August 31, 2017
After our successful roundtrip journey to Norfolk and back, we were finally released from restrictions by our insurance company; so we decided how better to celebrate than to go for a sail… our first solo sail on Exit. Well… nothing ever goes quite as planned.
Though Exit was riding on the water, we were riding on the clouds… one of those key moments when you realize everything you had been dreaming of and struggling for was finally coming to fruition. We were aboard our own sailboat proudly navigating through the marina. One of those small world moments occurred when a sailboat with six or eight people on deck overtook us.
As it passed us, one of the guys on deck pointed at our transom and called over, “Go Cougs!” He went on to say, “ I was actually a UofI Vandal but I thought that was close enough!”…go figure.
We got out of the marina without any drama and motored clear of most of the boat traffic. Kris stayed at the helm in the cockpit, keeping Exit pointed into the wind, while I went out on deck to raise the mainsail. Everything seemed to be going according to plan.
Without warning, just as the mainsail reached the top of the mast… BAM! Something gave way and the sail came crashing back down onto the boom.
In and of itself, the mainsail coming down like that certainly was not ideal, but at least it posed little threat of equipment damage or bodily injury. Nonetheless, it caused one hell of a clatter as all sixty feet of sail plummeted down in about two seconds and landed on the boom below. After the initial startle subsided, I looked back into the cockpit at Kris and read the very words on her lips I was speaking simultaneously… “WTF just happened?!?!”
As it turns out, a sewn nylon strap attaching the top car (which runs up and down a track on the front of the mast) to the mainsail and halyard had separated. For some reason, the previous owners had (we were later told) improperly attached the sail in a way that, when that webbing separated, the mainsail halyard separated from the sail and slid up into the opening in which the halyard tracks back down the inside of the mast to the deck instead of remaining attached to the sail.
Fortunately, a shackle on the end of the halyard prevented the entire line from disappearing into the mast which would have required us to feed the halyard all the way back up inside the mast… not an easy task, I am told. Unfortunately, the nylon strap was the only thing connecting the sail to the halyard so, when it failed, the entire sail dropped sixty feet into a heap. We joked that it was the best flake (folding the sail back and forth in a zigzag pattern as it descends to keep it tidy on the boom) that we had experienced so far!
We were not gonna be able to solve this without going up the mast, so our sailing day was over before it had begun. We decided to make the best of the situation. Since we were already out and about, we figured we could practice some close quarters navigating by putting out a couple of fenders in the water about 5 meters apart that would be used to simulate a dock we could pull up against. I tied one fender to our dinghy anchor and chain; the other fender to a spare fixed propellor we had and threw them in the water.
Before starting our exercises, I went below for a quick trip to the head. But while I was walking past the galley we were hit with our second mishap of the day. Suddenly, I heard the unmistakable sound of a substantial amount of water pouring out from somewhere under the sink! I opened the cabinet door only to be met by a cascade of steam emerging. It was the result of water from a burst hose, coming in contact with the hot refrigerator compressor. It turned out to be the hot water hose leading to the sink which had come disconnected at the faucet… water heated by the engine while it is running which was about 195 degrees! I was able to turn off the water pump quickly which, at least, stopped the flow of scalding water. I told Kris what was going on and proceeded to start re-securing the hose to the faucet with the hose clamp. As I was tightening the clamp, Kris called down to me, “I don’t mean to add to everything, but it appears that one of the fenders is floating away!”
I climbed the stairs back into the cockpit to look in the direction she was pointing. Sure enough, the fender was barely visible almost 100 yards away… much farther from the other fender than it had been five minutes ago! Initially, I thought the fender had dragged a bit until it was in water too deep for the prop to rest on the bottom and was now floating in the current with the prop below it… Kris thought differently.
Of course, Kris was right. As we approached the fender, which had begun to drift into a maze of cab pot floats, I was perplexed to see, or rather NOT see, the line I had tied to the fender which I planned to snag with the boat hook. Slowly, the sickening realization set in that the line was not there… which meant the prop was not attached… Damn! Strike three! We finally recovered the fender but had lost the deck line and spare propeller!
Now… to me, the situation seemed rather straightforward. I had fucked up the knots and I had lost the prop… D-minus in knot tying! But our saving grace lie in the other fender, a tiny white dot barely visible a few hundred yards away still bobbing on the surface. It was essentially a marker indicating within a five meter radius where I figured the prop should be.
The only logical solution I saw was to grab the full scuba tank (left aboard by Exit’s previous owner), gear up, and hop in the water – either I drop straight down where I thought the prop sat or I run out five or six meters of line from the anchor and do a quick search pattern… and voila! Prop recovered…
Kris however, didn’t see this as the brilliant recovery plan I had envisioned… I believe the words dumb and dangerous were how she described it.
She then went on to point out that although we could anchor the boat, it would swing and drift in the wind. Combine this with near zero visibility in the muddy Chesapeake waters and a ridiculous amount of Labor Day Weekend boating traffic all around us – all this converged into what she foresaw as a potential disaster.
There is a commonly adhered to practice we have heard of in tech diving (possibly a superstition or possibly the wisdom of people who haven’t died) called the Three Strikes Rule. While I am sure this not a scuba-exclusive perspective, in tech diving the idea is when three things go wrong you abort the dive. Whether the concern is in a scenario of cascading problems (it is rarely a single event that leads to catastrophe, but rather small problems compounding into larger ones) or the more visceral mindset that three problems is simply really shitty luck so why push it further, the end idea is the same… get out while the gettin’s still good!
So… after a heated debate, I opted to defer to Kris’ wisdom (ultimately this generally proves the smart thing to do), pulled up the anchor line on the float still in the water, and we said farewell to our spare prop.
Ya, ya… someone suggested a few days later that we could have marked the GPS coordinates on our Furuno and come back another time to look but that didn’t occur to us at the time… live and learn… but hey… I’m still alive, and I think Kris generally is good with that.