Shawara Island, hourglass shaped, tallest vegetation is
knee high scrub.
the shack the lads started a fire, made hot dogs, then relaxed in the shack, the
younger guys working on their knots. Afternoon was cloudy, threatening rain, we
took it easy. Dave stayed on the boat, he enjoys a bit of quiet while he putters
around. The lads sent the dingy back to Iduna for dinner stuff, beefed up the
fire and made scout chili behind the shack , one of our favorites. It was tasty.
The lads got a card game going, I went back to Iduna
and had a beer with the Captain.
The old Sugar Shack, taken by Cap’n Dave
call this morning on the Thuraya (satellite) phone, the war had started but no
urgent reason to come back to Doha. Dave and I rowed to shore with breakfast
stuff and the lads got up, washed and made breakfast. They had only wet wood to
work with but got a good fire going soon. We had none of the usual cookers or
tents on this trip since it was aboard Iduna.
This was to be a relaxing day, even Dave came ashore and collected some
coral for his wife’s garden. We explored the west end of the island, part of
which is sea cliffs of hard limestone about 12 meters high, with pounding surf
when the wind is right. We saw lots of interesting coral and other shell debris,
the Gulf is a lot cleaner and less saline out here in the blue water, far from
the mainland. There is plenty of interesting beach combing, stuff drifts for
miles out here washed off dhows, drifting over from Iran etc.
Scouts out exploring. From left Aden, Kevin, James,
got several calls in the evening , some of the parents were getting nervous. We
decided to head back to Doha Saturday morning because of the war. Dave made us a
fine English beef stew with
dumplings in Iduna’s galley, good pub fare. I made
a cherry cobbler but the canned cherries were weird, like maraschino
cherries, so it turned out pretty strange.
That evening I sat aboard Iduna after supper, watching a spectacular
thunder storm, quite a sight. You are actually very safe aboard a sailboat
during lightning. Lightning will always take the path
of least resistance, down the aluminum mast into the sea, rarely is
anyone hurt. Dave had a Sony play station/ DVD player and large flat screen TV
on Iduna so later we watched some classic British comedy. The boys snored away
in the Sugar Shack, conked out at 8 PM. A
This was departure day. Dave and I slept on the boat, at about 7 I rowed to shore and roused the lads. The wind had turned and was blowing from the south, onto the beach. This situation is called a “lee shore”, where a boat is being pushed toward a nearby beach, and sailors don’t like it. Under normal circumstances Dave would have started the engine, pulled the anchor and either motored further away from the beach or around to the opposite side of the island, which was now the protected side. But we had a bunch of boys to gather up so Dave stayed put, only 100 yards or so from the beach, as the wind and waves built. The first dinghy of boys arrived at Iduna OK, but the second boatful nearly swamped in the waves. Dave attached a line to the dinghy and let the wind push the empty boat to shore and after we loaded it pulled it to Iduna. We got the last lads and gear aboard. The storm continued to build and it looked as though the anchor might have dragged a bit; we were very close to shore as Dave revved the diesel and started the powerful hydraulic winch that pulled in the anchor chain. Waves by now had turned us at right angles to the anchor chain and the winch barely moved , we were inching toward the beach as each wave hit us broadside. The boat’s keel hit ground as we were lifted and dropped by each wave, we were in trouble. Dave jumped into the surf and attempted to push her off the beach, several of us got off and helped him. If the storm had moderated we might have pushed her off but the boat is 26 tons, we were like ants doing the impossible. Each wave pushed the boat a fraction of an inch higher on the beach. In addition we had the bad luck of a high tide, working with the storm to lift us even higher. The combination pushed us high on the beach.
We were well and truly “hard aground”. We got off Iduna and went back to the shack, bringing packs and sleeping bags. The boat continued to inch up the beach as the storm continued. Dave called the coast guard and found out about the next high tide, late afternoon (the Gulf has two high and two low tides per day because it is confined like a large lake; a high and low tide can be only a few hours apart.) Our plan was to wait for low tide, dig sand out from the seaward side of the boat, then at the next high tide push like hell and maybe get her to tilt over and float.
Iduna aground, a heart breaking sight, pounded by the
A few hours later.
The storm continued.
We had some lunch. Fortunately we had 2000 liters of water and food for a week so no danger of starving. The boys were out of school for another week. The shack was comfy and kept the occasional rain out. The lads set up housekeeping again, repaired the broom, swept out the place and rigged a clothesline . The fridge on Iduna was unusable since the engine could not be run so we needed to use our fresh meat. We would be fine for several days.
