The Gory Details, Part II

July 15, 2014

I reread part one of this adventure to remember where to pick up the story. With a comfortable buffer of time and distance, my first account now seems kind of dramatic. That’s how it was, though, and you want to get these stories down before too long, or time will change the details.

Michael Jefferson, a Transpac veteran, was among the first people I met when I got off the boat in Alameda.  He and his mate, Susan, collected my sorry ass and took me out for some dinner and company.  He has this theory that people enjoy their pastimes in one of two broad ways.  The type-one folks do something fun and enjoy the moment.  These are your gamblers, golfers, titty-bar patrons, and whatever. Type-two people submit themselves to all manner of punishments before they register their fun.  It’s misery, and in the moment you may hate what you’re doing and swear to change your ways and take up golf, but within a few days of surviving you’re remembering the experience differently, and can’t wait to get back out and do it again.  Type-one:  I went fishing, which was fun.  Type-two:  I got my soul crushed in a gale off Mendocino.  I survived, and now that the edge is off I want to go do it again.  There is a type-three fun-lover. All he’d say about that is that the type-three folks sometimes don’t come back from their adventures.

So, with a little less adrenaline in my veins, here’s the rest of the story. We ended part one with:

“Right on cue, about 20 miles NW of Mendocino , the wind started to build.  I don’t know what you call it when you know something bad’s about to happen, but you sit there and do nothing, hoping it won’t. Inertia?  I don’t know.”

Andrew Evans singlehands an Olson 30.  He wrote a book about it, which I found tremendously useful, and which you can find here:

http://sfbaysss.net/resource/doc/SinglehandedTipsThirdEdition.pdf.

Rereading his book last night, I spent some time with his discussion of what he calls Emotional Inertia.  This is exactly what happened to me as I approached Cape Mendocino.

You’ll remember that I had my spinnaker up.  The weather was fine, but all the information I was getting predicted high winds and heavy seas, and soon. I knew I should probably take the spinnaker down, but I didn’t.  As the wind increased the boat was regularly hitting 13-14 knots.  It was the middle of the night, and bioluminescence was spraying from my quarters like streamers.  I felt like I was on another planet.  It was really, really cool.

Part of me figured I’d enjoy this as long as possible and then douse the kite, but another part of me was just stalling because I was terrified to get out on the deck and do the work.  By now the motion of the boat was pretty active.  It’s hard to describe to non-sailors, but let me try.  Being on the deck of a small boat that’s pitching and rolling in high winds and big waves is kind of like trying to kneel on the back of one of those mechanical bulls you used to see in bars.  You need all your energy and both hands just to hang on.  Yes, the foredeck is a little wider than the back of a bull, and its movements are a little slower, but that’s about the size of it.  Now, besides trying to hang on, try to get some work done.  No thanks.

Andrew Evans nailed it with the Emotional Inertia theory.  In this case I knew that waiting to douse the kite could only lead to grief, yet I pressed on, doing nothing and hoping for the best.  What eventually happened was that I got the kite down, but it wasn’t pretty, and it was torn all the way across the foot.  That happens when you catch it on something and then let it drag through the water while you try to pull it in like a gillnet.

By now it was about four in the morning.  I had the main out to port with a double reef, and was still hitting 14 knots. The autopilot was actually steering pretty well after I turned the rudder gain down all the way.  I was beat, so I went below to catch a few Zs.  Big mistake number one.  It wasn’t ten minutes before I crash-gybed.  It was loud and violent; I thought the whole rig had come down.  I bolted out of the cabin, gybed back to starboard–properly this time–and got the boat trimmed again.

Now what?  I really needed to get some rest, but I was, I’ll admit, paralyzed with fear at the thought of going back on the foredeck to set the storm jib and take down the main. Getting the spinnaker down had just about wiped me out, so I figured I’d put a preventer on the main and come up a bit to avoid another gybe.  The storm jib would have been a better idea but, well, inertia.  And the main was already up.

Big mistake number two.  Preventers should go on the end of the boom, but my end was way out over the water.  I couldn’t reach it with my tether clipped in to the cockpit padeye.  I clipped on to the port jackline and stood on the sidedeck to try to reach it, but a wave hit the boat and I lost my footing.  For a few seconds I had my arms wrapped around the boom with one foot on deck and the other in the water.  I hooked my left boot toe around a stanchion and used every ab muscle I no longer have to get my weight back on deck and into the cockpit.

Screw trying to get a line to the end of the boom.  Have you ever been in a situation where you’re so tired and so pissed off that you make a decision you know is bad?  That you know people will criticize you for, and that may damage the boat, but you just don’t give a shit anymore?  Well, that’s where I was when I got a nylon line and carabiner out of my line bag.  At least nylon is stretchy, I figured, as I tied the line around the boom.  I don’t have a good spot to put a preventer mid-boom on this boat, but there are some clam cleats on the boom that would prevent my clove-hitch from sliding back toward the vang–or so I thought.

