Volcanoes, Boats in Danger, and Emergency Rescues – Part 1 of 3

Preface: This blog story is of the scariest night of Christi and Eric’s lives. Tai leads a far more adventurous life than us, but it was still high on his list of scary events. This is one of those truth is stranger than fiction stories, but we swear every word of it is true. This is by far the longest story we have ever written on the blog. As we usually do for exceptionally long stories, we have broken it up into multiple parts. Normally, we like to keep each post 2 pages or less, and we have never had a post longer than 3 pages. Until now. This story is so long that we have broken it into three 4 1/2 page posts. If you didn’t read the last two posts, you probably should before reading this one since there is some useful background info in them. And we know, weather reports are not always accurate, and just because a bunch of other boats stay someplace does not make it safe. Also this is a good time to remind people the blog is not in real time. This event has happened in the past. See About this Blog.

So, yesterday we wake up to rocky seas. We were rolling like crazy, worse than being at sea. The water was a bit too shallow to deploy the paravanes. The rough seas were weird because it wasn’t windy and it looked like a pretty nice day. We were also bummed when we realized that the entire boat was covered in a fine black sand. We were afraid that it wouldn’t come off very easily, just as the sand from Tunisia hadn’t. Oh well, we’ll worry about it when we get to Rome.

We were desperate to get off the boat and get to dry land. As we were getting ready to go, Tai said “Hey, do you know what the name of the town here is? Scari! Oooo, scary! Ha! Ha! Ha!” As we were almost ready to walk out the door, a speed boat pulls up alongside us and hands us a bill for the mooring. $75.00 USD. We were speechless. This had to be a mistake. Mooring balls normally cost around $5 – $10 USD a night, if they charge at all, which they usually don’t. The marina in Tripani was $52.50 USD a night, and the marina included lots of amenities. We were boiling mad about the outrageous fee. The 11-12 boats there really added up to some money.

We hopped in the dinghy and went to the pier, tying the dinghy up like we did yesterday. We headed up the steep, narrow road to the town square, where the hiking center is located, and signed up for a tour. Tai decided he may as well go, despite the fact that he knew he’d be in a lot of pain. The lady told us there was a possibility that today’s hike could be cancelled due to inclement weather, and that they’d let us know at 1530, the appointed meeting time. We were surprised when she said that there might be bad weather, because the forecast we had gotten two days ago had predicted fabulous weather. We figured it would probably be another quickie squall, like yesterday.

Then Eric went to the company that maintains the moorings. He asked to see their fee schedule. He was right. There was a mistake. We should have been charged $82.50 USD per night. Fortunately, they honored the $75 USD we had previously been quoted.

It was now 1000. There was nothing at all to do in town. Nothing. We weren’t about to go back to Kosmos. We could see she was still rocking like crazy. So, we sat in a restaurant for a couple hours, moved to another one for a couple more hours, and then another until 1530 finally came. Talk about a long, boring day. We did a lot of ranting about the audacity to charge so much money for a mooring to start with, especially when it is by far the most difficult mooring we have ever attempted to tie to.

It had started to rain at 1400. The rain was light and intermittent, and we figured it would pass quickly, just like yesterday. At 1530, they said the hike would go on. Good stuff. See, it would pass quickly. We could clearly see the peak of the volcano and the steady stream of dark smoke spewing from the crater. With no cloud cover, it would be spectacular. We followed our guide, Mario, up the steep trail. He maintained a fast clip, with only three rest stops planned for the whole 900+ meter (about 2800 feet) ascent. There were a couple people who were lagging behind the group and Mario made them turn around. With the slower two gone, Christi was now the slowest person in the group, and the group had to make a couple stops to wait for her. Mario made it clear he was very unhappy about the stops and kept yelling at her to go faster. It was still raining lightly and the higher we went, the stronger the wind got, but the rain and cool wind was a welcome relief. We were incredibly hot and sweaty from the strenuous climb.

At the half way mark, Mario pulled Christi aside and told her she had to turn around and go back down since she was just too slow. Christi was shocked. She doesn’t breathe very well, so she is usually is one of the slower people on a steep climb, but she doesn’t normally lag too far behind the rest of the group. In fact, like today, there is usually someone out of shape lagging even farther behind her. She has never in her life been told she had to turn around because of being too slow. She was bitterly disappointed about not seeing the volcano, especially considering we were halfway there, and more importantly, her pride had been bruised. She promised to keep up and begged a little, and Mario finally relented. In retrospect, it had been yet another of the many little signs from God that we had ignored all day.

Christi did manage to stick with the group almost the rest of the way up, but near the very top she petered out. Mario went ballistic, yelling and screaming to get up to the peak ASAP. We were crushed when we saw that the crater was completely enveloped in a cloud and that no lava at all was visible. It was freezing cold and the wind was screaming. Being sopping wet from sweat and rain, we instantly turned into popsicles when we stopped moving. We sat up there for a long, long, long time waiting for the cloud cover to lift. A few times we saw some blotches of red behind the haze. We could hear the rumbling, but even the rumble of the volcano was muffled by the screaming wind and was not remotely as powerful as the rumble at Tanna. A few people begged and pleaded with Mario to take us back down the trail. And he did take us back a little earlier than scheduled, but refused to leave until the sky was completely black.

