December 16, 2008

Rum always helps

A FEW YEARS AGO I was singlehanding in my Cape Dory 25D through the Gulf Islands, in British Columbia, Canada, where tight anchorages often make it necessary to take a line ashore.
I found myself in a narrow inlet in Wallace Island and watched with smug amusement while the six crewmembers of a 30-footer struggled to get a line ashore to the steep bank lining the inlet.

With two women aboard the boat, and four men in the rubber dinghy, they roared back and forth in total confusion, slipping and sliding and tugging and cursing until finally, finally, they found a large rock to tie their line around and fumbled their way back to the cockpit where they flopped back in apparent exhaustion.

Right. Now it’s my turn. Here comes the experienced old salt. I’m gonna show them how to do it. On my own.

I motored in slowly alongside them, dropped my stern anchor, and payed out the rode until I judged I was close enough to get a line ashore. I cleated the stern anchor line, put the engine in neutral, dropped neatly into my dinghy, and wended my way to the bow where, with commendable foresight, I had prepared a shore line.

I took one end of the line in my left hand and with my right hand I sculled ashore. From the looks on their faces, I don’t think they’d ever seen anyone scull a dinghy with one oar over the transom before. So I sculled neat and fast and powerful to impress them even more, especially the tall blonde lady.

I rammed the dinghy up onto the rocky ledge, sprinted up the bank, passed my line around the trunk of a small tree, and leaped back down to the dinghy.

With the line in my left hand again, I sculled back to the boat in my most manly fashion. Speed was of the essence because the 25D was secured only by the stern anchor, and was free to drift sideways at the mercy of any puff of wind that might come along.

Just as I reached the bow of the 25D, with the crew of the boat next door watching intently, the bitter end of the line I was tugging on flipped out of the foredeck anchor locker and dived overboard.

I had forgotten to secure the stupid bow line to the boat.

By reflex, I dropped my sculling oar, and, by a wonderful stroke of luck, managed to grab the sinking line in the water. But even so, things had taken a nasty turn.

The position was this: I was standing in my dinghy with a line that reached from my right hand to the shore, around a tree, and back to my left hand. The 25D was now out of reach and drifting slowly astern. I couldn’t drop the line because I’d no way to recover it. I couldn’t scull the dinghy because I couldn’t drop the line. My mind had gone blank and my muscles were frozen. The blonde was regarding me quizzically.

Just then a large powerboat came past, dragging the usual wake. The wake hit the 25D's transom and pushed the boat toward the shore, toward me, just enough for me to reach the bow. I transferred both ends of the line to one hand and gripped the forestay with the other. The line wasn’t long enough to reach the bow, but a sudden spurt of adrenaline allowed me to exert the power needed to bring my arms together across my chest, and by some miracle I managed to tie the two ends of the line together behind the forestay. It was a granny knot, but the blonde couldn’t see that.

I got my breath back, and sculled expertly to the cockpit. I hopped aboard nimbly and smiled in friendly fashion at the slack-jawed crew next door. Then I went below and helped myself to a large tot of rum. I think it was a tot. I drank it straight from the bottle. It might have been more.

I guess the moral of the story is that we’re all lubbers sometimes, but if you have a few points in the black box you can get away with it occasionally.

Today's Thought
Seamanship … is not learned in a day, nor many days; it requires years. —Jack London.

“You’ve got to lose weight. “I’m putting you on lettuce, carrots and green onions for a week.”
“OK, doc. Before or after meals?”

1 comment:

Oded Kishony said...

I gave my 20yo daughter the 'black box' lecture. She's not a sailor but nevermind, the black box is everywhere.