Emergencies at sea
Michael checking out one of the many tankers we passed. There's a big shipping lane from Panama to the other islands and the rest of the world right here so the traffic of these ships is quite congested.
We left early towards Aruba with intention of arriving before sunset as earlier mentioned. We made real good progress with 25-28 knots of wind and following seas pushing us forward almost in the right direction. Something less comfortable were the (4 meter/13 feet) waves that were almost breaking into the cockpit at the end of the journey as the seas got rougher. And then suddenly one hit us on the beam that bad that we almost got knocked down, things fell all over the place, our steering chain got snapped off and we lost steerage completely. Great! Just the type of drama needed 15 miles from land and in that strong of a wind.
Alex dug up the emergency steering from the lazarette and we tied a sheet to it, attached to the winch to help steering. A very demanding job to keep that enormous rudder of ours under somewhat control in fairly big seas and winds occasionally hitting close to 30 knots. Glad we had our friend Michael onboard as the more hands on the task, the easier it was to work that pressure. Alex pushing and pulling the emergency tiller, me cranking the winch and Michael pulling/releasing the sheet. Great team work!
Here in Aruba they demand you to first go to customs and immigration before sailing to your chosen marina. Once close to land we called on the radio to see if they could make an exception so that we could sail straight to the marina where we had planned to stay, as we figured it's better to do the channel maneuvers with limited steerage once rather than twice. Not possible, you need to come to the customs first, they responded.
While close to the entrance of the channel we were met by a rescue boat who asked us if we needed assistance. Thank you very much but no thank you, was our rapid answer. Neither Alex nor me likes the idea of getting help if there's a way to figure things out by ourselves, but as the wind grew stronger, we got talked over to at least use their help later to get to the marina. Such nice people on that rescue boat. We dropped anchor in the middle of the channel of the Barcadera harbour and the rescue team waited for us to clear in with customs and immigration and then we left towards the marina under tow.
As the rescue team worked voluntarily, we weren't obliged to pay the, normally very high, towing fee. But we gave them homemade cookies, a couple bottles of wine and some money for the effort.
Finally at our final destination for the night, we got informed that the slip reserved for us was one right in between two very expensive yachts. Not only was it nerve racking to go stern to and drop anchor with the emergency tiller in 25 knots of wind, but having to do it in between those fancy yachts? Like always, my captain made it all look very easy and with a little help by the marina dinghy that pushed us from the side, we could tie up safely at last.
Everyone were so incredibly helpful. Just the way you'd hope to be met when in need of assistance.
And that's the old broken chain. As the local Budget Marine doesn't have anything in stock, we're now going to a Yamaha dealer to see if they've got some (bike) chains available. Our biggest hope right now is that we do not need to wait here in Aruba a few weeks for a shipment... cross your fingers please.
Thankful for several things today:
- To all helpful people of the rescue boat and rapid assistance by Renaissance marina as we arrived.
- That the steering chain snapped that close to land and not in the middle of an ocean.
- That it actually did break before our three day crossing towards Colombia.
- That it broke during daylight, imagine the stress in darkness.
- Another interesting and learning experience at sea.