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Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

Day 4 - A bump in the night

August 19, 2008

Today was to be a day that would generate several stories that will no doubt live on for many years to come.

We got up early as we were all anxious to get underway.  After a quick trip to the liquor store to stock up, we were off at 10am - headed for the Straight of Georgia.  We got underway under light winds and seas.  We headed north out of Nanaimo.  We had to avoid area WG ("Whiskey Golf") which is an active torpedo testing area.  Warships patrol the area.  So they are serious about not letting anyone into the area.

Melissa headed below to cook breakfast.  In the light seas she decided to fry up some bacon and then make some egg scramble.  The last time she fried bacon the seas got heavy.  Hmmm... maybe Melissa should avoid making bacon again.  Once the bacon started frying the seas got to be about 3 feet.  Not excessive for the boat by any means, but challenging to be cooking in that kind of swaying around.  Ever the trooper, Melissa refused to give up and soon there was bacon, fresh melon, and egg scramble with onion, mushrooms, tomato, and cilantro topped with cheddar cheese and sour cream.  Yum.

After an hour and a half it was time to turn east across the straights.  Gale force wind warnings were in affect for later in the day, but the wind was to be about 25 knots during the afternoon so we figured we would be ok.  In the middle of the straights in the most open water, the seas got to be about 4 to 5 foot and the winds were 25 knots gusting to 30.  We were flying along at 8 knots (about as fast as the boat will go) with only one sail up and we had a rail in the water.  Dave was having a blast.  Some of the best sailing he has done.  We got a few waves over the side and Dave and Melissa got pretty well soaked.  Eventually Dave got out his rain gear and put it on, but then (of course) there was no more water over the side.

We had secured the cabin before leaving Nanamo, but we did have one "casualty" on the trip.  Melissa walked into the bathroom to find a weird blue ring had been put on one of the toilet handles.  "Weird", she thought, "I wonder why Dave secured the toilet handle like that.  Hmmm.."  She then opened the toilet to find her jar of cream of face cream in there - missing its blue lid.  A one in a million shot, the jar had fallen off the shelf and impaled itself on the handle.  Then the jar bounced into the toilet leaving the lid behind.

When we got across the straights it dawned on everyone that we should have had a discussion about what to do if Dave had fallen overboard.  It was decided that Cindy would be the spotter (person to keep their eye on Dave so we could turn around and find him again).  John would toss everything we could (cushions, life vests, etc) overboard.  The more stuff in the water - the more likely you can find someone again.  John was to then dump the sails loose, so that Melissa could turn the boat around.  Good to have a plan.

For dinner we went to the restaurant at the marina. The food was great.  John had a bowl of chowder that came with clams and a crab leg on top.  He said it tasted as good as it looked.  After dinner we put on our pajamas and made hot chocolate with Kahlua.  We were sipping our drinks all warm and cozy when we heard a loud thump.  "What was that?" Dave explained.  Dave went running out on deck - "look - it's a boat!"

Another boat in the bay had broken loose and had rammed into our side.  John and Dave quickly got out the fenders and put them between the boats.  We thought about just tying up the boat to ours, but were afraid the extra weight might be too much for our anchor in the heavy winds.  So Dave jumped aboard and was going to try and reset the boat's anchor.  (Melissa and Dave both wondered what the liability of him taking command of the ship was - but then - there was little other choice.)  John then got in the skiff to follow Dave and help.  At this point the wind was 15 knots gusting to 25.  Dave couldn't see well enough to get the boat's engine started, so he focused on trying to get the anchor reset.  At this point, the rouge boat was sailing dangerously close to the marina.  Dave kept letting out more and more anchor line trying to get the anchor to dig in.  The boat was closing in on a 90 ft mega yacht docked at the marina.  If he hit, it would be stern first - likely punching a hole in the yacht from where the engine of the rouge boat would hit.  Dave considered putting our dingy (inflatable) with John aboard between the mega yacht and the adrift sailboat - but Dave was not willing to risk life or limb.  Dave was hollering for help whole time, then switched to yelling "Hey you in the mega yacht!!!"  But apparently no one was aboard. 

