September 24, 2013

Luck that comes from practice

ONE OF THOSE professional golfers who makes millions of dollars every year was remarking on television the other day that the more he practices, the luckier he gets. I believe he was only half joking, but his comment reminded me of a time, a few years ago, when I was singlehanding my Cape Dory 25D through Canada’s Gulf Islands, where tight anchorages often make it necessary to anchor at right angles to the land, and then 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 set their bow anchor, and then 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 single 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 line 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, letting the line feed itself out of the bow anchor locker. 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 anchor locker and dived overboard.

I had forgotten to secure the bitter end of 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. It hit the 25D and pushed it 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, mirabile dictu, 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 tried not to think what would have happened if that powerboat hadn’t come along at exactly the right moment. I didn’t appear on deck again until it was dark.

I guess the moral of the story is that we’re all lubbers sometimes, but if you practice good sailorly habits most of the time you’re bound to experience a bit of good luck now and then, just like the golfer said.

Today’s Thought
We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?
— Jean Cocteau

“Your dog attacked me when I came home last night. He bit my leg.”
“Oh, wow, I’m sorry. Did you put anything on it?”
“No, he liked it just as it was.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Matt Marsh said...

John, I could interpret this as: When I'm in a powerboat and I see a sailor trying to get a line ashore, I should give him a bit of 12-knot plowing wake.

But, somehow, I suspect that's not the message you had in mind ;)

John Vigor said...

It would be very kind of you, Matt. Sometimes we "experts" need all the help we can get.

John V.

biglilwave said...

Thanks for the laugh John. But that knot you tied sounded more like a blondy knot than a granny knot :)

John Vigor said...

Hi biglilwave:

Okay, I'll bite. What's a blondy knot? That's a knot I wot not.

John V.

biglilwave said...

I can't believe I'm actually following up on this. Here it goes...
A blondy knot as defined by the Urban Sailing Dictionary is a knot used by a male sailor during a failed attempt to impress an attractive blonde female; most commonly used under extreme stress to prevent a likely mishap or embarrassment. Formerly called a granny knot, but grannies are hard to impress.