WAITING FOR THE EMERALD TIDE - 1994 - South America

WAITING FOR THE EMERALD TIDE

With crew on board, New Chance sailed from the Balboa Yacht Club late morning, August 15, 1994 with all tanks filled and a disinterested wave from fuel dock attendant. Destination, Cape Horn. I queried the GPS ?how far? and instantly got my answer, 5349 nautical miles. That is, if the condor didn’t stray off course.

          The next 100 miles took me across nostalgia city as I sailed across the same waters that five years earlier led us to a fateful midnight rendezvous with dozens of pilot whales. They attacked when they confused us with an intruder whale. Within minutes these one ton  missiles destroyed the hull of my 39 foot Robert Clark cutter. My mind churned. These waters have swallowed many a great vessel. The Essex. How many others? What lies ahead ?

          The whale attack, followed by 66 days adrift in a 6-foot rubber raft, drew me into the fraternity of ‘small boat sailors’. Joining us on this leg was Hugo Vilhen, holder of record for a transatlantic passage in the shortest boat, 5’4”. Transatlantic sailor, Reiner Schwebel, rounded out the crew.

Wind was light as we mostly motored past the coast of Columbia, 50 miles to the east. Six days later, very low on fuel, light winds on the nose, and with 170 miles to Callao, we headed into Esmeralda, Ecuador for a quick refill. As we approached at last light on Sunday afternoon, August 21, 1994, we saw before us a port full of large ocean going fishing boats and coastal freighters. I made several calls on channel 16 before I got an answer from the office of the port captain. When I requested permission to enter, permission was denied right off. Startled I asked, “Porque?”. The answer didn’t make sense. No water. With a harbor full of huge ships, there HAD to be water. The gentleman on the other end patiently explained that the tide was now at full ebb and would not carry our 7-foot draft. We’d have to anchor outside and wait until three in the morning when the basin had filled.

           In 30 feet of water we headed out to where two small freighters lay an anchor, searched around for the shallowest spot, and dropped two anchors as the seas were about 4 feet and the breakwater to lee was but a couple of hundred feet away. Happy hour, supper and dishes took us to about ten.

I set the alarm clock that never fails. To awaken within four hours I drank three glasses of water and bingo, right at minutes before two my bladder-bell rang. I started the engine to awaken the snoring crew and headed on deck. Once we washed the anchors clean of their heavy coat of mud, we headed in across the bar, tied alongside a Navy patrol boat, and proceeded to complete our night’s sleep.

When dawn came, we found a dilapidated city on the par with Limon and Colon, which prompted my crew to remark: "Gee skip, you sure take us to some exotic places!" With the Port Captains office closed, we found a taxi driver who drove me to the town church which sported a remarkable solid gold alter obviously missed by the ravagers of the 17th century. We filled our four 5 gallon jugs twice with diesel and, trapped by the tide until 5 in the afternoon, we asked our cab driver to show us around the countryside. We found a poor country, the land arid and crop less, the people predominantly of Andean Indian decent. Each and every person we came into contact with was extremely helpful and friendly.

Back on board a bit after four after failing once again to make contact with the authorities, Navy personnel cast us off to continue our journey south.

 

          ©  William A. Butler, 2004