Up on a Reef
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[The Story] [The Damage] [Lessons Learned]
After nine years of cruising I thought my crew were experienced old salts, but right out of the blue they rammed me into a rock at flank speed - Ouch, That REALLY hurt!

The Prelude - Bob and Judi were in a hurry, on a rendezvous with the Rebak Marina in Langkawi, a beautiful island on the northwest coast of Malaysia when this one happened.  We had to round a small island, Pulau Selang as I recall, and we were supposed to leave it to starboard before turning north to the marina.  It turns out there is a pile of rocks on the SE corner of the island, well marked on one chart and not marked on another one.  As we got near the island, the skipper took a GPS reading, glanced at the chart, thought we were a little close but since we had been this way once before, decided we were OK.  As thus, we were motoring, at 6 1/2 knots, straight for a set of rocks only 2' under the surface.

The Strike - Judi was coming up the companionway from fixing lunch when I noticed jumpy, nervous-looking water ahead.  The skipper noticed it too, but before he reacted we were into it and then WHAM!!!!!, CRUNCH!!!! and the sound of breaking glass.  We stopped dead in the water, and rocks were visible under the surface to starboard.  Judi screamed, Bob put the engine into reverse, and we backed off the rock, only to charge back onto it a few seconds later, and this time we stuck!  I could feel water starting to trickle into my bow, and I knew THIS IS NOT GOOD!  Judi rushed below and tore the forward compartment apart to see if water was gushing in - it wasn't, but she didn't know what I knew - we were taking on water.

The Rescue - Judi immediately got onto the VHF radio and called "PAN PAN - This is S/V Long Passages - We have struck a rock at 6� 15.08N, 099� 44.86'E - we are stuck and will need assistance to get off" - We immediately received acknowledgement from several boats in the vicinity, and within minutes:

  • One sailboat "Ultimate Warrior" was heading towards us to help if possible.

  • A small fishing boat with one fisherman pulled up and offered assistance.

  • Another sailboat "Serenade" arranged to have the marina stand-by to haul us from the water immediately if necessary.

  • A rescue boat set out from Kuah, a small town 5 miles away.

  • The water was getting noticeably lower as the tide was going out - fast!

  • As we bounced up and down, one of the rocks got under my rudder and lifted it off of its support, and jammed it so I could only circle to port - very embarrassing! 

The fishing boat signaled that he would take our anchor off to one side so that we could kedge off.  We gave him the anchor although communication as poor, and we did not agree on what direction he should go.  Bob and Judi fastened the anchor rode onto the main halyard so that we would tilt over and get our keel above the rocks. "Ultimate Warrior" arrived, and we prevailed on the fisherman (he was reluctant) to give the anchor to the more powerful sailboat.  After a fire drill where Bob joined Chris (the crew on "Ultimate Warrior") and got the anchor up and passed the rode to Murray, skipper of "Ultimate Warrior".  "Ultimate Warrior" then gunned it, and pulled hard, heeling me over about 30� and Judi gunned the engine, first reverse and then forward and I felt the rocks slip under my keel and WE WERE FREE!

The Aftermath - We anchored a short distance away and Bob dove to assess damage since I was pumping water overboard every few minutes.  They decided the damage was not critical (WHAT DID THEY KNOW?), but that since I could not be steered, "Ultimate Warrior" should tow us the rest of the way to Rebak - about 45 minutes away.  We made it into a snug slip, with the help of about 20 people who came out to 'welcome' us in and the coordinating efforts of Kirk on "Serenade".  In retrospect, we were VERY LUCKY that the damage was not worse, and that we were able to get off without inflicting further damage.  My hearty thanks to my shipmates "Ultimate Warrior" with Murray and Chris and "Serenade" with Kirk on board and to the anonymous Malaysian fisherman who went so far out of his way to help us.

The Damage:

  • Long Passages damaged bow.jpg (18512 bytes)My bow section has about 18" of crushed fiberglass, which penetrated enough to cause a small trickle and the paint along the bottom of the keel from there to the stern has been scraped off.  I am told that with some grinding and 10 layers of fiberglass later I will be as good as new, but probably scarred for life.

  • The rudder had been lifted off of the shoe at the bottom of the keel, and after a little effort this was put back in place, and aside from a few scratches I seem to be as good as before.

Lessons Learned

  • Never Become Complacent with Navigation - We had been by this same area before, and felt that eye-ball navigation was adequate, whereas there was a reef clearly marked on a chart that we should have carefully avoided.
  • Remember Proper Radio Protocol - Our use of 'PAN PAN' is the proper call for a vessel in distress where there is no risk of loss of life.  It got the attention of many people in the marina, and several wrote down our coordinates for future reference.
  • Tipping boat with halyard at masthead works - This proven technique still works, hauling over on the masthead with another boat or anchor set as a kedge can significantly raise the keel and get one out of a tight spot.
  • Lines under tension belong on cleats or winches - At one point we were holding an anchor line by hand while a boat pulled us hard in the opposite direction - resulting in an injured hand.  Anchor and tow lines should be wrapped around cleats or winches.
  • Keep lines tidy - We ended up with a maze of lines on the foredeck, partially due to rushing after the critical part of the rescue was over.  One line we wanted to use for the tow was hopelessly tangled.
  • Insure good communication with rescuers - Even though we gave our anchor to the Malaysian fisherman to help us, we really could not communicate with him and never really did reach agreement on what he was going to do with it.



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