While on the mountain top, we chatted with Mario some. He is a cool guy when he is “off duty”, but quite militant “on duty”. We found out that the reason he wouldn’t slow down was because he was afraid of lightening and we were vulnerable on the side of the mountain. His words should have instilled fear in our hearts, but the impact of what he was saying didn’t register.

We finally headed out, taking a different trail down. Mario told us at least 20 times that we were not allowed to stop to empty sand out of our shoes. The trail was very steep, very soft sand. With each step you sink and slide, just like walking down a sand dune, quite similar to walking down a mountain right after a fresh, powdery snowfall. It was a lot of fun. Remember, it was cloudy, so there was no moon or stars in the sky to help light the way. The fact that it was pitch black and our only light was from flashlights added to the excitement. As steep as the trail was, it was virtually impossible to hurt yourself since the sand would completely absorb and cushion you if you fell. Tai’s knees had been aching from the hike up and the soft sand was a welcome reprieve. With each step we also got warmer and warmer, a combination of body heat from moving and the wind not being as cold as it was higher up.

At one point, Christi stopped to tie her shows and Mario again went crazy, screaming at her to forget her laces and MOVE MOVE MOVE. At the half way mark, where the vegetation line was, the trail became narrow and rocky. Falling was now more of a concern. The sand also became progressively more hard packed the farther down we got. Tai’s knees were seriously starting to hurt. Nearer to the bottom, Mario explained that the storm was still on top of us and we had to get down ASAP because we were sitting ducks in the exposed area of the volcano. That is when we registered the wind. We had thought nothing of the fact that the wind had become increasingly intense on our hike up. Wind is usually stronger at higher altitudes. But, it hadn’t let up as we had made our way down, and was still screaming. Uh oh.

Back in the town square, Eric looked over at the boats. Of course it was pitch black and all he could see were the anchor lights of the various sailboats that were there. Kosmos didn’t look quite right, but it was hard to tell with the perspective of the other anchor lights. As we got closer to shore we gasped as we saw the seas were huge and tumultuous. We were terrified that the dinghy had been smashed to pieces against the pier by the big waves. The wind was coming from the wrong direction. In prevailing winds, Kosmos was more sheltered by the island. But the wind was coming from the opposite direction. We kept repeating, “How could we be so stupid!?!” Why did we leave the boat so long and underestimate the magnitude of the weather from previous forecasts? No time to lament”¦

We hustled down the road to the pier. We were all tired and hungry after hiking the 920 meter volcano. We were relieved to see the dinghy lying on the sand next to the pier. Thank God. The waves were literally crashing over the top of the 6 foot pier, and Kosmopolitan for sure would have been crushed had someone not brought her in for us. Thank you very much, whoever you are! You cannot even imagine how much we appreciate your thoughtfulness.

However, there was no way in hell we could do a beach launch into such big waves. Our rigid dinghy would fill with water, and while it would still float, it wouldn’t move with the weight of the water inside it. Only a rubber inflatable could make it. We noticed yesterday that the restaurant/bar that we had lunch in was kind of the local’s hangout. Eric and Christi went there to look for help. We asked if someone would take us to Kosmos. No one was willing to launch their boats into the dangerous waves. The guys from the dive shop were there. Eric asked if they had a radio. They did and let Eric use their radio to call the sailboats on the moorings around us. None of the sailboats responded. The winds were coming from the southeast at 20 -25 knots. The waves were 2+ meters (6+ feet) in rapid intervals. It was about 2045 at this point in time, once again pitch-black. There was cloud cover and there was no moon.

Eric and Christi gave up on finding a ride and frantically ran down the shore to see if Kosmos was OK. We were sick to our stomachs when we saw her. She was bucking more violently than we had ever seen before. The line holding us onto the mooring had to be chaffing every second and it wouldn’t be long before it broke. But even worse, the mooring had dragged approximately 200 feet down the shore, and more importantly, much closer to shore than when we had left her. The ground here is all sharp lava rock that can do serious damage if Kosmos’ bottom smashes into those rocks with as much force as she was bucking with now. There was a very real possibility that the bottom was cracked and she could be sinking. If you are wondering how we could see Kosmos so well on such a dark night, we had left both the anchor light and the exterior red courtesy lights on, we had flashlights from the volcano hike, and she was alarmingly close to shore.

