Join Date: Oct 2007
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Scary night sail
As I proof read this is it long and boring.
But I wrote it so might as well post it. You have been warned.
I thought you ladies and gentleman will enjoy my little story from last night.
For the last few years Iíve been volunteering as a skipper for a local organization that takes out handicap people in their three boats (sailctaccess.org). Charles one of the volunteers and members has been a regular for several years. Charles has a pretty good job but is in a wheel chair. He cannot use his legs at all as far as I can tell but his arms are pretty strong and he can maneuver himself it just takes some time.
Last year he got it into his head that he wanted his own boat. He went shopping and settled on this Allmand 31. It had been neglected on the hard and was yard owned. It needed a lot of work and I told him point blank to not buy the boat. But he did and as expected there were unexpected expenses the most notable being that the fuel tank sprung a leak on the hard and had to be replaced. There were the normal issues with the yard with the engine, and electrical and getting rid of the fuel oil smell.
There were issues with insurance not letting him leave the dock until everything was fixed. Charles will be the first to tell you he knows very little about boating but he really wanted his own boat.
So miracle of miracles he got is boat in the water just a couple weeks ago and some friends from the Power Squadron took him out a couple times and even ran him into a rock. But considering a yearsí worth of frustration and more money than he had to spend he was a little bummed.
He asked me if I would take him and his wife out last night.
Last night at 4PM I get there and my crew is Charles, his wife and daughter. His wife has several medical issues and while she can walk it takes her a very long time. In fact one either of the sits down even moving a foot or two one way or the other on the seat can take a little doing. At first I thought I could use the daughter as crew but since she is brand new to boating and had some mobility issues I could not count on her to react quickly either.
We were waiting for another crew member, a cousin I believe so I figured I had some time to kill so we took a look at the motor.
It took quite a long time to start it. It seemed like the sometimes the starter would get juice and sometimes not. Other times it would spin but not start. He said it was like that. Finally we got it started. Then I experimented with the throttle and shift. The throttle did not have a defined idle. Too far back and the motor stops, very touchy. The shifter did not have a clear neutral, very touchy too.
I figured I would be fending off and walking the boat out and Charles would be on the helm. I couldn't be at both ends of the boat at once. Charles had never touched the controls before. So we spend about 40 minutes at the dock practicing putting it in gear and giving it throttle then idle then neutral. At first every time he put it in gear and the dock lines snapped his wife excitedly urged caution. I had to reassure her that I was watching things so she would keep quiet so Charles could work calmly.
Finally the cousin arrives. I find out that he has very bad knees. He can walk but he canít put all his weight on one leg quickly. In other words he canít get on or off the boat unless it is tied up.
All this time Iím thinking of how Iím going to get the boat out. As you can see if the boat backs out it has to turn to port which of course the prop work is not going to like. I was thinking of just backing down the fairway but the wind was directly behind the boat at right angles to the fair way and this boat has a full keel and I didn't know how it would back.
All this time Iím trying to figure out if can I handle this boat with a crew that has very limited abilities, and no experience, on a boat where I don't trust the motor and I don't know how it handles. I am truly hoping the engine will stop so I don'tí have to decide.
Finally I decide to go for it. The conditions were perfect. Very light wind about 5 knots and no current. If I wasn't going to go in those conditions I might as well give up boating. I would have liked one able bodied even minimal experienced person but I had what I had.
My idea was to push the boat out by hand and see which way it wanted to go then hop on and make sure the bow cleared the pole and then pick either forward or reverse depending on what the wind did that moment.
It worked perfectly. I pushed it out and after clearing the pole we were positioned to just put it in forward and go. Charles put it in gear and nothing much happened so he gave it a little throttle and we were on our way.
Thatís when Charles found out he needs a little modification to the helm seat. He can't see over the bow so I was lookout until we got past the channel.
Before we put up the sails I took the helm in open water and tried to get a feel for how fast the boat responded to steering controls.
During this time we get a little close to buoy 6. This buoy marks a string of rocks coming from Duck Island (we are in the Westbrook CT harbor). I know we have good water there I have been there a hundred times and have my hand held chart plotter for verification.
But I tell Charles to go ahead and head east to make sure we are in obviously clear water. He is more than a little nervous about this area because another .3 miles east there is a peninsula that has some rocks off its shore that he hit on one of his two prior excursions with the power squadron guys. So don't know what damage there is to the keel.
I put up the sails and after a few minutes we caught some air and were sailing at four knots on a perfectly calm sea.
We didn't leave until five so it was about seven when Iím thinking we should start heading back as I didn't like the idea of trying to dock in the dark.
Then I find out that the whole purpose of going out last night was to see the blue moon. So Iím thinking of how Iím going to dock that boat by myself and now I find out I'm supposed to do it in the dark too.
Everyone seemed to be so excited about the moon and it is only a few minutes later than what I planned. The darkness idea I did not plan however.
So we tack and are heading back, Charles is on the helm and I go below to get flashlights, figure out navigation lights and dock lines etc. By the time I get on deck I see we are in line with Buoy 6 again. I ask what we are doing here. He said he was worried about the rock on the east side.
I tell him Iím more worried about the rocks 100 yards to our west that the current and east wind was taking us towards than the rocks a half mile away. So we try to start the engine. Not even a click. Then after a few minutes it seems to click then all of a sudden it starts. I had maybe another couple minutes before I had to go for the anchor which I saw existed but didnít know its status.
So we hang out for about half an hour see the moon then start to head in. Only now there are 20+ boats ahead of us. Apparently the weds night race folks figured they might as well see the moon too. Of course Charlie doesn't know where the channel is and canít see the traffic so I take the helm.
I've done this channel dozens of times in the dark so the only issue is the heavy traffic. The slip however is new to me and we canít see the fairway letters on the poles. I need to buy that battery torch. Fortunately Charlieís wife has really good eyes and makes out row ďNĒ. We make our turn and it is clear that I pretty much have to do this by myself.
While we were waiting for the moon I was trying to figure out how to dock. I figured that the expensive powerboat on our starboard was the enemy. I had no one that could fend for me so I figured I would favor the port side pole. A scratch of two on Charlieís boat would match the ones he already has. I figured I would put the port side of the boat at about 45 degrees to the dock connected to the pole, stop the boat, step off with the bow spring and swing the boat in manually around the pole. I would have someone on deck throw me the stern line and all would be good.
Only problem was that their stern line was only 6 feet long. There were no extra dock lines on the boat but I found a long line connected to a couple blocks, probably a boom vang that I cut the knot off of to use for a stern line.
That was the plan and it worked perfectly. No one was more surprised than me.
had a great time and I pushed my boundaries just a little
Frankly Charlie is an inspiration. He is not letting a significant handicap or limited funds prevent him from doing what he wants to do.
He was thrilled that he was able to get the boat out with him at the helm and that he was able to steer under sail. He needs a little help but he had a great sail.
I would never have bought the boat he did but he pulled it off.
To my mind his most significant lapse in judgment is his apparent complete confidence in me.
If something went wrong there would have been all kinds of legitimate comments about have going out was a bad idea. Iím glad I got lucky. Iím not sure Charlie knows how lucky he was.
The lesson from the Icarus story is not about human failing.
It is a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.
If you have an engineering problem solve it.
Last edited by davidpm; 08-22-2013 at 08:53 PM.