Dave was unable to just sit and wait for the tide. We noticed a wooden dhow, or traditional Arab boat on the other side of the island. Dave swam out to the dhow (he’s a good swimmer) and asked them to motor around to our side and maybe throw us a line and pull Iduna off. Dave swam back to shore and we dug out a long Dacron rope that he keeps for this sort of situation. The dhow appeared on our side, bobbing in the storm, and Dave swam out with the rope end, an amazing bit of swimming in heavy surf. He waved to them but they refused to come close enough, afraid of running aground. These dhows are poorly equipped and the crews are poor Indians, scared to death of their Arab bosses , they are in effect indentured servants. People who make $100 a month are not going to risk a $50,000 dhow. So they motored back around and Dave swam to shore.
Dave swims thru the chop pulling a heavy rope. The dhow
refused to come close enough.
Then he had another idea. He had spotted a large coral head in the surf on the seaward side of Iduna. If he could get the rope around it we could attach it to a powerful winch on the boat and at high tide, maybe, pull the boat down the beach. Trouble was the coral was sharp, covered with sea urchins and other nasty stuff, and was in surging surf, one second almost exposed, the next in 6 feet of water. Dave asked Nick to help him with this seemingly impossible task and they fought their way into the surf , repeatedly forced back by waves or toppled over and dragged over rocky beach and coral. Dave at one point stood on the coral head, struggling with the rope when a wave knocked him off, rolling him like a barrel . After several punishing tries they gave up, poor Dave had urchin spines and cuts from coral on his feet, the guy seems to not feel pain.
The scouts set up some stakes on the beach and monitored the tide. At high tide that afternoon we all pushed , trying with each wave to push to boat a little. Surf surged around Iduna and she lifted with each big wave. We failed to move her but perhaps prevented her from being pushed still further up the beach. I salvaged some thawing chicken from the fridge and the lads made a good chicken stew on the camp fire, a fine job that the exhausted Cap’n Dave appreciated. He and I moved our bedding from Iduna to the shack and spent the nite on the hard floor. It rained during the nite but the shack was surprisingly dry and well built.
Scouts working on the fire, it was a struggle with wet
The next morning I salvaged the last eggs from Iduna plus ripening fruit and we had boiled eggs and oranges for breakfast. The lads struggled with wet wood but got a fire going. Dave talked on the phone with the Coast Guard, they sent a boat about lunch time. This was a good sized boat, maybe 26 or 28 foot, but they came at low tide and there was no way they could pull us off. They offered to take the boys back to Doha but we said no thanks, we would stick around and try to help. So they left. Dave said it looked like he might have to call a tug boat out from Doha to pull us off, it might cost a couple thousand dollars.
Coast guard stops by
We found some shovels at another shack and started digging out the seaward side of Iduna, a massive job. We moved tons of sand, rocks and coral bits, exposed the propeller and rudder and confirmed they were OK. We dug all afternoon , the small guys helping by keeping the fire going and making lunch. Taking a break we took another nice stroll around the island collecting shell and other goodies. The lads tried to catch a few crabs but they were too fast, no luck.
Iduna at low tide, hopelessly stuck
One more picture of Iduna on the beach.
Here’s Nick digging out the seaward side. Propeller
The boys built a fire so Java Valiant could see us.
