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|05-21-2009 10:55 PM
Both great stories! Thanks
|05-21-2009 05:46 PM
That's Right, Keep it in Perspective... I Guess.
Outstanding result. Just a little bit of pressure there, would you say? I don't know why she was so hard on the helmsman, she was lookout on the bow. You see how I would have turned it around. But then that might explain why I'm not still married.
|05-21-2009 12:07 PM
Great story, Winderlust, and very well-written. Thanks!
We dropped sail shortly after sunset, as we rode the dying winds into a narrow, protected inlet a few hours north of Bella Bella on the Central BC coast. As was our practice, we had the engine up and running before we brought the sails down, to ensure that it would run, and to let it warm up a bit before use. And it did run, and ran well, as it had done reliably through the whole trip.
However, when I push the gear shift lever into "forward" the whole thing breaks right off in my hand; the screw connecting the lever to the bar going into the binnacle has sheered off cleanly at the bar, leaving no purchase whatsoever to shift with. I stare at the thing dumbly before casting it aside. The transmission has, at least, gone into forward gear prior to breaking, so I have some headway; this, at least, is different from the scenario which springs immediately into my mind, which is a cold nightmare based on the last time this happened, which didn't involve the lever breaking, but rather the cable snapping inside the binnacle, and didn't shift into gear at all, and didn't take place in a remote Canadian wilderness with navigable waters ahead, but rather mid-way beneath the open leaves of the Fremont Bridge. But that's another story.
At any rate, with steerageway from the prop and no bridge in front of our mast, I am not too worried; just another routine boat problem, ho-hum. I call for Mandy on deck and have her fiddle with the bar for a while, but neither she nor I can get purchase with any of our tools to lever it back into neutral, or to reverse, which we will need to properly set our anchor shortly as we reach the head of the inlet. My thinking is that we will simply continue to motor into the anchorage, slowly, and pitch the anchor over at first without setting it; that will glue us in place at least for a while to work on a fix, and the cove we will be in is extremely protected and safe enough to sit on an unset anchor for a while.
My next concern is that it is nightfall, and the entrance is very narrow already--too narrow to turn around without reverse--and will become more narrow yet, and several rocks in it are noted prominently on the chart. I have already threaded my way past several, but I put Mandy on the bow to watch for any uncharted or misplaced boulders. The two prominently marked with asterisks on the chart are both at the starboard side of the channel, so I hugged the port side... failing in the dim twilight to notice the less prominent color gradation to port which marks shoal waters.
Nonetheless, I had one eye on the depthsounder, and it didn't look suspicious; it was holding at around 7 feet, which isn't a lot of clearance for a boat which draws 5'5", but which was the controlling depth marked on the chart, and thus expected. So I was a little surprised when Mandy hollered back from the bow, "What depth are we at?"
As a practical matter, a depthsounder is a device presenting information of mostly historical interest. Mounted on the hull to the rear of the keel, it's better for confirming that you have, indeed, just run aground, rather than warning you that you are about to do so. While it's often of use poking around an anchorage at a knot or two looking for a likely spot to drop the hook, at anything over a couple knots you may as well look up what happened in tomorrow's paper for all the good the depthsounder will do you.
I find this out now, awkwardly...
I've never had us on the bottom before but I figured it was only a matter of time. The old saw says that there are sailors who run aground and those who never leave the dock, and now I've clearly left the dock. Mandy has already grounded her once, when I wasn't along thank god, in the mud flats off West Point, and I gave her hell for it and have been waiting ever since for my comeuppance. It has arrived now, as we bump twice and grind to a halt.
The usual mad hash of events follows: I can't get out of forward gear to try to reverse off so I kill the engine, and we try to pole off from the bow; no good. We set a kedge out back along the channel, and haul on it madly; we get back an anchor full of salad... the shallow bottom is a sunlit haven for vegetation amongst which our anchor will find no purchase. When, finally, we hit upon a technique likely to free us (running a line to a massive old-growth fir on the opposite side of the channel) the tide has reversed and fallen and we are well and truly stuck.
