As my friends and family know painfully well, I am rarely at a loss for words but I find myself struggling for words right now that will adequately and accurately describe this past week. “Emotional roller coaster ride” is my best attempt for now to describe the journey life has taken Christine and I on this past week, along with the whole sailing community here on the Majuro atoll* in the Marshall Islands.
* If you are not sure where that is, cut & paste 07 6.513 N, 171 22.064 E into Google Earth or Bing to s
We’ve cried, we’ve laughed, we’ve been awed and amazed and we’ve been humbled. We have been through some deep lows of sadness and grief and some wonderful highs of seeing the very best of human spirit and behaviors. I’ll do my best to summarize this most recent of life’s rides we’ve just been on. **
** For a much more eloquent account as usual, please also see Christine’s recent blog post and pictures with her much better telling of this story.
It began early Monday morning local time (UTC +12) when Christine and I heard our VHF radio crackle to life and a heavily accented man’s voice called in a Mayday for his sailboat “Ocean Echo”. In an amazingly calm voice, he described how he had to abandon his is sailboat at about 5am after it had run aground and washed up on the outer coral shores of a small island on the north side of the Majuro atoll as he was heading for the pass into the atoll near the NW corner. Learnativity was anchored just off the inside shore of Eneko Island (07 08.894 N, 171 16.868 E) about 4nm east of this pass in what has become our new “home anchorage” here inside the Majuro atoll. We listened as the Captain “JJ” provided his personal and boat details and his lat/long position and as I scanned the outer edges of the other small islands off to the west of us towards the pass, I was able to just make out the white shape of a hull on another island, “Enemakij” which lay about 2nm to the west of us at 7° 8'54.70"N 171°14'52.47"E Grabbing the binoculars we soon confirmed it was Ocean Echo, lying hard over on her port (left) and that she had been pushed way up on the flat coral shoreline that was now being exposed with the falling tide. We were therefore fortunate enough to be the closest people and closest ship, Majuro town being about 6nm east of us.
We quickly got things ship shape and motored over to anchor off the inside shores of the island across from where Ocean Echo lay just a few hundred meters away. As you can see in these pictures (click to enlarge) as we approached, we could see Ocean Echo clearly through the break in the island with the Captain “JJ” sitting patiently on the shore. We quickly splashed our dinghy and went ashore to see what we could do to help our fellow sailor and hopefully get his boat back into the water.
The captain "JJ" was a fellow Canadian single handed sailor from Vancouver and other than being understandably tired and severely shaken, he was fortunately unharmed and had been able to use his kayak to get himself off the boat just after she hit the reef, heeled hard over and began taking on water.
JJ was in surprisingly great spirits given what he had just been through. At first glance as we walked out to Ocean Echo, she appeared to be unharmed and was quietly resting on her side. So I was optimistic that we would be able to lighten her as much as possible, attach some lines to her keel and at the next high tide which was about 6pm, the hull would float up about a meter and we could “kedge” her keel back out over the edge of the coral reef and she would be upright again. So JJ and I worked with several local islanders who had arrived on the scene by now and we were able to get the bow anchor set off the edge of the coral reef by putting together several lengths of anchor chain and rode to span the several hundred foot distance. This was to ensure that the boat wound not be pushed any further ashore with the next tide and give us something to pull against as the next tide came in and floated the hull.
Other cruisers who were on their sailboats moored back in Majuro had also heard the early morning VHF broadcast and the crews from Mahili, Navigator, Pacific Highway, Good News and Celsius quickly rallied together and set sail aboard Pacific Highway and Mahili to make the 8-9nm run out to where Learnativity was anchored.
Within a few hours we had a great group of sailors and locals and we joined forces and spent the rest of the day working with the local officials, landowners helping to assess the situation and assisting JJ to get all his belongings and valuables ashore.
With everyone from cruisers to local people pitching in and with the next high tide not coming back in till about 6pm, we were able to remove everything of value and carry it all to safety ashore on the beach across the relatively flat expanse of dried out coral. We also worked to lighten the boat as much as possible in hopeful preparation for being able to refloat the boat on the next high tide.
Several of us spent more time with JJ investigating the damage to the hull and discussing all the options and hopeful recovery. However, after several hours it became clear that the damage to the hull from being dragged and pounded across several hundred meters of coral reef was quite extensive. JJ recounted how badly the hull had been flexing as it was pushed across the reef by the wind and waves in the receding tide.
We did our best to reduce the inflow but as the tide came in late in the afternoon, the boat filled up as just as quickly and therefore the port hull remained firmly aground and could not float at all. So JJ made the call to abandon the boat and signed it over to the island owners and we spent the rest of the day helping JJ and the locals remove everything of value.
Most of these pictures were taken in the late in the afternoon when the tide has come most of the way in and we were making our last trips ashore, but fortunately from the perspective of doing all this work, the boat remained “high and dry” until mid afternoon, resting very solidly on her side so our small “army” of people were able to walk relatively easily across the dry flat coral and carry all heavy and valuable equipment ashore.