Meanwhile, Melissa had called the marina on her cell phone. The guy that answered asked the name of the boat and Melissa said she didn't know.  He said he couldn't do anything about finding the owner without the name of the boat.  Melissa said it was a light blue sailboat about 26' in length but that we couldn't see any markings.  Melissa tried to holler across to Dave to see if he could find the name of the boat, but by then he had sailed too far down the bay for him to be able to hear her.  Melissa told the guy again we didn't know the name of the boat.  He said there was nothing he could do.  So Melissa told the guy they needed to get down to the dock ASAP because the boat was about to ram into their docks.  The guy asked which dock - Melissa told him she thought the boat would hit closest to B dock and hung up.

Back on the rogue boat, Dave reeled out more line and, finally, two feet from bashing into the mega yacht the anchor finally caught.  John observed a big grin on Dave's face.  Whew that was close!  Dave then started reeling in anchor line to pull him back away from the yacht a bit.  By then, John had gotten to the marina - who meanwhile had found the owner of the boat.  John picked him up and deposited him back aboard the rouge boat.  We learned later the guy has been at the marina for about a month working in the pub.  (Translation - he probably doesn't have insurance.)

The owner started up the motor and began moving forward as Dave pulled up a couple of hundred feet of line and the anchor by hand.  (The next day he was sore!)  As the anchor came up, Dave realized the "captain" did not have directional stability due to the high winds.  The boat was being blown all over the place.  Dave turned around to realize the captain had an outboard that was controlled by bending over the transom and controlling it like a dingy. This meant the "captain" couldn't both see and steer at the same time!  So Dave started yelling at him - "Do you see the sailboat to starboard?"  "Yes" he replied - yet clearly hadn't even raised his head to look.  Dave then started hollering directions like "Full throttle and hard to port!"  Dave directed the "captain" to the safety of the nearest dock in this way.  Jeffrey (captain another boat in the marina) came to assist in his dingy.  He told Dave where he could put the rouge boat.  Jeffrey also assisted by playing "tug boat" with his dingy and helped maneuver it ashore.  They found a dock - mostly by brail and managed to get it tied up.  By then, half the marina boat owners were awake and had turned on their spot lights and were firing up their dingys to come help.

Meanwhile, back on board Altitude - Melissa had begun to believe that we were dragging anchor.  (It was later determined that the rouge boat had gotten their anchor line twisted with ours and pulled up our anchor.)  Melissa fired up the engine just to be safe and turn on all lights.  She really really did not want to move the boat because maneuvering with the anchor still dug in is tricky and can cause damage to the boat.  However, as time went on, it became clear that we too were now making our way down the bay toward the marina.  Once the rouge boat was secured, Melissa yelled across to let Dave know that "We are dragging, but slowly.  I have turned on the engines and can maneuver if I have to, but really don't want to."  John was headed over in the dingy to give Dave a ride back to Altitude but Jeffrey offered up a ride and was closer.  John was also having difficulty getting back to the boat because the wind kept blowing him off course. Jeffrey and Dave zipped over to the boat and Dave jumped aboard.  Dave went immediately to the helm.  Melissa, dressed in her PJs and now soaked to the bone, went forward to try and raise anchor.  She got the hatch open, but you have to tie it up to keep the compartment open.  "Dang - why did I not pay attention when Dave tried to teach me to tie a clove hitch knot!"  She got the hatch secured, found the controls, but when the "up" button is pressed, the anchor wench turns but isn't pulling up any chain.  After much back and forth between Dave and Melissa trying to figure out why the wench wasn't working, Jeffrey who has been listening to the exchange requested permission to "come aboard".  Dave immediately accepts his offer of assistance and informs him that he is with an "inexperienced crew".  By then, Dave had proven himself a worthy captain (having just saved the rouge boat) but was now hampered by a crew that was helpful but completely inexperienced.  Jeffrey came aboard and quickly determined that the reason the anchor couldn't be raised was because the clutch was not tight enough.  He tightened and he and Melissa successfully raised the anchor.   But the anchor came aboard upside down.  Jeffrey then took helm while Dave came forward and secured the anchor properly. If not secured, we could easily have damaged another boat coming into the dock.

