Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Don't Screw Up!

Schooner in fog, Cutler, Maine
Sometimes the biggest danger in cruising is the stupidity of the captain. Like when we sailed into Cutler, Maine, and entered the harbor in a dense fog without radar (and of course no GPS—this was in 1985). After two days and nights of idyllic sailing across the Bay of Maine, we reached Cutler about noon with the fog so thick we couldn't see more than a few boat lengths in any direction. What I should have done is contact a local fishing or lobster boat and have them lead us into the harbor. But what I did was station Angie on the bow, listening for the bell buoy that marked the entrance to the harbor, and forged ahead as she directed. We made it into the harbor, where the fog blanket ended. Looking back, we could see the giant rocks on all sides that we had miraculously missed foundering on. Neptune was kind to us that day.

I'm not sure I want to tell you about all of the stupid things I've done aboard boats, but here's one that wasn't too serious and which ended up with a good result. We were heading for an anchorage at the Niantic Yacht Club in Connecticut, off Long Island Sound. To get to it we had to go up the Niantic River past a railroad trestle and through a swinging bridge. As we entered the river, I slowed Escapade because I couldn't see around a bend of the river to where the bridge was. Suddenly I noticed that the boat was being swept by a stiff current toward the pilings of the railroad trestle and we were in danger of being pinned. I gunned the engine and we made it through the bridge, which had just swung open.

After the bridge, the river broadened out in a wide expanse, but there was only a narrow winding channel with water deep enough for Escapade. We proceeded up the channel with Angie on the bow sighting the channel markers. Suddenly she indicated that the channel made a sharp turn to the left. But directly ahead I saw sailboats anchored and two rows of buoys leading to them. “I think this is a short cut, I called to her. “No,” she called back, “the channel goes this way!” But I took the short cut. Suddenly the depthsounder plunged and the boat came to a stop. We were aground.

OK, the drill when you go aground—especially in soft mud like this—is to put an anchor in the dinghy, along with lots of line, run it out in the direction you want to go, set the anchor, and then try to pull the boat free by hauling on the anchor. It's called kedging. I tried winching the anchor line in, while Angie gunned the motor and swung the tiller back and forth. The boat didn't budge. A guy came by in a canoe and offered to help. “Maybe if I hang on the end of the boom, it will heel the boat over enough to help it break free,” he said. “Won't hurt to try,” I answered. Then a couple of young guys in a launch with a big outboard came up and offered to help. I was throwing them an anchor line and securing it to the mast, when a warden came up, his blue light flashing. He was right inbetween us and the boat that was trying to help. “Tides going out,” he said, helpfully. “Better just stay there until it comes back in and you float free.” Then he took off. Wait until the middle of the night and the next high tide was just what we didn't want to do. So I gave the signal to our two young helpers, and they started to pull on the line. The line stretched tight—then gave way with a bang. Luckily I had a brand new, spare anchor line, which I broke out to replace the old one. Again they hauled, Angie swung the rudder back and forth, the canoeist hung from the end of the boom, and I gunned the engine. Suddenly Escapade broke free and shot across the channel like she had been shot out of a slingshot. Luckily, Angie got her headed up the channel before she went aground again on the other side.

An hour later, we were safely anchored in the yacht club anchorage, and Angie was sitting on the cabin top fuming. She was silent, and when Angie is silent, I know I'm in deep _____. “I hate this place,” she said. “The only reason I'd ever want to come back here is if you proposed to me.” I knew I was in trouble. In a few moments I came up out of the cabin with two gin and tonics in my hands, sat down next to her, and said, “OK, will you marry me?” She began beating on me and yelling “Don't play with my mind!” But I was serious. I didn't want to lose the best first mate I was likely ever to find. And so it happens that 27 years later we're getting ready to embark on another sailing adventure together. Oh, and the “short cut” channel markers? They were lobster trap buoys.

"The best first mate I was likely to find" guiding Escapade up the East River, NYC   

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The First Mate Speaks: Take 2

Angie Modeling Scarf for Nile Styles

When we lived aboard Escapade we had to learn a lot of new things about sailing and anchoring in tidal waters, but the technology was fairly simple. We had a LORAN, which would tell us our location within a quarter of a mile, a depth sounder, and a compass. Now we will have radar, GPS, a chartplotter—all new technology that we will both have to master, a mast so tall that we will have to duck when going under bridges on the intracoastal, huge sails twice as big as those on Escapade, a windlass to raise and lower the anchor, refrigeration, propane gas oven, generator, inverter—the list goes on and on. It's a different ball game now, and I feel overwhelmed just thinking about it.
At 42 feet, Outrageous is a lot longer and heavier than Escapade, a mere 30 feet long. So this summer we will be practicing and learning in the Chesapeake, sailing out of Annapolis, home of the U.S. Naval Academy. When I was younger, I thought if I ever joined the service, it would be the navy, and now I'll be sailing in their waters. 

As we prepare for this adventure, my life is already beginning to change. The second most difficult thing for me to do was to give up my job at the U of M Medical School working with medical students and residents. I loved the job that I had been doing for eight years, and there were tears in my eyes when I resigned. The most difficult decision was to give up our Sophie, our 17 year old cat. Since her sister and littermate, Georgie, died four years ago, she has become much closer to us. I decided, though, that she was too old and set in her ways to go to sea. Fortunately, I found a new home for her with a really nice couple who love cats and who live on a lake. She will be able to look out on the water from her balcony, and that is the closest she will ever want to come to open water. I know that the new owners will take really good care of her, but I will still miss her terribly. When I'm sitting on the sofa and she hops up to cuddle next to me I begin to choke up thinking about it. She's been my entertainment and my buddy for seventeen years.

My Dream Hat at Fleur de Paris

If you know me, you know that I am fashion conscious and love hats, scarves, boots, shoes, hair fascinators, etc. Women travel from all over the world to buy custom made hats at Fleur de Paris, a shop in New Orleans. I bought one a year ago when we were in New Orleans, a summer hat, and had my eye on another one for winter. Jim secretly planned to buy it for me for Christmas, and when we were in New Orleans in December for our 27th wedding anniversary he would have bought it for me. I'm sure Jim was amazed when I turned him down. I told him we could buy a new anchor for what the hat would cost. (My wedding presents to myself twenty-seven years ago were a 33 pound Bruce anchor and a rigging knife.) I think of what we have to buy for the boat—a life raft, perhaps a new motor for the dinghy, new cushions for the V-berth (forward cabin), a new anchor. . . and the list seems endless. What was I thinking when I yelled at Jim to come look at those photos of Small World?