9 October 2010


I'm interrupting the tale of my life as a sailing tramp in the South Pacific in 1997. Something has happened in my present time.

The sailboat I was due to join as crew in August/September for an Atlantic crossing, but that I turned down last minute, has sunk.

The story starts when I registered with a website to find a yacht as a crew member. See post 183.Crew available.

There were many opportunities. I received 2 positive answers, one from a sailboat in the eastern Med and one from Sweden. The Med one I turned down straight away because I was asked questions before they introduced themselves. Being a member of the crew is like being a member of a family. I hate being treated like an employee, especially when you have to pay for your own food on top of helping get the boat going.

The other offer sounded interesting and squarely organised. A Swedish captain owner of an elegant sloop was trying to build up a women-only crew. The planned circumnavigation sailing was from August 2010 till May 2012 with a list of ports of call. I was sent by email several sheets explaining how to behave on board, the financial aspects of the venture, the safety and security measures, the captain's bio and why a female crew. I returned by email the page that said: I wish to crew... I have no navigation or diver's certificate, I speak English and French fluently, I do have cooking skills but no aerobics/yoga skills, my passport is valid and I have no proof of yellow fever vaccination.

So far so good although being asked if I had aerobics skills sounded somewhat peculiar. When I read the sheets in greater details I came across something I intensely disliked. Having sailed across the Pacific I had acquired some experience with meeting various people of different origins. So when I read: "Wear sunglasses so that no one can make eye contact with you", I jumped off my chair and soon sent an email back to say: "I've just finished reading your documents. Very thorough, thank you. Unfortunately I am not able to afford joining your crew. I wish you all the best", sending a futher email to explain my position.

The captain convinced me to join non the less as it was a simple misunderstanding. Fine. When they weighed anchor from Sweden I followed the official blog and a crew member's blog to share their crossing of the North sea to Scotland and then down the Irish coast. The plan was to pick me up in France, most likely in La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast as this was the nearest harbour to my place (a 2 and a half hour drive). I drove to La Rochelle and went to the harbour master to ask where an incoming yacht would berth. The lady at the desk replied that the harbour was closed to incoming yachts until 2 Ocotber due to an International Boat Show being organised and run until then. Again I emailed to the captain that I couldn't join them as the harbour was closed until October. He convinced me otherwise again, saying that they were pretty slow anyway and they probably wouldn't make it to La Rochelle before then.

I spent days walking in circles in my loft and in my garden agitated as to my final decision. Something had been nagging me all along, some 'little voice' saying 'don't join this boat' 'don't go on that yacht'. I fought this silly feeling that was not quite rational. I even went to see the commune mayor's wife to tell her about my next adventure and to ask her to keep my pot plants while I'd be away.

When I received an email that they would be in Britanny in a few days, that's when I replied on 18 September: "I will not join your crew... I haven't got the money. I wouldn't fit in your crew. Please don't try to convince me otherwise." It was final. I felt relaxed and relieved.

Two days ago wondering about where they were by now I tuned into one of the blogs, Cruising with Ros the Bosun. She was describing how they sunk at the entrance of the Arcachon basin and that she was now back home in Darwin, Australia... Wow. Phew.

I then googled "naufrage yacht suédois à Arcachon" and found the report of the accident in the local french newspaper called Sud-Ouest. Here's my translation of the article dated 25 September 2010.

"Last night at midnight the Swedish sailboat Olydia II launched a mayday call after having run aground on the sandbank at Arguin, at the entrance to the Arcachon basin. Shortly afterwards the sailboat mentioned a leak on board.
The Regional Operation Centre for watch and rescue at Etel coordinated several means to help the 15m sailboat: a Dauphin helicopter of the French Navy based at La Rochelle and a launch SNSM from Lège Cap-Ferret. The rescue means arrive on site aroung 1am. The conditions (2.5 to 3m swell) prevent the launch to come near the boat. The 5 people on board are finally airlifted by helicopter by 2am. Then all goes fast: at 2.15am the helicopter lands at the yacht harbour in Arcachon. The 5 rescued people (2 Swedish, 2 Australians, 1 American) are left safe and well in the care of the SDIS team who then took charge of them. They were taken to the Arcachon hospital for the rest of the night.
The last description of the sailboat was done by the SNSM launch on site. This morning the sailboat has not been sighted. Research has been started to find the yacht by a vedette of the coast guards of Arcachon in the area of the shipwreck.
Once before on 28 August a 14m sailboat had been wrecked under the same conditions, exactly at the same spot. We draw the attention of yacht sailors to the difficulties of sailing at the entrance of the Arcachon basin: sandbanks move rapidly, the night seamarks and the usually hard sea conditions make sailing in the area dangerous particularly at night."

