Dry Dock in Paradise

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9 April 2010

Step outside the airport building and a blast of heat invades your lungs. In Malé, the capital of the Maldives, the air is the same temperature as the water: 30°. To leave the airport, you take a boat-taxi: These long, covered boats look like ferries and move nimbly over the crystalline water. Aaaah, the vision of Tara floating peacefully in the middle of the lagoon!

But no, the boat is out of the water for the first time since the beginning of our long journey. The cooling system for the port side motor’s propeller shaft had been functioning poorly for months. The port of Malé was the first opportunity to find a dry dock able to handle our huge sailboat, and check the “plumbing” that transports seawater to cool the motor.

Far, very far from the paradisical image of this archipelago, the boatyards are located on an island entirely built from trash! Garbage litters the burning ground. Disgusting landfill taking over the omnipresent sea.

Julien, chief mechanic, had to dive with scuba tanks to fasten the cinches underneath the boat’s wide hull without damaging the depth sounder or measuring instruments. It took 5 hours to organize the manoeuver and hoist Tara to land. When the boat was finally installed in the dry dock, a torrential rain began to fall. The helpless crew took shelter under the hull and waited until the shower stopped. On deck, the zodiacs filled with water and twice had to be baled out. Everybody got to work. Julien removed the propeller and literally “unboxed” the shaft. At the junction between the exterior and interior of the boat, he found a worn-out rubber joint. This was preventing the circulation of seawater necessary for cooling off the motor.

Time was limited. Everyone lent a helping hand to clean the underwater part of the boat. “All the scientists were scraping away at the hull”, Julien happily reports. “They were all dirty, covered with remnants of crustaceans torn off the bottom!” Hervé the captain, and Baptiste, all-around sailor, finished up the job with a high-pressure hose. Until 4 in the morning non-stop, they scraped off seaweed and shells accumulated during 8 months of sailing. “Now the hull is as good as new,” assures the chief mechanic.

No damage, no leaks were revealed by this passage on land. As for Julien the cook, he’s been struggling inside the cabin with a small fridge that’s leaking freon. Our precious cold drink refrigerator is out-of-commission, and too big to pass through the doors! The plexiglass panel above our main room must be  removed in order to evacuate the fridge, and is replaced by a new one “made in Malé”.

Paradise exists for sure. We have seen it, but from far away, from very far away!

Sacha Bollet