Posted by: wrmcnutt | December 22, 2010

Adventure . . . Pt II!

My decision seemed perfectly reasonable to me.  I pulled the towing vehicle up the little hill, secured it in a hurry, fired up the stinkpot, and motored westward, into the wind and the gathering darkness.  I had two point one miles to go, and a quarter tank of gas to do it with, so fuel wouldn’t be a problem.  After fourteen months on the lake, I know this segment pretty well, even in the low water season.  Fortunately, the shore of the lake is well marked  by lights at night.  To the south we have assorted lake houses with their wide-screen TV’s, and to the north is Northshore Drive, not, alas, illuminated, but most nights there is enough traffic to give you and idea of where the shore is, at least in the most general of terms.  And I’ve got the depth finder.  Well, I had the depth finder.  Fifteen minutes after I left the dock, this display froze.  About that time I also discovered that my stern light was out.  I was pretty sure it was just a little corrosion on the contacts.  But the toolbox was below decks, I was making three knots into the black, and I didn’t dare let go of the tiller.  And I sure don’t want to be drifting in the commercial channel.  The anchor light was going to have to do!

As I passed the point between the two bridges, I began to have a little trouble with my vision.  The “snow” felt more like little ice pellets as it pelted my eyes, and I was having a hard time seeing the water in front of me.  It was beginning to accumulate inside the edge of my Saxon-style hood.  I couldn’t see much past thirty yards.  This was a matter of some concern to me.  The ATONs out there are made of steel, weigh several hundred pounds, and are anchored to the lake bed.  My boat is made out of plastic and was moving at about five miles an hour in the dark.  A crunching sound followed by very cold piddies was not how I wanted to end my evening.  The mag-light didn’t help. Normally I can swing my six-cell mag-light across the surface of the lake at night and the reflective strips on the ATONS will flash back at me.  In the snow, all I saw in the light was, well, snow.

I motored on, and managed to miss the ATONs in spite of myself.  Never saw a one, all night.  I did see, though, a dark patch of water.  We’ve all seen them – the wind shifts, puffs, or otherwise changes, and leaves catspaws on the water.  It reflects the light differently, and shows as a dark patch on the water.  This one seemed awful small . . .  and . . . static, given the level of the wind.

So – ever wake up a flock of seagulls who have bedded down for the night, close together to keep warm?  It’s a noisy experience, and one that the seagulls, at least, don’t appreciate.  Oh, and no matter how upset they are; no matter how sleepy or cold, they will take off into the wind.. If that wind is toward you, well, I won’t be explicit about what happens to your decks, but it rhymes with “nerd scoop.”

By the time that I was through re-enacting the 1963 remake of “The Birds,” I had passed the second bridge and was able to make out the green daymarker just off the swimming beach of the club.  I was almost home free.  All that was left was to thread my way through the moored vessels and to the floating dock without digging the keel into the lake bottom of hitting any of the parked boats. For all you guys tied up to the mooring balls: you might want to think about some solar-powered anchor lights.  I’m just sayin . . .

I managed to tie up to the dock, fenders out, on the first approach, and failed to run aground.  Once the boat was secured, I reached for my cell phone . . .

Remember how I said that I secured the towing vehicle in a hurry?  My cell phone was clipped into the vehicle console in GPS mode, two miles away.  So I decided to go into the clubhouse and use the phone to call a cab to take me back to the towing rig.  I almost got to the end of the dock before I remembered that my keys to the clubhouse were also in the towing rig.  What’s left?  Hail the Coast Guard on the shortwave and ask them to call me a cab?  I don’t think so.  I crunched up to the Fulton’s, whose house is within the club perimeter and whose lights were on, and asked to use the phone.  They were very gracious, and let me use the phone.  They offered to have me in, but I was covered with ice and snow, and had no business on their carpet in that condition.

The taxi company declined to dispatch a cab.  The dispatcher felt that Northshore would be to dangerous for her driver.  The hazard of me walking two miles in what was turning into sub-twenty weather wasn’t her problem, apparently.  And I was not going to call my wife, after the eyeroll I’d gotten earlier.  No help for it.  I was out of options, so I started putting one foot in front of the other up Northshore, in the snow, next to the frozen road.   Thirty five of my fellow southerners passed me in that weather before somebody was willing to stop and give a stranded motorist a lift.

It wasn’t as uncomfortable as you might have expected. That whole “layering” thing really does work.  By the time I’d done the first mile, sweat was actually trickling down my back.  Shortly after that, though, a very kind couple stopped and picked me up, giving me a lift the rest of the way. After that, I was able to get my towing rig on the road and get home only a little later than I had originally planned.

Lessons learned?  Well, the main lesson was that if there’s snow on the ramp, you aren’t getting the boat out.  The screen on the depth finder doesn’t work below freezing.  Although the fish-finder does continue to work.  It kept beeping at me, even though it no longer showed the depth.  Sea gulls huddle together on the water in cold weather.  When facing upwind in a snow/ice storm, goggles might be helpful, although I suspect they would have just frosted over.  Headlights are no more help in snow on the water than they are in snow on land.

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  1. A great adventure! Thanks for sharing! By the way, what lake do you sail on in TN? Do you ever get down to Carrabelle on the Florida gulf coast? I am an ex-Potter owner that splits time between Ellijay, GA and Carrabelle.


    • I mostly sail on a wide spot on the Tennessee River that the real estate developers call “Lake Loudon.” I sail between the Concord Yacht Club near Farragut to Downtown Knoxville.

      My professional and personal obligations don’t let me travel as much as I would like, but I drag the boat to most of my professional meetings. So far they’ve taken me to the Potomac and to Charleston. Next up: New Orleans.

  2. Maybe we could rig an extendable bumper system to the hull for night voyages..?

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