Sunday, May 17, 2009

On Comets, Collisions and other Calamities

It has been my experience that each of these sails embodies unique experiences or adventures. This blog will attempt to capture those most vivid in my memory. So here goes ….
On Comets: This experience was on my very first sail, that being Key West/Dry Tortugas. We were sailing down the west coast of Florida from Ft. Myers to Key West. The first day out, winds were very strong (20+ knots) and the seas were very rough. After about 7 hours of pounding, we decided to put in to a marina in Naples. The next afternoon, winds lessened and we decided to head out for Key West, about 70 or so miles due south. Since we had lost time, this was to be an all night sail, putting us in to Key West about dawn. We sailed uneventfully thru the afternoon and early evening, witnessing a remarkable, fleecy-cloud punctuated sunset along the way. As darkness surrounded us, we made plans for the night. Needless to say, someone needed to stay at the helm thru the night. Two hour shifts were mandated, with mine being from 2 to 4 AM. My appointed time came and I assumed my post. Soon my shipmates were all asleep, leaving me to the helm, compass and about a million stars around. ‘Amazing how much clearer the night sky is with no light or air pollution to blur things up. Less than an hour into my watch, I saw one of the most amazing things. In no more than 2- 3 seconds the biggest comet I’ve ever seen screamed past. (OK, technically, it was a meteor, but comet works much better with the alliteration.) The image at the top is the closest I could find to what I saw. But, it doesn’t even do it justice, because I could literally see smoke or fumes streaming off the tail. ‘Kinda like the Orlando Magic’s basketball logo. Afterwards, I discussed this with my astronomer brother, trying to assess how close it really was. His reply was, “Probably not so close. Otherwise, you would have heard the sonic boom.” Boom or not, it was still an incredible experience, making this sail stand out in a unique way.
On Collisions: The Pamplico Sound (Outer Banks of N. C.) sail in 2006. ‘First thing you need to understand is that the Pamplico Sound isn’t very deep, but fortunately has a relatively soft sand & mud bottom. ‘Second thing is that North Carolina in August has some nasty thunderstorms. So, here’s what happened. We were motoring out in late afternoon along a marked, dredged out channel to get to deeper waters. We observed that a rather large tugboat was coming up the channel in the opposite direction at a rather rapid clip and taking his room out of the middle. Discretion being the better part of our valor, we elected to yield, even if it meant we would vacate the marked channel slightly. Did I mention that while all this was transpiring, a nasty thunderhead had formed to our north? Well, it had, and seemed to be heading our way with a vengeance. So, anyway, we eased out of the channel, the rain began, quickly became a deluge, we all got soaked, the tug passed us …. tossing us in its wake ….. and we ran aground …. big time. As we struggled to deal with all these simultaneous events, the storm seemed to reach its zenith, directly over us. ‘Next thing was a humongous crackle of a lightning bolt followed by an instantaneous peal of thunder. John could feel a slight tingle, since he was holding the helm. Rocking still in the tug’s wake, firmly aground, soaked, we had been struck by lightning, on top of everything else! Now, if you have to be struck by lightning, a sailboat’s where you want to be. That’s because the physics of a sailboat, with its metal mast and wiring provides the most conductive path to ground, completely bypassing the vulnerable sailboat occupants. And that’s what happened in our case. ‘Leaving us unharmed but still stuck. After various futile attempts to unground, we finally succeeded by a combination of the boat’s motor, used with the anchor winch motor, after we had hauled and dropped the anchor about 100 feet to port. Using the diesel motor & the winch motor together we nudged the boat off the bottom. It worked. Collision & calamity avoided.
Other Calamities: This is from the 2005 BVI sail. We were sailing from Virgin Gorda to Anegada, the northernmost island of the British Virgin Islands. This is about a 4 to 5 hour sail, during daylight, very pleasant. ‘Winds were brisk but not too heavy, maybe 15 knots. It’s unclear exactly how this came to be, but somehow, as we neared the approach to Anegada, the dingy line became fouled (tangled) around the port side engine prop, this prop being about 2 – 3 feet below the waterline. At this point, you need to understand that Catamarans have 2 engines, one on each side. So, you might say, with one engine still good, what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that the channel into Anegada is very narrow, with nasty reefs on both sides. Attempting to enter with only 1 engine, narrow channel, stiff winds …. was risky. ‘Too risky. The situation left us no choice but to unfoul the line around the port prop. With mask & flippers and a quasi-sharp knife, James Murray & I plunged in. We took turns, alternatively hacking and cutting at the fouled line to the extent our lungs would allow … all the time fighting the heavy waves and the catamaran hull bobbing and weaving around us. With time and perseverance, we eventually prevailed in cutting the fouled line, and the trip moved forward without further event.
..... ‘So how do you put all this into perspective? Were they just isolated events, the sum of which is nothing? I think not. I think these events, albeit isolated, add to the color and tapestry of these sails. Further, I think other participants would have equal or more compelling tales. This blog invites and accommodates follower comments. Fellow participants, please avail yourselves.[href="" target="ext">img style="BORDER-RIGHT: 0px; PADDING-RIGHT: 0px; BORDER-TOP: 0px; PADDING-LEFT: 0px; BACKGROUND: 0% 50%; PADDING-BOTTOM: 0px; BORDER-LEFT: 0px; PADDING-TOP: 0px; BORDER-BOTTOM: 0px; -moz-background-clip: initial; -moz-background-origin: initial; -moz-background-inline-policy: initial" alt="Posted by Picasa" src="" align="middle" border="0" />

1 comment:

  1. There are a several highlights of the Naples-Key West trip that I particularly remember. One is well before sunset. The winds were relatively light, and we decided to fly the spinnaker. It was the one that Dad was given on the occasion of his retirement by his boss. It had a large orange with leaves at the base of the orange in the top half panel of the sail. By the time of this trip, it was almost 15 years old, and had been repaired several times. We knew it was near the end of its life. With the light winds and no weather on the horizon, I thought we could chance flying it. It went up without incident, and flew beautifully. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. After an hour or so, the wind picked up, and before we could bring the sail down, it blew out, splitting from the top to the bottom. While it was a sad moment, there’s no better way for a sail to go—a story to tell.
    Two of the next two highlights involve food. The same afternoon, at least on the same trip, I remember Martin and John(?) Wood preparing gourmet meals in the galley. Were they lunch, then dinner? I can’t remember. I just remember how delightful it was. Did one of them cook a fish that was caught? The winds were the same moderate following winds as above with very gentle seas, absolutely perfect for galley work. Both Martin and John were very happily beavering away over a hot stove. I think there are pictures somewhere.
    The last highlight was arriving at the Key West reef about 3:00 AM in the morning, a couple hours ahead of schedule. It would have been too dangerous to try to cross the reef in the dark, even though it is well marked. So, for the first time for me, we hove to for a couple of hours waiting for dawn. The genny (jib) and main were set opposing one another with the helm hard over to prevent them from correcting themselves, and we sat quietly in about 12 knots of wind while all but the helmsman got some sleep. All the sounds and motions of the wind and sea seemed to diminish to nearly nothing while the boat and crew rested.