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Singlehander Loses Boat In Nature Reserve

Exactly one year after leaving Southern California aboard his Los Angeles-based Salt Peter, singlehander Peter Rudiger has lost his sailboat to Komakame Reef, which is three miles to the southeast of the southernmost landmass of New Caledonia, about 40 miles from Noumea. While Rudiger is physically fine, he’s potentially in big financial trouble with the government.

In an email sent to cruising friends, Rudiger explained that he had had a rough 700-mile trip from Fiji, arriving at the southern tip of New Caledonia on June 2. It was late afternoon, so he had to decide whether to enter the fringing reef and work his way through additional reefs at night to get to Noumea, or wait outside the reef for daylight. He opted to heave-to offshore and wait for daylight, which would seem to be the prudent thing to do.

Conditions were not ideal. The wind was blowing in the mid- to high 20s, and except for distant marker lights and occasional passing vessels, he saw nothing. After a difficult five-day sail, during which time he uncharacteristically puked a number of times, Rudiger said it was "inevitable" that he would try to take a few short naps between monitoring the chart plotter for his position.

"All seemed well until 3 a.m. on Tuesday, when suddenly there was a very loud, abrasive, crunching sound that shuddered the hull, and suddenly my boat was leaning terribly to port," he wrote. "I knew immediately what had happened."

The unlucky singlehander grounded on a reef 40 miles from Noumea.

© 2014 U of Texas, Austin

Realizing there was no way he could get off the reef, in part because the rudder wouldn’t move at all, Rudiger put out a call for help. Authorities said help was on the way. Fortunately, Salt Peter‘s hull kept the water out until shortly before he was rescued.

It turned out that a private French yacht, the Kirie Feeling 48.6 Mariposa, owned by a 30-year-old Frenchman named Jerome, his wife Agathe, and Azae, their 15-month old child, rescued Rudiger at 8:30 a.m, long before authorities showed up. "Jerome’s good nature, and that of his wife, meant they insisted on taking me in and giving me a ‘home’, clothes literally off their backs, meals, and the vee-berth in their very nice boat."

Rudiger’s problem now is that his boat is still on Komakame Reef, which is a nature reserve that’s off-limits to everyone. The New Caledonian version of the EPA has told him in no uncertain terms that it’s his financial responsibility to remove his boat and all toxic substances from the area, and he’ll not be allowed to leave the country until it’s done. Local cruisers are chipping in to help, but it’s likely that their contributions will not be enough.

With a government that is extremely environmentally conscious, New Caledonia recently established the largest marine park in the world called the Natural Park of the Coral Sea. It spans more than 320 million acres — twice the size of Texas.

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