True Stories from the Sea
Young family chance their luck, visit forbidden island and find themselves fighting for their lives. A true story written in 1983 aboard Banyandah in Indian Ocean.
Madagascar! Jude loved the sound and wanted it to roll off her tongue as easily as it had off the stranger’s and she repeated, “Madagascar.” The sound igniting visions of green mountains and primitive people.
Failure is a word that can strike despair in many young minds. And yet, now that I am older I’m proud to admit that I’ve failed several times. My first failure was a boat I built which simply would not float. It was suppose to be fast, so I thought it had to be sleek and narrow. But, while sketching its design, I realized I’d never built anything. Never used fiberglass, never made a mold nor knew anything about sailing. But building that boat changed my life forever.
As a young boy I remember traipsing back from the beach late one day and passing these two large open doors where a great hubbub was erupting from the room’s smoke filled interior. Peeking in, men were shouting, and a fellow at the front was waving a wooden hammer as if stirring a hornets nest. For awhile I watched amused, and then became transfixed by a rough timber box banged down upon the auctioneer’s desk.
“What will you bid for this mystery box,” the auctioneer called to the crowd who laughed while a few elbowed their mates.
“You’re on your way where? To Easter Island! Wow, that’ll be great!” My friend’s voice, sounding awed and impressed, came clearly over the Ham radio in Banyandah’s aft cabin. “But isn’t this the wrong time of year?” Skepticism had crept into his voice. “You do know it’s winter down there.”
Of course I knew – hadn’t I sat for hours with those dog-eared weather charts before me? Hadn’t I tracked over and over July’s wind patterns for the deep South Pacific. My friend had voiced his worry over storms, but it wasn’t storms that were shown in the ocean before Easter Island, it was frustrating calms and contrary winds from around the clock.
By the time the Roaring Forties pass under Australia, they have gathered energy from halfway around Earth and are either driving the sea wild or are ready to pounce when next provoked by a depression from Antarctica.
Now imagine two aging flower powers, are their petals shriveling, yet with bright strong hearts, aboard a homemade sailboat crossing this most feared stretch of water. Alone, they must look after themselves and God forbid either be injured or suffer a body malfunction.
Back in 1979, the world had no satellites guiding our every movement day and night. Instead, all ships used the heavens to navigate, and our maps, what we called charts, we’re inaccurate – some made by aerial surveillance during WWII with soundings dating back to the earliest explorers.
1979 Amateur Radio expedition and disaster
From the log of the Banyandah -South China Sea, March 31, 1979
Groggy, coming out a deep sleep, I thought she was dreaming, and was about to comfort her back to sleep, when I felt her crawl over me. That got me wide awake. I sleep next to the companionway.
Rising in the dim light, I heard Jude shout that someone had been on our boat and had just gotten off. So without a thought, I was away like a shot, over the rail, onto the dock and off towards the empty parking lot. In the dim single lamp, a large figure was walking off with something in his arms. I ran after, shouting, “Put that stuff down! Walk away and nothing more will happen!”
Reaching the figure, he was bigger than me, shirtless and carrying our two green shopping bags in one hand, and in the other, swishing round n’round something like a long Kungfu stick, which I carefully kept out of its range.
When we were guests of the Fremantle Sailing Club, I awoke feeling a bit old this particular morning. Too much booze or one too many stories the night before had me feeling every one of my sixty-four years and I was crawling rather lethargically round the cabin when I heard a rap on our railing. Coming up my eyes clasped onto a man my age inspecting my boat.
“Bonny wee sailing ship you have laddie,” were his first words, and I smiled. I love people who like my boat. And replied, “She’s stout and looks after you in a storm and that’s what matters, plus she’s a treat to live aboard.”
“Aye, I can see that”, this fellow went on, his bushy eyebrows going up and down as he ran his eye over our craft.
“You’re a Scots, I can tell. My wife’s a Geordie.” And with that disclosure, he ambled closer.
“Aye, a bonny lad from the old country.” He said when we were eyeball to eyeball.
“Been back lately?” I asked, thinking of our own trip home to England in 1999.
“Aye, went back in 2005.”
“Did nay fly, I sailed.”
“You sailed back to Scotland!” I exclaimed suddenly reassess this man. I had been more concerned with my own problems that morning as we’d been meeting so many full of dreams and claims.
Aboard Banyandah, off North West Cape WA
We nearly always troll a fishing lure when sailing during daylight hours. In the past, we also dragged them during the night, but too many lures got taken by Noahs even after we devised a simple alarm consisting of an empty tin that fell to the deck whenever we had a strike. Whether then or now our setup has always been a simple handline. Attach the lure by a few metres of wire trace to a swivel then 50m of 100kg tested monofilament that’s attached by another swivel to nearly 100m of small-diameter braided sash cord that makes the initial haul-in a little easier on our hands. The boat end is attached to a strong Ocky strap held in a bight of line that only lets the strap stretch to its maximum length without breaking, and seeing how far it stretches is something like watching it weigh the fish. A normal-sized fish usually just takes the catenary out the line, but on this bright Sunday morn motoring over some of the world’s best fishing ground it was like a guitar string. We had just hooked a monster.