Once upon a time there was a tree that wanted to eat my boat.At least thatís the way it seemed to me.You have a right to be skeptical about trees eating boats, but after you read my story, you will come to believe in this dastardly denizen of the deep called DEBRIOSAURUS REX.
REX evolved in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami. The tsunami that
wiped out Sumatra, Thailand, and Sri Lanka created a massive debris field
that spread across the Indian Ocean. Those gigantic waves swept inland two
kilometers in some areas, and when the water flushed back out to sea, it
carried with it an astonishing amount of debris. Whole trees were pulled up
by their roots and tossed like matchsticks into the ocean. There were
vehicles, propane cylinders, houses, boats, and trees everywhere.
When we left Phuket, Thailand to sail across the Indian Ocean, we knew there
would be debris in the water, but we didnít know how much, where, or how
dangerous it would be. Some debris was clearly designed to kill Ė floating
explosive mines from the harbors of Sri Lanka were a worst case scenario. We
heard reports that mines had broken free from their moorings and were
floating on the high seas. That definitely was not good news. Hopefully the
Sri Lankan Navy would round up those mines and account for them before they
caused loss of life. The thought of floating mines created a great deal of
motivation in the minds of cruisers and stimulated them to pay close
attention when they stood watch.
We pulled up anchor in Phuket at O700, raised our sails, and set forth at substantially less than the speed of light into an asteroid field of debris.One month had passed since the Tsunami and it was anybodyís guess where the debris would be located.We expected to experience three major debris fields.The first was generated by Thailand where more than four-thousand people had died.The northeast monsoon would have blown that debris well offshore in the month that had elapsed since the tsunami.
The second debris field was from the Nicobar and Andaman Islands which are about four-hundred miles west of Thailand.Seven-thousand people died in the Nicobars.These tiny low lying islands took a direct hit from the tsunami and massive amounts of debris washed into the ocean.
The final debris field was south of Sri Lanka.Tens of thousands of people perished in the Sri Lankan tsunami and the waters went several kilometers inland flushing a frightening amount of debris into the sea.So there you have it.To make it across the Indian Ocean, you had no choice but to sail through three massive debris fields.
The Thailand debris was surprisingly light for the first fifty miles offshore.As we sailed west, we encountered significant amounts of small debris in a zone that was fifty to one-hundred miles west of Thailand.Beach chairs, sunning mats, cushions, styrofoam coolers, small pieces of wood and timber, and a few small logs.Nothing that we saw or bumped into posed a significant threat to our boat.After sailing one-hundred miles offshore, the Thailand debris tapered off and we had three-hundred relaxing miles to sail before we arrived in the Nicobar Islands.
Our NicobarIsland waypoint was in the center of the Sombrero Channel in the southern Nicobars.As we approached the channel, debris started to appear.The Indian Navy talked to us on VHF radio and told us to be on the lookout for floating propane gas cylinders, trees, and logs.The debris progressively increased for one hundred miles west of the Nicobars.This debris field was different than that from Thailand.Thai debris came from beach resorts and there was hardly any debris from villages.Nicobar debris resulted from whole villages being wiped out.That meant that thatched houses, palm trees, logs, pandanus trees, and many pieces of timber were in the water.This debris posed a larger threat to Exit Only because there were many logs ten feet of more long and twelve to sixteen inches in diameter.Hitting one of those at cruising speed would damage rudder, propellers, and if struck square on the bow could penetrate the hull.The Nicobar debris was a real concern.It was like playing Russian roulette sailing at night through the debris.If you heard a large thump against the hull and the speed of the yacht slowed significantly, you knew that you had run into something big in the darkness.Fortunately, the Nicobar debris was moderate in size and there were few logs that could sink your boat.
On a scale of one to ten, Thailand debris was a one and Nicobar debris was a four.Only if you were very unlucky would you get into trouble from hitting a log at night.Sri Lankan Debris was different.It was level ten debris that could damage or sink a yacht.
It was south of Sri Lanka that we met DEBRIOSAURUS REX Ė the tree that tried to eat our boat.Although there were many logs and large trees in the water, one particular tree posed a menacing threat that could end our voyage.That tree was DEBRIOSAURUS REX.It had been stalking the waters south of Sri Lanka attacking ships and yachts for the past month.It was more than one-hundred feet long with a root ball that was at least ten feet in diameter.DEBRIOSAURUS REX was a cunning foe, lying in wait day and night, placing itself in front of giant supertankers trying to destroy their propellers and rudders in a vicious attack.When not attacking freighters, it would stalk yachts.Its jaws of fear came ten feet out of the water and could seize rigging, sails, and mast in one fell swoop, instantly dismasting a yacht.Its other dastardly strategy was to place itself directly in front of your yacht and when you crashed into the middle of this mammoth monster, it would punch a hole in your boat, and if you were unlucky, it would sink you.A twelve inch hole below the waterline in a ballasted monohull sailboat would sink the boat in less than five minutes.We were fortunate to have detected DEBRIOSAURUS REX during daylight hours, and were able to escape from his jaws of destruction.Itís easy to outrun him because he drifts with the ocean currents, and you can easily out maneuver him or outrun him if you know he is there.But let your guard down and it wonít be long before you become another one of his victims.
It required two days and one night to sail through the Sri Lankan debris field.Although DEBRIOSAURUS REX was not successful in attacking our yacht, we did not escape unscathed.Smaller logs and floating timber crashed into our starboard bow, cracking the gel coat at the waterline, but the fiberglass hull itself survived intact.Our damage was cosmetic and could be repaired when we arrived in the Maldives.As a defensive measure, we attached oars in front of the bows to protect them from collisions with additional logs and trees.
The debris was so extensive south of Sri Lanka that it was unsafe to sail at night.As the twilight faded into darkness, we took down our sails and drifted in order to travel with the debris rather than run into it during the night.Our conservative approach paid big dividends.We got a good nights sleep, and we didnít collide with any large debris during the night since we were drifting at the same speed as the logs and trees.
Some yachts that sailed blindly into the darkness stuck trees that night, but most of them incurred only mild damage, mostly scratches and scrapes.One yacht struck and sailed over a log.Another steel yacht sailed over two trees in the darkness. A third yacht sailed over a log and destroyed his self-steering wind vane when the tree struck the self-steering rudder.That mistake cost several thousand dollars to rectify.Steel yachts didnít need to worry about sinking if they struck a log, but logs could easily destroy their propeller or bend their rudder.
The next morning when there was enough light to identify debris in the water, we raised our sails, and set a course in the direction of the MaldiveIslands that were four-hundred and fifty miles away.We spent the rest of that day getting out of the debris field and by sunset we were free at last.No more debris and the Maildives were just a few days away.
Now that you have seen a close up picture of DEBRIOSAURUS REX with his jaws of fear, you will agree that he really did want to eat my boat.Nevertheless, good seamanship and common sense prevailed and we escaped from his clutches.
Three days later, we arrived in the MaldiveIslands.We put down our anchor in sixty feet of water in UligamuIsland and we went to sleep.It was a rich reward for sailing on the savage seas infested with DEBRIOSAURUS REX.