Sea stories – Shipwreck

(You are reminded, gentle reader, that the vessel in these tales is a small sailboat, the skipper and crew inexperienced, as is about to be embarrassingly evident.  “Sea stories” takes great license with that term but these are the only sea stories I have.)

One of the advantages of a sailboat which rests on a trailer is the absence of moorage expense.  But the most obvious is portability.  Rather than make long passages, the boat can be towed close to the intended cruising ground, eliminating the tedious, boring parts.  

And the boat can be towed to where the wind is.

It was that which was on my mind.  As a kid, I remember many summer weekends camping with the family at Lake Wenatchee State Park.  The lake is on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountain range.  Situated between ridges, rising up on three sides from the shoreline, it is a beautifully natural lake, thirty-two miles in length.  

I remembered the power boats on the lake, some filled with fishing gear, some towing water skiers, some heading up the lake so far they disappeared.  The kid version of me stood on the beach wondering what lay at the northeast end, further than I could see

Mostly, I remembered the wind.  During the summer, the wind would come up around mid-morning.  The fishermen would return before then, the water skiers would be out just after first light to avoid the wind waves of afternoon.  After it came up, the wind would blow reliably all the rest of the day.  Unsecured paper plates, napkins, articles of clothing and small pets became flying objects.

Taking the sailboat to Lake Wenatchee seemed like a good idea.

When we stopped the truck at the launch ramp, it was already blowing, the lake filled with wind waves.  I stepping the mast, secured the fore and side stays, bent on the sails, attached the rudder.

Once off the trailer, I beached the boat (another feature of a swing keel trailer boat) while I parked the truck and trailer.  We shoved off into the narrow channel.  I pulled the rope on the outboard and motored out into the lake, holding the bow directly into the wind.  I wanted to be well offshore before hoisting sail.

Just ten, the outboard sputtered and died.  I quickly pulled on the rope; nothing.  Unscrewed the cap on the gas tank; also nothing.  I had forgotten to fill it from the auxiliary can before shoving off.  

In the time it takes to read that, the wind had taken control of the boat, pushing the bow aside, blowing abeam.  I reached for the gas can, but there was no time.  I could see the shore approaching, and I could see the rocks underwater, big ones.  I scrambled forward, grabbed the bow line and let myself over the rail into the water.  Standing shoulder-deep in the lake, waves breaking over my head, my next thought was “what now?”  Well, secure the bow line to something, right?  The only somethings available were the underwater rocks.  I tried to get the line around one of the bigger ones, but with the bow of the boat bobbing up and down, the too short slippery nylon line came off the rock immediately.  I tried two or three more times, with no better result.

The only remaining solution was to somehow fill the gas tank, start the outboard and power away from the shore.  But in the time it would take me to scramble aboard, the wind would have had us on the rocks.

Making my way back to the transom,  I held the boat off from the stern.  Still the wind tried to turn the bow away from the wind.  Every few moments I had to push the boat back into the wind by hand, before it pushed us broadside.  Between these moments, I tried to think my way out of my predicament.  

There was no other choice; Jeni would have to refuel the outboard, restart it and motor us away from the rocks.  It had never occurred to me that she would ever have to do any of this, so I told her to listen carefully as I gave her each instruction.  She’s mechanically inclined and a quick study.  Although it seemed longer to me, she had the motor refueled from the can and running in an instant, gear lever in neutral.  

Still overboard, I told Jeni to pull the gear lever forward.  “But what about you?”  I’m coming too, just do it. The motor running at idle, she shifted it into gear.  I felt the motor take the strain of the wind. Open the throttle, I said.  She did and the boat moved forward.  Hanging onto the transom, I felt my feet come off the rocky bottom.  More throttle, I said.  She said “Where am I going?”  Just aim at the middle of the lake, I said.  The sound of the motor in my left ear at waterline was deafening, but we were moving smartly away from the danger, me still hanging onto the transom, dragging on the surface behind the boat.  

I looked back to a receding shoreline.  A bit further, I asked.  When we were finally at a comfortable distance, I asked her to throttle back and put the lever in neutral.  Inelegantly, I hoisted myself aboard, while the wind pushed us back about thirty yards in the direction from which we’d just come.  Relieved to be aboard, the boat and me both intact, I pulled the lever into gear, pushed the helm over and made for the launch ramp.  

With the boat safely beached again, protected from the afternoon wind, we sat on the sand before it.  Whatever enthusiasm I had for sailing Lake Wenatchee, not to mention strength, was gone.  I was spent.  After a rest and a bite of food, I brought the truck round, winched the boat up onto the trailer, took down the mast and made ready for road travel.  Relieved, I got behind the wheel and set course for home.

 

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