by Christine Kling
Monday morning I awoke early and watched the sky grow light listening to the quiet morning sounds here in our anchorage off the island of Eneko. At 7:30 the cruiser’s net anchor started off with the usual good morning, and she asked if there was any emergency traffic.
A new voice came on. A man’s voice. He said he was from a yacht that had shipwrecked on a reef close to the pass. He sounded surprisingly calm as he gave his position and explained that his boat had grounded around 4:00 a.m.
Wayne and I both were up and heading for the cockpit. He’d said he was east of the lagoon pass. I picked up the binoculars and looked to the west. There through the mist of the breakers, about three miles off, I saw the white hull and mast canted over at an extreme angle. She was high and dry alright.
The man was telling the net anchor that his boat, a 40-foot Beneteau had water in it, but he wasn’t sure if she was holed or if the water had come in via the breakers that had washed over the boat. He said he had taken his kayak to shore with his important papers and money, and he was now on shore.
It only took us a few minutes to get the engine started and to drop our mooring. We motored over and anchored on the lagoon side of the island which our charts showed as Entmagetto but the local newspaper later reported as Enemakij. We saw the sailor sitting on the lagoon-side beach made mostly of coral rubble. Through the trees, we could see the boat’s mast on the other side of the tiny island.
We went ashore in the dinghy, but the approach to the island was surrounded by coral. The fellow waded out across the reef and took hold of our dinghy. He introduced himself as JJ, and the exhaustion and pain in his eyes was apparent. Yet he smiled, shook our hands, and told us he was Canadian. He had bought the boat 14 years before, spent 10 years working on her and sailing in British Columbia, and he had taken off just over 4 years earlier. He’d cruised from Canada down to Mexico, on to the Marquesas, French Polynesia, Tonga, New Zealand, and he had been on his way north from Fiji and Tuvalu. He attributed the grounding to an autopilot failure.
We loaded his valuables that he had there in a couple of Pelican cases and bags into the dinghy. Wayne said he would go out to the boat with him, and I offered to take the dinghy back out to Learnativity since there was no place to land. I put my hand on JJ’s shoulder and said, “You’re alive, and you’re not alone now.” He smiled.
I watched the fellows climb up the beach, and Wayne introduced himself to the Marshallese men on the beach. There was a house at the opposite end of the island, and they lived there. I learned later that the island was privately owned. One man identified himself as the owner of the island, but it turned out later that the island is owned by a large family, not only one individual.
About an hour later, the cruising boat Mahili arrived from town with three dinghies and folks off Navigator and Celsius. And the local Police boat arrived and asked them for help to dinghy some of their crew ashore. An hour after that another cruising boat Pacific Hwy arrived with crew off Good News. More cruisers went ashore to help.
Wayne and JJ had got the boat’s main anchor way out into the surf to prevent her from going any further up the reef, and Wayne was optimistic that she could be dragged off at the next high tide around 6:00 p.m. Cary off Seal was back in town communicating with the local officials and ready to arrange for a tow if it looked possible. The evening tide was going to be a foot higher than the tide the boat went up on. Everyone ashore started unloading the gear off the grounded boat. I was able to stay in touch with Wayne since he had the handheld VHF. A boat with some North American Mormon missionaries had arrived, and they too pitched in. Everyone was working to unload the boat to lighten it and the mound of gear on the beach grew higher. But as the tide began to rise again, the boat flooded just as quickly as the outside water rose. JJ told Wayne how he much the hull had flexed as she’d pounded her way up with the tide, and it was clear she was significantly holed.
When the tide came in far enough to get the dinghy over the reef, I went ashore and I heard the whole story. Wayne had tried to convince JJ that he was exhausted and maybe it would be better to get some rest and rethink about what to do in the morning. But JJ had made his decision. He signed the boat over to the island’s owners. JJ basically gave everything away choosing to take only a few personal possessions home with him.
We invited him to stay aboard our boat that night. The other cruising boats returned to the town moorings, but JJ wanted to go back to his boat the next morning. He only had a pair of Crocs on his feet, and he needed real shoes to return to Canada. We ate dinner and talked about boats and cruising and what he might do when he returned. Finally it was time to retire and I said, “Get some rest. You need it.” He shook his head. “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep,” he said.
The next morning, the boat had been pushed much farther up the reef by the higher tide and we could now see her framed in the break in the trees. The guys went back to the boat and got a few more of JJ’s personal belongings and they showed the island’s owners how to get off the solar panels and the batteries and other valuable gear. When they returned to our boat, we got underway and motored back to town. En route we checked flights and airfares and discussed what his options were as Majuro only has three flights a week from here to Hawaii.
Once we got on the mooring, Cary from Seal came by and offered to take JJ to see the officials to clear in. When he returned a little over an hour later, he had already bought a plane ticket home for Wednesday’s evening flight. He asked if he could stay one more night on the boat. I considered whether or not it would be a kindness to treat him to a night at a hotel, but I decided JJ needed company more than physical comfort.
We were headed to go grocery shopping and to drop off laundry, so we had a chance to show him around a little. He grinned when he saw the produce section in the grocery store, and he said he would have been very happy spending a season here in Majuro. Hi spirits were good and whether it was carrying groceries or holding the dinghy painter, he always wanted to help. We so wanted to help him out, but he was unfailingly generous to us.
That night Wayne and I mostly just listened. JJ told us stories about his adventures cruising as a singlehander. He explained how he had become an amateur meteorologist and began sharing weather forecasts over the SSB nets with other cruisers. We learned about how he had defected from Czechoslovakia and had started a new life in Canada. Wayne and I sipped our red wine and JJ his cranberry juice, and when I served dinner he smiled, thanked me and said he finally really felt hungry. That night he explained how much he liked Majuro. “I’ve had to start over before, and I can do it again,” he said. “In two years, I will have another boat. I’ll be back.”
Wednesday, JJ spent the day showing me websites for weather planning and going through the bags of gear he had brought out to our boat. Almost everything was wet. One small net book still worked. He had bags of documents and personal papers that were soggy. Two computers leaked water. A pelican case full of hard drives and tech gear had flooded. Most of his clothing was salt water damp, and he had more than he could fit in his small bags. He salvaged a Pactor modem and packed it. Wayne smiled at him. “For your next boat.” JJ nodded.
At 5:00 p.m., we stood outside the Tide Table Restaurant and several other cruisers had come by to see him off as well. As Wayne and I hugged JJ and said good-bye he kept thanking us, but I know we both felt that it had been our privilege to do what we could for him. As we loaded him and his bags into the airport van, we all three had tears in our eyes.
The next day was Thanksgiving, and we motored back out to our home at Eneko. I cooked up the turkey we’d bought on that shopping trip with JJ. Wayne and I talked about where he might be on his 24-hour trip back to Vancouver via Honolulu and San Fran.
Sailors are known to watch other boats coming into an anchorage and to critique their technique over a cold one. Sometimes dockside Monday morning quarterbacking is all too common. But when sailors have sailed all the miles to get as far as this distant place called Majuro, they are generally more humbled by the many times they knew that but for a little bit of luck, their trip might have ended in disaster. Wayne and I know we have so much to be thankful for.
This Thanksgiving I will always remember as the time I felt such gratitude for the opportunity to live this amazing life and to be a part of the cruising community of Majuro who came together to do what they could for this stranger. He left a stranger no more. Safe journey, JJ, and I hope to meet you out on the water again someday.
ChristineShare on Facebook