July 29

Its still raining! Man is it raining. We haven't moved the boat either. Its raining! We were going to move to the other side of the island today, near the main village, Fare. But it rained hard all night and its still raining hard. Really hard. Not much to do except read and bake bread and eat. So that's what we are doing. We're having pasta for lunch with peppers and onions with fresh baked bread. Ahhhh. If it stops tomorrow we will leave and go to Fare.

The above was written in the morning at about 10am. It is now 8:30pm and a lot has happened since then. First, I should say that it has finally stopped raining, about an hour ago. And as if that were not enough we had wind in the 30-35k range from about 1pm to 4pm, that's a lot of wind. The dinghy, which was tied up beside us was practically airborne the whole time and threatening to flip. We had to go outside several times to secure items which were strewn about the deck and to tie another line to the dinghy in the hope it would prevent it being flipped.

But the biggest event of the day was a mayday reported by a 31' Sloop named "Amoha", which was about 175nm due East of Suvarov Atoll, and the search for a vessel in the vicinity able to provide assistance. Suvarov is the Southernmost of the Northern Cook Islands and is an uninhabited atoll visited only by cruising yachts, usually en route to Samoa. We are planning to visit Suvarov ourselves next month.

The distress call was broadcast on Innmarsat-C at 02:30UT today. Sat-C, as it is commonly known, is a satellite text messaging system (which is also hooked into the Internet e-mail system). The vessel in question reported a mayday via Sat-C. The message was then broadcast to all Sat-C users and our neighbors, and new friends on S/V Skive, received the message a few minutes after it was sent. We do not have Innmarsat-C ourselves.

Skive then began the search for a vessel in proximity who could render assistance. We picked up their call on VHF and after consulting with them I went up on the Ham radio to the Pacific Seafarers Net (14.313) to see if they knew of a vessel in the area (the crew on Skive are not Ham licensed and were thus not aware of the net). The Pacific Seafarers Net is an organized network managed from shore based stations in the US who monitor and relay messages to and from vessels at sea. They have a roster of vessels underway and each evening the net controller calls each vessel in sequence for a report. Vessels reporting in give position, weather and sea conditions and pass messages, if any, back and forth, or request phone patches to the telephone system for calls home. It is an amazing service run by dedicated and competent individuals the value of which cannot be overestimated.

I spoke with N6HGG (Bob from Arcata California) who is net control and after checking the roster reported that he had not boats en route to Suvarov on his list. He did, however, advise me of one vessel which had arrived at Suvarov yesterday, S/V Peace and Aloha (we had seen their boat in the Marquesas several months ago but have never met them). He then phoned up the US Coast Guard and patched them in on the radio. They asked me what I knew and I reported everything "Skive" had told me. The USCG then conference called the New Zealand Maritime Service (their CG). The NZ people were aware of the situation they said and had a merchant vessel en route to the last reported position, but they were interested in any help we could provide in finding a more proximate vessel since the merchant ship was a full 24 hours away.

For the next few hours there was nothing I could do. But at 6:30pm I tuned into 8.164, a marine SSB frequency which I knew that many boats in the area used as a hailing channel, and made a general call to any vessels who might be in the area explaining the situation. Immediately I got a response from "Peace and Aloha". As I had learned from the Seafarer's Net they had arrived at Suvarov yesterday, so you can imagine my joy at hearing from them. They gave a report of the weather conditions in the area and it didn't sound good. High seas and high winds, clearly they were not about to head out and beat 175 miles into the wind to try to find this boat, they would never make it before the merchant vessel anyway. But they did provide a key piece of information (funny how key pieces of info were dropping into place at each step). The Motor Vessel "Bagan", a 62' Nordhaven was en route to Suvarov and was about 2 days out. This would put them very close to the position reported by "Amoha". "Peace and Aloha" informed me that they meet every morning on 6.516mhz at 7:30am, so it looked like that would be the next chance to contact them. Of course, by then they could practically be at the Atoll.

After consulting with Ian on "Skive" (and several other boats in the anchorage including S/V Argonauta, a sloop from San Diego) we realized that a) as a 62' power yacht they would certainly have a Mini-M sat phone, which "Skive" also had, and b) there were 2 other Nordhaven 62s in the area which were friends with Began (the power yachts all seem to stick together for some reason, hmmmm. Perhaps they feel, well, outnumbered?).

I knew of both of them, M/V Atlas and M/V Rover. I went back up on 8.164 and tried to raise Atlas who I knew was in Moorea as another boat I had just spoken to had told me so. Well, while I was speaking with Cabot on S/V Chewink who was anchored next to "Atlas" (he was going to hail them on the VHF and ask if they knew the Sat phone number for "Began") who should pop up on the frequency but M/V Rover who was in fact anchored only 3.5 miles from the Queen Jane on Huahine! See how its all fitting together? Quite amazing actually. Well, "Atlas" didn't have the phone number but "Rover" did! Well I hailed "Skive" on the VHF to give him the number (remember, I have no Sat phone but "Skive" does) and he was already dialing the number (he had in fact been listening in to my conversation with "Rover").

He got "Began" on the phone immediately (amazing, huh?) and believe it or not, their position was only 28 miles from the last reported position of the vessel in distress! I still find that part amazing. Only 28 miles! Well, still, that's about 3 hours steaming time and its only their last known position. Both "Skive" and "Began" passed this info on to the NZ rescue service and "Began" changed course to head for the last known position. At this point it was out of my hands of course, but I am anxiously awaiting a report from "Began" sometime in the next few hours.

Certainly this situation illustrates the incredible usefulness of the various technologies and personalities employed here. From the low tech to the high tech, from simple VHF and Ham radio to satellite telephone systems, not to mention the omnipresent Ham operators and networks who are there to help, and the incredible network of cruising boats and the willingness of other sailors (and I include those who cruise on power yachts here) to come to the aid of their brethren, even when those people are total and complete strangers to them, is an amazing and heartening thing. I feel privileged to have been able to help even a little, to participate as one small cog in the wheel, in providing assistance to another vessel at sea. Good karma for sure. May I never be in the same position.
Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to report in this space the positive outcome and safety of the crew of the S/V Amoha.