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On the rocks

It’s almost 7pm. I struggle down the ramp with my overly full grocery bags and wait at the dock for a water taxi to take me back to our boat, Gudrun.

While waiting, I give Axel a call to let him know I’m coming and that I bought fresh veges to make dinner tonight. No answer.

It’s Easter Friday today, which could be the reason why there’s no taxi available. Usually they are waiting at the dock already, nudging each other out of the way in order to get passengers.

Five minutes pass. No taxi. More people arrive on the dock, and we exchange shrugs as we wait, wondering what’s up. I try calling Axel again. No response.

Finally, a water taxi comes around the corner. I gather my shopping bags, and everyone gathers around ready to get on. Just then, however, a guy in a navy uniform comes running down the platform. When the taxi reaches the dock, he jumps on, and the driver whisks him away before anyone else can board. He revs the engine, churning through the water as he turns, and speeds off around the corner as I exchange bemused looks with the others on the dock.

I try calling Axel again. No response.

What if something happened to Axel? I think, concerned; but I quickly calm myself down. Don’t be silly, nothing has happened to Axel. Don’t worry so much!

I wait…

More people gather at the dock, and out of boredom, I call Axel. No response.

Five minutes later, there is still no taxi, but I feel a familiar buzz in my pants pocket. Axel!

I pick up the phone.
“Hello?”
“Liz?” Axel sounds a little harried.
“Hi Axel…I want to come back to the boat, but I can’t get a taxi.”
“Yeah, well you wouldn’t get a taxi, because they are all here. The boat is on the rocks.”
“What?”
“Is there anything you want me to grab if the boat sinks?”
“Um…” I think immediately of my computer and my ipad, sitting in the bag on my shoulder, and then of the Peli case holding our passports and documents which Axel would surely grab without my telling him. “No. I have my computer and iPad. ”
“Ok.”
“Should I come out to the boat?”
“No…what could you do? Better just stay there…they are trying to pull me off. I have to go.”
“Ok. I love you Axel.”
“Love you too.”

I hang up, and stand there for some moments staring across the water, waiting for a taxi to take me I don’t know where. I look down at my groceries (Well, I didn’t have to buy those did I?), and then stare out across the water again as I do a mental inventory of my things on the boat. I’m almost certain I should call Axel again…ask him to save something other than my passport, but I just can’t think of anything that I’d want to save…

You know, I think to myself, if Gudrun sinks, then that means that we can be home in New Zealand in a few weeks. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I spend a few more minutes staring out across the water, before it occurs to me that Gudrun is was anchored just on the other side of the docks. I leave my groceries, and walk up the pier and over to the other side of the dock which has a view of the anchorage. I push past the locals who have started to gather, and place my fingers lightly on the wall as I stare out over the water.

There, perhaps 100 meters away, I see an anchor light swaying back and forth in the moonlight. Several water taxis surround the boat. I strain my ears…is that a yell? Is that the crunch of metal on rock?

I watch. The crowd around me is relaxed, laughing, chatting. Interested but unattached to the sight of Gudrun rocking back and forth in the distance.

One of the young boys is playing reggaton on his cellphone. He can’t decide what to listen to, and keeps on switching songs half way through.

I stare out across the water, mesmerized by the swaying anchor light. I should go out there, I think. But what would I do? And anyway, how would I get there?

I watch, and see a small light on the foredeck. That must be Axel’s headlamp. The reggaton is blaring. Tears start to fall down my cheeks, and the people around me shuffle uncomfortably as they size me up out of the corner of their eyes.

“Are you ok?” a tourist comes up to ask.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I reply, “That’s my boat.”
“Oh.” she replies, her eyes widening.

A water taxi pulls around the corner and approaches the other dock, and the other would-be passengers who had walked over, like me, to view the drama on the rocks, rush back down the pier to catch it.

“Will you be ok?” the tourist asks.
I just nod, and she gives me a sad smile as she rushes away
I consider running to the taxi too…but where would I go to? I would just be in the way.

I turn back to watch the boat in the distance. Axel would want me to take a photo, I think. But I left my camera on the boat today.

I stand and watch a few minutes more. Axel will be so pissed if I don’t take a photo…

So I take out my new phone which I don’t know how to use properly and try to see if I can take a video or a photo…

But…somehow the interface seems terribly confusing, I can’t find any camera, and my mind balks at the act of clicking around on my phone, when I really should be focusing all my attention on that swaying mast out in the bay. I hold my phone in front of me, for comfort, and have to prevent myself from calling Axel again to see if he is ok…

Things could be different

Looking back, there are so many things that could have prevented what happened from happening (spoiler: we are fine and Gudrun is also fine, if a little worse for wear):

If we’d had the foresight to move Gudrun further away from the rocks when the heavy winds started last week, we wouldn’t have shifted into shallow water during the full moon tide.

If I had come home earlier, I would have been at the motor while Axel lifted the anchor to move the boat, and could have motored out of danger when the wave pushed her back onto the rocks.

If we had put the outboard engine on the dinghy, instead of relying on water taxi to get to shore, Axel probably could have pulled the boat sideways off the rocks before she was swept further backwards by the swell.

Or if our Spanish was better, perhaps we could have been able to convince the taxi drivers to pull the rope that Axel had tied to the mast, and was holding out for someone to take, but ever no-one did – at least, not until 3 hours later when a rescue coordinator from the navy arrived to help out.

So sure, things could have gone better for us last Friday night. But then again, things could have been worse:

If Gudrun wasn’t so beautifully and solidly made out of aluminum, for example, we might have sustained more damage than a few small fissures (which were quickly plugged with epoxy – good thing we had some practice already, right!?) and a chunk of metal ripped off the bottom of the keel.

If the local water taxi drivers and authorities hadn’t been so dedicated – refusing to give up, bringing in extra fuel, and keeping hold of Gudrun for 4 hours as the waves battered her towards the shore – we might have been fishing our things out of the water.

If it wasn’t for our friendly neighbors in the anchorage who found me on shore and dinghied me out to one of the taxis, I might very well have had a nervous break down right there on the docks. At around 10pm, for example, when the boat started rising up out of the water as it rocked from side to side (at that point the water depth was 1.5 meters…we have a draft of 2.5)

And if it wasn’t for pure luck, someone – either Axel, or one of the volunteers in the many small boats circling Gudrun as she swang – might have got hurt. We are very grateful that the greatest injuries sustained that night were Axel’s stubbed toe and the battering of our ego’s.

Aftermath

I had the pleasure of taking part in our own bizarre egg hunt over Easter weekend as I sniffed around the boat trying to locate each of the dozen eggs that had flown out of the galley, splattered into random corners of the salon, and immediately started decomposing in the tropical heat (“If only we had eaten more omelets last week!” you could hear me mutter as I crawled around on all fours trying to locate the source of the smell…).

We (well, Axel mostly) spent the last week checking the hull, mast, and rudder; sawing/banging the keel back into place; and wandering the town trying to replace the items that were thrown overboard in the excitement (our dinghy pump, the salt water hose, a diving boot, our wooden cockpit table…)

The Equadorian authorities have been wonderful. They made an effort to make sure we weren’t ripped off by people asking for too much money (we have talked to enough cruisers to know just how common this is when a boat runs aground), and they let us stay some extra days on the island to do repairs without any question.

We will leave tomorrow for the Marquesas, and Axel assures me that Gudrun will sail beautifully.

To all our sailor friends: Be safe in the pacific. Keep an eye on the wind and the tides and the swell; and think of us as you sit snugly and safely at anchor 🙂

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