Posted by: wrmcnutt | December 21, 2010

Adventure . . .

Adventure – n., “A series of uncomfortable actions which, if done incorrectly, can result in death or severe injury.  Often best read about indoors, seated in a comfortable armchair, with a snifter of brandy.”

This weekend was my SCA group’s Christmas celebration:  the Holly and the Ivy. This year we rented the club where I keep my boat.  There’ s a flat, grassy area with an observation deck above it, a hall that easily seats 150, a nice kitchen, eight burners, two ovens and a dishwasher, and, of course, my boat.  I mean, if the boat was right there, it wouldn’t make sense to not go sailing, right?  Of course right.

Charleston Lady

Charleston Lady

I got Charleston Lady off of her trailer and in the water the night before, in case we had an opportunity to go sailing after the tournament.  There was, of course, not a breath of air stirring.  It was like this past Summer all over again.  The lake was like glass.  But the feast had been delicious, the wine good and strong, and the companionship companionable.  And so darkness came and the Lady was still in the water.  No problem – I’ll pull her out tomorrow.

“Tomorrow” started out in the low forties and didn’t warm up.  In fact, when I got a firm prod from my Spousal Unit that “it was getting late in the day,” it was in the low forties and dropping.  Upon arriving at the Club, Step One of Plan A was to hook up the trailer and test the boat ramps and see if, maybe, it would be possible to recover the boat at the Club.  The issue here, see is that the people who founded the Concord Yacht Club foolishly believed in a thing they called, “the sailing season,” and had an idea that people would be only interested in launching and retrieving boats when water was in that “liquid” state.

Accordingly, the boat ramps at CYC only go deep enough for use during the “high water” season.  When TVA drains the lakes to cope with winter snows and rains, and, of course, the spring melt. the lake goes down below where the ramps are effective.  If I want to sail during the low water season, I have to unstep her mast and tow her three miles down to the public boat ramp, built much deeper, to accommodate the needs of duck hunters and fishermen who are on the water year ’round.

Anyway – I indulged myself in a quick check of two of the three ramps.  In both cases, I submerged 50% of my exhaust pipe in an effort to get the trailer deep enough to retrieve the boat.  No dice.  Any deeper and I risked stalling the van.  So . . . plan B.

Plan B was simple; I would set sail from the Concord Yacht club at 4:30. I would sail for an hour and a half, and rendezvous with my wife at the Concord Boat Ramp, three miles up the road.  She would give me a lift back to the Club, where I would get the towing vehicle and trailer, and to retrieve the boat.  The first half worked like clockwork.

Before Plan B begins, though, I should probably say a word about my sailing ensemble.  A Southerner to the bone, I never-the-less spent three years in Boston, and I know a little about dressing for cold weather.  The Yankees go on and on about this “layering” thing, and they really do know that they are talking about.  I started with a t-shirt, then a sweatshirt and jeans.  Warm boots that will drown me for sure if I go over the side are next, followed by a quilted coverall normally worn by mechanics.  To cut the wind I added an army windbreaker in snow camouflage colors and a black knitted watch cap.  Then I made an impulse decision that might have been one of the best decisions I made all day.  Remember how I said that I’d been to a medieval feast just the day before?  Well, I’d left a 14th century Saxon style liripipe hood in my car, and on a whim I grabbed it and added it to my cold weather clothing. It was all-wool, fit over the watch cap, and came down past my shoulders.

It was great sailing under iron gray skies and over steel gray water.  The wind was high.  High enough that I probably should have put a reef in the main before I started, but I was able to get by by partially furling the foresail.  The lake surface rolled around me and occasional whitecaps formed.  In fact, during the last half hour, there were steady whitecaps all around me. I estimate the wind was between 14 – 18 mph. I sailed very well, too. Now, normally if I misstep on the foredeck or, God forbid, flip the boat, it’s a Youtube moment, perhaps and expensive one.  But the water temperature was 47 degrees.  According to Pacific Yachting Magazine, in as soon as five minutes, I will lose dexterity in my extremities.  In as little as a half an hour I can lose consciousness.  And in as little as an hour, I could die.  From the middle of the lake it’s as much as a quarter mile to shore.  There’s nothing like the sure and certain knowledge that, should you tip the boat over or lose your footing on the foredeck, there is a good chance you will likely die before help arrives.

