Dream Time with Dolphins

Read our August/September story in
Cruising World Magazine


September 22, 2017 (day 3,767)
Quick Fix: 23° 54.2 S / 152° 24.2 E
Conditions:  Wind: 8/N Sky: Clear

Two weeks ago fishing trawler Mana ran aground on the edge of Lady Musgrave reef, tide and swell have since carried her further onto the coral shelf, and deep water now lays 100 meters from her stern. At high tide waves wash freely over her railing and into the hold. It is a distressing sight, particularly for mariners who feel a spiritual connection to their vessel. You see, ships and yachts are more than mere steel and rivets, fiberglass and wood, they are companions, providing shelter, comfort and protection when sailing far from shore on dark seas. To Pacific islanders, particularly within Polynesian and Melanesian cultures, 'mana' is an inner strength, a supernatural force that resides in all things - people, animals, even inanimate objects - it is the very substance of which souls are made. Mana is still waiting for help, but at this stage, even with her proud name, it may be too late to save her.



September 13, 2017     |    Aloft - a view of Dream Time anchored off Lady Musgrave from our mates catamaran, Serenity 44.





Day 3,754 - Lady Musgrave Island, Queensland
18:43hrs - September 9, 2017
Save the Dog!

"Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. This is sailing vessel Dream Time relaying a mayday for fishing trawler Mana. Over."

The saga began yesterday when around mid-day a fishing trawler ran aground on Lady Musgrave's eastern reef close to our anchorage. Unable to make radio contact with the vessel we raced over in the dinghy with local cruisers Don and Kay off Karinya I to offer assistance. The captain and his deckhand both appeared unharmed but when we offered to remove them from the teetering trawler back to the safety of our yachts anchored inside the lagoon, they declined, requesting only that we save their dog, Stubby, who we could hear whining somewhere inside the rusty hull.

With waters ebbing Mana was soon resting on her starboard outrigger in a tangle of lines and nets, but with light winds, calm seas forecast through the evening, and a steel hull that was dented but not breached, the captain expressed hopes of floating her free at high tide. We notified the Coast Guard and impressively, within just thirty minutes, a Border Patrol plane was diverted to the scene and spent much of the afternoon crosshatching the sky above Lady Musgrave - a national park and marine reserve on the Great Barrier Reef - to assess the situation. However, after dozens of flybys, an exchange of details and VHF contact between the Coast Guard and a captain who, through shock, exhaustion or character, was unable to clearly or confidently convey his intentions or competence, no immediate action or 'Plan B' was suggested or initiated by authorities - no tug dispatched to provide an emergency tow if the trawler was unable to float free, and no official vessel sent to the area to assist in removing crew should the situation deteriorate. Instead, forty miles from the mainland and with only a few cruisers anchored inside the lagoon, Mana was left alone on the reef with two persons aboard, Stubby the dog, 8,000 liters of fuel swishing around in her tanks, and a forecast predicting the mild conditions deteriorating during the night to twenty knots of wind and building seas.

We monitored the radio into the evening and watched from Dream Time through binoculars, and at 2200 hours, at high-tide on Friday night, with deck lights blazing, her hull rocking wildly from port to starboard and plumes of diesel smoke streaming from her exhausts, Mana struggled to free herself. But with her bow facing shallow waters, entangled fishing gear strewn around the vessel, and her keel embedded on the limestone shelf, Mana was only driven further onto the reef.

By early morning, with winds gusting regularly to twenty-five knots from the south, sea and surf had rolled Mana to her port side, and when waves began breaking against the hull and flooding the vessel, the captain issued a mayday. Perhaps due to Mana's low VHF antenna and heeling structure, the call was left unanswered, so Dream Time relayed the mayday and forwarded details to the Australian Coast Guard.

A local fishing trawler already in the area was contacted and offered assistance, but the captain lacked "a bloody big tow rope" and upon seeing Mana on the reef, also lacked the horsepower to pull her free. With no rescue authorities in the area and no other option presented, we radioed the Coast Guard to notify them of our intention to approach Mana in an inflatable dinghy from inside the lagoon and attempt to remove the captain and crew ourselves.

High tide brought breaking seas over the southeastern corner of Lady Musgrave's reef making a rescue attempt too dangerous, but by 1300 hours on Saturday afternoon, at mid-low tide when seas had stopped breaking significantly over the reef, Don and I made contact with Mana on VHF, instructing the captain to prepare ditch bags and stand-by for our arrival.

In maritime tradition the captain was the last to abandon the vessel. But understandably, with low tide and the immediate danger of flooding temporarily passed, he was reluctant to leave Mana, his fishing boat, his home, and a vessel that has been in his family since the 1980's.

The deckhand was the first to climb over the port side and wade over to our dinghy, followed by Stubby, a shaken Staffordshire Terrier who seemed the best equipped for evacuation with a form-fitting life jacket complete with a convenient carrying handle, an emergency strobe light and, lovingly, his collapsible silicone tucker bowl clipped onto his jacket. And after almost ten minutes of gentle persuasion, with the tide quickly ebbing and a reef drying, which would cut us off from the lagoon, the captain reluctantly followed.

The Main Event, a tourist catamaran out of Bundaberg, had agreed to shuttle the fisherman and Stubby back to the mainland that afternoon, and so it was after a twenty-six hour ordeal, that Captain, deckhand, and Stubby the dog were shuttled from their terrifying world of grinding metal, breaking seas and a flooding bilge, to a catamaran with snorkeling tourists and girls lounging under the sun in colorful bikinis. As a crew member from Main Event welcomed a disoriented captain and deckhand onto the transom steps, Stubby, in his fancy survival suit, evoked a few smiles and coos from the girls, and I'm sure I saw his tail wag.

UPDATE: As of Tuesday morning, ninety-two hours since Mana ran aground, conditions at Lady Musgrave are mild, but Mana, sadly, still rests on the reef. Remarkably, for reasons unknown (insurance? costs? liability?) no official vessels have been sighted in the area to address this issue - no action has yet to be taken to remove the trawler or, at the very least, drain the 8,000 liters of diesel and oil still in her tanks. At high tides, with Mana's port side pinned to the reef and exposed, seas continue to break over the decks and into the vessel.

September 9, 2017     |    Fishing trawler, Mana, awaiting high-tide on Lady Musgrave's Reef.


September 7, 2017     |    A little island time - a stroll around Lady Musgrave.

September 6, 2017     |    Great Barrier Reef - Australia's Young Endeavour anchored outside the lagoon with Lady Musgrave Island resting on the horizon.


Migaloo Bob, our whale carving, has a commanding view at Dream Time's helm.

September 2, 2017 (day 3,747)
Quick Fix: 23° 49.9 S / 151° 14.6 E
Conditions:  Wind: 18/SE Sky: Clear

A Search For Migaloo
Over 20,000 humpbacks visit Australian waters this time of year, migrating north away from chilly Antarctica to these tropical climes. They're here for romance and to introduce a whole new generation of baby whales to the world. We've had a few close encounters with these gentle giants who regularly swim up to and around our boat, and a cruiser we met today shared a story where a whale recently swam into his anchor chain and for a few white-knuckle moments he found himself and his boat being towed around the anchorage (happily, both whale and boat survived unscathed). We're heading out to the reef for more whale watching and, if we're lucky, we might even sight the legendary Migaloo - an Aboriginal term meaning 'white fella' - a very rare and pure white humpback that was first photographed in 1991 and was recently sighted just south of our position.