Sunday morning, February 4, while anchored off of the Fijian island Vanua Levu, Captain Gregg Drude, Josie Hudak and their 43 foot sailboat the Van Dieman were hit by a local cyclone. Drude and Hudak escaped injury, but in 85 to 95 knot winds the Van Dieman eventually lost its anchorage and was pushed over a coral reef and onto a nearby island. “We rode it until the boat went dry and jumped off in six foot of water,” Drude said Wednesday evening. Wind and swell continued to batter the boat for most of the night. The Van Dieman’s keel and rudder sustained damage and it’s hull was punctured with four to five fist-sized holes. It’s likely that the boat’s engine and electronics are damaged as well.
“I was just thinking that we’d pushed our luck,” said Drude who’d been making a considerable gamble sailing and surfing in northern Fiji during cyclone season. Drude felt confident, however, that he’d be able to find a “cyclone hole” or safe anchorage should a storm arise. When storm activity did appear in the forecasts, it’s projected path looked to be in the opposite direction. The winds came up so quickly Sunday morning, Drude said, “it became so rough so fast, we couldn’t leave. You’ve never seen an ocean like that.” Hudak and Drude attempted to reach better anchorage under engine power, but the engine failed. “We were just dead in the water.”
Wearing a wetsuit and scuba mask to protect himself from the howling winds, Drude cleared the deck of surfboards and other gear and threw out multiple anchors. The eye of the storm reach them by 3:30 p.m. and then became oddly quiet. By 3:40 p.m. the opposing wall of the storm struck, the winds switched 90 degrees and intensified. Six foot wave faces began breaking over the bow. The dinghy’s rope broke and the dinghy “took off like a piece of paper in the wind.” The anchor chains eventually snapped as well, and the wind and swell dry docked the Van Dieman and her crew on the resort island Nukubati.
With the help of the owners and staff of Nukubati resort, the indefatigable Drude and Hudak have already begun salvage operations and plan to have the Van Dieman in the water again by the 18th when high tides will permit them to float the boat over the reef. The complete repairs, however, will likely take much longer. “We’re all okay here. It was a long day for sure, but we’ll get her right again.” Drude and Hudak have every intention of continuing their global surf trip, which is chronicled in SURFER magazine.