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Nautical Disaster

Posted: August 13th, 2010 | Author: | 5 Comments »

[My First Adventure On The (Not-So) High Seas]

“I think we’re sinking.”


“We need to turn around. I think we’re sinking.”

Now, I’m not much of a sailor, but I know you don’t make jokes about sinking when you’re on a boat, especially a seventeen-foot, barebones fiberglass shell of a boat. And up until now, my entire sailing career being 45 minutes afloat (apparently barely) on this raft with a mast. I’ve been out on the ocean in a kayak, and I’ve been out on a whale-watch before… and on the Port Jefferson Ferry once too. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t give this barely-seaworthy vessel the respect it commands.

Not when my day started out like this, after all.

July 11, 2010
Sunday Morning

I pulled into the marina at around eleven, excited for the days events. A day of sailing on the open waters, I was told. But already there were a few… not snafus, but certainly not confidence inspiring events. First, Kelsey couldn’t get off of work. So after talking about going sailing for over a year now, my first trip out would be with her father. And nobody else. Now Don and I get along. In fact, we get along pretty well, I would say. But here’s what I’m thinking: no good story has ever started out with, “So, I’m going out in a boat with my girlfriend’s father, and she’s not going to be there.” I’m not saying I suspected anything, but I’m not saying I didn’t either. So I brought a secret weapon with me: the contract you see above. And I made him sign it, and I made Kelsey’s grandmother (her grandparents/Don’s parents own the marina and live on site) witness it. And I sent a photo of it to my lawyer brother (who is really handy to have in situations like this… and in other situations, if I’m being totally honest) just to be sure.

On top of that, I was told, “we’ll get out sailing in something today.” Now, again, that’s not exactly confidence inspiring. That seems like a really cautious way of just saying, “we’re going sailing.” Like you’re trying to keep your options open, just in case something unexpected — though, at this point you’re expecting it now — might perhaps happen. But the wording was explained to me this way: the marina owns a sailboat that’s just kind of kicking around, and if it works, they’d like to sell it. How do you figure out if it works or not? You put it in the water. When was a great time to put it in the water? Probably the first time I come round to go sailing. And while I’m sitting there thinking, “well, it’s a boat, it’ll probably work. I mean, they wouldn’t send me out in something that doesn’t work, right? Right? RIGHT?”, Don was thinking, “I’m going to hedge my bets and tell him that we’ll get out sailing in something today,” knowing full well that that something might not be the first boat we try.

I didn’t know that’s what he was thinking.

As I pulled into the marina, I found Don and one of his nephews, Nick, putting the boat together. Putting the mast on, getting all the rigging set, and doing whatever else you mean when you say you’re putting a boat together. I stood by on the side, watching patiently. And Don took the opportunity to give me a quick lesson on the boat. He told me what the different lines were called, how the main sail works, and everything else you’d expect from a beginner’s sailing tutorial.

Sunday Afternoon

By the time the boat was ready, lunch was being served in the house, so we grabbed a quick bite to eat. Then it was time to put the boat in the water. We would then literally see if it would “sink or swim.”2 So we did. And I’m gonna go off on another tangent again, because again something ominous was about to happen. With the help of Nick, we got the boat in the water and tied off on the dock. Then Nick helped his brother put a boat in the water. But before he had backed the trailer all the way down the ramp and into the water, the boat fell off. So now we had a new problem, a bigger one. Again, I stood by, fairly useless to do anything at the marina aside from making jokes and providing verbal encouragement. Don and Nick went to work trying to winch the boat back up on the trailer. Except that the winch wasn’t cooperating either, loosened from its locked position, and almost broke Don’s finger.

So we’ve got a boat we’re not sure floats, a contract that I won’t be thrown into the water as soon as we’re out of sight, and a nearly-broken finger. What more could go wrong?

Well, to start, the main difference between a sailboat and a motorboat is that the former uses the wind for speed, and the latter uses a motor. So in order to operate a sailboat, you need wind. We didn’t have any. We got into the boat and put the main sail up and pushed off the dock and… nothing happened. There wasn’t enough wind to get us *to* the channel, let alone out of the marina. A lot of tacking and almost an hour later, we were still in the docks (see my “chart” below).

The trip of the USS Sinkhole that fateful day.

If we could just get to the green post that marked the entrance to the channel, we would hopefully get catch some wind, and we’d be on our way. No more pushing off of the dock (or other boats), and no more using the kayak paddle that we had brought “just in case.” We’d be sailing, for real! Anticipation built as we got closer and closer. A tack that would gain twenty feet would be washed out by a tack in the other direction that would lose fifteen feet. Slowly and steadily, the green post became brighter, within reach.

The Channel

“I think we’re sinking.”


“We need to turn around. I think we’re sinking.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know, there’s always going to be some water in the boat. It’s a common thing (or so I’m told), and there are drain holes at the back of the boat to get rid of that water. But as I thought about what he was saying, it dawned on me that the water level in the boat was in fact higher than it had been a few minutes ago. And with that, the joy felt as we made it past the green post into the channel was replaced by something a little different. I’m not sure what it was, except that it wasn’t fear. We were too close to the shore for me to be afraid, and it’s not like *I* owned the boat that was about to end up on the bottom of the bay. I was pulling lines and swinging the rigging and doing everything else Don was yelling to do, but inside, I was feeling a calm peacefulness like the one people describe when talking about near-death experiences. Don, though, he was pissed. And paddling furiously. The wind that didn’t help us get out of the channel wasn’t helpful in getting us back in, but we were making progress on our way back to the ramp. A shout to the shore had Nick waiting for us with a trailer ready. We just had to make it back.

It wasn’t meant to be. At least, not easily. About 25 feet from the shore, we abandoned ship. We left the lifejackets on the boat, as the water was no more than shoulder height, and pushed the boat, which had now filled almost completely with water, to the waiting trailer. But it was too heavy to get above the water line. Being full of water, we couldn’t just float it onto the submerged trailer. We had to winch it up and bail as much water out as we could, until it was on the trailer enough to lift it out of the water, at which point the drain holes would be effective again. After a few tense moments, we got it up and the water flowed out.

It turns out, the boat was going to take a little more work before it could truly be called a “seafaring vessel.”

Not to worry, when Don said we’d get out sailing in “something,” he had a backup plan in mind. A 27 foot Hunter, to be exact, this one also owned by the marina. It was already in the water, and was used regularly, so we knew this one worked. It wasn’t long before we had hit the open seas again (though, really, for the first time) and I was getting a real sailing experience. And Don didn’t try to throw me overboard.

Why am I telling my story now, a month later? Because we’re going sailing again tonight, of course.

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5 Comments on “Nautical Disaster”

  1. 1 mightytoycannon said at 11:12 am on August 14th, 2010:

    You might want to sign a new contract before going sailing tonight. The original was limited to the 11th day of July, 2010. Good luck!

  2. 2 Sandy said at 11:46 am on August 14th, 2010:

    OMG … not at all how I remember it and actually I don’t remember you being there so … with that in mind, I hope your adventure was much more sea worthy last night. Can’t wait to read about it …. And I hear the girlfriend was able to go :)

  3. 3 don said at 2:48 pm on August 14th, 2010:

    Life Boats stand ready!!!!

  4. 4 Diane said at 2:50 pm on August 14th, 2010:

    ooops I said that not Don LOL !!

  5. 5 Karen said at 9:44 pm on August 14th, 2010:

    Hmmm – I think as your 2nd attempt at sailing you should have a contract subject to the fact that I think Don was actually trying to drown you via sinking boat! Bon Voyage – may you have the wind in your sails!!

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