Sunday, October 16, 2011

The F/V Lesila Rescue - Followup

Here is what happened after we dropped the Captain and one crew member off at Niuatoputapu (NTT) and sailed off into the night... The below information is pieced together primarily from conversations with Eric of s/v Secret Agent Man.

It turns out that the crew member was originally from NTT, so when the small boat that came out to pick them up off s/v Shango got back to the town dock, many people had gathered (news of the events had spread by word of mouth through town) on the dock, including several of the crew member's extended family. Some were crying in joy. Eric said it was quite moving, and that the villagers were so grateful to the cruisers for going out of their way to help the fishermen.

So presumably the people of NTT pulled out all the stops to house and feed these two guys, and get their part fixed. But there was still the problem of reuniting them with their boat, which continued to drift west with the other 2 crew aboard, at the rate of about 1.5 knot (approx 1.5 mile per hour). Every hour wasted on shore meant another mile further away.

But there still remained the problem of how to get the two crew back to Lesila. There wasn't a local boat in NTT capable of going to sea, nor any big enough to tow Lesila in. Conversations were started by the owner Nuku Alofa, 300 miles away, trying to find an alternate means. However, the ultimate solution was to press Eric on s/v Secret Agent Man into service. So Eric loaded up the two crew members and set out to rendezvous with the drifting vessel. A regular radio schedule was kept via SSB, so Eric knew where the boat was. By the time he set out, the Lesila was about 50 miles downwind of NTT (nearly a 10 hour sail).

Secret Agent Man finally arrived on scene just before dark, and the two men were transfered back to Lesila with the repaired part. Eric hove to to wait for the results. He also had to loan out a few tools. Eric said that it was a dark night, and the wind had picked up. The Lesila didn't have any lights on. He was afraid he'd run into it during the night.

By 9am the next morning, the Lesila had drifted to 16.29S 174.08W, 85 miles downwind from NTT. And the men had worked through the night trying to repair the transmission, and had finally concluded that they could not repair the transmission.

Here is Eric's emailed report (to the Police in Neiafu):

This is Eric captain of the SV Secret Agent Man. I dropped the men off on Lesila last night but they were unable to fix their engine. I spent the night on the radio with Nukualofa radio trying to get them a tow back to Nuiatoputapu. I am unclear what is happening. Please let me know. Their position as of right now 2000 zulu 900AM local is - 16.29S 174.08W

With a still-inoperable engine, and no certain rescue from the Tongan Navy, the Captain begged Eric to take them in tow into NTT or Neiafu. But it was now blowing about 20 knots right from that direction, and Eric's Cal 35 was not designed for that kind of work. He refused, and again offered to take the men off the drifting vessel to safety. But the men refused. By this time, a number of emails and radio contacts had been made, between the people in NTT, and the people in Neiafu, and there was some hope that the Tongan Navy would be dispatched to tow them in.

Eric couldn't do any more for them at that point, so he established a regular radio schedule with them, and set sail for Neiafu.

It was nearly a day later before a Tongan Navy ship was dispatched to tow the Lesila in, and yet another day before Eric got a report from the Captain via radio that they were under tow, headed home to Nuku Alofa. But they did eventually get rescued. Eric is here in the harbor with us in Neiafu.
Sherry & Dave
At 10/10/2011 9:38 PM (utc) our position was 18°39.73'S 173°58.99'W

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