B-log ~ April 2023

Sailing to exotic locations is not all sunshine and rainbows

Imagine you’re at an isolated anchorage and a crew member collapses in excruciating pain like Jack did years ago when his appendix burst open a day and a half away from help. What do you do? Push the magic button and pray the helicopter can reach your location? Or tough it out and hope the pain will pass?

Jack after surgery for burst appendix

Age is a factor ~

When the body is young and working seamlessly, odds are you won’t suffer a life threating breakdown with help beyond reach. However, we senior citizens have the problem of aging organs, compromised immune systems and histories of physical abuse caused by any number of reasons.

Now, in just a few days, Jude celebrates another birthday, and knowing it’s impolite to divulge a lady’s age, I’ll just say her first digit is a 7 and on the 15th of April, her second digit will be greater than the first. Jude’s always been a trouper. Climbs any mountain, survives any sea, works non-stop for days without rest. She survived cancer, at a cost. Chemo, radiation, and childbirths all weakened her bones. Some will remember Judith falling at the top of the King George Falls, breaking her knee. What a drama. No help for hundreds of miles. It took us five weeks to reach emergency at Karratha. For two of those weeks, Judith sat in pain, letting the swelling subside so she could withstand the voyage. 

Atop the King George River Falls

Jude fell off a rock ledge atop the King George River Falls

Unfortunate ~

It’s unfortunate that our present location has no hospital nor any 24/7 medical help – except emergency ambulance to a 2nd tier hospital an hour away, or three hours further on to a well-equipped one on Tasmania’s north coast.

That’s never bothered us during our years tramping through luscious virgin rainforest or paddling up rivers amongst forested mountains because for most of our lives we’ve been days, if not weeks, from help. Who frets when life offers exceptional experiences worth taking the risk? 

But, then came the most excruciating pain imaginable that had tears pouring down Judith’s face as she wreathed in agony on the sole of our ship. Helpless, I could only watch, unable to ease her agony, neither of us knowing what the problem was. Only knowing we were on a boat floating in a black night with no course of action. Heavy-duty pain killers and a drinking jug filled with very hot water on the painful spot got both of us in bed for a fitful night’s rest.

At dawn, the pain persists, so I did something for the first time and rang 000, emergency. The best course of action, because they took control, taking our details, identified our location, and dispatched an ambulance. Thankfully, we live in Australia.

Unsure how to get Judith off the ship and into the dinghy, I put a lifejacket on her, packed an overnight bag and slowly got her on deck, and then gasping in pain, she got over the railing into the tinny. A local friend arrived onshore to help.

Well, thirty minutes later, the ambo arrived, and the paramedic took one look at Jude’s rose coloured urine sample and declared, “Kidney stone.” So, it is off up the twisty road to Queenstown.

Jude back from her ordeal in hospital - prognosis inconclusive

Keeping this short, there’s no imaging equipment at Queenstown. So, while everyone was super nice and helpful, when pain savagely attacked Judith that afternoon, they loaded her aboard an ambulance for the three-hour run to Burnie Hospital. No room for me. I hitched a ride back to our boat.

My, oh my, what a night! When the threads of life unwind, they open a void to the dark unknown where I imagined being without my lifelong mate. Even copious amounts of liquid amber did not brighten the outlook.

Ahh, but the morning brought good news. Jude’s a survivor and felt better. After being prodded and examined until 11 PM, her CT scan showed no stones, nor did her urine have blood in it. So they discharged her.

Long story made short, the punch line is; A few days later, another doctor looked at her test results and told us they were inconclusive. That Jude’s problem could be any number of health issues; kidney stones, gallbladder stones, or something more sinister in her chest. His advice: get Jude somewhere with better facilities, while you can. Guess what? We booked flights back to the Northern Rivers—back to our shack torn to pieces, amidst a rebuild after flood damage. Life is never dull around us—and that’s good. Especially so because, at the moment, Judith is pain free. Best be safe. And, it will be fabulous to see the grandkids.

Next time down here on Banyandah, we’ll sail to an exotic hideaway to explore more of Earth’s mysteries. But right now, let’s fix up Judith and our house…

Busy time in Tasmania

We’ve had a busy time in Tasmania. Instead of sailing the wild blue yonder that we love, we tucked oursleves into a quiet corner to work on our next book – We must have been crazy. It will be the final of a trilogy spanning our lives together. How we met and our year long honeymoon through Africa just after its independence.
But what follows is something totally different that happened after we left Sir John Falls, travelling down the mighty Gordon River, hemmed in on both sides by giant trees, some a century old.

