A brush with death:
A case againt lobster cages.
It is 17 March 2021.
Sailing an 8 hours stint westerly from St.Johns to Puerto Rico
to keep ahead of the 30kt eaterly winds and 9-12ft NE swells predicted for the Thursday and the Friday en route
All went well but passing St.Thomas the next day's forecast
met us prematurely.
I Decided to sail south of Vieques to use the island as guard agsinst and keep the high NE swells to a minimum and the easterly wind
aft ship on our 44ft FP Catamaran
Swells turned westerly behind Vieques so we then had a good powersail amidts 30kt winds; and for the first time I was riding waves with our Catamaran
at 8-14kts. Fun.
Viz dropped to 2miles and I found myself shouldering the coast for comfort.
Two-thirds through our route
, we jumped to alert when the first bobbing bouyes of crayfish (or lobster or crap ) cages appeared and disappeared under the big swells.
Around 50ft depths and nearing towns such as Esperanza, yes this phenomenon is to be expected. So I decided it is time to head
out to deeper waters, because the cages are deemed to be less frequent at the deeper depths.
Naturally, sailing South, we were getting our waves at port broad side now, but rather that for a while then running danger
The two crew lookout at PS and SB side, gave commands to "turn port turn starboard" to miss cages and buoys visible only when we are on top of waves as the buoys appear in the lulls and disappear behind the waves.
Reaching +100ft deep waters, safe we should be.
Our path continues deeper into the sea, and yet it perilously increased our risk of fouling, as the buoys were now stretched from east to west in the strong current
whilst we are heading south at 3-5kts to avoid the minefield.
Then "boom", the next wave revealed a buoy on SB bow. Swerving SB would endanger port side propeller
and turning PS would only expand on the angle of impact. I pulled both propellers in neutral and hoped the ropes will pass under the propeller unhindered.
Then the sharp jolt to SB confirms my fear, the propeller did not stop in time.
My wave-riding game
, became my wave-nightmare. With the yacht now constricted in, was anchored to the cage rope
. The waves precariously rose, rolled and then slam against the stationary sugar scoop of the boat
Time was little. Whk knows what could happen next. Port throttle steer did not assist us as it would not steer us left away from land, but caused us spinning on own axes, irrespective of the helm's angle.
I made the only decision I thought appropriate, yet life threatening, to jump over board with a lifeline to cut free the cage rope
With me being 6'4" tall, I could stand in the water
on the cage rope, which was strung as tight as a harp's string.
In my left hand I had the lifeline and the other end of the bouyed rope. In my right hand a 40cm butcher's knife to reach under water
I tried to paddle with one hand clenching a very sharp knife. This I had to do, whilst trying see where the rope caught.
In all of this a 10ton vessel bobbed up and down on me. My blue coloured yacht which is my joy, now became a blue wall threatening to make an end to me.
Fear of the deep and dark, almost black sea under me, had no nice thoughts for me at that moment anymore.
Within seconds, I had to fight off the lifeline that the current
kept on drifting on to me. It kept entangling my left arm and legs.
I don't want to dramatize the already life threatening scenario, but grasp this: I am holding on the one end of the cage rope, and as the boat
rises on the current and then slams back into the water, it pulls me down with it.
In this drama I saw the rope caught through the top of the rudder
and one turn in the propeller/shaft spleen. No change of getting that out off there in this extreme bobbing conditions.
Grasping for air, the next phase in which I was pulled down, the stiff rope to the cage was cut loose, thankfully, in a single
The other 'loose' end through the propeller and back over the rudder
would not budge. It is trapped in the gap behind it.
I was growing tired , paddling, catching breaths, fending off the boat, fending off the tangling lifeline. Working around the propeller with an idling engine
(here the armchair commentators' comments will abound), but fears of an accidental engaging engine
rushes through my thoughts. (The rhetorical question was:Should I or shouldn't I have shut the engine/s off), but now in the water I can only rely on previous 'safety' talks, that the accidental engagement will not happen. Both ways, I had not the breath to shout any instructions.
Cutting the first sneered line, happened relatively easy. Cutting a slack 10mm rope hopping in 9ft waves, not so easy.
Thoughts of death dances around me constantly, yet I am trying to stay calm for my wife's sake.
Then the rope is cut flush with the shaft and the buoy pops to the surface and carried away by the wind
and the current before I could even think of securing it. (That is now someone else's problem for another day).
Lifeline in one hand, knife on the other, I made my way to the sugar scoop and ask my wife to help me back in the boat. I had no power left to pull myself up back in the boat and I was still dealing with the waves hitting the boat and pushing me against the vessel. ( which I guess was better than a current that could have dragging me off away from the boat).
The ordeal was over.
I am alive and lived to share my experience.
I now beg that changes come where these bouys are fitted with 3'-5' luminescent cones, making them more visible, day and night. Maybe bigger visibility will assist in avoiding them.