Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tied in Knots

Jaime Retrieving a Stern Tie
Jaime Retrieving a Stern Tie
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
“I’ll anchor. You take the stern tie line in the dinghy and loop it around that tree,” Dr C orders as we come into the tiny inlet near Hardy Island. He continued, “The girls can help with the anchoring.”

I don my life jacket, wrestle the dinghy off the davits and into the water, and transfer the million pounds of yellow stern tie strap into the wobbly boat. “Dinghy away!” I shout up to the helm as I push off and start frantically rowing towards shore.

The first phase of this project does not go well. Wind and tide grab the dinghy and send it winging at an angle completely orthogonal to the direction in which I want to go. I’ve never quite grasped rowing to begin with -- the notion of doing everything with my back to the direction in which I want to travel striking me as completely counter intuitive -- but even I can tell that the far shore is getting closer instead for farther away indicating negative progress towards my objective. I mentally gird my loins, dig in my heels, invent new cliches, and start vigorously rowing back towards the tree. I finally get into a rhythm and, with a brief lull in the breeze, make it to shore.

Getting up on shore to tie the line presents yet another challenge. The tide is out, the sheer wall of the inlet covered in barnacles, seaweed, and indescribably stinky goo. There is no place to tie the dinghy painter so I take it with me as I scrabble up the face of a large granite rock to the designated tree. Chafe protection in place, stern tie looped around the tree, I make a less than graceful descent back down to the dinghy only to find my home boat is gone. Don Quixote is miles away down the inlet anchoring in what appears to be the next county.

“Dean! DEAN!!!” My voice echoes off the canyon walls, unfortunately sounding like a panicked fish wife on market day when the ice man doesn’t show up. I clear my throat, take a deep breath, quell my fear, and try again, “Dr C!!” That was better. He leaves Mera and Jaime on the bow with the anchor to come back and see what I need.

Using hand gestures, I somehow make it clear that there is no way on earth I’m going to make it back to the boat with the stern line. For one thing, the stern line is only 300 feet long. At this point, Don Quixote is probably a half mile away. He points to another tree, closer to the boat but about 30 feet up the sheer wall of the inlet. A gecko lizard crossed with a star fish might make it up that cliff with a 100 feet of high quality line and a bosun’s chair. It was out of my skill set. Vigorously shaking my head and nearly knocking myself off the ledge, I communicate how little I think of this new plan.

Much heavy sighing takes place on Don Quixote. Much yelling at the girls to raise the anchor, much backing and forthing to get the boat positioned to haul up 200 feet of rode. The canyon reverberates to the rattling of the chain. I squat uncomfortably on a ledge near the tie. God only knows where he’ll have me go next. There’s no point getting settled.

Finally, DQ has her anchor firmly set in 60 feet of water not 100 feet perpendicular to my precarious perch. I get back in the dinghy and start to row back to the boat. This simple act proves impossible. I’m rowing against the wind, against the tide, trying to pay out 300 feet of soaking wet line from a tangled heap at my feet. The line keeps ensnaring the oars, and as it drops out of the boat, it takes on the weight and consistency of lead window glazing. One oar pops out of its mount, then the other. The wind grabs me, spins the boat around, and tangles the stern line in the end of the painter.

It is at this point, I completely lose it. I grab one recalcitrant oar and shout a four letter word which starts with F and inevitably makes a grown adult look like an utter idiot. To complete the picture, I bang the oar on the side of the dinghy a couple of times to emphasize my repeated and utterly heartfelt use of my chosen profanity. Just for good measure, I also stomp my feet. I might have stomped them twice. I don’t know. Dr C later tells me he had rarely more desired a video camera than at that moment. This comment does not earn him any nooky credit.

Temper released, I take a few deep breaths and start hauling and coiling the two ends of the stern line. With both ends properly stowed, I pause to catch my breath, orient the dinghy, and then row like a bat out of hell towards Don Quixote, the line gradually trailing out behind me. The effort required is asymptotic to my proximity to our catamaran. Each foot closer to our transom increases the rebounding drag of the stern line towards shore. In the last few feet, the girls and Dr C start chanting, “You can do it! You can do it! YOU CAN DO IT!” Frantic, I toss the painter at the boat, desperate to be hauled in the last few inches. With a lurch and a grab, they get the painter, only to see one end of the stern line unravel and go winging off the dinghy and whipping towards shore.

“Quick!” Dean shouts, “Go get it! Grab the end before it comes undone.” Jaime leaps into the dinghy, grabs one oar, and helps me send the dinghy shooting after the rapidly receding tail of line. We speed towards the tail, grab it up, and then with Jaime pulling us back to Don Quixote hand over hand, I hang on to the errant end with every fiber of my being. On our arrival, Dr C moves quickly to tie off both ends and gradually reduce the slack. When all is said and done, with the anchor snugged up on the bridle and the stern tie tightened from aft to tree, our transom is about 20 feet from the canyon wall. Wet and exhausted, Jaime and I collapse on the deck to admire our work, while the captain stands on the bow to evaluate the condition of our anchor and the lie of the boat.

Ten minutes go by. The wind, hard on our beam, yanks Don Quixote down into the inlet, eagerly tugging at the stern line and anchor. Dr C doesn’t come inside. This is never a good Anchoring Sign. Like an omen of impending doom, Dr C puts his life jacket back on. “This isn’t going to work.”

“No?” I ask. Jaime looks resigned.

Mera pipes up, “I didn’t feel comfortable with this wall near the back anyway.”

“No,” Dr C says, “We’re beam on and pulling the anchor out of position. We’ll drag.”

Silent Anchorage
Silent Anchorage
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
We couldn’t have thought of this before I put in a half hour of some of the most intense physical exercise of my life? Of course not. Today’s Cruising Lesson: Never use a stern tie to position the boat beam on to the wind. “Okay.” I release one end of the line and start hauling in the stern tie hand over hand. Fifteen minutes later we’re firmly anchored in the middle of the bay in 65 feet with a million feet of chain out and enough room to swing more than just our cat around.

From a limp heap in the cockpit, I inform the captain, “Next time, I’ll drive.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sorry it was so hard to get stern tie done only to have to undo it. But I was laughing out loud reading this.
You should submit this one to some of the magazines :)