Three days adrift – could it happen to you?

This is where it happened - Phuket Anchorage by Andaman Graphics
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It’s night, there’s a high wind blowing off the land. You are on the beach, your sailing boat is in the anchorage, but one of the boats far from shore. Beyond the anchorage, there is nothing but hundreds of miles of ocean. On the way to the yacht in your dinghy the outboard engine fails. You try to row, but the wind is too strong, and keeps blowing you sideways out to sea. You call out, but no one hears you.

Last year's story of Dominique’s Courteille’s ordeal when she could not reach her boat in a high wind in Phuket shows just how easy it can be. After missing her boat, Dominique ended up drifting for three days in the Andaman Sea without food or water. By the time she was discovered by an Indonesian fishing boat she was so dehydrated she couldn’t speak, but is now recovering in a Phuket hospital.

Maybe the events were not quite as described in the first paragraph, and the AAP report does not clarify. However, it is easy to imagine several possible scenarios that could have caused her three-day drift.

Neither is there any need for it to happen on some far off shore – it could happen so easily, with the right combination of circumstances, in an anchorage near you. In sailing, as in the rest of life, tragedies are caused, never by one event, but by piled-up events.

On our own boat one morning on our way from our sailing boat to shore in North Queensland, a faltering dinghy motor and a high wind suddenly turned an ordinary trip into an episode which taught us valuable lessons. Even with both of us rowing with panicked strength, we couldn’t get back to our boat. We were headed, not to sea, but to a crocodile infested island. However, by veering our course we made it to another sailing boat in the anchorage. A few minutes of alarm, and then we were laughing with a cup of coffee on our neighbour’s boat – but what if it had been at night? What if the neighbouring boat had not been there?

So what should the cruising sailor do to avoid this kind of occurrence?

Here are some ideas:

1. Always always keep oars in the dinghy, even if you’re only in it to clean the topsides.
2. Check your motor for fuel before each trip.
3. Never leave your sailing boat in an anchorage without a light (get a LED automatic light, to save power and save remembering)
4. When there’s a wind, specially if it’s blowing off the shore, have someone aware of your dinghy journey
5. Have charged mobile phones with all crew as a worthwhile general safety precaution.


Read Dominique’s full story, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald (viewed 07/03/06)

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