Let go the mooring line!
Richard puts the yacht into reverse and we move away from the mooring. A stiff morning breeze blows across the water. The crew are up and about, ready to sail to Stonehaven Bay on Whitsunday island.
Crunch, clonk, clank. All heads turn. What was that?
A grinding noise is coming from the stern as Richard pushes the motor into forward gear. The mooring is drifting away to port and we are being carried north by the tide.
I can’t get any forward gear, he calls. He pushes the lever forward again and the crunching noise grows louder.
Can we pick up the mooring again?
I don’t think so Debbie, it’s over there. Malcolm points at a blue dot on the water in the distance.
Richard shouts, I can get reverse. I’ll try to reverse back on to the buoy.
Yachts will reverse under motor, but steerage is poor, especially into the wind with the tide against you. We are moving, but the mooring is out of reach.
Shall we put up the foresail? I ask. We’ll at least get some forward motion then.
Let’s keep trying the engine, I don’t understand what’s wrong with it. It sounds terrible.
The yacht is holding its ground against the tide in reverse, but we just can’t get any forward motion.
I look at the inexperienced crew around me. Many of them have not been on a sailing boat before. Sailing to another mooring is an option, but not an attractive one. We are on a charter boat in unfamiliar waters. While the channels are deep around the islands, there are hidden underwater obstructions, coral reefs and rocks.
I feel a little sick. Not from seasickness, but from a sinking feeling inside me. I have brought these people out on to the water to experience the exhilaration of sailing, to share something I love, only for the yacht to fail us on the first day.
I decide to call the charter company on the VHF radio. We can hold our position in the deep channel under reverse gear quite safely for some time. If the engine fails altogether, we will put the foresail up and sail into the main Whitsunday channel where there is plenty of water. We are safe, but it’s getting uncomfortable out in the channel with the waves rocking the boat from side to side. We could see some green faces if we don’t get moving soon.
Richard keeps working to try to get the gears to engage. No joy. We have to accept the gears have failed and we will have to suffer the ignominy of a tow back to port.
I pick up the VHF microphone. Sunsail, Sunsail, this is Rhythm, Rhythm, over.
Rhythm, this is Sunsail base, go ahead.
The radio exchange continues. Sunsail Base asks us to get back on to the mooring if we can. They will see if they can send a boat out to assist. The conversation ends.
I ask Beryl to sit below and listen to the radio and let me know when Sunsail calls back.
The mooring buoy is truly out of reach. I am soon calling back on the radio to request assistance again. We’ve been sitting out in the channel for 20 minutes and no sign of the rescue boat. The boat is bouncing around on the waves and although everyone is upbeat, we all know this is not a good situation. I consider the option of putting some of the crew to shore in the dinghy if seasickness hits.
Sunsail are on the radio, calls Beryl. I go down below and explain our situation again. We switch to mobile phone to finish the conversation and they confirm a fast boat is being sent to tow us back to the marina. We spend another twenty minutes bobbing up and down in the deep water before we see the fast boat coming towards us in the distance.
There are two men on the boat. It’s a charter fishing boat with two huge 220 HP engines on the back. The younger man jumps aboard the yacht as they come alongside. He first tries to put the engine into gear, to prove to himself that there really is a problem. The crunching and grinding sounds convince him quickly.
He ties the two boats together side by side. I’ll steer, you provide the power, he shouts to the older man in the fast boat.
The engines roar and we begin our journey back to base. Lance, the younger man, is a kiwi. He chats to us as the boats drive forward into the wind and waves. Every so often a wave crashes over the bow of the fast boat, showering the helmsman, John, with water. Lance roars with laughter. You owe me a beer for this, calls back John.
We pass a white monohull, from the decks two people wave. They live full time on that boat, Lance tells us.
He makes a few phone calls as we motor along, trying to find us a replacement boat. It looks like the only option is a catamaran. Neither Richard or I have sailed one and they have a reputation as floating caravans amongst serious sailors. But, we can tell it’s going to be the only option if we are to continue the sailing holiday.
As the two joined boats enter the marina, I feel relieved, but a black cloud descends on my mood. It is so disappointing I can hardly speak. I’m not good company.
At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, we hear the new yacht is ready. It is a 38 foot cat, named Alida. To our surprise it is John, the helmsman of the fast boat, who shows us around her. He tells us he owns the company which has just taken over the local Sunsail franchise. No wonder Lance was so amused when his new boss took a soaking on the way back to port!
My mood lifts as we head out on the water again. The sun is setting over the ocean when we find a sheltered anchorage at Cid Harbour on Whitsunday island. We are back at sea and tomorrow is another day.