A Swiss couple’s 35-day ordeal finally ended yesterday, when their 37-ft sloop, Avatar, was successfully towed the final 17 miles to Pago Pago by a local Marine and Wildlife vessel.
As reported earlier, a day after setting sail from Bora Bora, Avatar‘s rudder snapped off, and the couple’s attempts to jury-rig a replacement were unsuccessful. With no means of returning upwind to French Polynesian waters, the pair, named Beat and Lola, were left with no alternative but to drift with the prevailing current until they reached a landfall somewhere downwind. Luckily, American Samoa lay directly in their path, albeit nearly 1,000 miles away. During 34 days of drifting, their ‘speed’ averaged just a bit over 1.1 knots.
"Avatar was amusingly out of control on the end of the tow line," says cruiser Wayne Wilson, who went along for the ride, "even after Beat and Lola hung several hundred feet of line off the stern with jerry jugs attached that had their sides cut out. That helped a little, but we still broke the tow line five or six times." If you’ve ever tried to tow a keelboat in heavy seas, you can imagine how that happened. As Wayne explains, "Avatar would surf down a wave, then turn 90 degrees and stop. Meanwhile, the tow line would go slack, then slam taut again and try to jerk the tow boat backwards."
Despite enduring this painfully slow process for eight hours, the Fish and Wildlife crew never uttered "a cranky word all day long." Our hats are off to these five professional mariners, whose state-of-the-art aluminum-hulled RIB made the rescue possible — finally, a shining illustration of our tax dollars at work.