It was a horrendous sound, echoing through the hull that sounded as if our boat had hit something. The boat lurched roughly.
What the hell? Was it another boat sliding into us?
It was some time after 10pm on a dark moonless night and I was in bed, dropping off to sleep after reading a good book. We’d had a day like a mixed bag of lollies, some sweet, some sour. The morning had started at one end of Javea bay, with big sea swells and large waves crashing on the beach and rocks, making it impossible to get the dinghy down from the davits and get to town. There was no question that we would be going into Javea, because we’d arranged to meet Phil, Barry’s brother, and today was the only day we could meet up before he went back to the UK. We’d made the 10 hour trip back from Ibiza the day before just for that.
After assessing the situation, we decided that even if we did get our dinghy safely launched and make it to shore, if the weather worsened, we’d never get back on board. So we chose to leave the mooring ball we’d been attached to for the previous night and head over to one of the mooring balls just outside Javea’s port wall on the northern end of the bay. There had been four old white mooring balls last time we’d left Javea, a couple of which we knew had frayed lines. This time there were new yellow and orange mooring balls along with the old white ones, so we chose a new mooring, reckoning that it would be a more secure attachment.
Several hours later, we’d realise how deceiving looks can be.
Confident that we’d moored safely with two strong lines attached from our foreward cleats to the mooring ball, we headed off to see Phil. After trying various ways to reach shore – given that Javea isn’t dinghy friendly and the only place at nearby El Arenal was not reachable due to crashing white roiling waves – we headed for a dinghy dock in Javea’s port, which technically was only for members of the yacht club.
Sitting at a café some time later, we joked that our boat was all right, because we could just see her mast rolling from side to side behind the harbour wall.
“If it stops moving, it’s crashed onto the rocks,” Baz joked. We all grinned at that. If only we’d known.
Several hours later, loaded up with provisions thanks to a groceries run with Phil while he had a car, we headed back in our tender to A B Sea. The weather wasn’t as bad as it had been, but this spot wasn’t overly protected – although it was definitely better than the southern mooring we’d left that morning.
Tired after a long passage from Ibiza the day before and a difficult morning getting to land, I was ready to go to bed soon after we put the food away. Baz stayed up to watch a movie and I stripped off my clothes, hopped into bed and picked up my interesting read, “Belladonna” by Anne Bishop.
I was drifting off to sleep, rocked from side to side as the boat rolled with the waves, when the first lurch and crash ripped me out of cosiness and into shocked wakefulness.
What was that?
I shot up, reaching for my shorts and a top. As I went to put on my shorts, the boat lurched again – again with that sickening sound. We’d hit something again! No time for my top, I ran into the saloon where Baz was already running towards the companionway.
“Something’s hit us!” He shouted.
As he stepped up towards the cockpit, there were two more loud bangs, one after the other and we lurched from side to side.
As the boat was struck, so was my stunned consciousness: Had we come loose from the mooring ball? We’d tied to it with two strong lines, providing redundancy. Surely not.
No, no, NO, this can’t be happening!
I knew it wasn’t another boat. I knew in the pit of my sickened stomach what it was - we were hitting rocks.
And I knew right there that this could be the end of our adventure
The end of our dreams. The end of our home and all our possessions. If we were on rocks, we’d easily get a hole in the mere 3cm thick fibreglass hull. We’d take on water and, ironically so close to a marina, we’d sink!
Baz confirmed my horrified realisation at the same time as he shouted “we’re on the marina wall! … Get me light! Get me the engine keys!”
“NO!” I screamed as I scrabbled over the navigation table looking for the keys. “No! This isn’t happening! God and guides help us, save us, protect us! This is NOT where it ends!”
As I went to pass the keys up to Baz, another lurch jolted them out of my hand and they shot across the floor.
“Oh shit!!” I scrambled to get them, staggering with every lurch, aware that each lunge into the rocks was one more possibility that our precious boat/home could sink.
