Dean's blue hole, the world's deepest blue hole at 663ft / 200m is only three nautical miles from our Clarence Town anchorage. World free diving competitions are held there where athletes(?) see how far down they can go holding their breath. It's a pretty insane sport and people have died doing it!
Because the weather was very calm we opted to take the dinghy to the blue hole. Locals said that in any kind of swell it would be a bad idea to cross the reef but that in these calm conditions it should be OK. We figured we'd dinghy over and if we saw that it was too rough we'd simply turn back and bike or hire a ride. The ocean was very calm and when we arrived at the reef we studied the breaking waves to see how we would get through. The waves were actually quite small, no more than two feet. I had just read a Practical Seamanship chapter about landing a dinghy on a beach through a bit of surf so I had an idea of what I wanted to do. The trick of course is keeping the dinghy straight so a waves pushes you from behind and NOT broadside. We picked a spot where the waves seemed to be less and motored through. The reef though was shallower than we expected and when our propeller started to hit we had to quickly shut the engine off and tilt the motor up and row in. Unfortunately in few seconds it took to switch off, tilt and get rowing we did turn a bit and a wave did hit us broadside capsizing us. There were those five seconds where you're shoved under water with absolutely no control and your fate is left up to a higher power. But we did both surface. Once we confirmed we were each generally OK we started frantically collecting all our stuff that was now either floating away or sinking. We carry a lot of stuff on a dinghy excursion: extra fuel jug, handheld VHF radio, snorkel masks and fins, cable and lock, dinghy seats, equipment bag (anchor, flashlights, etc.), bailing bucket, drinking water, backpack, towel, dry bag containing cameras and phones. I quickly donned goggles and dove down to grab stuff from the ocean floor fifteen feet below. It was really hard pulling that equipment bag with anchor and chain back up. We collected as much as we could onto the bottom of the dinghy (which was now the top) and started swimming into the nearest beach pulling our little overturned boat. Of course the other major issue was that our outboard engine was submerged in salt water, very bad for a motor.
Cassandra was a champion, as usual. It took us about twenty minutes of exhausting swimming to get the dinghy to the beach. Felt like castaways. We checked each other for any serious wounds. None. We organized and took stock of everything on the beach. Broken oar. Lost two pairs of sunglasses, my favourite J24 sailing hat, cable and lock. Nothing critical or very expensive (super disappointed about the hat). We flipped the dinghy over and took the cover off the outboard to let it dry.
We were quite far down the beach from the blue hole and the smitten of visitors. I was surprised that no one had seen us and were running over to see if we were alright. Eventually one guy did saunter over and offered to help. There was nothing immediate he could do but we took down his phone number and thanked him for coming over. We tried calling our friends Chris & Sarah on Pendana, whom we had dined with the night before hoping they could come pick us up in their rental car but we couldn't get through to them or even the marina.
We needed to let the outboard dry before even attempting to start it. Wether it started or not would dictate our plan. While waiting for it to dry we went over to quickly explore the blue hole (hey we were there anyway right). It was pretty spectacular and eerie. Literally floating over an abyss. A backyard pool that goes down to the center of the earth. Straight down.
Back at the dinghy we could not get the motor started. We hauled it all the way up the beach to the edge of the vegetation and tied it to some trees so it wouldn't float away at high tide overnight. Took some of the most valuable equipment and started walking up the access road. The road to the blue hole is a small back road. If we made it to the main road we could hitchhike to the marina near our anchorage and plan a salvage operation from there. Dexter was also still onboard Topanga and had been cooped up below all day. (thank goodness we didn't bering him on this excursion!)
The main road was actually a lot further than we thought. At the top of a hill we were out of drinking water and were dying of thirst, to the extent of knocking at someone's house door to ask for some. Nobody was home though. Along came a guy on a scooter and we flagged him down. Atil was very friendly and sympathetic. Even though he was on his way to a work meeting he called his wife April at home and asked her to bring us some water and give us a lift to the main road. Small world, Atil and April had lived a few years in Montreal and gone to McGill and Concordia Universities. April arrived soon thereafter with life giving water. From the top of this hill we were finally able to contact Pendana on the VHF radio. They kindly came to pick us up and delivered us back to the marina, where we went and got Dexter (in Pendana's dinghy) and arranged to have a local mechanic come look at the outboard immediately! We have friends meeting us on a nearby island in two days and thinking this repair would take several days to accomplish I was disappointed we would pssibly miss them so it was great that service was so fast! The mechanic drove us back to the blue hole and came with us down the beach to the dinghy. This guy was a wizard because within twenty minutes he had it running again. I watched carefully what he did and while I generally would have done the same it would have taken me weeks.
There was no trailer available so the only option was to take the dinghy our over the reef again. I was actually even more confident now that this was OK, it was easier to study the wave pattern from this side and I could see a spot where the waves did not break. Also it's usually easier to keep a dinghy stable and straight going into a wave rather than down it.
Ultimately everything went well and soon we were back safe on Topanga, with our dinghy and a functioning outboard.
So once again, thanks to teamwork, the kindness of strangers, the generosity of friends and spending some money we can't afford, we've survived and recovered from another dramatic episode.
To once again quote our friend Pierre-Luc on Oceane “On this trip, at any given time we're always five minutes from disaster” I think this also applies to life in general.
As the skipper I take full responsibility for this incident and have learned from it but I do want to say that it was totally doable and was not reckless. It was really just one of those bad timing moments.
Thank goodness we only suffered some minor cuts and bruises because it really could have been a lot worse.
That night we had some well deserved drinks and dinner out at the marina. Then some more drinks back on the boat cause those cuts and bruises really hurt!
|Come all yee faithful|
|Going to find his shepard|
|The reef in the distance|
|Over the abyss|