One comment to the article:

"On Saturday 25 september 2010 the low tide at the entrance of the Arcachon pass was around midnight, high tide around 6am (1 hour before Arcachon itself), tide coefficient 86. The wreck of the 15m Swedish yacht "Olydia II" reminds us in every detail of that of "Sharky", a 14m yacht, on 25 August 2010. The same mistakes were made, i.e. arriving by night where there is no side light markers, against the tide and towards the lowest side of the tide, at a time when the sea level is the lowest, and with rough sea conditions on top of that. In this instance too this sailboat should have waited for daylight at high sea, eventually heaving-to, in order to come to the entrance pass early in the morning at high tide which is the most favourable moment. A GPS is a helpful instrument only if the route followed is that of the best passage. For that the maritime services of Arcachon can give precious information as to the best route to follow. The rescue people who intervened in those very hard conditions should receive admiration and grateful thanks from these unscrupulous 'sailors'."

6 October 2010

191. Tramp of the South Seas (5)

When we made it to Suva the first thing to do was to go to some administration to have the boat papers and our passports stamped. I remember waiting in a gloomy room with the captain wondering what was next. An Indian Fijian eventually welcome us and duly stamped several copies of some document saying we were now in Fiji.

I had previously heard on the news in New Caledonia of the troubles between two ethnic groups in Fiji, the indigenous Fijians and the population from India which had been imported in the 19th century for labor purposes. When I walked through the busy streets of Suva I realized what it meant. These two groups look very different indeed. I soon learnt not to greet Indians with the loud 'boulah' used by the indigenous Fijians.

Having come all the way from the Tuamotus in Polynesia I felt that these people were more Melanesian than Polynesian. I realized I was getting closer to home. New Caledonia is populated by indigenous Melanesians. They are people who like to keep a low profile whereas the Polynesians tend to be show-off's. Here I have to say again that I do not believe in the theory whereby the Pacific ocean had been slowly populated eastward. It simply does NOT make sense... unless the earth turned the other way round once a long time ago! The trade winds blow from East to West and it is visually obvious that the Polynesian sailors slowly invaded the Pacific westward. The Fijis are on the border between Polynesia and Melanesia so to speak. But Polynesians can be found as far as Ouvea, an island off the main island of New Caledonia. They live side by side with Melanesians on that tiny island.

My explanation does not sound very clear and some will say it is not scientific. But when scientists come out with theories that don't make sense on the ground I don't believe them. That's all.

I was due to leave this rally yacht in Suva. But as the end of the Tahiti-Fiji leg of the rally was on Malololailai (Musket island further west) I agreed to stay on until then. However the captain introduced me to the skipper of another sailboat I had found needing crew to New Caledonia. He said: "she's a good cook, it's the first time I don't lose weight during a passage". He omitted to say I didn't like using sophisticated instruments... So I was 'hired' with the understanding that I'd come back from Malololailai some time later.

2 October 2010


  Between Vavau, a northern island of the Tongas, and Suva, the capital city of the Fiji islands, there is about a week's sailing if I remember correctly. It was the beginning of July 1997. We sailed west to Fiji happy to come close to the end of this 'leg' of the Rally Around The World organised from London in which about 50 yachts took place.

I was happy to be sailing, cruising to be precise, somewhere in the South Pacific where Captain Cook roamed two centuries before. The agreement with the captain/skipper/owner of the sailboat where I was the sailing cook (...or the cooking sailor!) was that I was to leave the boat in Suva. Fiji was the end of a leg and the next one was to sail directly to the Queensland coast. As I wanted to go home to New Caledonia I had to find another crew job with someone sailing from Fiji to New Caledonia.

What do I remember from this passage? The weather was fine. We sailed with fair winds or so, the so-called trade winds from the SW. When we got to the wall of reef running across the way from north to south still a few days sail to Suva, we had to sail through a pass, i.e. an opening in the reef, . As we came across the pass, the captain decided to stop the boat and go for a dive. My goodness, I thought, this is the worst thing you can do... a pass is a place where there is current and sharks hanging around to catch fish coming through it. I knew that from living on an atoll in the Tuamotus, not from books. I said it but it had no effect! Never mind, nothing happened. The captain and the other crew fellow took a dip in the pass named after the captain of the Bounty. William Bligh had come this way rowing in a canoe after he had lost his ship through a mutiny. I have a lot of time for him. That was a sailor! And besides, he had been a crew member on Captain Cook's last trip.

Just as we started going again and as the sea was quiet, and as it was not my turn for anything like cooking or steering on watch, I stood at the bow holding the mast. Well no, the mast held me... as I was staring into binoculars at a school of large dolphins coming through the pass behind us. I counted up to 200 and then gave up. They weren't dolphins but something like rorquals. They veered north after the pass whereas we were sailing west. I lost track of them after a while. It was a fantastic sight but no one on board shared it with me. I don't think it was at all mentioned in the boat log.

As we approached Fiji I was getting really fidgetty. The captain mentioned it. Well yes, I was hoping against all hopes that my boyfriend would come and meet me in Suva. 'Tiss' was a man I had met in New Zealand in 1996. We had shared our hectic lives for a time until I had left in a passionate tearing away move to Polynesia. I used to keep a journal in those days and the whole story of the mad passion I had for him is written in my book called 'Liyan'. I had left in January and this was July. I was still passionately in love with him. I was hoping he was going to come and meet me in Suva because I had sent him a message. How stupid can you be! The first thing I did when we got to Suva was to go and ask at the airline office if he was on an incoming flight. No, there was no one by that name on any incoming flight. Flop.