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maupiti to suwarrow ~ an unconscious captain!

Posted by on March 27, 2014

August 27 – September 2, 2013

Passage from Maupiti to Suwarrow is about 660 nautical miles, and based on a 5-knot average speed, it takes about 5 – 6 days to sail between the two islands. Since we needed calm conditions to exit Maupiti’s Passe Onoiau, and to watch the whales, we began this passage under spinnaker and with a speed of less than 3 knots. At one point, I saw 1.5 knots on the AIS. It took some pleading with Wil before he finally agreed to allow an engine to run until we found some more wind.

With respect to weather, this particular passage was pretty uneventful, and we were all very fortunate that this was the case. As usual, we were traveling with s/v Sueño and s/v Flour Girl. However, this time the crew of all three boats had picked up some kind of stomach virus. Our family only had some mild diarrhea, but the other two boats seemed to suffer something worse.

During passages, when we’re out of VHF range with each other, we have 2 – 3 scheduled contacts daily on the SSB. We keep up with the weather and sea state, vessel conditions, and how everyone is doing onboard. Every few days, all the kids get together on the air and play a game of trivia over the radio waves. Sometimes the adults like to test each other too!

During one SSB transmission, Nathalie (s/v Sueño), with her heavy accent Québécoise, made a comment about her captain. We were trying to understand what she was saying, but she was having a difficult time finding the English words for what she needed to communicate. Eventually, we figured out that David had fallen unconscious!

Suddenly, we possibly had a very serious situation on our hands. We were days away from the nearest land, and we had no idea of David’s prognosis. I knew another boat already in Suwarrow that had a surgeon onboard, so I notified him of Sueño’s situation. I also had my daily ham radio contacts with my dad and a family friend on the Pacific Seafarer’s Net, so I informed them of the situation as well.

Under normal circumstances, even after crossing the Pacific Ocean, Nathalie is normally very seasick on passages, and isn’t able to do a lot with the boat. Everyone in their family shares in the watches, but many times David takes the most hours. Sometimes he gets very little sleep.

Due to the fact that David had had the stomach virus, plus very little sleep, his body was weak. At one point, he felt nauseated and was on his way to the head, when he realized he was getting ready to pass out. He was barely able to call for help before he fell, landing with his head wedged between the toilet and the wall. (a bit of comedy amidst the seriousness!) Almost immediately, Nathalie knew something was wrong and quickly got to David. She was able to place him with his feet up, so as to help him regain consciousness. Their 9-year old daughter will probably never forget how her dad looked when they found him. David dozed on and off for the next 24 hours until he gradually regained his strength.

Throughout the ordeal, Nathalie had to step up and take charge of the boat and her family. She asked for my assistance with watching the weather. If there was even the possibility of a squall, she wanted enough time to be able to reduce sails. Throughout the night, we spoke on the SSB every couple of hours. I told her I would check the radar for her, but since we were about 40 miles ahead of them, it would be uncertain whether I would see any squalls in their area. Thank goodness, the skies remained clear, and I was able to tell her that, as far as I could see, there was nothing on the radar. Each time that I gave Sueño my report, I held my breath and hoped that my words would be true!

In the event that David’s situation would possibly take a turn for the worse, we slowed our speed in order to shorten the distance between us. Flour Girl was at least 60 miles ahead of us, so it was easier for us to assist Sueño, if needed.

In the meantime, we knew that David (s/v Flour Girl) was also feeling a bit of an upset stomach. We don’t know their whole story. However, we do know that after they dropped anchor in Suwarrow, and cleared in with the park rangers, they dinghied ashore for a walk on the beach. During their walk, David suddenly fell unconscious in the sand. He too must have been weakened from this mysterious virus.

sailing along Suwarrow's outer reef

fresh Mahi Mahi tacos after our tummies recovered

After 6 days of passage, and of suffering the stomach bug, we were all very happy to make landfall in Suwarrow. We were looking forward to rest and relaxation in this beautiful piece of paradise.

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