03-02-2006 Shipwrecked

the lake we will never forget this is were we sank

On Monday we were send from the closet to the wall (hihi) but finally obtained permission to start sampling in the reservoir of Rio Turbio. The day started nice. The reservoir was full of algae and submerged plants. Great for my thesis!

In the afternoon the wind picked up. Frits and I had finished the macrophyte transects and were heading back for our base camp. The waves became higher, but nothing spectacular at all. They came rolling towards us so we saw what was coming. Just when we thought that we had passed the most difficult part of the lake, a larger wave came (really nothing big, I mean they started to have white 'heads' but a surfer would had laughed at these waves). It pushed up the front of the boat. Consequently the back of the boat went down and before I realized what happened I was Frits sitting in the water. Our loyal 'Pistia' filled up with water and…. WE WENT DOWN. My first reflex was to grab what ever I could and in a second I found myself with the topsediment samples in my hand. I looked at them and realized that I had become crazy: I had to get myself to the shore, not some cups with sediment! The water was fresh (14,4 degrees, we had just measured that : -) ) but I was ok. Happily Frits was also fine. He wanted to take the sunken boat to the shore… till he realized that with the heave outboard engine this was impossible. Pistia looked like the Titanic. Only the bow was sticking out of the water. Nestor's outboard engine aspired a career shift and was practicing to be a submarine.

Frits and I started swimming to the shore. It was about 100 m to the shore but it took us about 10 minutes (I know that I have become slower during the last years, but this was definitely far away from my personal record.). Our multi layers of clothes (thermo underwear, ski trouser, rain trouser and rubber boots) complicated swimming a bit but we coached each other to the shore. For me the hard part came when we got out of the water. There was a cold wind, I had kicked out my boots so I had to walk on my socks over gravel and pieces of glass. We took a short cut, had to wade trough a river but by this time my body had switched on to the automatic pilot and I did not feel too much anymore.

All the time we were thinking what to do next. First I wanted to get warm again, but after that maybe I could swim back to attach a longgg rope to the boat and tie it to something at the shore. I was afraid that we would not be able to find the boat back in case it would sink totally. We were just discussing this possibility when a car passed. We quickly decided that it was much wiser to get help and Gige hitched a ride to town.

Luckily we were only 2 km away from the police station and it did not take more then an hour before Gige came back with two police officers / fire men. They offered to dive for our equipment but the diving gear had to come from Rio Gallegos so we had to wait until tomorrow.

It was hard to depart leaving behind our boat, engine, fluorometer, gps, equipment to take a top sediment sample, 4 top sediment samples, minidisk, 2 secchi disks and data sheet for the macrophytes transects. When we left the bow of Pistia was still clearly visible with the gas tank floating next to it.

We had one last look on the beaches of the lake and wonder above wonder Frits found back the sediment samples, one glove, the top of the box where we used to store the sediment samples in, the labeled plants for the herbarium and the plug of the sediment core!

- OK, I see my story is getting very long and I am not even half way. I have to hurry up. -

At night we had to pass by the fire brigade to check when the diving equipment would arrive. Guy had already gone. We had to come back tomorrow. Went back next day, equipment was not there yet. Maybe in the afternoon, maybe tomorrow. What??? We tried to push a little bit. Was there nothing we could do? Pick up the diving equipment in Rio Gallegos? No, no that was not possible. They were on top of it, but things were moving slowly because it was a National Holiday. The official who had to authorize the use of the rescuing boat was also enjoying his holiday. That was the drop that flooded our bucket!

But around noon our luck changed! Don Miquel had landed in Buenos-Aires but we didn't know it.

The boat was liberated and the equipment had arrived. About 10 men dedicated their free afternoon looking for our lost stuff. Even the mayor paid us a visit. When the divers came back to the shore after some hours of diving we awaited them as we used to wait for Sinterklaas. What were they bringing?? The had found almost all Andys equipment, one boot, two secchi disk, the anker, a peddle, and Frits' glove. We were very happy! I thought they had finished, but they just stopped to have a break. One of their buddies had already started the bbq. Meat, wine, beer… it was a complete party! After the bbq they took a nap in the grass and just before 5 they went in again. This time they got the engine up and pulled the boat out.

To kill time I walked around the lake. First I found one of our plastic beakers and the box of the fluorometer, then a pipette tip and then…I could not believe my eyes… I found the fluorometer!! It was totally wet, but I dried it with my t-shirt and it looked like nothing had happened to it. I opened the battery and chip compartment with my screwdriver and it was totally dry! My compliments to Turner Design R&D department! Incredibly happy I skipped back to the group.

Not surprisingly the engine was not working anymore and furthermore the cap of the engine was missing. In Rio Turbio we couldn't find anyone who could fix it so we decided to take it across the boarder to Chile.

To make a long story short: next day the divers (who went in again!!) found Frits' other glove, and the cap of the engine. The only things that were definitely gone were my gps, our minidisk and the plateau of the sediment equipment. Believe it or not, but the municipality offered us their gps to work with while we are in the area and we could use their boat and engine until ours was repaired… we definitely had luck in our bad luck! We all agreed that we couldn't have sunk in a better place than in Rio Turbio!

No more time to tell about our adventures at the Argentinean boarder where we first were not allowed to cross with our broken engine. Then we were allowed to cross, but only if it would be accompanied with the boat ??? Nothing else to do then to go back to the hotel to pick up the boat. On the way back (we left the engine in Chile) we were afraid that we would not get back into the country with only the boat.. we decided not to wake up any sleeping dogs and they never realized that we were traveling with a boat!!!! :- )))))

Pulle (fish in the bowl

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