The next high tide is at 0900. We come to rest on our starboard side, high and dry, and settle in for an uncomfortable evening canted at 45 degrees. I plug up all the thru-hulls and hop off to inspect things at 0300. Surprisingly, there is little damage to the keel, some scrapes mostly and a small divot of lead missing from the leading edge. The hull and rudder, such as I can see of them, are pristine. I climb back aboard, take a leak over the starboard rail and admire the phosphoresence as it trails off and dissipates in a glowing cloud in the current, with little random flashes as whatever glowing bacteria are activated in the process have a particularly strong reaction. I wonder what Mandy will do, with the head effectively unusable, but she's already asleep in the V-berth. Rather than crushing in on top of her, I take the starboard settee and fall into a fitful slumber.
I awake with the chill of the North Pacific lapping at my back around 0600; the tide is coming in, and the boat is flooding.
It's a rude surprise; I desperately scour my mind for possible sources even as I wake Mandy, unstow the manual bilge pump, and fire up the VHF. The hull was fine at 0300... had I missed a thru-hull somehow? Was the rudder stock or prop shaft bent and leaking? This is a lot of water... but I can't figure out where it's coming from, and it's already deep enough that I can't feel a current or spot any upwelling. I pump and send Mandy to put our ditch bags ashore; no worries here of drowning, at least.
As I am pumping, I get on the radio and try to raise Prince Rupert Coast Guard. Any icy ball forms in the pit of my stomach as I receive no response after three calls on two different channels they should be monitoring. Our mast, and therefore the VHF antenna at the top of it, has tipped quite a bit lower than it was the previous evening... has it sunk too low to transmit out effectively? I switch my battery selector to “ALL” to chain both banks of batteries together and thereby increase my available transmit power and try again. I finally get a response, but it is broken and hard to read. I can only hope that they can copy me better than I can copy them.
Mandy returns and we get into a rhythm of pumping and bailing; we'll fight for the boat as long as we can. There's nothing adequate to describe that time in between making the call, and help arriving (or sinking). It's long, it's quiet, it's entirely too much time to oneself, to think, to consider the consequences, to regret every little step that led you to this point in your life. Although I feel a degree of culpability, I am surprisingly free of self-recrimination. We are where we are, and all I can think of is what I need to do next. I don't fear for our lives at any point... I feel confident we can get ashore if the boat should go under, and that we can survive there for as long as we need to. Even if no help were to arrive, I have what I need to hike out to a main channel and hail someone. I know we're going to be fine. But I know things are vastly different now, that our trip is something other than it was ever supposed to be or what we could have imagined it would become.
And finally, in these moments, I realize that there is one important thing aboard that I haven't consigned to the drybags, that I haven't somehow made safe or secured ashore.
In planning for the trip, I had envisioned some lovely evening right at sunset, birds chirping, a cool Pacific breeze, stunning mountains and trees surrounding our idyllic anchorage, when I would finally pop the question. In preparation for this event, I have procured, and hidden in a bundle of socks, a rather expensive ring; the socks, and this ring, are now two feet below the waterline in a drawer, and if the boat goes down, the ring will go with it.
I am suddenly torn, and stop bailing. Mandy is right there; if I go dig out the socks, she will either think I have gone completely over the edge, or she will know what is inside and my surprise proposal will be no surprise. We're knee deep in freezing water and it's pouring rain outside, and we're watching our boat and vacation disappear one inch at a time as the water inexorably rises. It's hardly an idyllic moment. But I realize, in the span of a few seconds, that it's now or never. I cast aside the pump and dig through the drawer until I find the socks, and present them to her.
"I would kneel," I say, "but, you know..." She still looks confused. I go back to pumping as she peels the wet socks away from the box. It's swollen shut. "Trust me, there is really a nice ring in there, and will you marry me? You don't have to answer now, just bail." She starts crying, but she also starts bailing again, which is how the Coast Guard finds us almost an hour later. They probably think the tears are over the boat.
