Saturday, 4 February 2017

Roatan Rescue!

We finally left Providencia on New Years Day. The weather window looked good and we had decided that as there had been a pirate attack on a yacht on the Seas by the Nicaraguan and Honduran border we would not stop overnight there as previously planned. This area around the Gorda Banks is becoming a bit of a hotspot and whilst no one has been injured yet the trauma of being boarded and losing all our electrics, radios and nav equipment was not something we wanted to risk. In giving this area a wide berth we would be adding a few more hours onto the trip but better safe than sorry. 
The first twenty four hours went by without a hitch we got some good sailing in but soon the wind died and we were forced to start Dorothy up (our Perkins engine). Unfortunately under five knots of wind is not enough for a sail! After five hours of motoring we were getting used to the drone of the engine and after carrying out an engine check John settled down in the cockpit for a doze. Everything was going well......or so it seemed. From nowhere a high pitched squeal like a banshee resounded from the engine room and John was woken from his slumbers by me shouting 'WTF is that?' I turned off the engine quickly and we both looked at one another ....' What now?' 
We turned the engine on again put her in gear only for the same dreadful sound to emanate from the engine. It was the gearbox.....the same gearbox that could only have forty hours on it if that....what had gone wrong? At first we were concerned that perhaps this would mean we would have no power, no power would mean no nav lights, no navigation equipment and limited communications, but we were lucky, we still had neutral so we still had the capacity to charge our batteries. Once we had decided what the problem was the question was....what next? Well we are a sailing vessel so we would sail....the only problem we had there was the small issue of no wind. We would just have to wait til there was some! 
In the mean time we phoned our insurance company on the Iridium Go just to forewarn them that there was the possibility that at some point we might need a tow and to ask their advice about where would be the best spot to make for. They would call us back in the morning. We then contacted John's daughters to ask them to contact Falmouth Coastguard just to inform them of the situation, we were in no danger but they needed to know we were out there and our exact position. Sarah did a grand job sorting that out and Falmouth Coastguard rung us back to confirm our position and to give us a number we could call them on unfortunately just as the coastguard was relaying the number to us the satellite signal went down! There was nothing more we could do other than sail, albeit very slowly, through the night. We were 90 miles away from Guanaja but unsure wether we would be able to get help there. All the information we had read seemed to indicate that Roatan was a better destination and somewhere we could access help more successfully. 
I had previously been talking to Debbie and Steve from Fantasy Island about the possibility of a berth over the new year but the weather window put pay to that but I had their e mail address so decided to contact them and ask their advice about where might be our best option to head for. They were great! Debbie got back to me almost immediately saying that as far as she knew our options would be limited in Guanaja but if we could make it to Roatan there was the possibility they could arrange a tow to the Marina. This sounded by far the most positive suggestion so far. The Insurance Company had got back to us to tell us they had no idea about where would be the best place to go to if the boat should need work doing in Honduras so it looked like it was left to us to figure it out. We decided to head to Roatan some 130 miles away from where we lost power. It was frustrating for five or six hours we wallowed about averaging between one and two knots with the sun blazing overhead fun! Then overnight the wind picked up and we were back to five knots this should have been good news but we really did not want to arrive in Roatan in the dark.....the entrance to French Cay means negotiating your way through two reefs ....not a good idea.
We were able to keep in contact with Debbie and Steve throughout the 36 hours or so it took us to complete the 130 or so miles and 'would you Adam and Eve it!' ....we ended up having to slow ourselves down so that we arrived in daylight! 
Steve had arranged for a small flotilla of 2/3 dinghies to come out and with Steve having jumped on  board to help us navigate we were able to slowly make it through the reefs. With one dinghy tied up either side they took us to our slip where there was a small gathering of yachties to help us tie up and welcome us finally to Roatan ..... quite a trip! 

The fun did not stop there though. Falmouth Coastguard very kindly contacted the Honduran Authorities to ask them to look out for us. So there we were enjoying a beer and recounting our adventures to the neighbours when the Honduran Coastguard made an appearance tieing up alongside us, six armed officers with two sniffer dogs and dog handlers all wanting to join in the fun! We were fortunate, Otto, a very helpful Guatemalan yachtie, was able to translate our story to them and they were happy. After the dogs had been through every locker and found nothing the dog handlers even asked if they could plant some contraband on the boat so the dogs could have a practice! We were happy to oblige. But wait....who should then turn up at the slip to join the party but the Port Captain from Coxen Hole wanting to know why we had not checked in there on the way in?! Otto did his stuff for a second time, he knew our story better than us now, and once our passports, our boat and us had had our photos taken for a third time he was on his way. It had been quite a day! Now to find out just what the problem is......
One last observation our efforts to tell Falmouth Coastguard that we had arrived safe and well were frustrating. We phoned three or four times, each time we got a different person on the other end of the phone claiming they knew nothing about our original call, they had no call log and left us wondering just what would have happened if we were in trouble. It seemed to us that there is a flaw in this centralised call centre system. I appreciate that this problem probably would not have occurred if the original satellite link had not dropped out but I'm sure this is not unusual and to have no log of calls seems a bit bizarre. John eventually e mailed them outlining our experience and suggesting that perhaps their systems need reviewing needless to say there was no response! 


  1. Did they take back the contraband they hid for the dogs to find? Hope you get things sorted out soon. We love your blog.
    Lots of love from the Tipo's

    1. They sure did !! We were watching very carefully the drugs and the weapons left with them!