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A very difficult day - Got fuel to Cape Town

by Lisa Blair Sails the World on 8 Apr
Lisa Blair, the first woman to sail around Antarctica solo Lisa Blair
Well after my dismasting I have spent the last two days motoring North towards Cape Town trying to collect myself and to intercept Hong Kong container ship M/V Far Eastern Mercury who had been diverted by Maritime Rescue Coordination Center Cape Town (MRCC Cape Town) when I had issued a Pan-Pan during my dismasting. The plan was for the container ship to give me fuel and any other supplies I may need to safely make my way to Cape Town.

Just after midnight UTC on the sixth of April the first direct contact was made with the ship. Unfortunately, with a bad communication line and the language difficulties we were having major trouble in sharing our positions in Lat and Long to the extent that I needed to hang up and email the coordinates to the master of the vessel. From here we ended up emailing back and forth every hour our positions as we closed in on each other.

When M/V Far Eastern Mercury was less than 20nm away I put my engine out of gear and drifted to allow them to come to me. At 0230 UTC M/V Far Eastern Mercury was less than 3nm away. We had decided that at this distance they would shut down their motors and drift I would make the approach to them as I had more maneuverability. So, I started motoring over to the grand site of my first ship in 74 days……….. and it even had people on it...

As I motored over and started to get close, it quickly became apparent that the swell was too large to do any sort of approach in the dark. I moved my vessel to a safe clearance and ran below to email this to the Master of the ship. He agreed and we decided to meet again at 5am during first light. I took Climate Action Now a good 2nm away and tried to get some sleep as I drifted with a container ship in the night

I was so worried that they would drift into me that I kept getting up and checking our positions. Once it became clear that they were drifting away from me I was able to manage another short sleep. At 5am I awoke to the first rays of dawn. I jumped on deck to see where my new friends were. I couldn't see them. My eyes scanned the horizon. I couldn’t pick out a container ship. How do you lose a container ship? Finally, I caught a glimpse of there super structure in the distance about 5nm away.

After making contact with the ship’s captain I started to motor towards this ship. The swell was still quite large at 5 meters, occasionally 6 meters so it was slow going. I was instructed to go to the starboard side of the ship and they will put fenders out and tie me up... I went around to the starboard side of the ship and watched as the fenders would go from touching the water to being 10 meters in the air as the ship rolled in the swell. This was not going to work. If they tied me up I would likely find myself suspended in the air as well.



Communication was the biggest problem here as I spent the next hour trying to explain that it was too dangerous for me to come along side and that we needed a new plan. Finally, the master suggested we get a line on from the starboard quarter and try that. I figured that they would then just pass everything down the line and I would be able to collect it and carry on. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

After several goes at throwing a retrieval line we finally got this on the deck of my boat, I darted forward and pulled the mooring line to my vessel and as I had nowhere else to put it, I secured it to a winch in the cockpit. What I didn’t realise at the time was that the windage on M/V Far Eastern Mercury was a lot. The vessel was getting pushed along to starboard and caused the line that I had secured to the port stern to catch on all the safety rails as it tried to move with the ship. I bolted forward with the intention of pulling it off the first stanchion (the vertical parts of the safety rail) at the bow. Just as I arrived it pulled itself free and catches me in the middle, throwing me to the deck. Nice moves Lisa...

With no time to think, I needed to re-locate that line. I ran back to the stern and untied the line and tried my best to grab all the throw line that was still attached. I ran with a bundle of line back to the front of the boat. Finally, I managed to secure the rope to a shackle on the bow of the boat. This whole time that I was bolting back and forwards I was within 15 meters of the stern of the ship and that stern was towering over me rising and falling in the swell. I needed to get away from that. I started to reverse the boat up on the rope to try and keep clear. As the boat was drifting to starboard I continuously kept getting pulled parallel to the ship. As a result I was a little too close for comfort.

The First Mate then suggested that I come to starboard. I assumed that if I got to the other side of the ship I would be in a position to reverse directly away from the ship and out of this scenario where I would get pulled parallel to it. With the language difficulties, we had very different ideas of what going to starboard meant. I maneuvered the boat under engine around to the starboard quarter and then realised that the crew were untying me and taking the rope further up the hull of the ship.

Again, I assumed that I would still stand off, with the single line on the bow and reverse against it to keep position, but as the crew were taking the line forward it also pulled my bow around so that I was now parallel to the side of the ship on her starboard side. I didn’t realise that they still had intentions of tying me alongside until it was too late to get out of there.

Once my bow was pulled around the ship, with its strong drift was almost on me. I called for fenders but the two tyres that were lowered were still rising 10m and falling 10m and would be absolutely no good in stopping a collision. Within seconds of my bow being pulled around the ship was on me and with an almighty crack we collided. As the ship rolled we would separate only to smash back together again when it rolled back.

I was in a really bad place. The good side of my boat was now getting damaged by the very ship that had come to help me. I didn’t know the extent of the damage, only the sound it made. I was shouting for them to cut the rope, that this was too dangerous, cut the rope and when I received confused faces I bolted forward and managed to untie the bow line and throw it clear of my boat. I ran back to the helm and gunned the engine in reverse. I was about a quarter of the way down the back of the ship when I started reversing but the ship was still sliding to starboard. The last thing I need would be to have the stern of the ship crash down on my bow. At full throttle in reverse I just got out of there. My prodder must have cleared the stern of the ship by a centimeter.

My heart was in my mouth. I was shaking from adrenalin as I carefully made my way forward on the port side to take a look at the damage. There was two long cracks at the hull deck join and my heart sank. This situation was just getting worse. I only had a quick look at that time and thought the damage was worse than it really was, but I was devastated that this had even happened. It was way too dangerous to take me alongside in the swell and I guess that they simply didn’t understand that a small fiberglass yacht was always going to come off second best to a steel container ship...

