When we arrived, we met the owner of the fiberglass hull on the reef. Let’s call him Hank. Hank was standing knee-deep in a mixture of diesel, hydraulic fluid, and saltwater on the inside of what was only a few days before his pride and joy (and life savings). It was now a stripped and wrecked hulk. The only evidence of what a beautiful boat it had been was sitting at the bottom of his hull under a putrid mix of liquids.
Hank introduced himself as “The Idiot That Wrecked His Boat.” Never mind that he’d been sailing for over 40 years without ever putting a boat on the reef. Right now, he was the owner of a shipwreck, and since he was single handing he was uninsured. And though I didn’t agree with the way he introduced himself (it can happen to anyone, in an instant) – the truth is: his situation had dramatically changed and he couldn’t undo what had been done.
We needed to get underway, though – so pity and introductions weren’t really on the menu. We were here to pull a 150 HP Yanmar and a giant Onan genset out of the wreck. Unfortunately the boom and most of the rigging had been stripped by the Kuna. That was making the job of lifting a 900 + pound engine out of a boat, which was tilted at 45 degrees and covered in diesel fuel – very difficult. There was nothing above us to attach block and tackle to. And we certainly couldn’t lift the engine/genset out by hand.
The solution was entirely Hank’s. He wasn’t a spring chicken, but the way he jumped around the boat, climbed across lines, and generally kicked ass was really impressive. Moving with a sense of purpose and good, quick decision making are both things I really enjoy working around. Hank is a very impressive human being.
We needed something to lift with. So Hank wove a spiderweb of lines around the remaining standing rigging, then created tension with other lines, then attached block and tackle to that. Here’s what I’m talking about.
With this in place, Hank and I squeezed in a quick “what went wrong” discussion while pulling the engine off of it’s mounts. The girls on One World were flying around the deck attaching lines and troubleshooting the rigging we were using to create lift. The entire day went by with no real breaks – except the occasional water/cracker/cigarette break. I watched Hank, he ate and drank very little and took no breaks. He was bleeding from several places, and you could see the weight of the situation in the wrinkles on his face. We had so much ahead of us, it was hard to look back – but we all believed that was probably good for Hank.
Toward the end of the day we managed to get the engine out of the boat. From there we lowered it into a dinghy. We all clapped and celebrated. We’d done it. And regardless of the situation, you really do have to take time to celebrate any victory you have.
The thing we hadn’t quite figured out was how to get the dinghy, loaded past it’s limits, to S/V One World – through more than a mile of scattered/shallow reef. Shit. Ariel and I decided to take the engine/dingy back, towed behind my dinghy. We made it 50 feet. Then we started hauling everything over the shallow stuff. We lifted the engine/dinghy, walked feet, dropped it, got the second dinghy, pulled it 3 feet – and started over again. For two hours. Complete physical exhaustion at the end of an exhausting day. The girls on One World had been at it for longer than us. Hank had spent every waking moment since the wreck doing this kind of work. I’ve worked pretty hard under pretty rough conditions, but this took the cake.
Eventually we made it out of the reef maze. Then we made it to One World. Then we needed to lift the damn engine on deck. Then we needed food and drink and rest. So we cooked on NOMAD while One World provided steaks. A small win at the end of a grueling day.
The following morning we started on the genset. We were all convinced it would be much easier and lighter than the engine. We couldn’t have been more wrong. After a breakfast, Ariel snipped at Luke and my hair.
Then we all met at the shipwreck and started working. First Hank disconnected the genset inside the yacht. Then we all rewove the spiderweb, so we could attempt to lift the genset out of the yacht, into the dingy. This took all day. We needed to rerig, reposition, and retention over and over.
But we got it out. Then it was the same story – how the Hell do we get this back to One World, over the reef?
Long story short – we did it. Eventually.
Then we went to a little birthday party on the beach. Everyone was leaving by the time we showed up exhausted, hungry, and ready to blow off a bit of steam. We drank and snacked. We met some people. Then we brought a small party back to S/V NOMAD where I cooked and then we ate and drank. I actually was the first to leave my own party, retiring to my cabin and immediately falling asleep.
The Last Day
The third and final day we spent at the wreck, my crew went back and pulled off a couple pieces of deck hardware and other things that I could use on NOMAD. The other thing I was interested in was the plethora of super high-quality 100% stainless hose clamps. Sounds stupid, but I’m so sick of crappy hose clamps – nice hose clamps seem like a real luxury.
Once Hank showed up, we began pulling apart his folding prop. Our fears were realized though, when we found we needed a special tool to finish the job. But, since we didn’t care about the rest of the boat – it was easy enough to just pop out the prop shaft and take the whole damn shaft out. Of course that meant that we needed to take off the rudder. And so I crawled into the diesel-filled wreck and started pulling off bolts from very heavy pieces of metal over my head.
If that last sentence made you pause, good. That kind of stuff isn’t good practice. I was being pretty careful in there, knowing that heavy pieces of unsecured metal above you is a precarious situation. But there was a point where someone else wiggled a piece of that metal and it all came crashing down. A sizable chunk caught me in the face, but I escaped with all of my teeth intact and only a busted lip.
That was the official end of the salvage operation for me – everyone was tired and was making mistakes. Mistakes are dangerous. And we needed water. And we were already supposed to be in Colombia.
So we threw in the towel and headed back to NOMAD. There we began getting our life back together and started a half-day of recovery. Lisa dropped by unexpectedly, and then was gone as quickly as she came. Then, the following morning we pulled anchor and left Hank and the girls on One World. We’d managed to do the big stuff – salvage the genset and motor. We’d all learned alot. We’d all worked hard. We’d all established some positive sailing karma. We’d all been impressed with Hank. We’d all been impressed with Ariel and Rachel.
When we were leaving Hank dropped four very nice blocks in my dinghy. For a guy who’d just lost everything – it’s hard to explain how impressed I was that he was giving what little he had away. I wanted to refuse the gift. But Hank hadn’t been sleeping. We’d been bleeding and working together for the three days. We’d shared some pretty rough moments. We’d shared some grim laughter and some real heartbreak. After all of that, I can’t imagine handing back a gift.
But as we motored out of The Hot Tub, I couldn’t help a feeling of wanting to do more.