Once the anchor was raised, we knew we had to head for the dock because in 30 knot winds in the dark there was little chance we could reset the anchor properly.  Our only hope was to head for the dock.  At this point it is pitch black but for the deck lights - so seeing hazards in the water is near to impossible.  So while Dave drove in circles the rest of the crew rigged the boat for docking.  (John could see us from shore - he saw a green light then red, then green.  So he knew we were circling.)  One of the lines had gone with the rogue boat, so Melissa had to dig in the hold for additional lines.  Jeffrey rigged the stern line and a spring line mid ship.  Melissa took the fenders off the starboard side and passed them to Cindy who handed them off to Jeffrey to rig on the port side.  Once all were rigged, Jeffrey reviewed the docking procedure with Melissa.  She was to leap from the boat to dock side with the spring line and stop the forward motion of the boat when we pulled up to the dock.  Cindy ran to get Melissa her shoes as she was still barefoot.  Meanwhile Jeffrey was planning to play tug boat with his 1957 outboard on his dingy and help push us into the dock because the 25 knot wind would be pushing us off.  Jeffrey then cast off in his dingy and wished us luck.

We then questioned which dock we were headed for.  Jeffrey zipped over and realized that the folks in the marina had compressed all the boats on the dock to make room for us in a straight in configuration.  They were all on the dock waiving flashlights to let us know where to land.  Jeffrey zipped back and confirmed that a new spot for us had been cleared on the dock.  Dave headed in.  The trick was that in high winds the boat only responds to the rudder at relatively high speeds.  So the only way into the dock was to do it at relatively high speed to keep us from blowing off the dock in the wind.  Dave put it square in the right spot and then hit reverse full.  Melissa threw all the lines to the 6 or 7 people gathered on the dock - who were a bit rattled by the speed at which we had come in.  Just as we arrived at the dock a big gust hit and all the power went out in the whole area making it even darker.  None the less, we got the boat tied down, and were all very grateful to those that had pitched in to help.

Once secured we opened another bottle of wine and started drinking.  Dave exclaimed to Melissa, "You did GREAT sweetie.  Your communication to me was great - you told me what was happening was urgent, but I knew you were ok but needed me.  You told me you would handle it - you had the engine on, but were willing to maneuver."  As we sat below now tied securely to the dock, we watched the wind speeds reach a peak of 42 knots.   At that point, we were all so wired with adrenalin, we didn't get to sleep till 2am at which point we had polished off 3 bottles of wine.  We slept till after noon!

Go Back

Melissa and Dave,

Reading your tale took me back to my 26 years sailing in WA, B.C., southeast AK and the Pacific coast from San Diego to Glacier Bay. I could have written the same story many times; been there, done that more times than I can count.

Sailed in that same area, had the same winds come up and the same sailing/anchoring experiences. Of all the crazy events that happened during my 26 years on the water, the most consistently wild ones were the winds coming up during the night, my anchor set properly BUT another boat(s) dragging anchor and coming down on me with either the crew ashore or aboard sleeping. I fended off many boats, had them drag and foul my anchor rode so we both were dragging to a lee shore and on and on it went. I was not as caring as you regarding the other boat so I commend your efforts to save it.

Your vivid description was such that I was right there with you as if it were yesterday. Hopefully, I'll see you this summer so I can offer some of the many things I learned through the years to prevent events like this, and many others, from happening in the future.

I do SO MISS those waters and the wonderful times we had. Tiffany and Tracee have the same memories; it was the best part of our lives together.

My favorite description of sailing is, "I've never been involved in anything else, including flying, where one minute all is smooth and peaceful and next minute I'm wondering if we'll survive!" Should have written a book(s). :-)

Hope to see you soon!

All my best.

Gary



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