I was by this stage extremely emotional. I was trying to communicate to the ship that I refuse to take another line. They just kept saying come closer, come closer, take line, take line and simply didn’t understand the damage that was done and what could be done. After 20 minutes of trying to explain I finally called Jeff my shore manager. Between trying to gulp air and not cry. I explained that they had tried to tie me alongside which has resulted in damage to the port side of the boat and that they continue to try to get me to pull up alongside. Could he call MRCC Cape Town and see if we can find a translator to explain.

By this stage I was trying to get them to tie all the jerry cans together on a rope with a float at each end and throw it in the water. I would then wait until the ship drifted clear and go and collect. It was a total of 6 hours that followed with me refusing to take a line and them saying come closer, come closer and no one would get that they just needed to put the jerry cans in the water and it would all be over……. and at no further risk to my boat……. No translator could be found.

Finally I reverted to email I emailed the master of the ship to explain that I had sustained damage and would not accept a rope. Could they please do as I ask and put the jerry cans in the water and I would collect like a Man Over Board. It needed to go over the port side of the ship so that it would drift clear of the vessel. We then spoke over the radio and he said yes, yes like man over board, yes, yes. Finally, we seemed to be getting somewhere...

I watched the crew from a distance lower a single jerry can over the side of the ship on a really long rope into the water and let it drift away from the ship. There were no signs of the crew letting go of the rope, so it looked like I was expected to collect and they would take the rope back. Okay, not quite what I asked, but manageable and a safe enough option as I would not be securing the rope to my boat at any stage. I was about 50 meters away off the port quarter of the ship by this stage so I went to put the engine in to forward gear and nothing happened...

My throttle lever at the helm was stuck in forward and not coming out but the propeller was not spinning. Great, just great... I didn’t waste any time and called Chris from SLR in Albany to help me out. After I explained what had happened we check that I was clear of the ship and assumed that I would need about 30min to an hour to figure it out, so I hung up and called Jeff back and asked that he notify the ship that I was having engine issues. Would he standby for 1hr.

I then got to work with Chris. After we went through a really horrible phase, where we thought that the gear box was broken which would likely have resulted in me being forced to abandon my beautiful yacht at sea, we discovered that it was the Morse cable that was faulty. This is the cable linking the gears to the controller by the helm. It was stuck in a position that was preventing the gearbox from going into forward. I tell you, I am not normally an emotional person but there have been so many ups and downs of late and today was no different. With tears coming and going it was in a constant battle to keep my composure long enough to save my yacht. Now that we knew the problem, I disconnected the Morse cable and manually put the engine into gear. Success…… I have forward motion... Yes!

So my engine is fine and the gear box is fine. I just needed to run below to the gear box and manually select the gears each time. Not an issue with making for Cape Town as I can get a tow to the dock….. but it is a major issue with trying to safely maneuver around a container ship... Again, we went through the whole communication game of me trying to get the master to tie all the jerry cans to a rope and throw overboard. It would be hard, but I was confident that I could retrieve from the water even thought I needed to run below to change gears. Eventually I emailed the master to explain that I can only go in forward gear and as such I can’t stop the vessel and steer the vessel at the same time.

This time it worked. They had nine jerry cans on-board so I figured that this would have to do. I would need to build that jury rig to make up the last of the distance but it would get me very close. It took me 20 minutes to pick them up and get them aboard Climate Action Now. I was so happy by that stage that I had fuel that I simply didn’t care. There was a lot of running below to change gears and running back on deck to try to catch the floating rope in the water. In the end, I stayed in forward at idle, hooked the line and got it on a winch. I then ran below to change to neutral gear and finally set about hauling up 9 25 liter jerry cans... Once I was done and they were all aboard I called the mast to let him know. He said, 'Please return cans'….. What?

I tried to explain that I had no option for returning them and not enough storage for the fuel on-board to empty them into. This is not an option. I will just have to be happy with the 225 liters I have managed to get.

I said a huge thankyou and notified MRCC Cape Town that the fuel transfer is complete and I was happy for M/V Far Eastern Mercury to resume their schedule. My VHF radio was flat by this time so it was with a great relief that my phone rang and the Master said that they have found more containers and do I want more fuel. My answer was yes, so they prepared another floating change which had 2 x 25 liter jerry cans and 3 x 20 liter Jerry cans and a care package of sika flex, expanding foam and some mediation for my cough….. What little angles.

This was sent overboard and with the technique refined I had secured the line within minutes and started hauling another 110 liters of fuel aboard. I now had enough to get to Cape Town. Yes. I had also had a further inspection of the damage done to the port side of the boat and realised that it was the bog that was cracked off and that the fiberglass was still solid and strong. There will be some delimitation but that can all get fixed in Cape Town.

So, after numerous trials and the communication challenge I was finally able to resume my voyage thanks to the fantastic help of the Master and Crew from M/V Far Eastern Mercury. Even though it was a challenge the crew worked tirelessly all day to help me. They had the best of intentions at all times. I am so thankful for their support and for the efforts that they went to, to divert three days south off there course to help a solo sailor out.

would also like to thank MRCC Cape Town for assisting me and for Jeff and Sue from National Maritime Collage for putting up with all the stress that I lumped on them that day... And lastly Chris for helping with that engine again. It was a huge ordeal and one I never want to go through again. After over 12 hours of attempting this fuel transfer and the emotional roller coaster that went with it I finally fell into an exhausted sleep as Climate Action Now gently motors north.

My goal now is to get this jury rig up and start motor sailing.

Zhik AkzoNobelb 660x82Yachtspot J Boats Sportsboats 660x82Harken AUS HL Snatch Block 660x82

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