Notes from the cabin – Day 35
Notes from the now very ‘smelly, stinky, clammy cabin’!
As a result of 33 days cloudy weather, rain squalls and humidity, we have nothing clean or dry to wear so are limited to wearing baggies only and bathing is restricted to half a liter each and two wet-wipes. We have to hand pump the manual desalinator each day because our solar panels don’t receive enough sun to keep the batteries above 60%. It takes 45 minutes to pump 2 liters! Imagine you lived like this at home! Perhaps a sign of things to come?
Last night saw a VERY near-miss with a big tanker! After relatively close calls with almost a ship a night in the first 12 days, we saw nothing for two weeks except one vessel a few nights back and then, near disaster last night!
Just after midnight our AIS (automatic identification system) went off. We have set it at maximum distance of 5 nautical miles (X 1.8 for kms) for alarm to sound if on a possible collision course. This is not a sound I pander to in the slightest but certainly one that can be the deciding factor between life and death! I was rowing and therefore facing the stern when u heard the dreaded sound. I saw no navigation lights in my position. Wayne opened the hatch and said, “This doesn’t look good, heading for a head-on collision, we better prep”.
I pulled the Lepoard TV oars in and stood up, turned around and saw both port and starboard lights of the monolith approaching. She was steaming straight at us!
“What are the chances!” I said loudly, “there’s a huge ocean out there and she comes at us (add a few expletives)!”
Wet and tired I climbed into the very confined cabin. We had rehearsed this, and practiced many times, but this was as real as it gets. We done our life jackets, checked our PLB’s (Personal Locater Beacons) were properly fastened to jackets and went straight into survival mode.
Wayne was already on the VHF radio calling the ship, “Euro Star, Euro Spirit, Euro Spirit, do you copy? Over.” Nothing. Again. 3.5 nautical miles now. We checked her bearing against ours. No deviation. Coming head-on. “Keep calling”, I said.
Wayne needed no encouragement! The chances of the ship hitting us were very real now. Bear in mind that our Mhondoro is a mere 6.8m long, we are in 4-5m swells with wind squalls. We could not head into the swells or wind so rowing down was the only option. The vessel approaching was about 600ft long but 105ft wide! This was the scary part. If she so much as nicked us it would be game-over with mince coming out of the propellor!
And finally the bridge of Euro Spirit responded; “Send your message”.
“We are a non-propelled 2 man row boat, anon-prop ,a non-propelled 2 man row boat”, Wayne repeated. “Over”.
Silence for what must have been 30 seconds but felt like minutes.
“Repeat your message please”. You kidding me; 2.5 miles and closing at 17 knots! Wayne repeats message.
The plan of action was (and still is), I get my knife, hand-held VHF radio, hand-held sat phone and EPIRB, get to stern of boat. Wayne cuts life raft tethers, gets grab-bag (which we’ve pre-packed with 3-4 days rations and water, light, and other essential equipment). We throw life raft overboard and deploy her. Wayne gets on board, I pass gear, including flare kits. We wait last few minutes before deciding safer option; based on ship bearing. If life raft, I climb on fast, let tether length out and cut when decided.
“Un-propelled vessel, you are small”, he says!
“We will after course.”
Whilst this is exactly what we want to hear, we are still shitting ourselves, as ‘altering course’ of a ship that big is not a quick thing. We sit glued to the screen as the AIS signals alarm every 20 seconds or so. 1.3 miles and closing bow to bow; and we see her degrees come down a slow, one, then two, and she clears us off our port bow by approximately 400m. Whilst this might sound far, the thumping of her engines is very loud matches and my heart!
Both of us, adrenalin high, have a single tot of the whiskey Wayne’s dad gave him as a parting gift! Great team work!