Daily Archives: May 10, 2015

High-speed chase against the clock -

When he is north of Grande Comore Island, with the forecast of winds in the area, Serge knows that he will never reach his goal. He is sure of it. The conveyor belt of currents hoped for is only an illusion, especially if you take into account the direction of the wind that blows here. Serge understands the situation perfectly. After having expended huge effort and slept little for two weeks, he feels his strength ebbing and he is afraid he will lose his lucidity and become a danger to himself. He too is drifting in the twists and turns of his consciousness.
Wednesday, May 6: Serge understands that he will never reach Pemba; I feel the urgency and we have to act quickly because Serge is exhausted, I hear it in his voice, in a few sentences we exchange. We must go meet him to get him on a heading he can hold and because of the storm warnings get him to a safe haven.
Thursday, May 7: A ray of hope – Serge held a reasonable heading in view of the conditions. He was able to row for 4 hours, spending the rest of the time closed in his cabin. Middleton has a 20° margin of maneuver when the winds are not favorable. When a strong wind hits Middleton at 90° it is impossible to hold a heading. Rowing or not rowing, in any case the heading south cannot be held. Serge knows this; it is just a question of common sense!
Friday, May 8 : Red alert. At 5 AM Serge calls me. He knows he is at the mercy of the raging seas and we know that the already difficult conditions will get worse until Sunday. There is nothing he can do to prevent the heading north. He is going so fast that I wonder if we will be able to catch up with him one day. In two hours we prepare the vehicles and out equipment and we head toward Tanzania, hoping that the ferry that crosses the border is running, otherwise it will take us four days to get to Tanzania. Our emergency can’t wait 4 days and I hope we will be lucky. A contact in Palma tells me that the ferry is running so we head in that direction.
We spend the night in Palma and Andre lets us take a hot shower. We sleep in the vehicles. We hear nothing from Serge until 19H00. He continues to be on alert status because his inside telephone has not worked since yesterday and he can’t phone from the outside with his Irridium. He is waiting for a boat we found in Mtwara to go out to pick him up but at this point in time I know that the boat will not go to sea: Serge is too far from the coast and the boat is not powerful enough to face such heavy seas.
As is always the case in an emergency, when a decision must be made quickly, I suggest solutions with the elements I have on hand. Maxime tells me that Serge will not be able to reach the coast, even further to the north when the sea is calmer, or even in Somalia. David, in Mtwara, cannot go out with his small boat and we cannot go further north than Tanzania. Serge is in distress, in a critical situation and if things stay as they are, it will soon be a risk to Serge’s life.
Serge and I agree to speak Saturday morning at 5H00, if we can because bad luck will have it that communications have never been worse since Thursday, not taking into account the deplorable telephone connections in this country.
My decision is taken; tomorrow I will tell Serge that it is for the best for him to end the endeavor. I will call CROSS, just to say that Serge is in distress and drifting out of control but that for the moment we do not request help. It must be between 20H00 and 21H00.
22H00: Serge calls me by telephone and asks me to call for assistance. I tell him that I see no other solution; the connection goes dead!
The rescue operation begins, we « sleep » for 4 hours. Serge will be picked up in a few hours and taken to Mayotte or Mtwara. Foe me Mayotte represents another difficulty whereas we are at Mtwara.
At 5H30 we leave Palma toward the border on a rutted track, we leave one of the four wheel drives in a muddy rut. We arrive at the ferry, which is only a barge. It crosses the Ruwuma River to the opposite bank, a distance of 400 meters.
At 7H30 the barge goes aground on a sand bank and we are stuck 100 meters from the shore. We spend 10H00 on the barge waiting for the tide to come in to free us. Between 8H30 and 9H30 I speak to CROSS three times with my satellite telephone. There is no network here! During that time I follow Serge’s rescue operations.
The crew of the Far Scotsman has Serge on board: Phew!
They land Serge at Mtwara PHEW PHEW PEHW. 30 minutes earlier, CROSS tells me that there is a chance he will be sent to Mayotte by a French naval vessel.
It was not possible to tow Middleton – ASTONISHMENT. We are in a stupor…
The hours pass slowly, very slowly on this barge and we are finally liberated at 17H00. 5 km further is the Tanzanian border. Papers for the vehicles, visas, everything is in order in record time, it is 19H00. I have no news of Serge for there is no network and I don’t know the boat’s satellite number. I only know that he is in good hands. It is dark and the road is “rotten”. We decide to sleep at the police station where we are. No use taking risks at night, especially because CROSS tells me that the boat will not arrive at Mtwara until Sunday evening, at the best. It is 40 km from our position.
We sleep in our vehicles for a second night. At 6H30 we take to the road to Mtwara. David, the owner of the only motor boat in the area and with whom I have been in contact, is waiting for us. It is 7H45 when we arrive. I have still not been able to speak with Serge and I see that he has tried to call from a satellite telephone. There is finally a network.
David in Mtwara, who knows the captain of the Far Scotsman, tells me when we leave our vehicle that the boat is at quay. Serge is with the Tanzanian authorities on board. We are Sunday, May 10th in the morning and I wonder in what state of mind I will find Serge.