Day 206, Year 1: Procyon’s Medical Emergency Escalates–Day 20
Date: Thursday, May 11, 2006
Weather: Blue Skies Dotted with Puffy White Clouds (just doesn’t change)
Air Temperature: 84 degrees F
Water Surface Temperature: 81 degrees F
Latitude: 09 degrees 43 minutes S
Longitude: 133 degrees 08 minutes W
Location: Passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas, Day 20
Miles to Go: 340 (~ 125 miles last 24 hours)
Miles to Date: 2666
WHAT a day! Mark and I are both emotionally exhausted. We, and many other boats, have been on the radio almost all day today dealing with Procyon’s medical emergency. I will tell that story below, but first I will give a quick update on Windbird’s progress.
All is well aboard. We have less than 350 miles to go. It is still possible that we will arrive in Fatu Hiva by Sunday evening, or we might have a Monday landfall. The wind hung in there for us all of last night and all day today. As evening is approaching, the winds are dying down, so we will have to see how tonight goes. Just a few minutes ago, Mark started the engine to charge the batteries. The engine ran for a couple of minutes and then started sputtering. All I could get out was, “Engine-fuel-out-stop.” We have been using our center tank for this whole trip and the sound I heard was the sound of a tank out of fuel. If you don’t catch it quick and turn off the engine before it stops, you then have to bleed the lines. That is one thing I didn’t want to do tonight. Mark understood my feeble attempt at communication and turned off the engine just in time. We then switched to a second tank of fuel and we were on our way.
The moon will be full on Sunday, but for all practical purposes it is essentially full now. Last night when I was on watch, our ocean world was lit up almost as bright as day. You don’t see as many stars when the moonlight is so bright, but it is a beautiful sight to sail at night by the light of the moon. My time to sleep is now from 1:00 to 5:00 am, so when I came back on watch, the moon was still lighting the world. It then set just before sunrise. When the sun came up this morning, the sky was painted with “baby shower” colors. The lightest pinks, baby blues, and hints of yellow colored the sky. What a show we have every morning out here.
We are technically in a new time zone but we are not going to change our clocks until tomorrow. We can’t take any more excitement today and since changing the clock changes our schedules; we will leave things alone for another day.
Now here’s the update on Procyon and the amazing story of cruisers coming to the rescue. The immediate problem has been keeping Randy hydrated since he cannot hold anything down. It is now pretty obvious that he has a bowel obstruction, probably caused by swelling in the area of his recent surgery due to his fall, and this means he can take nothing in orally. Late yesterday, those of us who have been in close contact with Sheri decided that it was time to make plans in case things worsen. When I sent yesterday’s log, I also sent an e-mail to four different boats that I know are in the Marquesas and for whom I had e-mail addresses asking for help. One of those responded immediately and another checked in with Mark on the Pacific Seafarer’s net last night. By this morning, they had a network of people working on the problem. They contacted other boats that are in the Marquesas with physicians aboard and got those physicians in touch with the hospital in Nuka Hiva to assess what can be done there. They also contacted the French Navy trying to find out what options there might be for medical evacuation. One of the boats that I e-mailed got in touch with the folks on Endangered Species who are very good friends of Randy and Sheri. They are readying themselves to come out to meet Procyon with extra fuel if needed. Two Norwegian boats that are in our net are very close to Procyon and they have adjusted their courses so that they can stay within VHF range in case Sheri needs something. In fact one of those boats has 40 gallons of diesel that they can get to Sheri in cans. This will extend her range for motoring. Another boat that is very close to us has lots of extra fuel and they are willing to back at least 250 miles to meet Sheri and share their fuel. If need be, we can do the same thing. The story just goes on and on.
In less than 24 hours after an e-mail was sent out by us and a radio request from Patrick on Aqua Magic to a New Zealand boat that is making landfall today, it feels like the entire fleet of boats that are in the Marquesas are working on this problem. Nationality plays no role here. Everyone is pitching in to help. It is really amazing . . . and very comforting to see people who don’t even know each other willing to do whatever is necessary for the health and safety of a fellow cruiser. We had hoped that we were just gearing up “just in case” but things accelerated this afternoon. Randy’s condition is worsening. Graham from Minaret out of New Zealand contacted Lynn on Shine who is in port in Fatu Hiva. She contacted a fellow Australian boat, Sea Bird, that is in Nuka Hiva. Sea Bird has a physician aboard who contacted the hospital there and got the French surgeon to come aboard and talk to all of us on our evening net late this afternoon. The surgeon listened to the report from Dr. Tom on Quantum Leap and made the decision to contact the French Navy to see if medical evacuation would be possible. At first, no go, as the ship that would make the rescue is in Tahiti and would take longer to get to Procyon than it would take Procyon to get to the Marquesas. Our entire radio net was tuned in as the surgeon asked us to hold on while he made another radio call. He came back with the news that there is a ship that can come alongside Procyon and take Randy off and on to Papeete, Tahiti. We talked to Sheri and she agreed to this.
So a ship named Manet will divert to rendezvous with Procyon within the next 24 hours and take him to Papeete, Tahiti. Sheri will have to continue sailing to the Marquesas alone, but the two Norwegian boats are within sight of her and will stay with her. One of the boats, Checkmate, will get the extra fuel to her if needed. She is one tough lady and all she could say tonight on the net was, “I can do it. Randy needs to get to a doctor.”
It is heart wrenching to go through all of this. We are so grateful that the French surgeon was able to find a ship that can help. But we know Randy is not going to want to leave Sheri out here alone to sail another 900 miles alone. But she will do what she has to do and all we can all hope is that the ship can get Randy to a full medical facility in time to save him. He’s doing okay right now and it should take only four more days to get him to Tahiti. I’m assuming Sheri will fly from the Marquesas to Tahiti to be with him once she arrives, and we will all make sure she does arrive safely.
This is the kind of high drama a sailor could do without. Having to be rescued at sea is one of the things that you have nightmares about and that you hope never has to happen. But it is going to happen and we just hope the exchange goes smoothly, Randy gets to the medical help he needs, and that Sheri makes it to the Marquesas safely. Sheri, our hearts are with you. Hang tough. We all want a happy ending to this story.