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   

1 comment:

  1. WOW!

    Terrifying Danger!
    High Drama!
    Touching Romance!

    What more could we readers ask?
    As always, a strong tale of Woe & Intrigue!

    ~~ Stan

    (But it sure did nothing to mitigate my ... Fear of the Water.)