How cold was it? Well, I hit the dock pretty hard upon at the other, and was feeling around for damage to the hull.  I was initially alarmed to find a regular bumpy surface, but was almost immediately relieved and appalled to discover that it was ice.  Lake spray, frozen to the hull.  Brrr.  We shall estimate the air temperature as colder than pee-doodle.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My adventure began with starting my outboard motor.  Under these circumstances, if I don’t have the outboard to all back on, the voyage is over before it began.  It took a couple of extra pulls, but it actually turned over and began to idle far easier than I expected.  Then I tried to cast off.  I really should have been paying more attention at this point, and it would have saved some drama later, but I missed a detail or two.  The lines were all really stiff.  They had the consistency of pipe cleaners.  I later realized that it had rained the night before, and then the temperature dropped past pee-doodle, so of course my line were stiff. I cast off from the dock and slowly worked my way out of the slips and moorings, until I was in the middle of the lake.  There, I turned her bow in the the wind.  Now, normally I kill the motor before I yank on the main halyard, but under these conditions: high winds, single handing, potentially lethal temperatures, I decided to leave the stinkpot running.  Good thing, too.

When the boat is docked, I bind my main sheet into a hank and leave it dangling from the transom.  This allows any water that accumulates to drain off and the sheet to dry out, instead of sitting in a puddle and encouraging mildew.  For some reason, though, I have a mental block about clearing that hank.  So, as usual, I raised the mainsail, went to let out the main sheet, and discovered that this time, I do not have a tightly wound, shipshape hank to undo.  No, I’ve got an ice-covered bundle with the consistency of steel wire.  So the wind hit the main, and she immediately began to heel.  While I could steer into the wind with just the rudder, as soon as I started to try to free the main sheet, she’d fall off and begin to heel again.  And, of course, I was being blown toward the boats on the mooring balls.  But I had left the stinkpot running, so I was able to point her into the wind again and this time, with a little throttle open, keep her there while I unwound the main sheet.  That done, I was able to steer off, deploy the foresail, and shut down the engine.

But of advice:  don’t bother with coffee in a disposable cup when the air temperature is 17 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was lukewarm by the time I could get to it.

In any case, I made my rendezvous on time and after a brief wait, my lovely and talented wife was there to pick me up.  By this time the snow was falling regularly and beginning to lie comfortably on rooftops and grassy areas.  What was not clear was that it was also beginning to lie on asphalt and concrete.  She greeted me with dulcet tones, and lovingly said, “You’re insane.”  And rolled her eyes fetchingly.  What a flirt.  At least, I think she was flirting.  She made short work of running me back up to the club and waited while I confirmed that the van would start.

Off I went to pick up the boat.  I backed down the ramp just like I always do, and hit it just right on the first pass.  Then I touched my brakes before getting to close to the water, just like I always do.  Then I didn’t stop moving.  “This is new,” I thought, as my trailer and tow vehicle continued to slide toward the lake.  Just as I began to get excited, the van stopped.  A veteran of many an East Tennessee winter, I immediately shifted into low gear and accelerated back up the ramp.  Traction was poor, but I was able to immediately move the tow vehicle and trailer from the water.  But there was no way I was going to be add a 2200 pound boat to that rig and still get it back up the ramp.  Command decision time:  Charleston Lady was not getting out of the water that night.

That was the easy part.  Now for the hard part.  The sun is now below the horizon, the twilight is fading fast, and the snow is really beginning to come down.  And my pride and joy is now tied to a public dock three miles from safety, with not even a padlock for her aft hatch.

Hmmm . . . what to do?  What to do?

What will Captain Bill do?  Tune in tomorrow!  Same boat-time! Same boat-channel!

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  1. What to do, indeed! And I await with bated breath how you dealt with the snow on the ground the next day.

  2. Loving the story. I’ve got a WWP but I’ve not sailed it yet. Can’t wait until spring and can’t wait for the next instalment of your adventure.

    • Thansk, Vivien – It’s always GREAT when I hear that people like to read this stuff. Warm fuzzies are all I get paid in.

  3. […] […]

  4. So far your story has met the definition of an “Adventure”…! I can’t wait for the ending and I hope there is a brandy snifter in the epilog!

    • Actually, I had a flask of rum aboard, but I couldn’t spare the hands to go get it until I was docked.

  5. […] Weather Sailing I was out a few weeks back at the leading edge of a snowstorm in East Tennessee, and I must say, knowing that falling in, a […]

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