Baz shouted more orders for the VHF radio, light, etc and I – in a panicky state and unable to clearly see any one item on the cluttered nav table, scrambled to do what was needed (switch on deck floodlight get Baz what he needed (head torches, dive torch, VHF radio). I tried to turn on the radio, but I couldn’t see the On button. My hands trembled as I fumbled with the radio. Oh my god, how could we send out a Mayday if we couldn’t turn it on!
I ran up on deck, as the boat heaved from side to side, that noise, that horrible noise reminding me of our potential fate. I handed Baz the VHF radio as he began to reverse the boat. As he did this, with waves still slamming A B Sea onto the breakwater wall, I noticed a group of four or five people standing on the wall above us watching what was happening. I waved at them, screaming for them to help, to get help, “Ayudar!!” They seemed totally unresponsive. I realised then that it was totally down to Baz and me to save A B Sea. I prayed to the universe again, to give us everything we needed to save our boat.
At that point I realised I had no T shirt on and was bare breasted. At some point later, I must have found a top and put it on, although I can’t remember that happening at all now. I just know that by the end of the ordeal, I was definitely wearing shorts and a top.
Baz continued easing the boat away from the rocks that it had been pushed onto by the waves and I shot up to the bow to assess the mooring ball situation. Our two lines were still securely cleated off and running through the fair leads, but when I pulled one side up, all that came up with it was the small orange floating ring of the mooring ball, with a long but frayed piece of rope attached to it. The new rope that was supposed to have held us to the mooring had somehow sheared through (perhaps it had been run over by a boat’s propeller previously).
As all of this was happening, I strained to hear if the bilge pump had come on. That would be our sign that there had been a breach to the hull. That would be our worst thing to hear – second only to the sound of the boat crashing onto the rocks.
Baz managed to reverse away from the wall.
I expected him to motor into the marina straight away, but he decided to moor onto another ball so we could assess the damage and then decide what we needed to do.
Rather than trust a new yellow mooring ball, we opted for one of the tatty old white ones, after all, we’d been held securely on one last time we’d moored there.
It took us two approaches to moor to an old white mooring ball. I hooked the first one and Baz helped me hold it while I attached a line through, but as I did this, the mooring line was so old it twisted around itself and around the boat hook. This wasn't a trustworthy mooring ball from the looks of the line, but we couldn't leave to find another one until we'd freed the hook.
I cleated off the line. Finally attached to the mooring by our one lines, we were able to take the time to untwist the line and retrieve the hook. I think this may be when I got most of my bruises on my arms, as I was hanging over the toe rail at the bow in a cramped position barely able to reach the line, while Baz stood above me holding the hook as our 9.6 tonne boat strained against the mooring.
Neither of us can remember being banged or bruised as we were concentrating on the tasks at hand and it was only the next day as the bruises emerged that we noticed them!
It took at least 15 minutes, but eventually the boat hook came free and we headed for another, more robust looking mooring ball. Everything takes longer in the dark and in waves, but we persevered and once we were satisfied that we were secure, we regrouped in the cockpit.
There was still no sound coming from the bilge, which we had to check in case we’d taken on water and the pump had failed. We ripped the cushions off the midship settee and dragged items out of the storage to free enough space to open the cover to the bilge. I held my breath as Baz opened it up and we peered in.
In stunned amazement we saw what was in there
Nothing. No extra water. Just the few inches that always sit just under the bilge pump float switch.
That meant we were not taking on any water.
And that meant that, apart from possible scratches and fine cracks, there was no actual penetration damage to the hull!
Dazed, we cried and hugged each other in stunned shock at the ordeal and at what seemed to be an divinely fortunate escape!
Not trusting this old mooring ball, we set the anchor alarm app and took a 4 hour mooring watch shift each, so one of us slept while one kept awake to keep an eye on our situation. I took first watch and read over half of the novel. Every 10-15 minutes, I’d check our position by observing one of the other mooring balls, ensuring that we hadn’t moved from our mooring. At 4am I simply couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, and gently woke Baz up for his watch. I fell onto the bed and entered a dreamless sleep, knowing Baz would be awake and keep us safe.