Afternoon came, the digging came to an end as the tide returned, covering our work and filling it back in, we feared. I climbed aboard Iduna and made a pot of beans in the pressure cooker plus fresh yeast bread, these diggers were hungry. Then we got a break. Dave’s company Oxy Petroleum has an oil field offshore Qatar called ISND. They had just finished delivering a jack-up drilling rig and the massive ocean going tug, the Java Valiant, that pulls these rigs around was headed back to Doha. We were only an hour or so out of their way but the ship costs $1000 per hour to operate, would Oxy mind if it came by the Island and pulled us off? Oxy management gave the OK (bless them) and around 8 PM we heard from the Java Valiant, booming on the radio, she was circling the island looking for us. The scouts built a big bonfire and before long we saw the ship , lights blazing , coming around to our side of the island. Valiant lowered a Zodiac motor boat from a crane and this boat came ashore, with a friendly British captain bearing a large sack of freshly made sandwiches from their galley. He took a look at Iduna and radioed his ship telling them to dig out every rope they had. Valiant needed to anchor in minimum 15 feet of water which put them 400 yards from us, did they have 400 yards of rope? The Phillipino crew scurried about, found ropes, and put them all together. Valiant dropped an anchor to pull against. The Zodiac went back to Valiant and in an hour or so came back, towing the 2 inch diameter rope, floating behind it like a giant snake. They brought the end up to the bow (front) of Iduna, wrapped it around, and we were ready. They tensioned the rope on their enormous winch (this thing will tow a twenty story high drilling rig safely thru an Atlantic storm) , the captain giving orders from the beach over a hand held radio. Dave was on Iduna, ready to start the engine once she was afloat. Valiant’s skipper said something like “give it five percent power” , and the 26 ton steel boat lurched forward, tilting into the surf. The winch was too powerful so they paused a moment, locked the winch, and the captain told Valiant to take in 3 feet of anchor chain. Valiant pulled in a bit of anchor, which pulled Iduna 3 feet down the beach. A couple more pulls and Iduna was floating, we gave a shout of relief. But was she damaged? Valiant’s captain seemed doubtful Iduna had escaped damage. We watched from shore as Iduna’s light came on, was she OK? We weren’t sure. The Zodiac took the lads a few at a time to Iduna, finally pulling the dinghy with me aboard. We scrambled aboard our fine old ship, the diesel was running, Dave said she was OK, we could head for home. More cheers.
It was now about midnite and we were beat. We divided into shifts , Nick and James, the oldest scouts , went first, the rest of us headed for bed. The sea was smooth, ideal conditions, and we were all asleep in a few minutes. Dave set the course for home, 300 degrees, put the older boys in charge and went to bed himself. One boy steered and the other kept an eye out for other boats and floating junk and kept the helmsman awake.
Sometime around 2 I woke up to find the waves had built significantly, we were motoring along in 4-6 foot waves, and started to feel queasy again. Going on deck I saw Dave, Nick and James, the sails were up and we were “motor sailing”, using both sail and engine for maximum speed. They gave me a briefing and all went to bed. Dave had set the sails for self steering, meaning the sails and engine were balanced to maintain a fairly steady course without touching the wheel. The boat gently oscillates 20 or 30 degrees every few minutes. In open ocean this is used by solo sailors to get some sleep, the boat maintains a course relative to the wind and only needs attention when the wind shifts or dies or some object comes into view. My job was just to keep a lookout for dhows (these boats often carry no lights) or floating shipping containers. The other key task is avoid falling overboard. With everyone asleep and the ship on “autopilot”, falling overboard would be fatal, the boat would simply sail off without me with its sleeping passengers. This thought helped keep me awake. There is nothing like sailing at night with no other lights in sight, engine chugging along, sails whistling in the wind, the sea sloshing below the hull. Then the engine quit.
Buzzers went off at the nav station, Dave was up in a second asking what was going on. The engine restarted and died several times, Dave checked the fuel with a dip stick. Waking James we went on the fore deck of the silent boat , opened the locker with several 5 gallon cans of emergency diesel and poured 3 into the fuel tank. This can be tricky because if you spill diesel the deck becomes slick and over you go, not a job to be done alone. The engine restarted and died, fuel was not the problem. Dave lifted the floor boards and took a look at the engine, it was 3 AM. James and I went to bed, unable to help.
Around 4 Dave had the fuel filters changed and the engine running again, I went back to keeping watch and poor Dave caught some more desperately needed sleep. I continued uneventfully until dawn, seeing several lights of boats. The main job is to watch the angle or compass bearing of lights. If a boat is on a collision course with you its light will appear stationary, if you are going faster the light will move back, toward the rear of your boat and the opposite if the other boat is faster. Collisions are rare but do happen and are mostly due to poor watch keeping . Around sunrise I went down below and took another nap, all the young scouts sleeping soundly.
We continued to motor along. Finally around 8 we saw the Doha skyline, a welcome sight. Everyone was up and we prepared some breakfast and started to tidy our stuff . We were at our mooring at the Marriott around 10, several of the parents were there. The lads gathered their stuff shook hands with Dave, and thanked him for the adventure . The parents hugged the boys and pumped Dave’s hand, they had been a bit worried with the war going on . We met back at the boat at 4 PM that day to do a good scrubbing and put Iduna right.
I hope these pictures capture some of the adventure for you, a poor substitute for being there I’m afraid. What they don’t capture is the skill of our fine Captain, and the risk he took with his boat to keep our boys safe.
Everybody did their chores. Tom sweeps the shack