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Problems en-route to Isla Beata, DR: Incredible assistance from the DR Navy

By SY Bonjour Nicole: Passed on by Frank Virgintino — last modified Dec 18, 2014 02:34 PM
The Navy of the DR motored 4 hours south in heavy seas to render assistance to this stricken yacht, at no charge. They stood with the boat all the way back to Barahona; perhaps another 6 hours.

Published: 2014-12-18 00:00:00
Countries: Dominican Republic

We left Bonaire on Wednesday 3rd December, 2014, heading to Isla Beata before sailing to Haïti/Ile à Vache. Our boat is a 47 feet Jeanneau monohull from 1989.

At 8am on the Friday morning, we noticed that we had a steering problem. We were in position 16°56,8N/71°02,7W - 40 nm to the SE of Isla Beata, Dominican Republic.

As we had already had the same problem leaving Cape Verde in 2009, we thought it was the same thing... a weld had broken between the axe of the rudder and the rudder. But this time we couldn't steer at all, contrary to 2009. We thought that the rudder was blocked on one side.

We could take the main sail down and with the staysail on the wrong side we "hove-to". The boat became quiet and was drifting slowly, at about 2 kts, to Isla Alto Vela.

We were planning to stay like that during about 20 hours and trying to repair in better conditions because the sea was rough (2.5 to 3 m/ 6-7Bf). But we thought it could be better to already have a solution in case we could not repair and we began to search phone numbers and contact with our iridium phone . We were able to contact Barahona harbour by phone. They gave us another number in the Oficina Portuaria. We had to call back to speak with someone who could speak a little English. They gave us another number... the Navy Captain.

We could eventually call him at 11.15. He told us that a boat would come to us in 3 or 4 hours. Everybody was very kind and tried to help. Then we called the Navy Captain again to repeat him that we were not in danger, that we could wait until being closer to Isla Beata, that we were not sure to need a tow and that the sea was too rough where we were. I also asked for a price if they would really come to us. They answered that it was free and we hadn't to worry about that. And he told us that the boat was coming at any rate.

We waited during the afternoon, having a rest and finally, as the sea was a bit down, opened the back of the boat to have a look at the steering parts. We noticed that the rudder was perfect but the quadrant was broken.

At 4.30pm, the Navy boat arrived. Canopus 107, a cost guard ship, about 25 feet long. We were still 30 nm from Isla Beata. They wanted to tow us but the sea was too rough and they did not have the ability in those conditions to rig a towline.

They tried to throw us the small rope and were coming really close... with the waves... it was scary ! No success. Eventually, they went in front of us and moved back. I could take the rope but they hit our rail on the bow pulpit and broke it. Fortunately, the anchor protected the boat. We could tie our rope to theirs. But they didn't go ahead... I don't know why. We overtook them... and the rope went under our keel. When they eventually towed, we where in the wrong way and we feared for the rudder. After a long long while trying to get the rope out of the keel, we released it.

At that moment, we thought that we could use our spare tiller. In Cape Verde, we couldn't use it. It was very too hard to move. This time it was easier with no quadrant. But still hard and very tiring. But we could sail with a small part of the staysail and the engine at 5 knt in the direction of Barahona. Canopus (the Navy boat) was following us.

At 9pm the waves were too high, the wind reached 30 kts and we told Canopus we needed a rest. We went sleeping for 2 hours, "hove-to", from 11pm to 4am, the sea and the wind became quieter. We asked for a new rest from 4.00 - 5.30  am. We were 18 nm from Barahona. Then we reached the harbour without any problem. Canopus offered to help us for the entry but we had good charts and declined.

After the usual clearances, we went to the Comandante Ferreira to thank him and all the crew for their help. We gave him the small rope that we had kept and they gave us our towing rope. They told us they had also been afraid for us and were happy that everything was finished without more damage. They also told us that they were at our disposition if we needed anything.

We noticed that our rudder and our keel were a bit damaged by the rope, but nothing too important. We could have the rail repaired in Barahona and found a Captain John, a welding specialist in the anchorage, who offered to repair our quadrant.

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