The Shipwreck - Roncador Reef Part III

Our first night at Roncador Reef, I kept having these crazy visions of desperate, emaciated fishermen from that ship coming to our boat in the dark. The hatch over our bed was open (sailor’s a/c) and I kept imagining a hand reaching down to grab me. Then I envisioned the entire crew climbing aboard like a zombie invasion - not coming up the transom steps like anyone else would, but slowly hauling themselves up the sides of the hulls and up the anchor chain, then slithering over the life lines and across the deck, clawing at all the hatches to find a way inside, moaning and seething.

Of course, once they got in and tied us all up, they’d sail away in our boat to escape this mid ocean hell they’d been wrecked in for who-knows-how-long. There we’d be, the four of us, sitting back to back in a tight little circle on the salon floor, a stiff, itchy rope wrapped tightly around our chests, watching as the zombie fishermen ransacked all of our cabinets and gorged themselves on our recent provisions.

Really. This is what was going through my mind as I lay in my bed in the dark. What if there were still people aboard? You hear crazy survival stories of people lost at sea for months! There are plenty of fish here to eat, and birds if one got desperate enough. The ship really doesn’t look that old.
I stopped the madness, and paused the zombie thriller that I had begun directing in my head. Tomorrow we’d see what secrets that ship held.

The following day, Mark and I snorkeled around the ship’s hull. We saw three enormous lobster that we contemplated having for dinner, but then just couldn’t bring ourselves to remove from their cozy home. We also did some recon. It wouldn’t be easy to figure out how in the world we’d get up the towering freeboard to a square hole that had been cut into the side of the ship. I stood on the springy inner tube of our dinghy, held onto a rope someone had tied there, and stretched up to barely peer into a small drainage hole. The smell that accosted me was horrendous, and visions of corpses and zombies swirled again in my vivid imagination. Given the hundreds of sea birds that had made the ship home, though, I decided bird poo must be to blame for the awful stench. Up on the top deck a message was written in faint, blue paint, “Our 1st Rescue Mission”. Phew. Okay, so the coast was clear. There were no emaciated sailors that would be lurking in the shadows.

“This is not going to be easy, “ Mark quipped. But his voice held more determination than defeat, and I could tell that his mind was made up. We were gonna get up into this ship. Somehow. Someway.

It was a flurry of preparation as we all gathered the essentials for our expedition, making the list up as it came to mind. This would be our first time climbing aboard a wrecked ship, we wanted to be ready for anything.

“Flashlights. We’ll probably need headlamps or something.”

“Wear good shoes with good grip, that bird poo’s gonna be slippery.”

“Do you think I should wear my full wet suit?”

“Wet suit? Why?”

“Well, it will protect us from cuts or scrapes, and we might want to snorkel afterwards.”

“Plus, it will make us look like we’re on a real mission.”

“Right. Good thinking.”

“I’ll grab extra line, too, so we can make that rope ladder Elizabeth designed if we need it.”

“And don’t forget the camera. We’ve got to document everything we see.”

Into the dinghy the investigative team hopped, and off we went. As we approached the towering ship, doubts bubbled to the surface of our once-determined minds. It was a very long way to reach that entry point. What if we fell? Who would go first? How would we get down once we were up there that high?

I tied the dinghy to the ship while Mark set a stern anchor to keep the swell from bashing our delicate, inflated boat against the scratchy, rusty steel hull. Then, before I knew it, he had rigged a rope step and was hoisting himself up into the entrance.
Peering down at us, he called, “Phew! It stinks up here! These birds have made a real mess! Okay, someone tie the swim ladder to the line I’m sending down. That will give the next person more steps to use to get up.”

Elizabeth quickly tied two half hitches to the small ladder we keep in our dinghy. Mark hauled it up and got busy finding the best way to secure it. The excitement was teetering now, and my warning alarms were wailing in my head. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea here in this remote atoll with no help around if we needed it. Perhaps I’d better stay in the dinghy as mission support (wink, wink). We definitely don’t need two adults to get stuck up on the deck!

In the end, Mark’s warning alarms must have finally started sounding, too. “It is not going to be easy getting back down from here. Maybe it isn’t a good idea for all of us to come up.” It was decided (much to our adventurous girl’s disappointment) that Michael would go up, seeing as he was the lightest. That way, I could catch him if I had to.

With a deep breath to get up my nerve, I helped Michael get his feet in the stirrup-like rope holds as he pulled himself up. When he got close enough, Mark grabbed his wrists and hauled him up the rest of the way through the cutout window. He was in. Now it was time for the exploring to begin!!


Every few minutes, Michael’s face would pop out of a window or up over the side rails hollering, “Hi, Mom! I’m up here! See me?” Then it would disappear just as quickly, and I’d be left sitting there wondering what they were seeing. I was actually glad that it had worked out this way, with Father and Son teaming up on this adventure together. This would be something neither of them would forget.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, had gotten over the disappointment and was snorkeling and snapping photos with the underwater camera. With her snorkel still in her mouth, I would hear a muffled, “Mom, I shee da two yabsters that Dad said were down here! Der huge!!” Yesterday, we’d seen two enormous painted spiny lobsters hidden in the shadow of the ship’s hull. “Oh, and a ton of ‘shpurgeon’ fish!”

Finally, the guys were ready to disembark. Michael came first, Mark gripping him tightly by the wrists and lowering him down as far as he could so that I could place his feet in the rope steps once again. When he plopped back down in the dinghy, I let out the breath I felt like I’d been holding since I saw him clamber aboard. “That was awesome, Mom. We saw something really cool, but we’re not gonna tell you ’till we look at the photos.” A huge grin was plastered to his face.


View from ship's deck
Inside ship, lots of graffiti

Murky companionway 
Rotting upper deck
Mark peered down, contemplating his dismount. Somehow, he had to get the ladder down after he used it to get down! Eventually, a plan came into place, and he looped the line holding the ladder around a steel rod and gave me the tail end. I’d hold it while he climbed down, then we could easily release it. I clutched the ladder line with one hand and held the dinghy close to the ship with the other while he descended carefully. His feet struggled to make sense of all the lines that hung along the ship’s hull, but eventually, he landed (ever-so-gracefully) in the dinghy. The team was back together again, and I felt myself relax again.

We all jumped in the water and drift-snorkeled back to Field Trip, holding onto the dinghy’s painter. Then we climbed aboard, got rinsed off, and sat down to see the photos and footage the explorers had captured. The ship’s deck was badly weathered, and everything that could be taken off the boat was gone. Inside, scribblings of an Asian language surely told more of the story, but without Google, the true rescue tale would remain a mystery to us. We’d have to wait a few months for internet connection to find more information about it.

Turns out the “really cool” something that Michael eluded to was a fluffy baby seabird that became his buddy. It didn’t seem afraid at all! Gradually, as Michael gained confidence, he was able to stroke its back and let it peck at his fingers. “Ew, Dad, it just pooped!”



“You scared the poo out of him, Michael!”

“Daa-aad!”

The expedition had been a success. All the fishermen zombie nightmares I’d imagined were put to rest. I could sleep easier now, knowing there would be no emaciated hands reaching in my hatch at night, and I had my family all safely back on board our own floating ship again.

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