I was hand steering now in apparent winds in the high twenties.  It was actually pretty comfortable, so hoping for the best did not seem unreasonable.  The seas were huge, steep, and short, but at least they all seemed to be coming from the same direction. Keeping them directly astern was going to take me right past Cape Mendocino and generally toward Pt. Reyes, so I just settled in and steered by the waves instead of the compass.  I figured I’d ride the waves until I got close, and then tuck into Drakes Bay, behind Pt. Reyes, if I needed a break.

It was still dark, and I was still trying to stay square to the waves, when a wave seemed to come out of nowhere and hit me on the port beam.  I could hear it hissing just before it hit; there wasn’t anything to do but turn my back to it and brace myself.  It felt like someone turned a fire hose on me. I flew across the cockpit, hitting my left shin on the starboard winch.  I had one hand on a stanchion and the other on my tether, trying to stay in the boat as it went over.  It seemed to take forever, but I’m sure it was only a few seconds before the boat came up.

IMG_2272

Knasty Knot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it did the main was backed.  I had no idea where the boat was pointed, but I grabbed the tiller and tried to muscle it around so I had the waves astern again.  Nothing seemed to help, so I decided to let the preventer go, let the boat crash gybe again, and sort things out when I could get control.

Big mistake number three.  I had clipped the carabiner at the deck end of the preventer to a stanchion base.  They can’t be opened under this kind of load, and now that I knew what kind of loads a main backed in this kind of wind could generate, I was afraid the stanchion was going to pull through the deck and come at me like a missile.  Just as I was reaching for my knife to cut the line, the clove hitch I’d tied in the middle of the boom slid over the cleats I’d “secured” it behind and slipped back toward the vang fitting.  The boom swung about two feet to starboard, and then folded like a lawn chair.

photo (18)

The Aftermath

The boat immediately stood up.  I just sat there, stunned.  The main was tangled in the rigging, but still projecting enough surface to keep some way on.  Still, I just sat there.  That was a weird feeling.  You know you’re not going to die, but you know you’re pretty screwed. I was steering the boat without even caring where I was going. Time seemed to stop as I rolled all of the possibilities around in my head, and I figured my race was over before it even started.

It must have been twenty minutes or so before I got my shit together and went into problem-solving mode.  It was clear that the main wasn’t in danger of shredding on the rigging. It was driving the boat at nearly six knots, so I just left it up that way and hand steered until long after the sun came up. When the wind finally abated, I untangled the main, shook out the reefs, and cut the clew loose from the twisted boom.  I attached the spinnaker sheets to the clew and flew the main loose, kind of like a genoa.

IMG_2326

The Jury Rig

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That actually worked pretty well.  The wind had dropped to the high teens and low twenties apparent, and by the time I’d passed Pt. Reyes I calculated that I could get inside the bay by about 1300 or so with this rig.  There was some damage besides the boom.  The spare battery had gone flying around again, and I was pumping water out of the bilge again, but I seemed to be in one piece, and the worst seemed to be over.

The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful.  After all the previous night’s excitements, I was finally settling down and enjoying the sail.  I saw a few charter fishing boats and wondered how their passengers were doing in the conditions. I started noticing the pelicans that had been there all along. As I got closer to the Golden Gate Bridge I could see coastal water bumping up against the blue water.  It was weird–almost like someone had dumped greenish paint into the bay and let it spread into the ocean.  The boundary between the two was abrupt and distinct. Beautiful, but weird.

Brian Boschma, from the SSS Race Committee, called on the VHF to welcome me as I was nearing the bridge.  I didn’t enter the shipping channel, which I later found out was not very smart, but kind of cut the corner at Pt. Bonita, where I dodged some gnarly looking rocks.  I found out later that that wasn’t a good idea either.  Well, any ending you can walk away from is a good ending in music, so I’m applying that motto to this clumsy approach too.

I sailed under the bridge at close to slack tide.  The wind was now about 18-20 knots from the NW, which was perfect for riding the swell coming in behind me.  Brian had invited me to stop in at the St. Francis yacht club to say hello and take a break.  I pulled in, tied up, sat down below, and promptly fell asleep.  When I awoke it was getting late, so I headed out again to get into my slip at Marina Village early enough to register and get a bathroom code.  Along the way I made an attempt to straighten out my boom.

straightened boom)

The best I could do was bend it back a bit and tie it out of the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was no use.  People on boats in the estuary looked at me like they were wondering what in the hell had happened. After a brief chat with a skipper coming in on an Ericson 38, I decided to sport my broken boom like a badge of honor. Really, what else can you do?

Within half an hour I was at Marina Village looking for slip E7.  If you’ve never been there before the layout is kind of confusing, but a few U-turns later, and with the gracious help of my new neighbor, Matt, a liveaboard, I was tied up.

There’s more to tell, but a thunderstorm is rolling in, and I’m going to go enjoy it with my dog.  BackBeat out.

 

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