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April 2009

Instrument Assisted Grounding

Shortly after leaving Nuiatoputapu, we learned that a 45-foot cruising yacht had gone aground on the reef at night near the entrance to the lagoon. By good fortune, two other yachts were at anchor inside the lagoon and heard the distress call. Also fortunately, the southeast winds that were such a nuisance to us, were a blessing for the grounded yacht as there was almost no swell at all where they hit the reef. The two crews who heard their calls, came out with inflatables to successfully assist the grounded yacht imto; ot was out of danger. From what we saw when this yacht was hauled out a few weeks later in Neiafu, they will need serious repairs including a new rudder and shaft. 

How did it happen? The skipper decided to try to get in to the lagoon at night rather than heave to and wait until morning since from the chart date the entrance looks to be relatively well lit. Unfortunately, the outermost mark is actually inside an outcropping of coral and it is vitally important that you line up the leading marks before making turning to come through the relatively narrow cut (it’s less than 50 yards wide in some places.) The water does begin shoaling several hundred yards to before you reach the reef. The skipper was depending on this as a warning and as he approached the island.  The winds, blowing from dead ahead were fresh, gusting above 25 knots, the windscreen well spotted with spray from a hard few days of sailing, probably the crew was a bit tired too. The instruments for windspeed, wind direction, waterspeed and depth, as is often the case, were all on the same display screen i.e. a multifunction instrument display. The skipper unfortunately mistook the windspeed display for the depth display, and as the windspeed was not changing much he didn’t realize he was looking at the wrong information until he hit the reef.

A good case for separate displays for each function. A good case for waiting for daylight to enter any unfamiliar anchorage.

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