While Eric and Christi were in the bar, Tai had gone ahead of us to see if Kosmos was OK. When he neared her, a couple people approached him and said they had an emergency with their boat and needed help. They were pointing at Kosmos. Tai responded “that’s our boat, not your boat”. They replied “No, the sailboat!” When he looked more closely, he saw there was a sailboat bumped up against Kosmos. The sailboat was hard to see because it had no lights, which is why he didn’t immediately notice it. It was the sailboat moored next to us. In the rough conditions the line on the sailboat’s mooring chaffed through or came untied and the small boat had drifted into Kosmos. Tai said he said he wished he could help them, but we had our own boat emergency to deal with. While he watched, the unlit sailboat detached itself from Kosmos and drifted out to sea and into the blackness of the night.

Somehow, the three of us had missed each other on the beach, but we all ran back to the bar and met up there. Eric again desperately asked the locals for help. Eric even offered $750 USD for the ride. Then a guy approached Eric and said he had a sailboat in trouble and asked for our help. At this point, Tai hadn’t had a chance to tell Christi and Eric about the lost sailboat next to us, so this was new information for the two of them. They were both a bit confused for moment because of the shared astonishment that each of their respective boats was in trouble. The guy, Louis, quickly explained his situation, and it became clear that each party needed to get out to on a dinghy. Turns out he had a rubber dinghy with a broken motor. We had a motor and needed a rubber dinghy. Eric promised that if Louie came to Kosmos with us, we’d take him to look for his sailboat. It was now about 2130.

Eric ran to our dinghy and got the motor and the single life vest we keep in the dinghy, then ran with Louis down the beach, searching for their dinghy. Remember, this is a solid ½ kilometer distance with the 25 pound motor in hand. He was tired from the hike and starving since he hadn’t eaten since lunch. Fortunately, Louis took the motor from him about half way down the beach. On the beach, they couldn’t find Louis’s dinghy. Louis evaluated the situation and decided it would be faster and easier to swim to Kosmos since she was so close to shore. Even if they did find the dinghy, rigging the motor would take time and launching the dinghy was going to be a huge challenge. Time was of the essence and they needed to move. Louis announced he was going to swim to Kosmos. Eric immediately said he’d swim, too. Now, you must remember that Eric is terrified of water where he can’t see the bottom. It was pitch black outside. He was too tired and hungry to be going for a swim in such violent seas. But none of that mattered. He needed to get to Kosmos ASAP. A local was on the beach watching the situation and asked if Eric was a good swimmer. Eric replied “Good enough”. Eric dropped the dinghy motor in the sand and prepared to swim.

Louis is ex-French Navy special forces (equivalent to a US Navy SEAL), so he is trained to deal with ugly situations like this one. Louis handed his boat key to Eric before getting into the water, and then swam out to Kosmos, with no life jacket or anything to help him out should he get hurt in the water. Getting on the back with no ladder out going to be tricky since Kosmos was bucking up and down by at least 4 to 5 feet, no exaggeration. It is very hard to grab on to the boat, and way too easy to lose your grip and get hit in the head by the boat. We have heard more than one story of people dying this way, including someone on a Nordhavn. So amazingly Louis swam around to the mooring line and climbed up the mooring line onto the front of the boat.

Once on board, Louis ran to the back, lowered the swim ladder, and Eric swam out, wearing the life vest. Eric had happened to bring a headlamp flashlight for the volcano hike, which was most fortuitous. First of all, he had light to see where he was going, but more importantly, he used the strap of the flashlight to hold his glasses onto his head. If he lost his glasses, he wouldn’t have been able to see at all. And swimming with only one hand as he tried to hold his glasses on his face with the other would have been hard in this water. At one point, Eric was feeling too tired to swim and stopped to rest for a couple seconds, thankful he had the life vest on. Eric reached the ladder and started climbing up. His life vest got stuck on the latch that holds the ladder up and it took a heart stopping moment for him to get loose.

Story to be continued tomorrow”¦

We decided to put the photos that accompany today’s post at the end. We felt that putting the pictures in the middle interfered with the flow since it is such a fast paced story told from so many perspectives.

Here is a photo of the peak and the smoke it spews forth from the town center. It doesn’t look at all like there is a bad weather coming.

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Eric, Tai and Christi as we are about to set off up the volcano.

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The trail really is steep, rocky and difficult. Not for the out of shape.

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View from about ¾ of the way up. Towards the center you can see a boat wake. Kosmos is the larger white spot just below that wake. The other specs are the seven remaining sailboats.

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5 thoughts on “Volcanoes, Boats in Danger, and Emergency Rescues – Part 1 of 3

  1. TWO WORDS: Spell binding. What a start to a great story. Even though I heard Tai’s retelling already, I can’t wait to read more.
    -rich

  2. You are still having major issues with you blog site. I get re-directed to a coupon site when trying to read your 2nd installment of the scary night.

  3. Like the previous posting, I can’t wait to read the rest of this story but your site keeps re-directing to different junk sites. In the mean time I hope all has worked out!

  4. After reading the last two comments I have to report having the same experience with coupon site. Thought it was only me. God sending me a message LOL!
    -rich

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