There is more drama as they haul us off and we discover the hole in the hull below the waterline, and try to rig a makeshift patch, and get a tow back through the storm to the nearest travel lift, and their gas-powered pump runs out of gas halfway there, and so forth. But these things, and the rest of the complications that come with a holed boat in the BC wilderness, are a sideshow compared to the "what will she say?" drama playing out in my head for the week that followed.
It was yes. But in the vows I have to promise to let her steer next time while I go to the bow and look for rocks.
|05-21-2009 06:50 AM
One Night at Coches or Anchoring Can Be Everything
I know I have much more to learn about anchoring. However, I have found I know more about the subject than some on the water. Here’s my story and witness that reinforces for me some basic tenets about anchoring.
It was a June weekend, in 1993 maybe ’94, with Frank and Cathy and JR. The plan was to sail to my lately discovered hideaway, Coches Prietoes Cove. This perfect cove is about 1/3 of the way from the east end of the southern coast of Santa Cruz Island. Santa Cruz is the largest of the Southern California Channel Islands and it starts about 18 miles off the Ventura County coast.
A week before, I had badly sprained my right ankle playing volleyball. Needless to say I was not a complete crew for this single-handed cruise. Most of the swelling was gone but I still had the dark purple shiner. I say single handed cruise only because, aside from my hobbling about, hoisting the sails and tacking, I was the only one to steer, lest we stall or round up due to an inattentive helmsman; good friends all but not boat-wise, in the least and really could care less about the details of this transport.
We were heading out just for that Saturday night. We had chicken for the barbecue and beer for before and after and in between. The crossing was a spectacular sail, highlighted with sunny wind, flying fish and an escort, much of the way by a troop of porpoise on the bow. Two long close-hauled tacks brought us to just outside Smugglers Cove, the closest and best known anchorage on the Island. We made the crossing in less than 4 hours.
We avoided the kelp beds off “Yellow Banks” and in the lee of the island, droned on with the iron genny for another hour, west along the south coast. We passed Valley Anchorage and after another 30 minutes arrived at the giant rock precipice of Albert’s Cove, then steered around that limestone buttress, to one of the sweetest little coves of the Channel Islands Chain: Coches Prietoes.
There was only one boat in the cove. Coaches can handle 20+ boats if they all cooperate. I’ve never seen more than 4. That boat, was a newish looking 38’ racing cruiser (I never found out the make). It had chosen to peg down its sugar scoop stern 3 feet off the beach and it dropped the bow anchor beyond a rocky shoal in about 10 feet of water. I remember how slick and sporty their technique looked, but it also seemed to me a bit daring.
What do I know and what do I care; I basically have the whole cove to swing in, so bam we drop our CQR smack dead in the middle of the cove in 18 feet of delightful white sand bottom, with no tide issues to speak of. We’re now swinging free with 50 feet of chain and a scope of 6:1 and it’s Miller time.
We all had a wonderful afternoon, which carried into the evening. I was beaming from the feeling you get when you introduce your friends to an entertaining and charming acquaintance: that being this remarkable cove. We had our usual banter of fun as we watched the seals fishing like oyster divers under the rocky cliffs along the east end. JR managed to burn up most the chicken on the grill and it was more funny than wasteful. The night sky, as any sailor has witnessed, was glorious and dressed up in black and Tiffany. The crescent moon reflected brightly off the water, before it sank behind the western cliff.
The crescent of the cove seemed to amplify the sound of the small waves on the beach. First came the deep pound of the breaker, boom… soon followed by the wash sound as the wave-flood rushed up the beach and back again. It is one of nature’s classic compositions. It went: boom and wash and then again, boom and wash, over and over, as it had throughout the eons. The calling gulls and exhalations of diving seals provided the melody. The sun had been down for a couple of hours; it was time to turn in for the night.
Around 11:30 pm I climbed out of my quarter berth and up for a last, look see, at the night and the water and our bite. No new boats. Our boat had swung again 180 degrees from an hour before; it was the 3rd or 4th time it had clocked like that, since we first set anchor. I think it happens when the island canyons cool at different rates, something like that. I was glade for the extra sea room in the cove. The southern swell now rolled in more pronounced than earlier.
