Leg 3, Day 10
1 February 2012
Ken Read, Skipper, PUMA Ocean Racing
A hundred miles or so from the end of the Straits – I know you have heard from Amory that we had a little situation…almost a huge situation. Let me explain.
About a mile off the Malaysian shore with Groupama and Telefónica within half a mile of us, it was dawn and the sun was just rising. There were several shoals that Tom Addis was guiding us through and the wind was very light. In fact, the other two boats were pretty light inshore of us so we were easing offshore a touch in a puff.
Imagine this: your shoulder is shaken and you hear, "Wake up, I think we are aground," says an unidentified crew member.
I flew out of bed to jump on deck to see the other two boats moving away from us and we are not moving. But there was no crash, no bang. Then Casey says, "I think we are in a fish trap!" This isn’t good.
Sure enough there is a small black flag barely visible about 100 yards to the left, and a fishing boat sits about 200 yards to the left of the flag. All were thinking there may be a net attached around the boat and the black flag. Well, once we rolled up the headsail that covers the entire right side of the boat, in the increasing sunlight we see another tiny black flag about a half mile to our right. The two black flags have a net that strings between the two and we are firmly caught…in really light air and barely maneuverable conditions.
First things first: assess the situation, role up the headsail and try to back out. But, we are reaching when we run in to the net, so backing out is nearly impossible.
Now comes the amusing part. Communication between an Australian from Adelaide and two Malaysian fishermen who are pretty pissed off that we are caught in their net.
First they offer to throw a line, which we have to refuse as tempting as it was. No outside assistance allowed. Ryan Godfrey is now trying to get them to go to the end of the net at the black flag and do something with it…in fact none of us speak enough Malaysian/Australian to really understand what Ryan was talking about never mind what the Malaysians were saying in return. So, as you can imagine it really didn’t get us very far.
Next step, send the kid in the water. Rome Kirby gets his mask and jumps in to the unbelievably murky depths, only to figure out when his head actually hits the keel prior to him seeing the keel that the water visibility isn’t very good. Get him out before some Malaysian sea snake gets him. And believe me, there was a chance because the Malaysian fishermen were shocked someone would be in the water. Even I could understand that communication between the two of them.
Next plan. Try backing off again and use the staysail unfurled to help guide the boat better in reverse. In essence, about 45 minutes after we were caught into the net, we backed sideways along it and steered the boat with the headsail until we were pointing in the opposite direction. Casey heard some tearing sounds like the net was giving way, so we pulled open the big code 0 and probably finished off these poor guys’ net, pulling ourselves out and heading back where we came from.
Finally, after 1 hour we rounded the far black flag (about a 1-foot by 1-foot flag on a 3-foot stick) and we were off. Chasing a pack of two that we could no longer see on the horizon.
This was what the travel brochure told us to expect. Unlit fishing nets. We all talked about them. We saw a million of them. But as always, you see them during the day and somehow you pray at night. Due to an unfortunate number of circumstances, we found one pretty well. We’ll send Ryan back to speak with the fishermen about fixing their net later.
The comeback trail began immediately. We were pissed but at the same time relieved to be out. If it had been a well-built net, we would have been there for ages and quite frankly I don’t know how we would have gotten out.
From there it was off to the bottleneck in the Straits where about a million of the largest ships you have ever seen were waiting for us. More on that later. Good fleet update vid here.