Motor problems, no wind force call for rescue boat
As we motored at midnight out of Bundaberg marina to Lady Musgrave atoll, the beginning of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, I said to Kirsten, my only crew member, "On dark nights like this, I imagine the engine is making weird sounds. Ha-ha, tonight I'm imagining it's surging."
"It is surging," she said.
So it was. And I had a decision to make: turn around while still close to shore, or keep going.
Oh, how we wanted to hike, dive and snorkel in that protected atoll, famous for abundant bird life and teeming reefs. I kept going.
For a while this seemed like a good choice. Inside the lagoon, I changed my engine's fuel filter and believed the problem fixed. Then, with binoculars and books, and later with masks and snorkels, we feasted our eyes on white sea eagles, blue damselfish and countless other animals new to us.
Most people would be happy not to run into any sea snakes, but not us. For Kirsten, who had never seen one, their absence was the only disappointment in an otherwise perfect day.
The next day, we set sail for a second park atoll. The wind lightened and, deciding to motor-sail, I fired up the engine. It started, died and then refused to start again.
Sailboats rarely have only one system failure at a time. My battery bank also began behaving badly.
While Kirsten sailed the boat, I assumed an all too familiar position in the engine room. This time though, I was stumped. "We'll have to anchor outside Fitzroy Reef with sails alone," I said.
"Do you know how to do that?" Kir asked.
"Um, sort of. In principle."
While still a safe distance from the reef, we practiced stopping the boat with the sails and then headed in. The boat glided to a halt, and Kir dropped the anchor for a perfect dusk landing. We congratulated each other and went to bed.
At midnight, problem No. 3 struck: The wind shifted, making our hard-earned anchorage dangerous. We hauled that anchor up with speed and then drifted in the pitch dark, praying we wouldn't hit a coral head.
We got lucky, and by first light were sailing nicely toward Gladstone Marina. Nine miles from that port, the wind stopped dead.
Finally defeated, I radioed the Volunteer Marine Rescue Service, a wonderful organization here, and three friendly men were soon hitching Honu to a rescue boat. "What should I do during the tow?" I asked.
"Sit back and enjoy the day," one man said.
So we did. And our wishes came true. Near the boat, a golden sea snake floated to the surface and raised its head for a breath of air. Minutes later a black-and-white banded sea snake also appeared, floating quietly on the water.
Bottlenose dolphins escorted us to port where more nice people caught our lines and then helped me fix my broken systems.
My first venture into the largest marine sanctuary in the world wasn't exactly what I expected, but I still consider the experience a grand adventure. Today, we're going back for more.