OMG!!! We just had THE SCARIEST MOMENT OF OUR SAILING LIVES!!!! Be prepared, this is a long story.
The wind was still blowing approximately 15 knots with higher gusts from the northwest. However, the water appeared to be calming down some, so we made the decision to attempt taking the dinghy back to Allens Cay from Highborne Cay. It was only 2 miles as the crow flies, but Livin’ Life had to take a route further out to skirt around a large coral reef area, making the trip nearer to 5 miles. Here’s where we get really stupid.
Since the wind was from the northwest, Dave decided to go on the leeward (east) side of the island which was more protected from the wind. The tide was fairly low and we could see reefs we had to steer around that took us a ways away from shore. Let me explain, the Exuma Sound near the island is maybe 10-15 feet deep, then 60 feet or more, then it drops off to around 2,000 feet. Somewhere between 60 and 2,000 feet our outboard motor quit. It had never failed us before.
We heard all the stories of people in dinghies losing the motor and being blown out to sea. We also heard all the warnings to keep a “ditch bag” (overboard kit) on the dinghy in case of emergency. So what did we have onboard the dinghy? Life vests and oars. That’s about it. Dave tried and tried to get the motor restarted to no avail. We were quickly being blown out to sea. Why? Because we were on the leeward side of the island, like idiots. If we had been windward, the wind would have blown us ashore. No, we are being blown out to sea.
Dave and I break out the oars and paddle like our lives depend on it – and they do! We paddled and paddled and inched along. The water was deep, the wind strong, and the waves big. We were fighting a losing battle. Amazingly, we eventually started making some progress, very slow and nearly imperceptible progress. But how long could we keep up the paddling? My muscles were screaming and I am sure Dave’s were, too. We stopped and Dave tried starting the motor again, but it would not catch. It wouldn’t even pretend to!
We were quickly losing any progress we had made. Dave took up his oar again and we continued paddling. The next time Dave tried to start the motor mom took over paddling for him. Nothing. Dave resumed paddling and we continued on for an hour and a half. I was beyond exhaustion, but somehow found the strength to keep going. When your life absolutely depends on it, there is some energy reserve you pull from that you would otherwise never see.
There was another Dean catamaran anchored on the leeward side of the island. The woman aboard spotted us and came out in her dinghy to make sure we were okay. She couldn’t see us clearly and thought we were avid adventure seeking kayakers. When she realized we needed help, she towed us the rest of the way to their Dean. I gotta say, I LOVE THIS WOMAN. Katia, our lifesaver! Literally! By the time she came, we had made enough progress toward shore to start believing we were going to make it as long as we didn’t die of exhaustion first.
Katia said she was relatively inexperienced with their dinghy, leaving the job to her husband, Denis, except in the calmest of conditions. We wouldn’t have noticed. She looked like she had been sent straight from heaven to us. After towing us in, she invited us aboard their beautiful 50 foot 2012 Dean catamaran to rest and gave us some much-needed water – because we, of course, were not even prepared with drinking water on the dinghy.
As I said, I was beyond exhaustion. As I stepped aboard their boat, I shook and wobbled and nearly had to crawl into the cockpit. My throat was parched as I needed water long ago. I was also regretting not eating a proper lunch before we left on the dinghy. My reserves were used up.
Here is what we did wrong, at least to begin with: We should always keep on the dinghy a handheld VHF radio, drinking water, an anchor with a long line, a flashlight, and a GPS. There are suggested lists that include a lot more, but these things were top of mind while we were going through it as must haves. Even just the VHF radio would have allowed us to send out a call for help to the marina and all the boaters that were nearby but unable to see us. A GPS would have enabled us to give them a precise location, but we were close enough to shore to have been able to describe our location well enough to have been found in the dwindling daylight. In the dark, it would have been impossible without a GPS, because we had no light source whatsoever on the dinghy. Yes, I know, we are idiots. But I can assure you, we will NEVER make that mistake again!
There is a happy ending. We were rescued by wonderful Russian folks (that also lived in Canada). We are still alive to tell the tale. And we made some great friends. Denis and their toddler daughter Marina accompanied us back to our boat on their dinghy in case our motor cut out again. Of course, it didn’t. It ran smooth as silk. We invited them back for some wine. Denis returned to their boat, Bliss, picked up Katia, and brought a bottle of wine and some mahi mahi they had caught earlier. We had a wonderful dinner together, shared sailing stories, drank three bottles of wine, and thoroughly enjoyed the evening together. I mean, come on, what are the chances of being rescued by other Dean owners? Most people never even heard of Dean! You have to love it. We sure do.
Unfortunately, Denis and Katia are heading north to Miami, as their boat is being showcased in the Miami Boat Show in February. Dean has gone bankrupt, but some of the Dean people have started another company that are using that hull design in a new company. Denis and Katia are also selling their beautiful Dean and plan to downsize. We may meet up with them again at the end of the season as most boaters head to Grenada for the hurricane season. I hope so! We owe our lives to these people!