Feb 18

Can overboard!

Tag: musingsmattholmes @ 1:47 am

In the cosmic scheme of things, a sailor could lose at sea an object of far more value than a rubber bumper. But let’s be honest: we’re not at sea, and our pride is at stake, and we can’t afford to drop anything overboard — even a $20 bumper.

So when one of them (we have 6) ended up in the Bay last weekend, I wasn’t about to abandon it. Instead, I took it as an opportunity to practice Man Overboard (MOB) drills.

The MOB drill is a short series of steps designed to return the boat as rapidly as possible to the dropped object (or overboard crewmember). The idea is simple: you fall off, tack, aim slightly downwind of the object, head up, and hopefully come to a stop right at whatever (or whoever) fell overboard. It is a basic skill; every safe sailing crew should be drilled and practiced in its execution. If someone falls overboard in the Bay, you have about 15 minutes to pull him out of the cold (53 degree) water before he’s in serious trouble. If he’s a poor swimmer, and goes overboard in jeans and a hoodie, without any flotation device, you might only have twenty seconds.

Over the summer, Jonny and I had practiced MOB drills ad nauseum on much smaller, nimbler sailboats, J-22’s, up in Berkeley. Jonny would toss an old soda can into the water, and yell CAN OVERBOARD! as if some dreadful emergency were unfolding, and we’d sail over to it prontospeed. Perhaps because it was summer, and we were having so much fun, we felt that we’d developed at least moderate MOB skills.

This afternoon, I was sailing with Karen, Jeff, and Kristi, and a storm was moving in from the Northwest. We were approaching the short, dredged, channel that leads through otherwise shallow water into the marina. And this time, our MOB drill to retrieve the bumper was sobering.  The number of steps was not short, our return to the bumper was not rapid, and we were definitely not at a standstill when we got to it. We sailed right past it each time. We spent a frustrating half hour trying to retrieve it; meanwhile, the wind and chop picked up as the sun proceeded to set.

The only consolation is that we were able to consistently sail right up next to the bumper. If it had been a conscious person, he’d have been able to grab a line or a hand on the first pass. Not so with the inanimate bumper: it was a pain in the ass.  Every time we came up on it, our wake pushed it just out of reach. I hated that bumper.

On the 7th attempt, Jeff finally snagged it, and we turned back for the channel — and just in time, as it started to rain. As we approached the entrance, another bumper went into the water. (Whether it came untied or was dropped I am not sure.) This time I decided to douse the sails, fire up the engine, and drive over to retrieve it. As I began to motor around, the boat failed to respond.  It was at this point that I noticed how low the tide was, recognized that we were in a shallow area, and realized that we were running aground. I gunned the engine in an effort to plow our way through the silt, and back to the deep channel. At the same time, Kristi trimmed in the mainsail, to help us heel over (thereby reducing our draft and freeing the keel from the muck). It worked, and we made it into the deeper water without getting stuck.

But pursuing the bumper a second time was out of the question — especially since the bumper was headed straight for a sandbar like it was on a mission from god. I motored us home, dejected as ever on account of our cruddy MOB skills, our lost bumper, and our near grounding. Then, just as we were entering the marina — because what would insult be without injury — the engine began to overheat.  I thought we’d resolved that issue. Well, put it back on the list.

Back in slip B-19, it poured on us while we folded the sail, coiled the lines, and stowed everything. Everyone was drenched and shivering, too miserable to hang out for drinks. Kristi later came down with a cold. Karen and I went out for pizza, and on the way back home, just for kicks, took the local road along the shore, to see if we could spot our blue bumper in the dark.  Ludicrous, I know.

We pulled off the road in a spot where the water came within 20 feet of the road. I got out of the car and walked over to the rocks to have a look. Would you believe it? I spotted a piece of blue and walked a couple feet down the rocks and found our bumper. I even found a Nalgene right next to it, so I ended up coming out ahead for the day. Well, ahead by one measure.

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