SOS. Palmerston Reef

It was a Sunday morning and we had been at sea for nearly a week. A week of seeing nothing except stars, flying fish and a few birds. We expected to pass the lonely atoll of Palmerston Reef before evening.

Heidi took a look over the stern of Artemis and said “oh s**t!”

Our windvane, the device we call Ciara, who steers our boat day and night, should be attached to the boat with four legs. One leg was no longer attached. Heidi managed to lash the broken leg to the boat but we could not use the system and so began to steer by hand.

It is still over 2500 miles to Australia so Ciara had to be repaired. This was not going to be possible while bucking and rolling in the Pacific swell. We needed shelter. Palmerston was “only” seven hours away but totally closed down because of covid.

legPalmerston Reef, the broken leg, the leg strapped up with Dyneema rope, the new earth strap from battery to motor

We pressed the SOS button on our Garmin inreach; not something we had ever hoped to do. We immediately received an answer and within ten minutes we were connected to the New Zealand coastguard. Two and a half hours later we had received an emergency entry permission to anchor off Palmerston Reef on condition we did not go on land or have any contact with the locals.

After a few hours of sailing we saw palm trees on the horizon and made contact with the islands policeman per marine radio. He gave us permission to use a mooring buoy but warned that we needed to be very careful as they were no longer maintained and the wind could easily shift to blow towards the reef.

We started to strike the sails to take the buoy, pressed the motor starter and…

Nothing happened!

You can guess that we were not happy. The only safe buoy for hundreds of miles in any direction, a gusting 20 knot wind and we were going to have to sail on to the buoy. All those of you who have sailed will know that this was going to be “challenging”.

But after a few more tries the motor started. Thankfully we took the buoy and enjoyed the calm seas and no longer steering.

Hand steering Artemis to Palmerston Reef

After a very windy night, we began field repairs to the windvane. The bolt that holds the leg to the device had sheared off at the head. Luckily there was a bit of bolt still projecting so we could use that to position the leg and then we lashed everything together using a high tech “piece of string” called Dyneema. Maybe not perfect engineering but the best possible solution off a lonely reef thousands of miles from the next machine shop.

We think we found the motor starter problem – a loose earth connection between the battery and motor. We tightened it up and added an extra earth strap to be sure. After that the motor started first time but we will see.

With “the work” done we thanked our friendly policeman, showered, washed Heidi’s hair, set the sails for downwind, dropped the mooring line and, once again, set off westward.

Postscript: a few days further down wind, we discovered that the bracket that connects the windvane to the tiller had also broken and was only held by one screw. We also fixed this with Dyneema- Heidi steering while Neill made the repair.

2 thoughts on “SOS. Palmerston Reef”

  1. Is it the sea water that corrodes the metal in all these issues? How many more weeks before you reach land? Heidi looks well strapped in.

    1. Hello Caroline!

      The sea water, the exposure to the sun and the permanent movement with the associated loading of all components make a boat a very harsh environment. We often wonder how well an average car, bathroom or kitchen would survive this permanent being thrown in all directions. The seas were steep and the wind was strong when the leg broke.

      You have to be strapped to the boat. If you go over the side, the other person will never be able to turn the boat round and go and find you in the middle of an ocean. Man overboard means death. Knowing that concentrates your mind on “clipping in”.

      We reached Australia on 11 Nov. 2021 and are currently sat in hotel quarantine. Getting up to date on our blogs and enjoying not being thrown around.

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