The other sailboat, near the beach was maybe 200 feet from us and I could see it bobbing on the shore-break. I have a habit of looking up into the night sky. The Constellation Orion was high at that time. Orion is the namesake for “Frigate”, my boat’s model (PS Orion 27’ cutter). A bright shooting star slashed straight above almost nicking Capella in its streak west. I am sure I was the only person to see it. I’m pretty dense when it comes to heeding nature’s more cryptic messages. Maybe an angel just got his wings, I don’t know. All looked as good as it could possibly be. With a grin, I returned below to my bunk for the night. I figured I’d probably crawl out one more time that night.
Frank and Cathy were a couple and had the double birth that was made out of the U salon seatee. JR was snoring wildly up in the v-birth. They were friends from work and they trusted me with their lives out in this wilderness. I had such a serene feeling that we were all safe and snug in my little rocking boat. The last sounds I heard, before I drifted off, were the hushed giggling and mumble between Frank and Cathy and the ripples licking Frigate’s hull and the ceaseless boom and wash on the shore.
I might have had a dream, though who could have remembered after such a horrible awakening. A noise both deafening and terrifying surrounded the boat and me. I woke from a sound sleep my eyes wide open, in my confined coffin quarter birth. I could see bright lights outside the ports, searching yet blinding. It was a train barreling down on me. Am I awake? Is this happening? Hey, where am I? I’m in the boat Frigate; I’m on the water. What is that noise? My God, what time is it? Have we dragged anchor out to sea? That must be a freighter bearing down on us.
I tore my way out of the bunk and up the companionway, thinking I would see… what? I didn’t know. It was so loud and when I emerged from the cabin I saw the most incredible sight. It was the Alien Queen coming down at us 20 feet above the masthead, a giant wasp, screaming with its turbines, blasting the whole cove in a torrent of air and spray. It scoured the water with flickering cones of sunlight and deep dark shadows of arms and legs. It was perfect chaos, the eye of the vortex and we were about to die.
It seemed to hover overhead just to frighten us before it ate the boat. But now my head is clearing, adrenaline is pumping and the cobwebs disappear. The noise is slowly becoming more and more man-made and the arms and legs are now just booms and apparatus. It’s the Coast Guard! And they’re flying one of their new turbine rescue choppers. And they’re not hear to kill us, they’re looking for something on the beach. Oh Sh%#! It’s that other boat; they’re lying on their side in the breakers.
My God what time is it? When did that happen? Did we sleep through the grounding and the mayhem and the mayday? Had they cried out for help? It was just before 4am and within 10 minutes the Coast Guard had landed on the beach, 100 feet west of the wreck and collected the crew and then were off, noisier than before. It was difficult to tell how many were evacuated. The beach was lit like noontime and you could see a handful of people moving around confused. I think some were children. Nothing could be heard through the unbearable whine of the turbines and whap of the blades. Then it was: all aboard and up, up and away. They banked out over the ocean and disappeared east. The noise trailed away quickly into the night. They left us dazed and in total and complete silence and darkness. We waited for our eyes to adjust, mesmerized by what we had just seen. The poor boat appeared curled up and dead on the shore. Its shadowy figure shifted uneasily at each wave brazen enough to poke at it.
They chaffed through their ground tackle. Their rode passed over the rocky shoal, and when the swell picked up, in the night, at the same time the tide went out...? What a wakeup call that must have been for them. Bang, splash, crunch, on your side, what a shock!
The disaster was some time in the making, but once the last strand of rope snapped, the boat was condemned very quickly. We sat there in our cockpit comparing notes and first impressions for almost an hour. The funny thing was, in the first instant, we all thought we were facing some land disaster; a nightmare faced by each of us, in his own bed at home, where it’s familiar. Cathy’s initial thought was her house was burning. At first, the event was so disorienting, none of us new where we were.
