How A Ship On The Shore Became a Beacon For My Dredging Career

Stranded Yo, us and another vessel to the rescue (Credit: Co Winkelman)
Stranded Yo, us and another vessel to the rescue (Credit: Co Winkelman)

Long ago, we were sailing with my parents and my brother into the Venezuelan archipelago of ‘Los Roques’.1 After clearing customs, we learned that there was another sailing vessel in trouble. It was stranded on the reefs at the east side of the islands. As we had some spare time we decided to lend a hand in getting them afloat. By eyeball navigation through the channel behind the coral reef, we found the stranded English catamaran ‘Yo’, but had to anchor 200m away. First we learned from a Swiss captain on another assisting yacht they had been pulling together with a maxi yacht on a long hawser to pull them off by power and sail. Alas, to no avail.

Location and map of the islands of Los Roques
Location and map of the islands of Los Roques

The next day, the swiss captain had to leave and we undertook the journey by dinghy to visit the crew on ‘Yo’. It turned out to be a couple with their son and two deckhands. They told us that the maxi yacht was ‘Drum’2 and one of the crew was no other than rock star Simon Le Bon3 himself. We just missed them by a day! He did all the best to cheer them up and you can image what a support that visit meant to these people in such a desperate situation.

Salvage plan to float ‘Yo’
Salvage plan to float ‘Yo’

As my dad was a chief engineer from the merchant marine, he surveyed the damage professionally. ‘Yo’ was sitting exactly on top of the reef. One keel was broken of and the other only half, but was sheared below the wreck and stuck between the coral heads, preventing any movement. After evaluating the state of the boat, the equipment and the location, he actually said: ‘We’re gonna science the shit out of this.’4 Together we devised a cunning plan:

  1. Lift/Float: Remove the rest of the keel. Plug the holes left by the bolts and increase buoyancy of the craft.
  2. Dredge: Lower the rock bottom to increase support from the buoyancy and create a channel to freedom.
  3. Move: Assemble all winches and tackle to leverage the pulling forces. The forces would be so high that we feared we would pull the catamaran in half. So we had to distribute the forces all around the hull.

The structural repairs on the hull were performed by my father. My brother and me were in charge of the winches and tackle. Any spare time was dedicated to cutting the rock below the wreck. For sure, that is a nasty job, we tore our clothes and cut ourselves on the sharp edges of the coral. By practice, I learned the different angles to aim the pickaxe for the best results and the lowest effort: an introduction into Specific Cutting Energy!5 Because we did our calculations careful and our assumptions were right, the boat moved exactly the moment we predicted and in the way we wanted. It was a great moment of revelation: you could actually use all this knowledge from physics classes6 to get you out of a nasty position. It set me on a path where I am now and you are reading this story.

The best home schooling: toolbox meeting for a salvage operation. (Credit: Co Winkelman)
The best home schooling: toolbox meeting for a salvage operation. (Credit: Co Winkelman)

Actually, we did not see them completely get off, as we had other obligations and had to leave. We were confident they would come off, but it was a mystery to us where they did end up. Finally after thirty years, I did a Google search and to my surprise I found they did get off indeed and were even reunited with their first rescuer, Simon Le Bon.7

‘Yo’ is away, but still scars are left behind in the coral where it all happened. (Credit: Google)
‘Yo’ is away, but still scars are left behind in the coral where it all happened. (Credit: Google)

That was my own story on dredging and salvage. Currently, there is an interesting exhibition at the National Dredging Museum8 with better documented cases and very interesting displays. Still, the three steps used for ‘Yo’: ‘Lift, Dredge and Move’ can be distinguished for the other cases there, also.

Exhibit of the salvage operation of the ‘Faustus’ from the Rotterdam breakwater
Exhibit of the salvage operation of the ‘Faustus’ from the Rotterdam breakwater

Remarks

Please keep in mind, that these events happened more than thirty years ago and were about saving the lives of five people in immediate danger. Dredging in coral should only be done under very strict conditions with the health of the ecosystem in the first place and in balance with the necessity of the operation.

References

  1. Los Roques archipelago, Wikipedia
  2. Drum (yacht), Wikipedia
  3. Simon Le Bon, Wikipedia
  4. The Martian: Mark Watney Quotes, IMDb
  5. Experiencing The Cutting Edge Of Dredging Technology, Discover Dredging
  6. BINAS, Noordhof
  7. Rescued woman reunited with pop star, BBC
  8. Scheepswrakken bergen of baggeren? National Dredging Museum

See also