For four year we had talked about a rendezvous aboard Swell, but the timing had always been wrong. Then suddenly, there was my beloved big brother descending the steps of the plane right before my eyes!! Not only had he made the trip on ultra short notice, he’d managed to bring me a jib sail and heaps of goodies in a rolling bag so big I thought the rest of the family might topple out when I opened it.
We eased our way into a carefree trip around the islands. I had managed to incubate an ear infection while teaching the local kids to paddle on my surfboards in the polluted water near the boatyard at the annual boatyard holiday party, so I needed to take it easy the first day or so. But after a couple quiet days, I thought we’d better get going seeing as I had only 10 days to show him some of French Polynesia.
And so we were off navigating inside the lagoon to the other side of the island. The sun lit up the greens and turquoises from a cloudless sky and we grinned at our good weather fortune. My mind flashed to the new chain that was all tangled inside the chain locker. I looked down at the depth guage: 125ft. Perfect…we’ll let a bunch of chain out to let it untwist, then pull it back up again. In my earachy, slightly hurried state, I failed to properly think the procedure through as I wrenched off the bolts that held the chain cap to the windlass. With the cap on, I couldn’t get the chain to come out of the locker because it was so twisted underneath. And so without further thought, I removed the cap and proceeded to release the chain with the clutch of the windlass. Without anything to slow it now, it ran out quickly and fiercely. As I reached in to tighten the clutch wheel, it jumped off the windlass entirely! I instantly realized what was about to happen and panicked, crying out above the thundering sound of the chain. My brand new chain was roaring, unchecked, like a runaway locomotive to freedom in 125 feet of water!! I hadn’t secured the end to the boat, as I had meant to splice it to the rope as soon as I had a chance…I cried out again in despair.
“Let it go!!!!!!” James yelled back. Together at ages 9 and 11, we had witnessed our friend, Ian, loose his finger to an equivalent incident. Visions of Ian’s severed finger in a pool of blood kept me from really trying to grab my precious chain. Instead I tried fruitlessly to stand on it to stop it. Then suddenly, the entire 300 feet had run out and silence fell over the scene.
I stood stunned for a moment in disbelief, then ran full-till to the GPS to mark the exact point of the accident so that, hopefully, we could recover it. James hugged me and I apologized and I we circled while deciding what to do next. I called my diver friend, Manuelle, but she was away on vacation for a week and with my ear infection, I couldn’t…
“Leave it.” I convinced myself. “It’s going to be there next week and I don’t want to compromise my time with James.”
And so while James navigated us south through the lagoon, I rushed to rig up another anchor with a short piece of old chain and splice a thimble on the anchor rode. By the time we arrived at our remote destination, in was nearly sundown. We made our way through a tight passage in the coral to a perfect patch of sand in 8 feet of water. Despite what felt like a tragedy, I had only a pulsating blood blister on the bottom of my foot. I was nearly sure that I’d recover the chain, and so we cooked up fei bananas and toasted to being together while the blue moon rose over the whispering palms of the remote motu islet. Moonbeams illuminated the shallow lagoon, bopping and leaping and twirling across their sandy underwater dancefloor. I did my best to rejoice in the moment rather than dwell upon my stupidity…