Day 281, Year 1: Windbird Rescued by Survivor—No Joke
Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Weather: Mostly Overcast and Drizzily, South Winds 10-15 Knots
Location: Aitutaki, Cook Islands

You don’t even want to believe this story, but it is true, and we are fine. We arrived near the pass going into Aitutaki around 1030 this morning. This pass is only 40 feet wide and 6 feet deep, but we thought we might be able to get into the lagoon. This is a low island surrounded by a rock-strewn reef dotted with motus enclosing a shallow turquoise lagoon. When we decided to sail here, we thought we would just anchor out or hove to outside the reef, but we talked to someone on a boat inside the lagoon on the morning net, and he was sure we would be able to get in. He said that if necessary some local boats could help pull us in. So we decided to try it, knowing it was a little risky. Our first problem was finding the pass. Search as we might, we could not see any markers. We headed in closer and saw a few sticks that looked like they might mark the pathway in but decided to turn around and hail a fishing boat to check our perception. Indeed, the sticks we had seen were marking the port side of the pass, so in we went.

About halfway in we started bumping on the sandy bottom. Although it was high tide, it was barely six feet and it only got shallower the further in we drove ourselves. We finally came to a standstill. Windbird’s motor could no longer propel us forward. We were grounded. It was bad enough to be grounded in a narrow pass with coral heads all around, but add to this that a rain storm hit about the time we got stuck. What to do? We got on the radio and talked to the only sailboat in the anchorage. The captain had gone to shore in the dinghy but there was a crew member onboard. This person said they would check for someone to help pull us off as soon as the captain returned. In the meantime, we launched our dinghy. But before we got the motor on, a voice came on the radio calling for the vessel in need of assistance. That would be us. The caller was from Survivor Marine Base. I have mentioned that the Survivor TV series is currently video taping “Survivor Cook Islands” here and evidently they monitor the marine radio. The person calling asked if we were in a precarious situation and I said that indeed we were. He said he would send help and that he did. The Survivor Base is on the opposite side of the island, but it only took about seven minutes for the help to arrive. Two huge RIB’s (rigid inflatable dinghies), each with a 200 HP outboard motor arrived. Each boat had a captain and crew, depth gauges, towing ropes, and any other equipment we might need. They checked the depth going on into the harbor and the depth going back out and decided that we needed to go out. The dinghies were named Alpha and Bravo, and I think it was Bravo that literally pushed our bow right around and then started pushing us out of the channel with Alpha pulling. It was quite amazing and we were very grateful. We now can add being rescued by Survivor to our list of interesting things that have happened to us on this voyage.

We anchored outside the reef in about 60 feet of water. I stayed on watch on Windbird while Mark, Michael, Linda, and Garrett went in through the pass in our dinghy to explore. They stopped by Lord Fred, the boat from Australia that had talked with us on the net this morning. They are not as deep as Windbird, so they were able to enter the harbor with a little assistance and anchor. Lord Fred is planning to stay here for a month. Fred, the captain, really wants us to try to get in again during high tide in the morning, but we have decided to stay outside. It is just too risky to try that again. Survivor might not come to our rescue twice!

The results of the afternoon exploration were interesting. Half of this island is off limits to visitors right now because of the Survivor taping. This means you can’t take your own dinghy around the south end of the island without a guide. The exploration “gang” tried to walk north to find a place to snorkel, but that didn’t work either. So they made arrangements for all of us to go out in a glass-bottomed boat tomorrow to see the fantastic underwater world here. Evidently they will allow snorkeling during parts of the trip, so the day should be fantastic.

I had planned to stay onboard the entire time that we are here and stand watch, but I am slowly warming up to the idea of going out on the glass-bottomed boat tomorrow. The sailing cargo ship, Kwai, that we got to know in the Rarotonga harbor, came in late this evening and anchored next to us. The captain rowed over this evening to say hello and to tell us to let them know when we are going to shore so they can watch the boat for us. They have someone on watch all the time and offered to watch us as well, so that should make tomorrow a little more relaxing for us.

Life is good and we are having a great time. The black wall that we sailed into last night is still with us. The trough that should have headed east is lingering, so we will just have to see what tomorrow’s weather brings. (Note to Michael’s Uncle Red: Southern South Pacific weather is just a little dicey. Let’s hope the black wall moves on by tomorrow and brings winds from the East.)

060725 Day 281 Cook Islands, Aitutaki–Rescued by Survivor
Day 282, Year 1: A Day on the Lagoon, Aitutaki
Day 280, Year 1: Headed to Aitutaki Through a Wall of Black Clouds