Saturday 13 June 2015
My wife, Theresa, who has no interest in boating and doesn’t care for the ocean, decided that Joe and I had too much fun last weekend and she was going to join us on this trip. Now of course I want my wife to enjoy the experience. It’s all I’ve talked about for the last few years. I’d spent years reading, months prepping, and a whole day (insert sarcasm) of actual sailing. I dutifully informed her that I’m still learning and very inexperienced. Again, the experiences of Joe and I from the previous weekend were brought up and she wanted to go anyway.
I did my best to explain the concept of heeling, that the initial 20 degrees were quite tender, and that the boat would handle more than any of us ever could. She had permission to scream or squeal at anything beyond that and I would do my best to reduce the heeling. I was bound and determined to show my wonderful wife of 29 years that sailing was fun, exhilarating, adventurous, and something to look forward to. I wanted her to have the best experience I could give her so that she would want to join me again. “Besides,” I joked, “Barnegat Bay is so shallow that if you fall out, all you have to do is stand up!”
Barnegat Bay is shallow. In some places it’s really shallow. I’m just pointing this out now because I know it’s shallow, I’m letting you know it’s shallow, and it’s about to play a part in today’s story. Keep in mind last week I headed out about 3 hours before high tide to about 2 hours after. Never had an issue and definitely sailed all over the place outside of any channels.
We left around 10:30am with an expected low tide at 3:48pm. So we motored out through the canal as usual, turned the corner to get out of the way of the inlet, and raised the sails. Started sailing and watch her eyes get saucer sized when the first gust pushed us to the 20 degree mark. It was exhilarating…. for five minutes.
The wind was puffing, the sails were full, but we just didn’t seem to be moving in relation to the land. I tacked the boat to the other side and still nothing. I figure we must be caught up on a crab trap or something at this point. So I lower the sails and motor and fired her up. I must have spent 10 minutes trying to just ease the boat out, I turned in the opposite direction, nothing, I turned around doing a complete 360, still nothing. I zigged, nothing, I zagged, nothing.
I looked at my wife’s face that I swore had this “so this is sailing, huh?” look on it. I’m new at all this, Joe has 1 day’s experience, while I have 1 day and a bunch of research so only knew marginally more. It was around this point that I realized I have a dagger board. Totally retractable. Duh!
I tried pulling up the board. Won’t budge. I had Joe try to muscle it up with me. No go. Things are definitely getting worse. I can only think that there’s some kind of chain, crab pot, cable, or something that must have cut into my dagger board and prevented me from raising it. Probably wrapped around the whole thing. Damn, somebody is going to have to go overboard. I have no volunteers. If I’m the captain, and go down with my ship, shouldn’t someone else have to be the first to go overboard? Still no volunteers. This is not looking good for the “impress the wife” meter.
I start climbing down the stern ladder expecting icy cold water and my boys shriveling down to the size of walnuts. While the ocean was only reported to be 64 degrees, the bay seemed a little warmer. I won’t say it was warm and cozy, but I didn’t turn blue, the boys stayed put, and I found my way to the bottom.
“Uh Oh, I think I found the problem”, I stated. Theresa and Joe both looked at me quizzically and I released the ladder, while the water level was about mid chest high. I’m 6’1”, with the dagger board down the boat draws 5’9” empty so I always call it 6’ to be safe and chest high water puts the level at around 4 ½ feet. “This is bad” I thought. I work myself completely around the boat and don’t bump into anything. No chain, no cables, nothing. I’m standing around in that real nasty mud that just keeps sucking you down. Makes it impossible to stand in one spot for very long or you’ll feel like you have been encased in cement.
I don’t have any snorkeling equipment. No goggles, nothing. I’m very much still learning what gear I need and don’t need for the boat. Plus money is always a factor. I don’t mind going in debt buying the boat, but I want all maintenance items and toys for it to remain strictly on a cash basis. No more incurred debt. Which in my twisted mind makes perfect sense.
There is nothing like diving under your boat in murky water (you can only see about 12 inches in New Jersey water) with your eyes screwed shut while imagining any number of horrors lurking beneath the waves. Then there’s the occasional power boat going by making a wake, which rocks the boat, which bobs up and down, while I’m under it. Oh joy! So I feel all along my dagger board. There’s a huge chunk missing out the back, the bottom of it is buried in mud so thick that I can’t budge it, and I grab a splintered off piece of fiberglass and bring it up. It’s about 14 inches long and 8 inches wide. This is screwed.
