipper claimed the reef was uncharted on his electronic system, but the captain of the cruise ship that picked the crew up was not confused about where they were. We speculate that Sambaluka may have been using electronic charts perhaps without checking the route at the correct zoom. We've found that many electronic chart systems omit reefs and atolls at large scale zooms.
Another electronic chart assisted loss was the Finnish yacht Marika in October of last year, who's chart plotter went dark on a night approach to Suva, Fiji. Tapio and Irmalie (who we met in Tonga) spent the rest of the night in the dinghy as Marika was ground up on the reef. The next morning, Fijiian authorities arrived not to help, but to take Tapio and Irmalie ashore to meet customs, police, and immigration! By the time salvage attempts were made the boat was flooded, and the fin keel was left on the reef. This reinforces our belief that rescue and salvage services are not to be expected in much of the cruising area.
The disaster we were closest to was the sinking of Just Dessert, an American yacht we met at Suwarrow. After we arrived in Pago Pago, Just Dessert departed Pago harbor for Apia, Independent Samoa.. A couple of days later, we were shocked to hear the skipper call a mayday on VHF, a short range radio. They were taking on water at sea just a few miles from Pago. Even though Pago has a US Coast Guard presence, they do not do rescues at all. A small tanker diverted to stand by, and a police RIB picked up the couple. As it turned out, this sinking was suspicious and may have been fraud.
Timella was a New Zealand yacht that came to grief on another Fijian reef on October of this year. The people on board were rescued by the slimmest of margins, an American yacht that heard the mayday call arrived at the scene but could see nothing. With great good luck this rescue yacht finally spotted the Kiwis in the water. Timella was sunk and had punctured the inflatable as it went down.
Asolare went on Moore Reef on August 3. She was an English yacht and part of the ARC rally, a group of yachts in an organized circumnavigation.
Romance was lost on a reef on the north coast of Australia on February 12, 2008.
All of those yachts were a total loss, but the people were OK. For some, cruising is over, but some owners will continue with new boats. We would assume those boats were covered by insurance and the loss paid off, but we understand that in the case of Asolare that insurance did not pay because not enough crew were not on board at the time of loss. The skipper has ordered a new boat, though, showing us something we already knew. Some owners are in vastly different financial shape than us!
The true stuff of nightmare is unexplained loss at sea. Takaroa II departed Hawaii with a young couple aboard on September 12 of 2007 bound for Vancouver BC. By mid October of 2007 the maritime nets broadcast calls asking mariners to be on the lookout for her. The boat never arrived, and nothing is known to this day – storm, structural failure, fire, run down by freighter? All that is certain is that a pair of nice people are gone forever.
We realize that to compile statistics it would be necessary to know much more than we do. For example, how many successful passages have been made in these seasons? Have we heard about all the losses? We'll never know, so we take comfort in the fact that it seems that loss of life is rare. Another conclusion – nothing new here - land is the enemy! Reefs, beaches, and surf claimed the majority of the boats that were lost. So we triple check the navigation, use the paper charts and check the zoom, and keep a sharp lookout.
(Here are a couple of articles written by our friend Karen, who we met at Savu Savu, Fiji.
(Another reef encounter:
Our blogger is broken and the function that would allow us to add all the articles as hyper links is not working.
Labels: 2008 - 11 through 2009 - 04 Africa