Trip Reports

Terror in Tahiti, Part 2 (15-May-2001-22-00):
The Captain has been aground many times before, in San Francisco Bay, the place about which it is said, if you can sail there, you can sail anywhere. Running aground there goes something like this:

"Oh, dear, I'm afraid we might have run aground."

"My, that's a bother."

"It is a bit of that."

"It's especially troubling, since we made arrangements with Pat and Ted to have dinner at the club. I certainly hope this won't make us change our plans. That would really be quite a nuisance, but if you think it's necessary, I'll ring them on the cell phone."

"Never worry, pet, I'll just start the motor and back off the mud. We'll not be a minute late."

The feelings aboard Maverick that night were somewhat more intense. Though there was no appreciable surge in the anchorage, the wind had developed quite a chop which pounded Maverick's keel horribly, meaning in a manner which in the hearer produces actual horror, on the hard coral. The Captain determined quickly by the feel of the wheel that the rudder was also involved. It was not immediately apparent what caused us to be on the coral. Had we dragged or swung into it? There had been a wind shift of 180 degrees, and if in fact the anchor wasn't holding this would make the situation significantly more difficult.

Poor Theresa, who had looked forward to sunny skies and calm walks on the beautiful islands of Tahiti and Moorea, was now, in the absence of Mr. Shrode, pressed into service in a frightening gale in the middle of the night in the desperate effort to save Maverick. She had no experience driving the boat under power and was taking direction from a rather distraught skipper. Yet she was as brave and steadfast as ever an old sea dog could have been in such circumstances.

The Captain fired up the engine, always left ready to start, and put the boat into gear. Telling Theresa to hold the wheel and try to drive us forward, he rushed to the bow to see if anything could be accomplished by use of the windlass, which is of course not designed to pull a boat off a reef. He was able to gain some inches and that was all; but this and the taughtness of the chain showed that the anchor was holding. What had evidently happened was that the boat had swung on its anchor, whereupon the increased wind had done a good job of stretching out the rode nearly to its limit, and over the reef. Running back to the dodger he told Theresa to increase the power, and then went forward to try to pull some more chain up.

A couple of times through this process seemed to be earning us some limited progress, but there were terrible grinding sounds, and stresses on the rudder, which could not but put dread into the skipper's heart. And in another minute or so a new sound was heard which made his blood freeze in his veins: the prop had found the reef. This seemed almost impossible, but meant one of two things: either there was a coral head between the keel and the rudder tall enough to interfere with the prop, or Maverick was up against a shelf which ran alongside the keel. It was hard to say which was worse, and although the skipper knew that a calm assessment of the situation was called for, the number of calm persons whose analysis could be conveniently brought to bear was negligible. What was clear was that, if the prop was damaged to the point that it could not move the boat, and the windlass by itself hadn't the power to get us off, Maverick would most likely suffer fatal damage before other measures such as launching the dinghy and running out a kedge-a very tough process in those conditions--could be effective.

It was at this point that the Captain had the nautical equivalent of his entire life flashing before his eyes. The whole adventure may well come to a halt right here and now, and he and Terry Shrode would just be two more hapless dudes who thought they could sail to the South Pacific. Not to mention the inconceivably awful, and unlikely but nonetheless real possibility in the skipper's mind that there could be some injury, or worse, to the precious Theresa, who does not swim. In the next few minutes we would find out whether what was going on right now would become a life changing experience or merely a really bad bummer.

We continued attempting to gain ground with the windlass, afraid to try the prop. This seemed to have some little effect and we gained a few more inches. The Captain took a deep breath, and put the engine in gear. There was more awful buzzing as the prop hit the reef, but before he could throttle down to limit the damage, the noise stopped, and we were off the reef. Maverick was free!

Next report from this location: Terror In Tahiti, Part 3

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