Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sailing Cat loses Rig


Somewhere between NZ and Tonga a Pan-Pan was heard.
A catamaran crewed by two 75 year old adventurers had lost its mast and rigging. Luckily nobody was hurt.

Back-up a few years ..... Bob and Dawn Heasman are a couple who started their lives in Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe. They grew up and went to school, met there and in due course got married.

Every home they have lived in has been called 'Kudana' which is Shona, an African Language, for 'Two Together'. Since the introduction of a black government in Zimbabwe in 1980, Bob and Dawn were determined to give this new government a chance. Maybe it would be OK. By 1983 Bob started to get worried when he was refused his annual 'foreign currency allowance' that enabled him send his own money out to import metal tubing for his fridges and freezers that he'd begun manufacturing. Bob tried to use the tubing that was produced locally but it split at the seams and also rusted inside, so making it useless for it's intended purpose. He began to despair as to how to carry on. One day an African man came off the street and asked to see him. This man had been allocated a foreign currency allowance, but he didn't even have a job. His offer to Bob was...give me half your business and I'll let you use my allocation. Bob was furious and sick at heart.

In 1984 they decided to leave Zimbabwe and moved to South Africa. They were only allowed to take their car, a caravan, and US$700. Bob and Dawn had sold most of their possessions, but their money had been frozen by the government. They were only allowed to leave with what was called a"holiday allocation". This was the normal routine in those days, the government didn't want any whites in the country but they didn't want the money to leave. Actually, it's the same now.

Within a year of leaving Zimbabwe, Bob was told that he was terminally ill with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Cancer...he had three months to get his affairs in order. He was 49.

He lost his job, but the company organised a small pension for him, which was rather a wonderful thing for them to have done. He decided to become a 'guinea pig' and submit himself to experimental drugs to fight this cancer. Three months later he was still alive. Six months later he told them that he would rather die than go through another bout of Chemo. They gave him a final check-up to be able to write up the results and discovered that there was no trace of the cancer, except the scar tissue of course. Wow, what a revelation! He was euphoric.

His problems were not over...because of the cancer he couldn't get a job. Everyone thought he would get sick again. A friend came through and offered him work. He went from strength to strength eventually starting up his own business again.

In 2005 he finally retired. Things in South Africa were starting to look like a carbon copy of Zimbabwe and they were beginning to get worried about their future. The last thing they wanted was to lose everything they had worked so hard for because of political unrest and a badly managed government. It had had happened once before to them and they could see the writing on the wall this time. The president of South Africa was known to be a good friend of Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, and talks of 'Land reform' as it was known in Zimbabwe being done in South Africa were blatantly announced in news reports. They began to rack their brains as to what they could do.

One day Bob turned to Dawn and said,"Let's go sailing around the world".

Dawn had been his leaning post during tough times. She is a strong resilient character full of optimism and cheer. She had taken each day and conquered it, wondering if her sweetheart would live to see another sunrise. Dawn never gives up. She is a tiny lady, standing 5'0, but don't mess with her when it comes to family. She looked at him and said, "OK, what do I need to do?"

In 2006 they sold everything, right down to the last teaspoon to be able to get the money together to buy a yacht. There were people who owed them money but when it got known that they were going sailing the consensus was..."oh you're rich, you don't need the money" and so those people still owe him to this day. As Bob and Dawn were leaving the country those people just ducked and dived and hid away.

There was a yacht in the Caribbean that looked just right, it was small for an ocean going catamaran. It has a good pedigree. It had been standing on the hard for a long time, the owner wanted a quick sale. It was checked out by a friend and pronounced they bought it. Between the time they had sold everything and the time the boat was purchased, about 2 months, their Rand, South African currency, had devalued to such an extent that they'd lost a significant amount of their savings. Timing was crucial but somehow they managed to scrape together enough to complete the purchase. After all they could no longer afford to reestablish their lives in SA even if they wanted to. Soon they were flying to Trinidad, with a suitcase each, to take possession of their new home, a 35ft Fontaine Pajot, Tobago catamaran now called..... Kudana.

They were so very excited. Dawn, a little apprehensive as she had never sailed before and they were now both 72 years old. She wondered if she was going to like it.
Bob had sailed and raced an OK and a Fireball dinghy when he had been younger, so he felt more at home on Kudana. However he did find someone to be captain for the first three months, and this way he gained the needed knowledge and confidence in the boat.

