Jul 30

A Little Faith…

Tag: marina lifejonny5waldman @ 5:33 am

[Reposted from my Outside blog]

A mile out of the channel, John lost control of his rudder. One of the shivs holding the steering cable taut between the wheel and the sector had ripped out of a piece of oak one-and-a-half inches thick. These things happen.

John is the captain of Faith, a 40-foot wooden ketch built in 1946, that sits across from Syzygy.  John’s also the pilot of an IAR 823, a 1979 Romanian four-seater that he keeps up in Napa, and he tends to keep his cool under duress. His steering had failed. It’s not like he was a mile high and leaking fuel or something.

He rigged up the emergency tiller. It was made of old wood, and it snapped in two like a baseball bat. John has since fabricated a new one out of a steel bar.

With the engine still on, John raised the mizzen. The sail steadied the boat, kept her elegant bowsprit nosed into the wind. Everyone, including his eight-year old daughter Elizabeth, was fine. It was a Sunday in July. Everyone had a PFD, and dry clothes. It was windy, gusting to 30, but sunny and clear, at least on this side of the bay. Classic fogger weather.

John radioed the Coast Guard, and asked for assistance. The Coast Guard, by then, was busy; so busy that Jim and Jeannie, who were out that same afternoon aboard Kanga, picked up a sailor in the water before the Coast Guard was able to get to him. He’d been in the water for half an hour, and was blue. He was shivering uncontrollably. His 15-foot dinghy had capsized, and he’d been unable to right it. To the Coast Guard, this was typical: vessels without steering, vessels upside down. (A couple days later, I heard someone declare “Mayday,” and heard the Coast Guard respond casually to the call.) Over the radio, they instructed John to drop an anchor, so that he’d stay put. He did.

A little while later his engine died. He’d run out of fuel. This is when John started to get irritated, at least in recounting the story. “There are so many things Ian” — the previous owner — “didn’t tell me,” he said.  Welcome to the complexities of a new (technically old) boat. “These things” included the locations of the manifolds to the reserve fuel tanks. John is now much more familiar with the fuel system onboard Faith.

The Coast Guard arrived, saw that Faith’s engine was dead, and instructed John to pull the anchor. I can’t, he said. He couldn’t sail up over it without steering, and he couldn’t motor up over it without his engine. A conundrum. Faith alone wouldn’t suffice. Cut it, the Coast Guard said. So he did. John’s anchor, and 200 feet of 5/16-inch galvanized chain, ended up in shallow water about a mile west of the marina. He marked the spot on his GPS.

At last, the Coast Guard agreed to tow Faith — but with the steering all funny, the rudder shoved to starboard, they wouldn’t risk bring him through the tight turns at the entrance to the marina. Instead, they brought him to the nearest safe harbor, on the east side of Treasure Island. The next morning, John paid Vessel Assist $250 for a tow back into the marina.

I bumped into John a couple of hours after he returned. I told him I’d seen him go out on Sunday afternoon, and had wondered if he had intended to spend the night elsewhere. He laughed. The height of his spirits seemed unwarranted, but I’m not complaining. Cheerful sailors are welcome around here.

He recounted the details of the story, then zoomed out and assessed the big picture. “Stuff broke, but nobody got hurt,” John said. “It was a grand adventure, and a steep learning curve.” He paused, and smiled, and allowed a smidgeon of resentment to invade his sunny demeanor. “OK, it was brutal.”

A week later, John and I tried to retrieve his tackle from the bottom of the bay. We took his inflatable dinghy, five-horsepower Nissan and all, as well as a grappling hook and 50 feet of line. We headed out before noon, before the tide and chop picked up. We both had on PFDs, and I brought a handheld VHF radio, inspired mostly by the leak John had just discovered in his dinghy. We brought a bailer, too, and a pair of oars. Perhaps we lacked faith.

While John tended the throttle, I watched the GPS, and called out our coordinates. As we neared the spot on John’s map (which was more of a doodle), I tossed the grappling hook over, and waited for the line to draw taut. I pulled it in, dribbling water all over my legs. Nothing. John threw it out with more vigor, and I pulled it back in. Nothing. We spent the next hour motoring around, bobbing up and down in the building chop, tossing the grappling hook into the deep, and dragging it back and forth over the the silty bay floor. Nothing. All we got was water. But it was a faithful effort. I’m pretty sure John’s gonna call his insurance company, and see if they’ll spring for a new anchor.

2 Responses to “A Little Faith…”

  1. mattholmes says:

    when you see him next, tell him to give the coordinates to the guy that cleans the bottoms of the boats–he might want to try to dive on it and work out a salvage deal

  2. mattholmes says:

    also, if he wants a couple of spare tillers, there is way too much extra stainless steel pipe rattling around the back of my car

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