Friday, June 20, 2008

June 19, 2008 - Peterson Bay, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

Perhaps we should have taken this as a sign . . .
While in Luganville on Monday morning, we checked the post office to see if our chart card had arrived from CMAP yet. There was no sign of it, so we decided to spend a few days exploring the east coast of Santo while we waited for it to arrive. We headed up to Peterson Bay that afternoon. The pass to get into the inner ancorage here is very shallow and strewn with coral heads. We figured that we needed as much water under the keel as possible to get in here. High tide wasn't until almost six pm, so we arrived here at 4:30 pm, hoping to have just enough light left to negotiate the coral heads on the reef.

I took my position on the bow. Sten was at the wheel. There was a bit of cloud cover, so I couldn't see much until it was right under us. We passed just to starboard of some brilliant green coral heads. Then I saw a brown blob of coral in front of us and began gesturing to Sten to turn to starboard. He looked up from the depth gauge to tell me that we only had 4 feet under the keel. As soon as the words were out of his mouth he saw me madly gesturing. It was too late. We hit the coral head with a tremendous jolt. The rig shuddered, the hull hesitated, but then we were moving again. We both started laughing, mostly from nervous relief. A few minutes later, we were both feeing the adrenaline dump in our legs. Our keel hasn't touched the bottom since the Caribbean, so we figure we were due.

We dove on the keel Tuesday morning to check out the damage. Except for two narrow strips where our bottom paint used to be, she looks fine. On Thursday morning, when the cloud cover finally cleared, we went to snorkel the pass to see if we could find "our" coral head. There it was, emblazoned with a stripe of our red bottom paint. But now that we've scouted out the pass in good light, we're even more confused about how we're going to get ourselves out of here. It looks like we'll be waiting a few more days until we can head out at high tide during the daylight.

As soon as we got in here, Nick on Kika began hauling his dinghy out of the water. Within 15 minutes he was underway. As he passed by us, I shouted out to him that I was trying not to take his sudden departure personally. But they had to go right there and then if they were going to go any time soon. The tide tables show that there won't be another high tide during daylight for several days. After Kika left, we were alone here until Thursday afternoon when a boat showed up, sniffed out the pass, and then promptly turned around and anchored outside of it. Good decision. A few minutes later they came over in their dinghy and asked us how much we drew. When we told them that we'd touched with our 6'4" draft, they decided that their 7' draft should stay anchored outside. If we'd arrived with enough light to see what we were attempting, we probably wouldn't have come in here either.

About two hours later, as the light was getting very low, two more boats arrived. One had been here before, and was leading the other in. We were very curious to see what path they took through the coral so we could scout it out for our departure. Then the boat behind them got stuck (full stop, spinning on the coral head under their keel) not once, but twice. We decided to stick with following our inbound track right back out again. Since we knocked the top off that coral head, there should be no obstructions. Right?

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