I dive back under, working on feeding the board back up the slot while Joe hauls up on the line trying to get the board retracted. I get the bright idea that it’s pretty breezy, maybe they should throw the anchor out just in case. Joe throws the anchor over along with some chain and ties it off. I go back under make sure none of the splinters are caught up underneath, preventing us from raising the board, and start rocking and pounding on it to break it free of the muck. I feel it rattle loose, Joe pulls it up, and I come back up to breath a little. Just in time to watch the boat start blowing away.
“Too little rode, you read about this” I thought as I started swimming back to the boat. I used to be a fantastic swimmer. Fast as hell. That was about 20 years and 50 pounds ago. I caught up to the boat quickly enough but I was tiring from the pace way too quickly for my comfort. “Get the boat hook!” I hollered, trying to keep up with the boat which must have been barely slowed down by the anchor.
Joe is still holding onto the line that is holding my dagger board up. My wife grabs the boat hook and extends it down to me. Unfortunately my fat ass is way too much for her to haul back towards the boat and I see her tiring quickly just holding on. The anchor grabs some purchase just enough for me to grab another handful of pole, finally putting me in range of grabbing a piece of boat hardware. I work myself back around to the ladder and pull myself back into the boat. “So? How do you like sailing so far?” I say with a smirk.
I’m pretty bummed out at this point and think about heading home. In a flash of inspiration I recall that sailboats can be sailed downwind without a dagger board. We tidy up the main and put it away, unfurl just the jib and start sailing.
Over the course of the next few hours I relax, enjoy the hot sun, and sip an occasional cold one. I let my wife take the helm and immediately see her enjoy herself. I figured if I could get her in the driver’s seat that she would enjoy it more than just being a passenger. Other times she simply laid back on the seat and soaked up some sun. Hard to tell which she liked best. This part of the day was exactly what I had planned to begin with. Nice weather, cool breeze at about 8-10 knots, and the bliss of gliding over the water with nothing but the wind and the water rushing by.
Around 3:30 we decide to head back so my wife can prepare dinner. I fire up the motor and we head back. I play around a bit and open it up wide-open throttle (WOT) a few times, splashing her and myself in the process. We’re all enjoying ourselves and it looks like the day may not be a complete dud.
My friend Keith, who’s dock I’m using all summer, warned me to stay to the right side when entering the mouth of the canals. He just didn’t mention how far right I should have gone. As I’m beginning to enter, I’m about 2/3rds of the way over. I look behind me and all I see is me churning up mud. The boat then comes to a stop. I put her in neutral, look over the side, and see that we are in about 12 inches of water. The boat needs 18. “Isn’t boating fun honey?”
It doesn’t take long and another boat comes in hugging the piers and boats along the North shore. Okay, so the extreme right during low tide. Got it now. His wake rocks me and I manage to get the boat unstuck. I start motoring up the canal, hugging the extreme right side now, when the motor sputters.
“Hell”, I thought, “I just checked to make sure the motor was peeing okay!”. A quick glance behind me and the motor is indeed streaming out water the way it should be. Another sputter and the engine dies completely. Damn it! How in the hell am I supposed to show my wife how wonderful sailing is when I have all this shit going wrong!
I tell Joe to keep us off of all the very expensive boats while I figure out the problem. Thankfully the light breeze is gently pushing us away from the very expensive boats. On impulse I toe my starboard gas tank. Empty! I pull the quick disconnect, connect up to my port tank, and fire the engine. It sputters to life, and I remember to prime the bulb a bit. Two quick squeezes and the engine is purring smoothly. I get us back on track and the rest of the time is uneventful while we putter through the canals and crack open a celebratory cold one.
In spite of all the difficulties, my wife informs me she had a good time and would go out again. All right, so I didn’t show her the best day ever, but we managed to pass through a few hiccups, kept our cool, and still managed to have a good day on the water. My confidence level has ratcheted up several times due to managing these various issues.
Lesson Learned; Shit happens. Deal with it and move on. You’ll be Okay.
Motored 12nm, sailed 6 nm for a total of 18 nm today.
Total distance this year is 48 nm.