The route from Vanuatu to Mackay in the Australian state of Queensland takes boats through the Hydrographer’s Passage in the Great Barrier Reef; a challenging bit of navigation at the best of times, made more so in the choppy seas and head winds that the leading World ARC boats encountered.
It was whilst motor-sailing through the trickiest part of the passage at around 1500 on Wednesday 26 July, that the crew of Oyster 56 Mistral noticed the bow was starting to ride low in the swell as waves started to sweep the foredeck – they were taking on water. Water ingress is every skipper’s nightmare, made worse by the location with coral reefs close by and no sea-room to alter course for wind and waves.
Skipper Chris Parker put out a PAN-PAN call and the crew got to work with pumps and buckets, whilst trying to find the cause of the in-flow. Their PAN-PAN was picked up by Australian Coastguard who directed an SAR helicopter to the scene, whilst World ARC boat Pachamama, already ahead of Mistral, turned around to close on their position and assist.
The Coastguard SAR helicopter requested Mistral to activate their EPIRB so that they could be located quickly, and then stood by them as the crew worked hard to control the flow, having closed their watertight forward bulkhead. With Pachamama now on station 300m away, and the water level under control, even though the cause was not yet found, the boat continued onto Mackay, an anxious 15 hours away. During that time the crew manually bailed out on a 20 min on, 10 min off schedule, until arrival at the Mackay breakwater the following morning.
However, the drama was not yet over for the tired crew of Mistral as they limped towards Mackay Harbour, bow down and waves intermittently burying the bow. Their code-0 sail, which had been lashed to the foredeck, was now torn and washed off the deck, choosing this moment to finally wrap its shredded self around their propellor, robbing them of their engine in the process.
Pachamama took them under-tow, losing one of their two engines to a snagged rope in the process, but getting under way again. Boats from the Mackay boatyard and the local volunteer rescue organization came out to assist, finally getting both boats safely into the marina, where Mistral was swiftly and efficiently hauled out by the boatyard crew. It was a relief to all involved to have everyone safely ashore.
It is still a mystery as to where the water ingress came from and investigations ashore are continuing. Meanwhile, the successful outcome of this incident, with both crew and boat arriving safely into Mackay is a tribute to the seamanship of skipper and crew, and their good preparation for offshore sailing.