Blog 4 - Knockdown

Roraova, on the atol of Fakarava.

Yesterday we moored up under sail at the capital of this island. We check out the city and walked all the way up to the old lighthouse to clear our heads on the beach and for the first time in two weeks we ate something not prepared out of a can. In search for a nice restaurant an old van stops next to us. A beautiful lady with two young kids greets us and asks us where we want to go. We are looking for good food, which she knows where to find! A little bit uncomfortably we cram ourselves next to her, the kids and in the trunk and she drives us the remaining 200 meters to a food truck. We can only take away the food so we walk back to the dingy in the rain and arrive back on the boat soaking wet but mouthwatering with hot steaks, burgers, fries and brochette. Delicious !!

The mission for today: Fill up our dive bottles and find fresh water. The south pass of Fakarava is home to 700 grey reef sharks, here we lost our last fear of them during two days of diving and free diving amongst these amazing creatures. Remco races in the dinghy past a couple of dive schools, who unfortunately are not able to fill up our bottles. In the mean time i prepare the boat to get water. We moor up in the small fishing harbour which is 200 metes down the road from the community house where we found a fresh water tap. It is a funny sight to see the lady like this again, i don’t think i’ve touched a fender since we left Panama. While Remco is looking for dive schools in vain, me and Jen walk up and down with 5 litre jugs to fill up the Lady. Although the Lady can stow away 450 litres of water we get stopped way before that by local police. Because of scarcity we can only take 45 litres per person. Understandable, but the problem is we probably won’t have another possibility before we reach Tahiti in 3 weeks. “Pas de problem, Monsieur!” We always make it work, hopefully it rains soon. So we cast off the lines and hoist the sails towards the north pass to leave Fakarava, destination: Toao.

The pass itself is easy, we hobble along on the outgoing current and the waves are not that high. High enough though to entertain the dolphins who play around in the current. There is not much wind, pffff i choose a light storm or exciting sail above the clapping and smacking of sails anytime. Despite the light, mind torturing conditions, we arrive in Toao at our planned time at 4 in the afternoon.

We should be close to slack water, but looking in the distance we still see standing waves inside the pass. We furl in the sails and take a closer look. It still looks nasty so we decide to wait for half an hour but it still looks pretty much the same. We calculated the tide correctly…. There much be something else going on here…. Because we already managed to curb some nasty looking passes before, we decide to thread the needle and point the bow towards the entrance.

There is a number of people i have to promise to be safe every time when i contact the home front. Is that promise going overboard right now ?

I aim for the spot in between the fastest current and the reef, but it is hard to see with the sun in front of us. The waves are massive and we quickly get the camera’s to get this on tape. Then the moment of doom is there, on the narrowest part of the pass i loose control of the rudder and the lady gets sucked into the white water. What the hell are we doing here? The throttle is pushed down all the way, but i don’t make any progress when a huge waves lifts us up and trows us sideways. I already know the situation is lost and shout to my crew to hold on tight as a second breaking wave towers high above us on port side and rushes down in violence. Textbook knock down….

I cling to the steering wheel and only see white trough my clinching eyes. It feels like a minute, but it can’t have been more than a few seconds before i can overview the situation. What i did exactly i can’t remember, but i must have protected my head, because my cap is still there. My glasses however, are gone. I don’t think the mast hit the water but i have never been knocked down like this before. Quickly i look around and check to see if everyone is still on board. Jen held on to the spray hood and lies down in the cockpit, Remco was on deck and must have waved as a flag while clinging on to the rigging, but he is ok as well. Trembling on my legs knee-deep in water that slowly drains from the cockpit i manage to regain control and we head back out. After a minute or so recovering from the shock we try to salvage what we can. The dinghy is miraculously still strapped on to the deck, but all our jerrycans with diesel teared off the deck, and everything that stood inside on port side now sticks to the starboard windows. Unfortunately the wave also went inside, hitting the electronics board. Everything is soaked. Both solar panels are bend and got slammed out of the inox framing. On portside even one of the scepters got separated from the deck. All phones and our new camcorder drowned. For me thats phone number 4 since i left Holland. We pull in the lines hanging overboard and we dry what we can dry. I am already thinking about the list of jobs to do when we haul out the boat during the cyclone season, and it starts to look more like a toilet roll. Half a mile outside the pass we spot our jerrycans and cockpit pillows, Remco jumps in and we manage to save them all.

Pretty puzzled we head for the blind pas at the north side of Toao and try to figure out where it all went so wrong. Have we become overconfident? Did we simply misread the situation? Should we have used another tactic? My conclusion is that for people who sail around the world like us every next destination is a new one. Especially the passes of the Tuamotus, which are a mystery on their own that don’t always keep to normal tide calculations. And even though we try to gather as much information as possible and eyeball a situation on arrival we simply do not have the local knowledge formed trough decades of experience. And to be frank, the thought of a nice quiet anchorage after a day of smacking sails and rocking around probably blurred our decision. We are on the road for one and a half years now and i have never caught myself on bad seamanship, but this time we drew the short straw. I am responsible for ship and crew, but Remco and Jennifer assessed the situation as well and apparently we all thought it acceptable. Lesson learned…… We won’t make this mistake again.

The question remains…. Not only on sea, but also climbing a mountain on a deserted island, going deeper and deeper during our free dives etc. Where does the urge for adventure end and where does the loss of accountability begins? Where is the grey area in between the two and more importantly… Where in this area are we willing to draw the line.

We learn everyday….


Written by Rick van Engelshoven.


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