Wednesday November 20, picking up the pieces

Written by Jack van Ommen on November 21st, 2013

I managed to get my laptop to work again with a new charger, a separate keyboard and a mouse. It is a Spanish keyboard and it takes some getting used to. Some of the characters on the keys are not at all what they turn out to be. Most likely moisture got into it and the keyboard and mouse no longer worked. I did not manage to safe my exterior hard drive/backup, so I feel very lucky that I have all my files/pictures available still. Every day I discover items that I will dearly miss. logbook, notepads, my well worn Bible my youngest daughter Jeannine gave me many years ago, my favorite sunglasses, my tools; I had everything aboard for woodwork and painting, grinder, sanders, automotive tools, parts of the files for the Mastmakers’ Daughters book. The most valuable items would be, the sail inventory, the liferaft, EPIRB, SSB radio and modem, the 2010 engine and my recently purchased Samsung tablet, CD’s, books, etc.

Yesterday I first went into the main town nearby which is Santa Eularia des Riu. {That is the local Catalan name, the Castillian name is slightly different.} Angeles and I met Allejandro, her boss, for coffee and breakfast here. Allejandro took my forms for the Port Captain and the visa extension to Ibiza and Angeles and I went back up to Cala Lena. This morning Allejandro told me that the authorities could only extend my 90 days in the EEC is 30 days, January 8. I needed to show them a flight reservation before that day to a destination outside of the Schenken group countries. I booked a flight to Marakech on January 7th.  Then I plan to fly to Amsterdam in February and from there to the USA in March. The Dutch are not as paranoid as the Spanish about me becoming part of the African illegals problem.  By rule I cannot reenter the Schenken area for 6 months.

The Sail from Frontignan on Tuesday 12 November till my shipwreck November 16

The weather forecast was for strong northerlies for the next three days force 7/8. But Tuesday it was very calm. I left at noon after filling my watertank. The wind was from the NE at about 10 knots, full main and my 140% genoa, very nice sail in my t/shirt. Then the wind dropped and I motorsailed for several hours. Then later in the evening the wind changed to NW and gradually strengthened to the promised 7/8 knots. I sailed under my storm jib and hit over 7 knots at times. Then it got stronger  and it was too much stress on the rudder, I dropped the little jib and went under bare poles, doing still 6 knots at times. At one time I surfed on a breaking wave, bringing back memories of the single handed transpac in 1982, sailing in a bed of foam high above the sea in front of me. In the meantime I had discovered that the AIS I thought was all under control in Frontignan, was not working at all. The ships showing on the little VHF screen were not moving at all. It was in demonstration mode. There was quite bit of fishing boat activity around me. I could not sleep. By early morning I was off the right turn to Barcelona, by then the wind had gone more westerly and it would have been difficult to sail there against the wind, so I decided to continue to Ibiza. It was one of my fastest sails. I must have covered the approx. 100 miles to the right turn to Barcelona in about 20 hours. Wednesday continued with sailing under just the jib. I managed some sleep during the day. And Wednesday night I had a few short naps. Then while the boat made an accidental jibe by being thrown sideways in a violent wave, I tried my trusted trick to turn the boat back from the jibe under engine power. The engine would not start. Then I realized it had to be the batteries, though the voltage meter showed enough power. Thursday was a sunny day and I waited to the last sun rays to charge the batteries through the solar panel to start the engine, no luck. Thursday night I was close to Mallorca, the seas were wild. When daylight came I was still close enough to Mallorca tro try and sail into a harbor at the end of a deep bay at the S.W. corner of the island. Near Isla Dragonera. It had been lightning all night over the island. When I came closer a black cloud moved in and all of a sudden all hell broke loose. The wind must have ‘been between force 9 and 10. ­I will check this later on the internet records for the day/area. I was blown away and the windvane could not handle the wind under bare poles, it automatically went into laying ahull mode. The main was furled on the boom but the force of the wind blew the reinforcement patch at the second reef right off the sail. When I came up into the cockpit I had to hang on for dear life. It howled. This lasted about an hour. Then it calmed down. I called the Coast Guard to see if they could tow me into a safe port. There was no answer. Not enough battery power. I was then at 39.35.5850 N 002.04.9164 E. Then the wind totally disappeared but the waves were still huge and the sails just slatted every which way. Then the wind came back from the North giving me a good heading to the port. But just when I came close a big rainstorm came up again taking away my vision. I decided to go further south to Ibiza. But before midnight I had to slow the boat down in order to sail into Ibiza harbor by daylight. I laid the boat ahull . I could see the lighthouse light on Tagomago, I checked my direction on the electronic chart and I was very slowly drifting towards Ibiza past the island. Then once I was awakened by a few bumps but then it stopped so I figured I just got slapped a few time from below by the waves. It must have been much later that I was violently thrown on the rocks. The wind had changed from a Northerly to a SE. I grounded in the very end of a deep bay on the N.E. corner of Tago Mago island. I was in my sleeping bag, without my outer clothes. I put my seaboots on, grabbed my little backpack that always holds my wallet and passport, put the laptop and camera in it and stepped off the boat onto the rocks. This was at 4 a.m. Saturday. Even though the moon was nearly full it was dark. I had my headlamp on. I climbed carefully on hands and knees higher up the hill and then sat there. There was not much sense trying to go higher. The island looked deserted except for the light house on top, quite a ways from me. The tricolor on top of the mast head was still going. Almost immediately on impact waves slammed into the cockpit and the wires of the engine control started sparking. There was the smell of flint stones being struck from the iron keel bouncing on the rocks and the smell of Sage, with which the island is covered. It was drizzling steady and tried to sit under the low pine Pine scrub. Every time a wave crashed the boat and mast shuddered. The top of the mast would hit the steep walls of the cove. There was the sound of the half inch thick Mahogany plywood being slammed. The boat had entered the end of the cove with the stern closest to the shore but later it was turned around. I was able to step off from the windvane frame to the rocks. If I had been only ten feet from this spot I would have had to go into the water and with the violence of the incoming waves and the steep walls away from this spot it could have been my end. I struggled trying to put my life vest on and since everything was deteriorating so fast I decided to just get off the boat. A dry creek runs down to the head of the cove and that makes it about the only spot along the coast line of the island that is not smooth steep walled. The island was formed by a volcanic eruption.  I climbed a little higher and set on a flatter outcropping. My fear was that I’d fall asleep and slide down the hill. I had contemplated, right after getting off the boat, to go back and grab the EPIRB but did not have the guts. Then I sat there wondering when the EPIRB would get wet enough to send a distress signal via its satellite beacon. If nobody was concerned about not having heard from me, I had written on the blog that I would be out of contact range for three days, my SailMail still not working.  I could be here for days before anyone started a search and then it would be very difficult to find the wreck tugged in the very end of the cove. Daylight took forever, it was late because of the clouds and rain. Then I climbed to the ridge and figured I would have a long walk through the thick low pine brush and sage to the light house. I hoped to at least find a place with a roof to get out of the rain. I decided to stay just under crest of the hill because the wind would blow harder on the ridge and I was totally rain soaked. But then I decided to at least take a look. And then I see this enormous hacienda/villa, with a helicopter landing pad. It was totally deserted[1]. But the front door was unlocked. I walked in on the black marble floors, refrigerators filled. I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland. I went outside and saw a car. I figured that there might be a caretaker and sure enough a smaller older building had a light on. I knocked on the door and tried the door knob. A great big white lab and a small black mutt greeted me. After my “Hola!” I heard a woman’s voice. Angeles and her partner Moss came out and they must have figured I dropped from the sky because there was no way to get across from the main land in this storm. I still had my head lamp on, soaking wet. She immediately dug up dry clothes and a towel, made coffee. Their power on the generator/batteries went out shortly after because of the lightning storms. She got in touch with the coast guard in Mallorca to tell them that they could expect a call from the US Coast Guard once my EPIRB signal was received. Which indeed happened a few hours later. They offered to get me from the island that same Saturday but were unable to get close enough to the pier for the island’s only occupants, because of the rough seas. The next day, Sunday, my new friends took me to the main island.