The following morning Baz inspected the hull. First with the dinghy, and secondly by diving. There was not a scratch on the hull at all. The damage to the boat had been taken solely by the iron keel, which has many scratches on the bulb from where the boat had mounted the rocks. The seal around the top of the keel where it is attached to the hull is intact, and when we motored away from the mooring early that morning towards Calpe, the engine was responsive, and the rudder and prop both seemed to be working exactly as they had done prior to the incident.
However, we will be having A B Sea lifted onto the hard to have a water-maker installed and when that happens, we’ll have her hull, keel, rudder and prop carefully inspected.
As I type this five days after the incident, I do believe Baz, A B Sea and I had the most amazingly fortunate outcome from what could have been so easily the end of our sailing life, home and possessions. If the wind had been stronger, or the waves had lifted the boat higher onto the rocks/wall, it could have been a horror story that I would be writing about, instead of a nasty learning curve with a pretty miraculous conclusion.
We have already set out new procedures as a result of this experience and Barry has outlined them in his blog, so I won’t repeat them here.
I must admit that sitting here in the safe bay of Calpe, I still feel as if Barry and I slipped into a nightmare dimension for one horrendous night, only to find ourselves back in paradise the next day.
I can’t speak for Baz, although I do know that he has been as deeply affected by this incident as myself. I’m not qualified to diagnose, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we weren’t both suffering from a mild form of PTSD after what happened. Certainly the first couple of days had us feeling very raw, vulnerable and teary on and off, and as we write these blogs and read them to each other, we’ve both had to stop, swallow tears, take a breath, and continue.
I didn't sleep well in my Princess Suite for the first three nights, as every gurgling sound echoing through the hull as small waves took on the sound of the boat lurching, and my mind anticipated the sound and shuddering of the boat hitting rock. I realise I can't stand not being able to see what’s happening – being blind to another potential horror. Two nights ago I slept on deck, which was really less sleeping and more resting on my side and checking the nearby visual references for signs that we were not dragging. Only when dawn lightened the sky did I finally succumb to sleep that Baz had to wake me from at 9am in order to go provisioning before we prepped the boat for a potential storm with 20 knot winds this afternoon.
Last night I uncovered the side hatches in my Princess Suite so I could at least sit up and see side views. With absolutely no waves, the boat sat calmly on the millpond like sea and thankfully I slept.
We’re on our anchor in Calpe which is one of the reasons we chose this bay as anchoring is permitted. And “in Mantus we trust” – plus we're now religiously using the anchor app alarm every night. So I’m sure with time, Barry and I will be less affected by this whole incident. I can already feel a shift from anxious to calm within me.
We are certainly grateful for our blessings. I’m thankful for the ‘Unseen’ help that, while Baz and I physically did what was needed to get our boat to safety, I'm certain ensured that minimal damage was done. We’ll never know of course. But I’m still grateful. And I’m learning (again) to live in the present moment regardless of what’s happened before, and what may happen in future. From a metaphysical perspective when I’m ready, I may do a shamanic journey to see if there is any soul retrieval needed for Baz and me from that incident. But I’m not quite ready yet. Soon.
What we’ve learned
Incidents that happen on a boat happen quickly, and can turn bad rapidly. They call for quick thinking, quicker responses and concerted action. They bring a team together in a shared experience and make them stronger. They help you see very clearly your weaknesses and strengths. They give you the opportunity to fine tune procedures. They show you what is important and what is frivolous, what to be grateful for and what to dismiss as non-essential.
Most of all, they remind you how precious life is, that we don’t know what will happen or when, and therefore it is essential to make the most of every moment, love the people who are important to us, demonstrate that affection, acknowledge our strengths and do our best to stay grounded in the Right Here/Right Now. I also believe it is important to cultivate an honest and respecting relationship with ourselves, the boat, with our fellow crew and Nature’s elements whose strength is far greater than our own.
So until my next blog, may we all enjoy fair winds and calm seas. I wish you well, and many thanks for your support, it truly makes a difference.