And with little to no damage to the boat other than the “invisible” hole the port hull was lying on, we were also very pleased to confirm that not a drop of oil, gas, diesel, battery fluid or anything from the boat was spilled and there was no environmental damage to be looked after.
As the sun set we took JJ aboard Learnativity, had the final meetings with the local officials, police, EPA, etc. and Christine quickly cooked up an delicious “comfort food” spaghetti and meatball dinner and we got the completely spent JJ to bed soon thereafter.
Early the next morning (Tuesday here), JJ and I went ashore and spent time with the local landowners making them aware of the remaining items of value such as solar panels, batteries,h clothing, food and the like and how they might best salvage the boat. We also we went back aboard Ocean Echo one last time so JJ could retrieve clothes, shoes and any last remaining items of personal value to him and then made our last trek across that outer coral shore over to the inside where Christine brought the dinghy in and took us back out to Learnativity.
The photo on the right here was what we saw looking aft as we pulled up the anchor to motor back to main port of Majuro at the far east end of the atoll. I can’t begin to imagine what emotions were surging through JJ as we did so but even for me this was a sad surrealistic sight with the shores of the idyllic palm tree tropical island cradling the now gently rocking hull of an abandoned sailboat.
On our way east across the inner lagoon of the atoll in the late afternoon, the weather worsened considerably with winds gusting up to 50 knots at times and of course right on our nose, but Learnativity thrives in these conditions with her powerful engine and heavy displacement and we were able to safely carry JJ back to our other mooring spot in Majuro. Cary and Karen from s/v Seal had been helping throughout this entire experience via VHF and cell phone doing a great job of coordinating things with the Majuro harbor authorities, police and other officials and Cary came out and met us in his dinghy and help us tie up to our mooring and then took JJ ashore so he could look after “checking in” and dealing with the other paperwork with the local officials. On our way motoring back, Christine had spent time online helping JJ find the best flights and prices to get him back to Vancouver and so while he was ashore with Cary JJ was able to purchase his tickets for the first flight out to Hawaii on Wednesday evening.
With all those “official duties” looked after JJ was still in very good spirits and asked if he could come with us to do our provisioning for the next few weeks to give him a better feel for this island from a sailor’s perspective. So we took him on a brief tour of the east end of Majuro where most of the shops and stores are located and JJ soon discovered what a hidden treasure this is for adventurous sailors like us. JJ says he is already scheming and dreaming about his next boat and has vowed to return here as soon as he can.
After another very full day, we returned with JJ out to Learnativity and spent the spent the rest of the evening helping him sort through his belongings, pack his bags for his flights home and enjoyed another great meal and good wine while listening as JJ shared his love for technology, weather and sailing and we reconfirmed our mutual passions for world travel and living life to its fullest by leading adventurous lives. As in the picture on the left JJ spent hours showing us the many tips and tricks he’s learned over the years while out sailing.
We were soon all in bed early again, quietly rocked to sleep in the windy but safe mooring off Uliga dock in Majuro and up early again the next day to help JJ look after the last meetings with the local officials, get all his bags packed and put him safely aboard the RRE van to take him out to the airport for his flights back to his home and friends in Vancouver.As in the picture on the left Christine and JJ spent several hours together
It seems very apropos for me to be writing this on what is the American Thanksgiving holiday (I’m Canadian so I get to enjoy it twice!) as I now have even more to be thankful for and appreciative of. I am reminded of an even more appropriate “life lesson” I learned several years ago, during my time in Rapa Nui or Easter Island as it is also known. As a result of a rather harrowing “dinghy dunking” experience while I was there, the amazing local people who came out to help me went on to bestow upon me, one of life’s great lessons when in response to my repeated attempts to thank them, these amazing people taught me about their “giving culture”. It involves much more than this, but one of the most enduring lessons I learned was that when you are given the opportunity to help someone, life is giving YOU a gift, not them! So they took me out to thank ME for giving them the gift of the opportunity to help me out! A truly awemazing experience and a perspective and attitude I’ve had very since. Prior to the start of this week, I already had a life overflowing with an embarrassment of life’s greatest riches to be thankful for. In the span of time since last years American Thanksgiving, I have found my “perfectly imperfect” matching other half when Christine and I serendipitously met, fell madly in love and she said yes when I proposed in Malta! Then in July, my amazing daughter Lia and husband Brian brought our first grandchild, baby “Brynn” into our lives. But now, with the incredible gift JJ gave both Christine and I this past week I have been truly awemazed by the fortunate life she and I live. Thank you JJ, thank you!
From the very first time we met him ashore Monday morning and through this entire tragic experience, JJ was an exemplar sailor and gentleman. He maintained a with a constant positive attitude of quiet humbleness, generosity and caring that was a privilege to witness and be a part of. As this incident dramatically highlights for us all, a full and adventurous life does come with some high risks and costs but we all three agreed that the equally high rewards SO far outweigh the risks that for us at least, this is the way only way to live life well and to its fullest.
Safe travels wherever life takes you next JJ and we look forward to continuing our conversations as you set out on your next adventures in life.