Why did I shipwreck? A combination of unexpected circumstances, leaving when the weather appeared finally to give me enough time to get to Ibiza. Strong northerlies for the Tuesday of my departure, which did not happen till that evening. The grib files showed force 4/5 Northerlies for Wednesday and then weak winds from variable directions on Thursday near the Baleares. To the East out of the Tyhrenian Sea there was a depression moving westward but it was never expected to reach this area till days later. I have always been able to do without AIS but had counted on it for a better warning system when resting at night. As I mentioned it turned out not to be hooked up at all and I had no way to experiment with all the colored wires in those seas. Then my misfortune with the batteries, they were replaced in Amsterdam by someone in the WSV “Amsterdam”, when I could not start my engine in late August. Later we determined that it were not the old batteries but a grounding problem. Apparently these new batteries just did not have the capacity my previous ones had. Since this was the first long period where I did not use the engine the batteries did not get enough recharge from the solar panel. Lastly I was so totally exhausted from lack of sleep and from more than anything the work trying to get the boat going when there was no wind and continuously trying to keep some wind in the sails while being whacked around by the monster seas.

I went up the hills near here where Susanna, a German lady lives high on the end of a dirt trail with a magnificent panorama of part of the island and the Mediterranean. I may end up spending some time at her house, the intention had been for me to sit her home while she went off to Berlin but with the January 8 deadline that is off the board.  This would be a terrific spot to write. But getting to the nearest town, San Carlos, is a problem and no internet. Lets see what tomorrow has in store.

In 2006 I had a similar miraculous escape on the Vietnam coast, see . At that time the Lord must have wanted me to see more of th world and both I and “Fleetwood” were saved from shipwreck in a matter of a 100 feet

[1] You can rent the house and the island complete with 10 servants and helicopter for €250,000 per week. This is a day’s work for many European soccer players.

Here are some pictures taken by Miguel Palau Fraisse his web site    The group picture is of the locals, mostly French. Beatrice offered me a place to sleep in Cala San Vicente for a few days. The foursome are myself, wit the Islanders who came to my rescue. Moss and Jamid showed up with what they had recovered from the cove. The yellow pants Lisa, my oldest daughter, wore when she was a teenager, theywould now be way too big for her.



















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