Monday, May 13, 2013

Broken boat

 A Skiff Wind yesterday had a rather Stiff Wind.  I took the skiff out on the river with the idea of an afternoon sail.  The wind was really up to a level that was too much for this little boat, somewhere above 15-20 knots.  It really seemed that as I rowed away from the dock it picked up.  What was questionable, became certain, too much.  The sail was brailed up and I had no intent of letting it loose, but as I said, it seemed to pick up as I rowed away from the dock.
Were all those "white horses" out there when I put in?  I didn't notice them before.  The boat started sailing just with the sail brailed up.  I had to work very hard to keep control of the boats direction.  Actually, at a point I couldn't really control it much other than keeping it within 25 degrees of dead downwind.
I decided that getting the pfd on was a good idea because I was going to try and drop the mast so I could try and row back to the dock.  I got the pfd on, but as I lifted the mast up out of the socket in the partner, a gust grabbed it and it worked like a crow bar.  The sound of splintering wood, on a boat that I built, would have been heartbreaking, had I not been more concerned with capsizing and loosing the whole boat.
Broken mast step.  The 10 foot long spars worked like a lever and
split the wood right along the grain.  The fiberglass kept it from completely splitting.
I probably should have glassed the bottom as well as the top of the piece.  I probably shouldn't have had the mast in it with the wind
so strong.

A nice sand beach to take refuge on.  In the background is the broken
seawall of the petroleum docks, a remnant of Hurricane Sandy.

Well the lowering the mast seemed to convinced the God of the Sea and Wind that a little more wind might be just what is needed.   I started scouting for a place to beach or seek shelter.  I missed the first yacht club entrance, and the next place was a marina that still looked ravaged from the Sandy Storm.  I chose not to go in there as I couldn't see what might be sticking up just under the surface.  I had noticed a few broken pilings elsewhere.
 I eventually found a sand beach.  It was actually in the lee of a big gas dock and tanks so it was a good choice.  Rowing hard,  at about a boat length away I shipped my oars and moved aft so that the bow raised up and we slid up the beach.  I was able to walk forward and step off the bow onto dryish sand.

I stripped the sail off  the spars and stowed it in the aft compartment to cut down on windage.  I was hoping that as the sun went down, so would the wind, which is often the case, but it would be a few hours till that seemed possible.  So I lay in the bottom of the boat with my head on a floatation cushion and my pfd and pulled the hood up on my anorak, stared out at the waves and waited, and dreamed, and waited.

I dreamed about being in this boat, on a day like this,  somewhere up this river, on a cruise to the headwaters and back.  I tried to imagine what it would be like waiting out a day of too much wind.  Lying there in the wide flat bottom of the boat was very comfortable, a boom tent would make it cozy.  The view and the sound of the waves were entrancing.  Yes, I think I could imagine the trip, and that's the first step of a voyage of any kind.  But first, I will have to repair the boat.

I think that I will go back to the "open mouthed" partner that I had originally.  The reason I made it that way was to avoid things like this happening.  I can't really remember why I changed it now.  With the open socket I could have just lain the mast over, rather than having to lift it up and out.

I waited for about an hour but the wind did not come down.  I decided to give it a try anyway, thinking that with the sail stowed and concentrated effort I might be able to row to windward for the mile I needed to get back to the dock.  launching was easy enough, being in the lee of the petrol plant, but when I got out around the point it was like opening the door to a storm.  The bow instantly got pushed off the tops of the waves and to leeward and fearing that I might break the oars or the sockets I came about and headed back to my beach.  Landed again, just as nicely and pulled the boat up a few feet.

Eventually and after some exploring I realized that there was a path to the road thru the back of an abandoned building, thru a missing fence and over a bit of debris, thanks to Sandy.  So I decided to walk back to the truck and drive back to extract the boat and limp on home to nurse my wounds.  On the road, sheltered by the trees the wind didn't seem so bad, but as I got back to the town launch I could see that it was still going strong out on the river.

Extracting the boat wasn't to difficult, though I almost tripped and fell over into a very healthy patch of poison ivy because the thin bicycle tires of the dolly dug into sand and made the boat seem twice as heavy.

As I drove back up the road and past the town launch, I slowed down to look back out over the water.  Where had all the "white caps" gone????!!!!  The surface of the water was still riffled by wind but the white horses had all ridden away.  I am sure that I could have made it to windward in that level of wind, a level down from what I had tried to make it thru earlier, but of course, now the boat was in the back of the truck.

Being more concerned with safety kept me from being sick about breaking my boat.   In the past, on other boats, it has always been the same.  Things break and can be fixed, safety and survival is what matters.  In the book, "Wind, Sand and Stars" by Antoine Saint-Exupery, he tells of how the early aviators who flew with now electronics and in open cockpits, had to keep one track of their mind on possible emergency landing places just in case their single engine plane had problems.  One always noted, even if subliminally, a field, or strip of road that might be used to land, and one was especially aware of the lack of emergency options, like when flying over a mountain pass.  Small boat sailing seems to be similar to this in someways, or at least it did to me yesterday.  It was easy to imagine "crash landing" on my sandy beach and being stuck there for a day and a night, maybe coming up with my own "The Little Prince" story while I waited.  It was also easy to imagine a rocky shore that would have prevented landing and kept us going farther and farther down wind and tide.

'Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.  Simply messing, ' he went on dreamily: 'messing--about--in--boats; messing----'  Kenneth Graham, "The Wind in the Willows"

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