“Reverse, reverse!” I shouted! The shallow coral reef was all around the boat. It had gone from 50 feet to 15ft to suddenly 2ft deep… and cruuuunch.
Sabrina later said it sounded like we had “dropped anchor and chain” — that was the sound of the hull scrapping against hard coral. A terrible sound!
It was a confluence of mistakes. We entered Taravai anchorage at dusk with poor visibility; we navigated into a bad area in the chart; and we didn’t have a proper lookout (I was folding the sail instead of watching closely). One good thing, the boat was coasting very slowly in neutral when we hit, so we were able to reverse out easily.
Our excuse is that after two magical days in Tauna and Tarauru-Roa, we were “drunk” on life and lackadaisical on our seamanship. The ocean bites back hard at such laziness.
All night we had nightmares about how bad we imagined the damage was to the hull, as darkness fell and we were now safely anchored, with nothing else to do but sulk with a cocktail of rum.
In the morning we took a dive: what a relief! There were deep scratches to the paint, and a few small nicks to the fiberglass, but nothing significant. “Battle scars”, one could say, and we put some underwater epoxy on the deeper nicks.
“A cheap lesson” is the value of such a fright. Our navigational focus is now quite heightened after that scare.
And we have much greater respect for the sudden (and uncharted) depth changes around coral reefs, that we must guard against during our travels in French Polynesia.
Photo: Spencer pressing underwater epoxy putty into the little nicks in Aldebaran’s hull from the coral encounter. Note scrape marks above him in the paint. Apologies to the old girl… and to the coral.