I was in the cockpit last night after dinner enjoying the cool evening air and the end of a very good book when I suddenly heard a local speedboat come flying past our boat. It was so close to that us I was amazed it hadn’t hit our dinghy, which we hoist off the port bow at night. It was racing through the dark anchorage towards shore where the locals keep their boats. The moon was full but the sky was overcast, and the water in the harbor was flat calm. I can’t estimate exactly how fast he was going because I don’t travel in speedboats very often, but I would guess it was between 30 and 40 knots.
Seconds after he passed us we heard the noise of the first collision as he slammed into a small boat anchored behind us. Rob came running up with our spotlight and we started to head towards the dinghy to go to the scene of the accident and see if we could lend assistance. Other folks in the harbor were doing the same, as the noise could be heard on the quiet night throughout the bay. Suddenly we heard the boat heading back towards us. We were both astounded that anyone could have survived a collision with that much force, much less turn the boat around and try to escape.
But that’s exactly what he was trying to do. As it passed us the second time on the way back out of the harbor, Rob aimed the spotlight at the boat to see if there was a driver or if it was just a runaway boat situation. Soon it veered towards us and slammed into our bow. We were still in the cockpit and could see that it was going to ram us, but there was nothing we could do but scream (I screamed, Rob didn’t). It came up over the toerail and to a stop with the front 3′ of it extended over our foredeck.
We looked forward, saw the driver sitting in the seat and I wasn’t sure at that moment if we was still alive. He had flown through his windshield and back into the seat when he collided with our boat. He attempted to back off our boat and escape again, but Rob yelled, went forward and grabbed his bow line. Within seconds there were two dinghys at our boat with cruisers lending aid. The driver was bleeding profusely from his arm where it had been gouged in the windshield. He had to be convinced to get into their dinghy and go ashore, and passed out from lack of blood before he even got there. I had called for help on the VHF and people were already arranging for an ambulance and the Gendarme.
After the first two dinghys had taken him off his boat it started taking on water. As it began to sink our boat started to list to port. I again called on the radio for any help from the anchorage, as our dinghy was pinned up sideways and we were unable to get off our boat and do much. Again, more cruisers came to our aid. Soon the boat stopped taking on water and everything settled. Moments after that a cruiser who spoke French came with two officers from the Gendarme and helped translate for us.
We were concerned that no one knew if there had been other passengers in the boat who might have been ejected in either collision. We looked down at where the speedboat was laying over our toerail and saw a little kid’s shoe which had come out of the bow and was laying on our deck. We were worried there may be other passengers in the bow of the boat, but a local in a canoe with a light did confirm that there was no one else up inside the bow. The kid’s shoe did totally creep us out, though, but thankfully it was empty.
The Gendarme took our statements and called for the police/fire boat to come and remove the speedboat from our deck. The police boat arrived several minutes later, tied lines around the bow and stern and towed the boat to the shoreline and left it in shallow water. The Gendarme went to the other boat, took their statement and the statement of a witness in a third boat anchored between us, then instructed us to be at their office first thing in the morning.
After they pulled the boat away from ours we got a look at the damage to our boat. Amazingly (or not so amazingly I guess, knowing how strong our boat is), the damage was superficial. There appears to be no damage to either the toerail or the hull. Three of our deck stanchions are bent, one beyond repair, and one of our lifelines is destroyed. At this time that seems to be the extent of the damage. We were much luckier than the other boat, which was left with a 10″ hole in the side and extensive damage to the toerail and cockpit combing.
Our biggest issue at this point is time, or more importantly lack of it. Our visas expire in six days, we now have a boat without lifelines that we feel is not safe to take to sea, and a potentially difficult 500+ mile passage to Rarotonga. When Rob finished giving his statement to the Commandant of the Gendarme he asked for an extension to our visa to give us time to find parts and make the repairs. The commandant explained that it was very difficult to get an extension, and called Papeete to find out what we documents we needed to provide. The list includes several items, such as proof of medical insurance, money in the bank, an estimate for repairs to the boat, and importantly, a letter in French explaining the circumstances for the extension request.
I asked the commandant what would be the fine if we were caught without an extension, since it would be his employees that would catch us here in Bora Bora. I explained that we would not leave his harbor until our boat was repaired and made safe again. At that point he told us to bring the documents to his office in the morning and he would write the letter to the officials in Papeete himself and fax them for us. He gave us his personal phone number and email address and a recommendation for a repair facility to provide an estimate.
Of course by now it was lunchtime, which in every country south of the United States means that all businesses are closed for two hours. So we stopped with the folks from the other damaged boat and had some lunch and waited for the repair shop to reopen. When Rob explained to the repair shop owner that we needed a report for the Gendarme, he said he would meet us at the Yacht Club dock at 9:00 tomorrow morning and there would be no fee for his time to prepare two estimates.
When we left our boat this morning our outboard wouldn’t start and we thought it was just flooded, so a cruiser happened by to check on us and towed us into the dock. We hitchhiked into town from there instead of taking our dink to the city dock. When we got back to the dock this afternoon we found our dinghy motor still unwilling to start, so someone from the yacht club towed us back to our boat. Apparently our outboard has been damaged as well, but hopefully Rob can fix it today or tomorrow.
Will we get any money for our repairs? Rob thinks not. It didn’t sound from the commandant like the guy who hit us has any money. We’re insured, but the cost of the repairs, thankfully, should be much less than our deductible. The local will be charged in court and the estimate for the repairs will be provided to the court. By law he should pay, but we’re doubtful that will really happen. The local who picked us up and gave us a ride into town this morning already knew about the accident and said the guy drank too much whiskey. The commandant said a blood test will be taken, but likely it was alcohol related.
The good news this morning from the other cruiser who helped get the local ashore is that his arm was not as severed as we were told last night. Hopefully he won’t lose it. Our damage is superficial and repairable. Eva, the other boat, will be repaired as well. Then we’ll both be on our way to another island where hopefully we won’t have any more eventful evenings like last night.
Bora Bora Yacht Club is here