Tuesday, May 3, 2016

SV Liahona hits a reef!

Bottom, back side of the keel.

 Bottom, front of the rudder.

 Horizontal crack along the bottom of the rudder.

 Front side of lead keel where it struck the reef.

Aft part of keel that was damaged while backing off the reef.

First of all let me say that everyone is ok and the boat sustained slight damage that will need to be repaired when we haul out for the summer and besides some frazzled nerves and a damaged ego, all is well.

Secondly, let me say that it would be easy to point the finger in a variety of directions like inaccurate charts, poor gps realtime data or even at the Mexican government for not marking a very dangerous reef located in a high traffic area. However, none of those things are to blame.  The blame rests solely on myself as the captain of the boat and my lack of attention to our position and other pertinent information that put us in a precarious situation.

Earlier in the day we dropped Rawly off at the bus station for him to head south to Cabo to get his flight out to Utah. We left La Paz around noon to head toward Isla Espiritu Santo with Tallen for his last few days with us.  After seeing the weather predictions of heavy westerly winds during the night we decided to go to the east side of the island in order to be protected from the swell that would build from the winds and then blow into the anchorage on the west side.  That route took us through the San Lorenzo channel which is a 3.5 mile wide stretch of water that lies between the south end of Isla Espiritu Santo and the north end of the peninsula north of La Paz.  The channel has serveral shallow areas including two dangerous reefs that lie about 4' below the surface a mile off shore.  The reefs are well marked on the charts but have no buoys or other markers other than two buoys that mark the safe passage through the middle of the channel.

We sailed a course safely between the channel buoys then turned north toward our anchorage on the island.  We had turned off the motor a while earlier and were enjoying a nice sail moving along about 5 knots or so.  After spotting a group of sea lions basking in the sun I also saw what appeared to be shallower water, both dark and aqua colored which would indicate both sand and rock/reef type of bottoms.  

Approaching the multi colored water we watched the depth gauge quickly show the bottom shoaling up. In less than a minute we had 20' feet of water under the keel and quickly declining.  Within seconds we struck bottom!  The strike was abrupt, not a soft push into sand or mud.  We were under full sail so there we were stuck on a reef, all the sail up and our minds running wild with thoughts of what the bottom of the boat looked like and how extensive the damage was.  At first I left the sails up so the boat would heel and therefore lessen the amount of water we needed to float off of the reef.  After starting the motor and adding full power in forward and reverse we were not moving.  I then pulled the sail down and Tallen jumped in the water with a mask so he could tell me what the damage was and our position on the reef that might give me a clue as to which direction we might be able to power off of the reef.

Under full power and with a small swell occasionally lifting the boat slightly she pivoted some but would not move off of the reef.  We saw another sailboat going toward the channel so we hailed them on the radio.  It turned out that it was our friends on SV First Date and they asked if we were in distress.  We answered in the affirmative and they quickly lowered their sails and stood by at a safe distance.   After several attempts to free her I decided to jump in myself with a mask to evaluate the damage and see if there was a possible way off of the reef.

From my vantage point under the water it looked like if we could rotate the boat some then move forward a few feet followed by a quick spell in reverse to position ourselves between two large coral heads then back to forward moving between them and out to clear water.  With SV First Date standing by, myself in the water shouting instructions as I watched the keel on the reef and Marne at the helm we briefly broke free of the reef. Marne precisely followed my verbal instructions and we moved into safe water.  

Once clear of the reef I dove under the boat to see what damage we had inflicted on the Liahona.  The keel is solid lead and weighs in at 11,000 pounds.  The front edge and bottom had various dents and scrapes and the bottom trailing edge has a piece about the size of half loaf of bread that is severly bent out to the starboard side as a result from us rotating around while full power in reverse.  The rudder, which is all fiberglass, has a fist sized crunched area in the front and a long, horizontal crack running aft about 12" from the bottom.  Fortunately the rudder post was not bent and although it will need to be dried out and repaired, it is still perfectly functional and any water seepage into the rudder itself will not adversely affect the boat nor water entrance into the bilge.  

After the evaluation we put up the canvas and sailed on up to our anchorage.  It took a long time for our nerves to calm down and our minds to settle.  Looking back there are many things that I did wrong.  Mostly it was laziness.  We were enjoying a beautiful sail and I simply did not pay attention to the things I should have been monitoring closely.  In retrospect, I learned a very valuable lesson at a fairly slight cost.  Had we hit the reef at night or in blustery conditions, or both, things could have turned out much differently and possibly even disastrous, maybe not for ourselves but certainly for the boat. All three of us are grateful that it was not any worse.  As it played out, it was a cheap wake up call, but a call that I hope I remember for a long time.

SV Liahona
Bret,  Marne and Tallen


  1. Brett & Marne, sorry to hear about the encounter with the reef but glad to hear that everybody is fine! Wow, nasty....

  2. It was scary. My lack of attention came at a very small cost and I'm awake and aware now! So jealous of you guys in Nirvana Land! Enjoy every minute!