They left the Caribbean, passing through the Panama Canal and then embarked on the long Pacific crossing, just the two of them. A brave, courageous couple of old timers, setting out to find a new life for themselves, again.

Bob and Dawn, now at the age of 75, arrived in New Zealand in 2009 and have applied for residency. It will take two years to process this application. Because they are only allowed to stay in NZ for 6 months out of a year, they have to travel away for the interim period. They would much rather just be able to stay at anchor and wait out the time, but this is not NZ's policy. So in May 2010 they set off to Tonga, the idea being that they stay there on anchor until the hurricane season approached when they would sail back to NZ for 6 months.

On the 21st of May 2010 there was PAN PAN call put out by Kudana. Something had gone seriously wrong..............

From here on, the account is taken up by Bob himself.

"Having been in NZ for 5 months and spent a lot of our savings on upgrading our boat, by painting her hulls with anti foul and having essential work carried out on the sails to ensure they would be good for a few more years. A new mainsail and lazy bag were fitted because the old ones were falling apart; as was the bimini fabric, so that was replaced too. We also had fold up sun shades fitted around the bimini edge to protect the cockpit. She looked great, everything in Teal. What is more she was sailing beautifully.

"On the 22nd. of May at 10:00 on a beautiful clear morning, the Sun was shining bright and the wind was blowing at a steady 18 knots. We had one reef in each sail which put us clearly in the safety zone, and we were sailing at 6 to 7 knots. Suddenly there was an awful noise: the mast and boom came crashing down onto the bimini and the port side of the boat. Kudana came to a standstill and I was left looking at a scene of utter devastation. We were completely numb and dumbfounded. We made a few attempts at salvaging some of it but it was a complete waste of time and effort. After some discussion with my crew I decided the only course was to cut it all away. We were 40 miles from land and the sea was running at about 2 meters in height and I could just not see any way to save things. So out came the hacksaw and I began to cut stay wires.

Eventually it all went over the side not causing much damage to Kudana and nobody was hurt. What a dreadful feeling cutting the last wire and watching the whole lot sink to the bottom of the sea.
"It was obvious that the forestay had broken and this had caused the disaster. Why this
happened I can't imagine because we were not over stressing the rig. We then motored in
towards the mainland and arrived at Ha'afeva at about 2200, where we thankfully dropped
anchor and went to bed. The next day being a Sunday there wasn't anything happening
ashore so we just tidied up as best we could and relaxed. The following day we headed
for Lifuka where we logged in with Customs, Quarantine, Health and Immigration. What a
circus. We needed fuel so had to do this in order to be allowed ashore to purchase some.
The price of diesel is now awful. Having refueled we are now motoring to Vava'U, a
distance of some 80 miles, where we hope to arrive on the morning of the 27th. of May.

"Now this has happened our sailing dreams are in disarray. I'm not sure how we can finance a new rig and sails after our last expensive refurbishment, which I thought would be the last big expense for 3 or 4 years. We are in the process now of finding out what the costs are and whether there are any affordable ways of getting going again.

However, I don't want to put money into equipment only to have to buy new again in a year or so. So far I'm getting quotes from Northshore in NZ for a new mast and boom, and
Lee sails for new sails. There is a possibility that I might be able to get a second hand rig but this is an odd sized catamaran with odd sized sails."

What have they lost?

Standing and running rigging (shrouds, ropes and blocks)
Genoa furling gear
Navigation lights
Ramarine Radar Scanner
VHF antenna
And a badly buckled Bimini...

Seems like they will have a hard slog ahead of them......


  1. Sylvie,

    Michael and I think what your parents have done is grand, and we're very sorry for this fluke of circumstance that brought them to a halt. We weren't able to give much, but perhaps our mite joined with that from others will get them going again. May the Lord bless all of you..

    Normandie and Michael Fischer
    s/v Sea Venture
    presently the Magote, La Paz

  2. Please give your parents our best wishes and hope all comes right for them. We are one big family and need to help each other in times of need. I hope you receive plenty of support.
    Sue and Buddy - s/v Subuti - (currently landbased)