Life was getting downright boring on the little atoll I called home. I’m not complaining because if not for this almost barren few miles of rocks, beach, and palms, I’d have drown or killed myself. Admittedly, there were more than a few nights I wondered if either would have not been a better fate.
Stranded here for what appears to be an eternity, I have had plenty of time to contemplate creative ways to kill myself. Life is the rather boring as a castaway, but there are no quick fixes to end one’s life on a deserted island. Guns, pills, eating till you explode, none of those things work when you don’t have them. If I was to kill myself, I’d probably need booze and pills, but since I haven’t any guns or the right kinds of pills, I persist in life as a castaway.
Of course there are moments when being the only person on a pristine beach is quite fabulous. Gorgeous tropical sunsets, the calm of the ocean slapping up on the beach. Stranded in hell or in paradise, depends on the day.
How I got here is an adventure of mistakes, bad luck, bad timing and really bad weather. The mistakes were innocent enough. Losing one GPS, having another just fail and being really terrible at celestial navigation were probably the biggest. With redundant devices to navigate, I wasn’t suppose to need to be good. That was my fault, but whatever bumped my rudder, bent it just enough to cause my autopilot to steer a few points to the port. Most of the time I could get my boat to point in the right direction, but off watch I was at the mercy of the winds and currents. I’d guess that once ever five or six days, when the sea was absolutely calm, I could drop the sails and sleep while drifting.
And then there was the weather. I am pretty sure that during a vicious squall, I was pushed and then continued to sail south of my destination, Hilo, Hawaii. The squall lasted a week and by my best estimate, pushed me several hundred miles south of the Hawaiian archipelago. During that squall, the mount on my rudder broke completely off. It was by sheer and the rope I had fastened to hold my rudder over, that I didn’t lose the whole assembly overboard.
A few days after that squall, the ocean calmed enough so as to enable repairs on the boat. I was able to disassemble the rudder and lash it to a makeshift shaft which gave me back some steerage, but I was limited to running before the wind. That had inherent dangers which added levels of stress to my already deplorable situation. Since I didn’t have much rudder, I flew my spinnaker on mild days which allowed me to relax and work on figuring out where I was. All that worrying about the junked rudder, position and over all situation came to a head about four weeks after I missed Hawaii when a real storm pretty much took over.
At this point you are probably wondering, why didn’t I send out an SOS, scream for help on my radio, shoot flares at passing ships or trigger my EPIRB? Well I did all that except for shoot flares. You have to see or think you see someone to launch a flare and I had not seen a soul or ship since I left Noyo Harbor near Fort Bragg. As to my VHF radio, it seemed to do better receiving than transmitting as the most it was good for once I was twenty miles off California was random noise and the occasional scratchy automated weather report. The radio seemed to work fine on my first sale up the coast from Bodega Bay where I outfitted, to Noyo Harbor.
I did try to write “SOS” on my mainsail, but ran out of marker on the first “S”. I thought of bleeding myself for ink, but somehow painting “SOS” in my blood seemed crazier than my desperate situation.
As it was my West Wight Potter 19 was suppose to be pretty much unsinkable. I wasn’t in any immediate danger of starving, dehydration and hadn’t suffered any minor injuries during the various storms. I was having great luck trolling a fishing line behind the “Lori Lee”m especially at night when I’d run some led’s off the stern. I was also always able to capture enough rain to keep my fresh water stores topped off. I didn’t even needed to open my Katadyn-06 Desalinator, donated by a generous appreciator of my “company”. She said my massages were “refreshing”, so if I must leave, I should never go without fresh water.
She was fun to “refresh” and the portable desalination would come in handy later on. Sure do miss her now.
But now like me, the Lori Lee has been trapped on this atoll for God knows how long. We are both sort of landlocked here, but the Lori Lee is beached inside the atoll, put there by rough water and weather. In retrospect, I am glad to have landed anywhere. The storm was going rather roughly when the boat lurched and was knocked unconscious for an unknown length of time. When I awoke, it was clear that the Lori Lee was not making headway.
It appeared that an atoll got in the way and we were pitched over coral reef and beached in a lagoon. The Lori Lee took the brunt of the storm with grace, but being pushed over the coral cracked her hull near the transom. Her days sailing are done and she sits on the beach, bow partially submerged in the lagoon and the stern high and dry.
She sits hard aground as a reminder of every mistake I ever made. Even if I could float her, there is no way to sail out of the lagoon as it is completely surrounded by the atoll’s extensive reefs. You can where the reefs end, frothing waves breaking over them, turn to deep blue ocean. Where the island is narrowest, storm surges occasionally wash into the lagoon where the reef is narrow.
Nope, quite trapped here, by circumstance. The Lori Lee is fast aground for life. Sort of like being trapped in heaven and hell, all wrapped in one. Heaven in that I am alive, apparently healthy, and have plenty of food, water and shelter. Hell in that I am alone and for lack of any evidence to the contrary, I might as well be the last man on earth.
No complaints other than the usual, “trapped on a desert island” ones. I have been quite fortunate to find any land and under other circumstances, this atoll would be a cool place to hang out for a week or a month. In those circumstances this atoll would be more like some kind of paradise getaway. It features long sandy beaches with a central lagoon that is about 20 feet at its deepest point. The atoll is fairly round, rising about thirty feet above the sea at it’s highest point on the southern shore. At both the east and west sides are narrow beaches from the ocean to the lagoon. The northern edge of the atoll rises maybe ten feet from the ocean and as is the southern half, it is forested with coco palms and various other fauna.
The atoll is like two islands with unique players. On the southern side I share camp with a robust community of feral chickens and the occasional native birds. I really haven’t found anything else other than crabs living here. The northern side is ruled by Rattus norvegicus, or the common blac rat. Thankfully, they seem contained to the north side of the atoll, but I am pretty sure there must be a few among me given the occasional damage to my stores.
Beyond these invaders, there is abundant sea life that calls this atoll home. I don’t even mess with the chickens because fish, crabs, lobster and oysters are plentiful. Fishing is a pretty low effort process. I either dive the lagoon or scavenge among the reefs during low tide for shellfish. I occasionally set nets I made from paracord in certain areas of the reef that usually catch a fish or two. When I feel adventurous, do grab my fishing gear and cast for a big fish, but have lost gear to what I think were sharks. I have plenty of paracord, so I stick to my nets.
There is even a dilapidated concrete house nestled on the south side of the atoll. The roof, windows and doors were long gone before I beached here. I have since “improved” it with a thatched roof and have fixed shutters over the window frames made of my sails. I prefer to sleep under the trees, but occasionally there are storms where I find comfort in the old building’s sturdy concrete walls. Who knows what it was, I don’t care. It serves to keep the chickens out of my stuff and makes a fine place to hide out when the occasional storm comes a visiting.
Coming Up: Chapter 2 A day On A Deserted Atoll