January 27, 2016

World Cruise 2016 Day 22

Day 22 Roratonga, Cook Islands. "All passengers rescued. No casualties" Well that is how a TV headline would probably read.

When I awake, the ship is approaching Roratonga. The Captain has taken the ship to the leeward side of the island where there is a small pier with a 50 foot wide channel thru the coral reef. He decides the conditions are not favorable, and proceeds to Avatiu, our original destination. The crew prepares the forward loading platform for the tenders, but the sea swells are too great and the tender dangerously slams into the platform again and again.

The crew regroups and tries the aft platform. No better. The Captain and his top officers assess the situation. They decide to try the dock on the leeward side of the island. The platforms are secured and the ship moves halfway around the island with the four tender/lifeboats following.

The ship is positioned using our thrusters as the water is too deep to anchor. After much consultation it is decided that we can safely load the lifeboats. Tendering begins. The process is slow because of the swells. Several passengers turn back once they see how much the tender is bouncing around. I am on the third boat for my tour which has been delayed about 2 hours.

In my opinion, Rarotonga is by far the nicest island we have visited in the South Pacific. The tour guide speaks very well. At a rest stop we are treated to real coconut water and fresh coconut. There is very little run down housing, and the only abandoned hotel property is the Sheraton that was never completed. With a small theater, many restaurants, stores, and lodging choices, the island is developed, but not overcrowded. Our tour lasts several hours.

Back at the dock, I find one of the tenders has run aground attempting to navigate the 50 foot wide channel. Don't rush to judgment on driving skills. There is a cross wind of about 30 MPH, a strong rip current, and large waves at the entrance to the narrow channel. Without warning the tender was pushed up on the coral reef.

Tender 9 has been grounded for almost three hours with about 100 passengers on board. The captain, hotel manager, safety officer, medical team and cruise director have come to shore in another boat and have walked out to the reef in chest deep water to the stranded tender. They carry cases of bottled water, towels, and additional medical kits with them. The tender sits at about a 15 degree angle, with the stern almost out of the water as the tide has continued to go out.

Some passengers are loaded six at a time into a small inflatable boat and brought to within 20 feet of shore where they are then able to walk in the waist deep water. Many others are led to dry land across several hundred yards of coral reef, in water that varies from inches to about 3 feet deep. Others remain on the boat. No one is seriously hurt, but some passengers have cuts on their hands, legs and arms where they were knocked over by waves or stumbled on the coral.

A small local tug boat makes several attempts to pull the vessel off the reef. The first attempt fails when the tow line snaps like a rubber band. Heavier lines are brought from the ship and attached to the tender and the tug boat. The line pulls tight, but does not break, nor does the tender move. The waves hitting the tender and the coral reef are probably 5 feet or more, and the tide continues to go out. For about an hour the tow line is kept taught, and then suddenly a larger wave comes and lifts the tender just enough so it can be pulled free. The tender makes it back to the ship and the remaining few passengers board without further incident.

After the grounding no more passengers were allowed ashore, and the balance of shore excursions for the day were canceled.

The stranded tender passengers reported that there was no panic whatsoever, in fact they laughed and joked to pass the time. Everyone eventually was safely returned to the ship. The Lifeboat was hoisted aboard, but is no longer functional. Passengers affected are being assigned to other lifeboat stations, and by dinnertime the passengers from the tender found a letter from the captain, messages from the front desk, and several bottles of wine in their cabin.

Adrienne told me that I would have many stories to tell when I returned home. I did not expect one about a "Reef Excursion".

The next few days we are at sea, expecting our next port to be Waitangi, New Zealand on February 1.