The Boss passionately embraces a drifter –

A sailor’s nightmare rained down on us in the misty morn after fulfilling our need to reconnoitre Eagle Creek, finding a lost feature, while not picking up too many leeches. Feeling chuffed with this accomplishment, like children happily at play, we readied our ship for the sail back up harbour to Strahan. Ten thousand times we have followed a set routine as if mechanics reaching for tools to change engine oil. And all went to plan. Batteries connected, engine started, oil stable, engine cooling water discharging overside. With a nod from the bow, I pointed along the lay of our anchor chain and motioned slow ahead then activated the winch, hearing its usual repetitive clunking of chain down the hawser. Jude, the pro at the helm, knew exactly the revs needed in the calm conditions, and by looking to shore, gauged exactly when to neutral the drive.
Excitement building, our minds already sailing the feisty breeze we expected that day, I’m sure our souls were in heaven when our chain came to a jolting stop, the winch squealing in torture.

S–T! We’d snagged something mysterious. The Gordon River black water not offering a single clue to what lay ten metres below.

Memories rushed through my mind as I ordered astern and let the chain stream back into the inky blackness. Past snags in various locations swirled my thoughts, including the rocky bottom of the Recherche Archipelago. To avoid a similar situation, I had Jude ease forward hard to port and quickly attached the nylon springer, hoping we’d break free.

When the bitter end came, Banyandah’s nose plunged deep into the calm water with our hopes plunging with her. Locked to an unseen obstacle, the Boss, an awkward monster with three protruding strong points, seemed to have latched onto an undersea shelf.

We attempted various approaches to free the Boss but each time the ship abruptly nosedived so savagely, we cringed fearing something would rip away. We tried short scope forward, astern, and a total opposite approach, but to no avail.

Astern seemed easiest on our lady, so we tried a novel approach, turning rudder hard to port and giving her some revs, hoping to unwind the Boss from what now we envisaged an underwater pinnacle of rock similar to the one near the river’s northern shore. This caused the ship to slowly pivot around, still chained to the bottom. But despite our efforts, the Boss remained stuck.

Frustrated and fuelled by adrenaline, taking the helm I gave the ship a powerful surge that savagely dipped her bow, scaring me imagining her bow might rip off.

Jude at the bow leaped back shaking her head with worried look, her eyes telling me it was her ship as much as mine, and yelling, “Easy, Jack. Let’s not damage the boat or break the chain.”

For two hours, we attempted every angle, leaving black track lines blotting the plotter that resembled an intense image of a Rorschach inkblot with uranium electrons surrounding an immovable nucleus.

Our chart plotter contains anchoring waypoints all around Australia, more than thirteen hundred, each a proven anchorage. Over the past five years in Macquarie Harbour, we have established favourite anchorages, consistently dropping our hook in the same spot for the stunning views, exceptional protection, and known safety. On the west arm of Eagle Creek, we have two such anchorages, and another located just around the corner along Lime Kiln Reach.

On this occasion, we had put the Boss smack on the farthest one along the west arm, and had dug it in towards the corner, expecting an afternoon onshore breeze. After our journey ashore, conditions mellowed to calm and we hung with the outgoing current, but occasionally got caught in a whirling counter current running close along the shore.

Between clunks and jerks, we pictured our steel monster grinding and twisting in an underwater cave with us thinking about what we should do–we needed a diver. But, without a satellite phone, and being the only vessel in the river, we felt powerless. And so I prayed aloud for a luxurious yacht to pass by and rescue us from our challenging situation.

Half an hour later came a sudden stroke of luck. With the sound of machinery, Jude is calling below, “Dreams come true, Jack!”

Rushing from the cabin, a stunning vessel is gliding past. Ecstatic, I jumped up and down, waving my arms and shouting, hoping to catch their attention. Aboard the passing vessel, the crew returned the waves, but continued to power upriver. Determined to get their attention, I rushed towards the bow, jumping and shouting at the top of my lungs still waving my arms frantically above my head.

Our anxiety turned to immense relief when the passing vessel finally slowed just before the corner, and even more so when it turned back towards us. On VHF 16, we hailed the elegant Silver Fern, a sleek craft of approximately 72 feet, “We’re stuck,” I explained. “We need a diver or an air bottle and wetsuit.”

