The Recovery of Wanderer III part II
Part II: In the finale of this two-part series, a network of friends- plus a lighthearted Italian connection-all rise to the occasion. A feature from our March 2010 issue
Our recovery from a near-disastrous stranding was to prove just the beginning of a remarkable encounter with human goodness. Twelve hours ago, with a heart-wrenching pounding in our ears, my wife, Kicki Ericson, and I had left Wanderer III, formerly owned by Eric and Susan Hiscock, on a Nouvelle-Calédonie reef in the belief that she might be lost. (See "The Rescue of Wanderer III," February 2010). Instead, elated and incredulous, we were now in our cockpit raising a glass of Glenfiddich with Willard and Monsieur Gallo. Their tug had just pulled us free and all the way here, to Nouméa, the capital of Nouvelle-Calédonie. "You won't be going anywhere. Sort yourselves out," Monsieur Gallo said. Our understanding was immediate: no pretense, and no papers to sign.
"I'll find you," he added before he left. However, we wouldn't see him for more than a month.
An unlikely chain of events had led us to Monsieur Gallo: When the Gendarmerie Maritime themselves hit the reef during rescue efforts, the consequences catapulted Kicki to Nouméa, where the local night guard at the port took her on a dramatic search for a tug; she was fortunate to find two employees of the main tug company who were adept at thinking outside the box on a day when the offices were closed.
Imagine what would have happened if Kicki hadn't arrived on a lazy early Sunday morning but on a Monday, with tug directors at their desks. Paperwork would have piled high with financial-bond requests and negotiated claims; half of our lives would have been signed away and, no doubt, several zeros opportunely added to what ever fee we'd incur. At that moment, for us, it was any tug at any cost. Of course, we might then have gasped, but we'd never have complained-if only we got Wanderer III back. And everyone would have said, "Oh, well, that's what it costs. Plus you received a tow, and it took eight hours." But, luckily for us, it was Sunday, and it was a person such as Monsieur Gallo who came to our rescue.
At the yacht anchorage close to Port Moselle, tidbits about our disaster had been picked up on the VHF. Bill Sellers came rowing over in his Norwegian faering, effortlessly covering the mile across Nouméa's harbor. Despite many mutual friends, we'd never met, but we knew he was here, carving and selling his scrimshaw. He asked what we needed the most.
"Anchors," I said. He rowed away and returned with a cyclone-proof fisherman. We'd left ours behind on the reef at Isle Amédée, 14 miles away. He offered to sail out with us to dive on them. His wooden 38-footer probably was the only yacht around without an engine. "Great!" I said. We needed them back. "Tomorrow," we agreed.
For our immediate future, retrieving the anchors seemed the nicest part. But before Bill and I could get a plan in motion, a note reached me the next morning: The anchors had been delivered, it said, all four of them, including the chain. Claude and his son, who on a weekend sail had anchored their catamaran behind the reef at Amédée where we'd struck, had retrieved all of our gear and brought it to Nouméa. No name, address, or contact number was attached, only kindness. We were overwhelmed. Such unbelievable gestures of support had come within 24 hours. This generosity carried us through the first few days, until we came up against some hard facts.
Nouméa is a forbiddingly expensive place, the most costly in the Pacific. En route to China, with our resources completely drained from a two-year refit in New Zealand, we'd sailed here to earn, not to spend. Ten years ago, opportunities for work had leaped at us within half an hour of clearing customs. Arriving now with lofty bills in tow, we needed that to happen again, desperately. And it didn't.
As to how great the bills actually were, we were clueless. We had absolute faith that Monsieur Gallo would charge us the fairest possible amount. But we fell over backward at the sight of the price tags in the local marine chandleries.
To get an idea of how big a muddle we were in, we needed to assess the damage. For US$200 dollars, during a lunch break, we had Wanderer III suspended in the slings of a Travelift. The copper sheathing was shredded, but her planks had been spared from the worst of the scraping. The deadwood was very badly chewed up, the ballast keel beaten, a plank cracked from a puncture, the rudder a total rebuild. Beyond this, there was no easy telling what the pounding had done to the fastenings, through-bolts, and rigging. Unbelievably, she was taking on no water, and miraculously, her planking showed no cracks in the paint inside. The new frames we'd installed in New Zealand had kept her alive. We splashed antifouling on the barren spots to protect against worms and had Wanderer III back in the water after lunch.
The amount of work I'd created for us stood in stark contrast to the work on offer. There was just none to be found. Not, at least, given my lack of French and the state of my lameness from overstretching muscles on the reef. How could we find our way out of this? Within a week, the prelude to a solution came sailing in, tacking his way up the harbor. It was Luca on Kigaridu.