I was way forward in the starboard hull of our 43-foot catamaran Pacific Bliss when I thought I heard a distant, “Lois…Help.” I rushed to the cockpit. Then I heard another “Lois…Help,” muffled but louder. I could barely make out my husband’s words: “I’m stuck…stuck in the anchor locker.”
I crawled underneath the sunshade lines (we were preparing to leave the boat in Fiji’s Vuda Point Marina for the cyclone season) and made my way to the bow of Pacific Bliss. There I saw Gunter, head down in the anchor locker all the way to his waist, his stomach pressed tight against the square opening. His hands were down, so he had no way to right himself. “Put your hands under my stomach,” he grunted.
I tried to squeeze my hand in, again and again, but the most I accomplished was to scrape and bruise my arm against the sharp edge of the hatch. Somehow, I had to get a handhold on him so that I could pull. But time was getting short. I feared that he would lose consciousness, with the blood rushing to his head, and that then he wouldn’t be able to help me at all.
Then I had a sudden revelation: I could yell for help. After all, we were not at sea. We were in a marina at mid-day, with yachties and boat workers within earshot. I yelled as loud as I could, then rallied all my strength to give it one big try. Meanwhile, Gunter had incredibly managed to shift his weight so that there was a small opening. I pulled on his legs with one gigantic effort, and out he popped like a cork out of a bottle. We both fell back on the deck. Dazed, Gunter stumbled to his feet just as a Fijian worker bounded onto the gangway. A yachtie approached a few steps behind him.
“Are you all right?” the yachtie asked. I had expected Gunter to emerge red-faced; instead, he was ghostly pale. Soon rivulets of sweat poured down his face, dripping onto his bare chest.
I dressed the superficial wounds he had incurred during his final push out of the locker. “Let’s go to the showers,” Gunter gasped, drenched with sweat.
We stood together in the bamboo-enclosed uni-sex showers a few yards from the yacht basin, letting the cool water refresh our bodies.
“What happened?” I asked, as we walked back to Pacific Bliss. “A shackle pin dropped as I was connecting the French anchor—the one that came with the boat—to the rode. I pulled all the chain out. Then I tried to reach the pin. But it had dropped all the way to the bottom—you know how deep that locker is—but I kept thinking I could reach it. I managed to touch it, but then it went farther and farther down in there. All of a sudden, my equilibrium shifted and I was stuck in there, head down. What a horrible, suffocating feeling!”
“Don’t you ever do that again!” I ordered, trying to put on a stern face. Ask me the next time. I’m so short, I could probably have stood in there. Maybe I could have grabbed it with my toes.”
“Yes, it was very foolish of me,” Gunter hung his head with uncharacteristic humility. I seized on the opportunity: and don’t you do anything else foolish. I need you! How else am I going to sail around the world?”
We hugged each other, then turned on the fans and collapsed in the master berth. Later, too exhausted to cook, we walked to the Marina’s restaurant—called The Hatch—for Bula Burgers and cokes.
When we returned to Pacific Bliss, Gunter had an idea. He opened another hatch—no worries, this hatch was the cockpit locker, wide and shallow—and started throwing things out.
“What are you doing now? I fretted.
“Here.” A triumphant captain—a true connoisseur of the San Diego West Marine store when we’re not cruising—held up an impressive mechanical gripper with an extra long handle. “I could have used this. That’s what I bought it for.” The price tag was still on the tool.