Frank said I almost killed him. Apparently, when I clawed my way up on deck, I accidently pulled a 12 lb. fire extinguisher out of its bracket and it landed inches from his head. That would have been an awkward call to make to the Coast Guard: “Say guys, since you’re out here anyway, do you have room for one more casualty? “
The next morning it was confirmed. It really happened. It wasn’t some mass hysteria that we suffered. The poor stranded boat was still there. It was laying on its port side half wet and half sandy. Its bow must have swung around because it faced the island, which was opposite to its anchored direction. That must have been quite a struggle for the crew. I wonder when they first realized that they were in trouble: when the keel fin dug in and the boat wheeled around onto its side? They were surely asleep like we were. Was the distress call placed early on, or were they already on their side when the skipper made the call? That morning I forgot all about my sore ankle, this had been a real catastrophe. Some poor captain wondered what condition his boat was in.
It didn’t really seem like a life and death situation, at the time. I don’t know, maybe someone got hurt during the lay-down. Maybe they called in a “Panvalet” not a “Mayday” and the Coast Guard saw it for a training opportunity. Even if we had left them stranded in the morning, which we wouldn’t have, it’s not more than a day hike to the ranger station at Smugglers, assuming they knew one existed. It’s easy to second guess the skippers actions after losing the boat in that way. Man I sure hope I never have to make that call. One thing I never figured out: how did a line of sight VHF reach outside of that cove considering the antennae was practically lying on the beach? How did they reach the CG?
I’ll admit it now, we didn’t have our anchor light on. I never really trusted my batteries on that boat, even with the isolation switch. I had faced too many situations without my engine starter. I’m sure I’ll catch Hell for that admission. All I have to say is the Coast Guard doesn’t leave anything to chance. When they come riding into a dark harbor they light it up like Yankee Stadium. Obviously no CG pilot wants a mast up the kazoo.
We weighed anchor then motored a couple of close passes along the shore to survey the damage done. The mast seemed ok and, in general, so did the rest of the rig. The running rigging was a mess, strung about in clumps and knots and there was other boating debris scattered about, cushions, canvas and such. From about 30 feet away it appeared that the hull was still intact. The beach at Coches is not particularly rocky, being a blend of gravel and sand and the waves at that time were mere 9” lappers. It looked as if this boat could be saved, but it better happen soon.
Finally, we motored out of the lee of the island and had another marvelous sail, port broad reach most of the way home. We sailed wing and wing for an hour before we got back on the rhumbline. There were more porpoise and more flying fish. We also passed around the sunscreen.
Two weeks later I saw that boat on the hard, not far from Andria’s Fish Market in Ventura Harbor. It looked like the jack stands were trying to hold the guts in from a huge belly wound. The hull had cracked open athwartships, right at the beam. It was split from the rail to the base of the fin. The opening was jagged and fibrous; you could see the stuff piled up inside and sleeping bags and bedding were poking out in places. The hull was a total loss; it was obviously here for parts salvage. The loss was at least $100k.
I couldn’t imagine how they brought this boat back without it sinking. What had happened? It wasn’t the superficial damage I thought I saw, back at the scene. It was a real eye opener to see what damage the ocean can accomplish with her patience and even her most insignificant waves; that relentless boom and wash, boom and wash, may eventually wash away that big island of Santa Cruz.
Lessons learned, and relearned. Basically, more chain is better than less and more scope is also better then less, in almost all anchoring situations. Also never cross a shoal with a fiber anchor rode, unless your boat can stand a beaching. It hurt to see that boat doomed in such a way. And yes… very important… you really have to hand it to the Coasties, they sure are “Johnny on the Spot”, loud, lit up and efficient.
|05-21-2009 06:45 AM
What Has Happened to You Out There?
What unusual things have happened to you out in the cruising world. Tell us what remarkable events have happened to you? Tell us your best story about danger or comedy or sex... I mean romance and or serendipity. Please mix and match as the story takes you.
I'm not asking who (you can PM me with that info.), But: What was it about? Why was it whatever? Where did it happen and when?
Liars should do very well in this thread. Try to keep it believable.
Good yarn weaving. I'll start it off.
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