Overboard north of Zanzibar.
‘The rudder’s jammed,’ Faith warned, shaking me awake. ‘I cannot move the tiller. It’s rock-solid.’
This happened eight o’clock at night. Or, as we work to a 24 hour clock, 2000 hours. One hour before I should relieve my other half, so she could sleep for three hours from nine p.m. before coming on-watch again at midnight.
I woke in shock. Having left Zanzibar earlier that afternoon on our way north to Tanga, we were only five miles off the African coast. My first dread was that the rudder bearings had seized and an on-shore wind could put us on the reefs.
to pic: 300 year old Zanzibar tortoise with 200 year old me. This was
before the incident. After the incident, I was older than the
‘How did it happen?’ I queried.
‘Everything was fine, we were sailing beautifully. Then a thump and I can no longer move the tiller.’
‘Where’s the wind from?’
‘Dead behind us. About ten knots. The main-sail is all the way out, and we are running parallel to the coast. But we cannot steer.’
We both went up the companionway into the cockpit and to be sure we were on the same wave-length, I checked everything Faith had told me.
When I stood on the poop-deck and watched the water behind us, I caught site of a phosphorescent V streaming behind.
‘We’ve snagged an unlit fishing net. I’ll have to go overboard and free it.’
The plans of mice and men. Freeing the net proved impossible. I slid down our boarding ladder into the water, and clinging to the gunwale with one hand, I tried freeing the rope buoying the net. But an eight ton boat trying to drag a one ton net through the water created a force I wasn’t able to move.
‘We must drop our sails,’ I called. ‘I’m coming back on board.
So we struck the main and furled the genoa which is a big head-sail, and sat wallowing in the slop.
Again I slipped into the water.
Humans are funny. On a pitch black night, I went in without life-jacket, without harness, without safety line, and without thought of
Working underneath the hull which banged up and down on by head because of the choppy water, I put my feet into the net where it was attached to the rope. Then I forced it four feet down the rudder blade until it came free at the bottom and pulled away from us.
Not once did I think about my feet becoming hooked in the net which would have drowned me. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
The whole operation had taken a half hour.
‘We’re free,’ I said to Faith as I climbed back on board. ‘Let’s get the
sails up. But I’m exhausted. I need to sleep for an hour before
coming back on watch.’
‘I’ll call you at ten,’ she responded.
We would each lose an hour’s sleep.
Then it happened again. Another unlit net, worse this time. And again, and again and again. Six times in all. The last net was so bad, it
entangled our propeller and I had to hold my breath and dive under
the boat and hack it free with a bread-knife.
Somewhere around two o’clock in the morning, an exhausted husband and wife, their watch system in chaos, decided to give each other thirty-minute breaks down below to get a few seconds shut-eye, while the other sailed the boat.
Ha, ha, by now the wind had dropped. We barely drifted along, unable to use the auxiliary engine because the prop still had shreds of fishing net entangled around it and we needed sunlight to cut it free.
And what should appear six miles ahead? The bright lights of a cruise ship aimed straight at us.
Onto the radio to call him up, tell him our position and warn him we were engine-less. We called for half an hour but never received an
We lost the whole night’s sleep.
He passed half a mile away, and when the sun came up, Faith went
overboard to cut away the remaining net wrapped around our propeller.
I made morning tea.