Sailing with Balvenie: Caribbean farewell to Chinook Wind

Bandit crew say farewell to Chinook Wind
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In February cruising sailors Dick and Ann Oliver lived every cruising sailor's nightmare. They tragically lost their 37ft Tayana Chinook Wind on a reef off the coast of Venezuela. (See Sail-World http://www.sail-world.com/index_d.cfm?nid=94451!story). Now fellow cruisers Amanda Church and Mark Farrell, on Balvenie, a 47foot fractional-rigged, centre cockpit sloop, also cruising in the Caribbean right now, have visited Chinook Wind to pay their last respects to a yacht they had shared good times with. Here is their story:

A little over two weeks ago we waved a cheery farewell to fellow New Zealander cruisers Dick and Ann Oliver on Chinook Wind as they set sail from Prickly Bay, Grenada – heading west towards Panama, the Pacific and finally to New Zealand. They had just spent a few weeks on the hardstand in Grenada, working long days on their boat. Chinook Wind was looking great and ready for her journey to New Zealand.

Chinook Wind's crew Dick and Ann Oliver - happier times
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We first met Dick and Ann this season in Rabat, Morocco. We learnt they had bought Chinook Wind in America, sailed across the Northern Atlantic to the Azores, onto Portugal then Spain, where they had turned around to start heading for home. We have crossed paths with them many times this season, including a great time in Graciosa in the Canary Islands. We left Las Palmas on the same day starting our Atlantic Crossing and shared some rather nasty seas and weather with them down to the Cape Verde Islands. We didn’t catch up with them again until Grenada.

It was with much horror and disbelief when we listened to our morning cruisers net a fortnight ago at 9am and heard Dick call in under 'Priority Traffic'. We have a few sections on our Single Side Band Radio net - Priority Traffic, Boats Under Way, Boats Anywhere then Info. We have around 20 yachts that participate on a regular basis, it’s a great way for us all to keep in touch and to know who is where. For those of us that have volunteered as ‘net controllers’ and run the net one day a week, it is always a huge relief when nothing is heard under that section.

Chinook Wind in Graciosa Canary Islands last October
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Alan on fellow New Zealander boat Tuatara takes Tuesdays net and received Dicks distress call. Dick reported quite calmly that they had hit a reef around 60 miles east of Bonaire at 11pm Monday night, the boat was high and dry and intact, they were uninjured and for the time being reasonably safe. They had put out Mayday Calls but had received no response so then had deployed their EPRIB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon). This distress beacon was registered and the rescue process was finally put into place. Venezuelan Coastguard made radio contact with Chinook Wind early morning and advised help was on its way to them at Ave de Barloventa, within Las Aves Island Group, part of Venezuela.

Another one of our net controllers, Rob on Ventana, who speaks fluent Spanish, offered to call Venezuelan Coastguard via satphone for an update on the rescue and quickly confirmed that it was underway and help should be there by 11am. We later heard a Swedish yacht assisted in the rescue. Dick and Ann could only take with them what they could swim to safety with. They were taken to mainland Venezuela by Coastguard.

Today, two weeks after that fateful day, Balvenie in company with fellow cruisers David and Brenda on Bandit slowly made our way up the inside of Ave de Barlovento reef and found a sandy spot in which to anchor. We covered the final distance to Chinook Wind by dinghy but still could not get right to the boat. We anchored the dinghies and swam the remainding 100 metres across the shallow reef through the coral heads to the wreck. She is a very sad sight, lying on her side, stripped of almost everything, inside and out. I imagine that during the next lull in the winds all remaining hardware will also be removed. It was an emotional few minutes we spent with her alone in this isolated location. The hull will lie there at the mercy of the seas, a very sobering sight to all long distance cruisers and especially to those of us that pass this way.

Dick and Ann had flights arranged by the British Embassy to San Francisco and have been staying with their daughter there. They are both well, we are thinking of them and we send our love to them both.

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