“Negative to that.” blasted out the speaker.

“How about a sat phone?”

“Roger. We can help with that.”

As she drew near, Jude and I launched Little Red, and taking our phone, I rowed across to the impressive vessel with its state-of-the-art equipment. Climbing on board, I’m greeted by a few husky young men before meeting skipper David and his companion. In the background, a man filmed the entire encounter on his GoPro.

Using David’s satellite phone, we contacted our good friend Trevor Norton, former skipper of Stormbreaker, and explained our predicament and the help we required. Trevor promised to text David’s satellite phone with a solution by the following night. In just a matter of minutes, our problem was resolved. Or was it?

The next morning, we could clearly see the consequences of being caught between two currents. Our anchor chain had twisted, with links tightly knotted against each other. Hmm, that wouldn’t do. So, after breakfast, we fired up our vintage engine and moved forward with full rudder in an attempt to unravel the chain, and if lucky, set our anchor free.

Unfortunately, a ship on short scope responds poorly to its rudder so it took 20 to 30 minutes to complete a full revolution. To speed up the process I let out more scope nervously worrying it would catch on another rock. After straightening the chain, we started tugging it astern towards the shore. The direction least tried. However, an hour of this brought no result, and further dispirited, we went below for a pick-me-up lunch.

Late that Sunday, Silver Fern glides around the corner. Her news, “Stormbreaker will be up on Friday.” Nothing more, so we could not help wondering if they planned to dive on our anchor.

Friday seemed an eternity away, and our already low mood sank lower every time we heard the grinding of our chain that sparked images of a mangled anchor breaking free in the darkness of the night.

The weather closed in that night. Deep in those valleys draped in green forests, the icy mist sinks to the river, dropping the chill factor below zero in the breeze. In early light, still stuck to a rumbling bottom, we had to rug up with mittens, beanies, and wool underwear before trying again to unwind our chain. Therefore, Monday’s attempt died short lived. Better to fire up the diesel heater, drink hot cocoa, and make notes on our next publication.

All that night, the chain grumbled with occasional jerks, allowing us no rest from our tangled thoughts on what to do. Over and over again, mentally planning the operation of cutting the chain and buoying it, so we could return to Strahan and organise the anchor’s recovery ourselves. Fearing the loss of our treasured Manson Boss, the best anchor we’ve ever had, would mean going back to our CQR that was not reliable in weed.

Finally, after a long restless sleep, Tuesday dawned super quiet. Cotton wool clouds behind the surrounding peaks in a sky the colour of a coral lagoon inspired us to go straight to work unravelling our chain to salvage as much of it as we could before buoying the Boss. Round and round we went, astern this time; me holding the wheel hard over, Jude at the bow, both of us mostly gazing at the exquisite scenery. Later, Jude would say she heard a different clunk, but not me next to the engine. But, noting her look over the bow, checking our plotter, our track is tracing a line outside the ink blotch, and looking astern, we’re nearly backed into the fringing trees.

Out of gear, I ran forward and hit the anchor switch to draw in the chain that now lay angled away. A metre ran in, then it jammed on twisted chain. Without thinking, I bent my back to the task, using my legs to do hernia making work, not wanting another of those.

But hey, managing a vessel is not always an armchair occupation. On infrequent occasions, brute strength is required that has torn my muscles and damaged tendons. In our decades afloat, besides the usual injuries of managing a vessel tossed about by angry seas, I’ve suffered two inguinal hernias and torn two rotor cuffs. Therefore, I try not to do more damage. Easily said, but hard to remember in demanding moments.

As the chain got easier to pull up, my heart is cheering with every pull. Then, Jude yelled, “Look at this!” Mid-stroke, I stop to wrap the chain around the gypsy before a look over the side shocks me. A monster tree limb, its big end, the diameter of a plate, had our chain wrapped several times midway along its immense length.

In the quiet conditions, we had time to discuss how to untangle chain from tree, opting to use a halyard. So, slipping a noose around the broken end, we hauled it up manoeuvring the beast so we could force off the links holding us to it. Once free, and the tree now on the deck, I hauled more chain until Jude is yelping again. Dangling just above the water, our beaut Boss is coming home not even scratched. Yahoo! Our joy echoed around the hills as we danced round n round the foredeck.

In less than a minute, forward gear got us moving downstream, both of us wearing unbelievably broad smiles.

As I’ve often said, “If you persevere and hold on to your own ideas and ideals, you will succeed.”