Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Intrepidness at Sea

Reading another blog,  I came across a sporty video of a sloop entering a harbor somewhere in the Baltic, and, seeing the man on the foredeck calmly readying the bow line for docking as they actually surfed into the inlet reminded me of the intrepid fellows I have had the privilege of sailing with. In particular, Joe Montalbano, and Doug Lucy. Here's a story about Doug.

S/V Annabelle
Neither Joe nor Doug had any big boat sailing experience when they got tangled up with me and my Alberg 30 Annabelle, and most of our cruising was gentle stuff, over to the Eastern shore, mostly in search of great restaurants to have a meal ashore at. We'd find them, and it was great fun. We'd usually have to start the engine and motor in the weak Chesapeake Bay summer weather - hot, humid, no wind. Hot and humid means thunderstorms though.

Usual Chesapeake Bay conditions
Driving up the Patapsco river one summer afternoon, Doug and I hear the all too frequent calls on the radio for "large damaging thunderstorms. Seek cover immediately" and so on. Well, Annabelle is a blue water craft, so we press on, and we've been through these thunderstorms many times before. It will blow 60 mph with some higher gusts, but if it gets too bad we'll anchor and ride it out with the engine ticking over. Seldom lasts more than 30 minutes. Usual case, we'll just motor into it, albeit making only a knot or so over the ground through the worst of it.

We'd planned to anchor in Baltimore's inner harbor, a notoriously bad holding ground, so I had planned to swap out the Danforth anchor for my never-fail 60 pound Bruce anchor. Sometimes I'd used them both when anchoring in Baltimore, but I'd decide that when we got there and saw where we had to set up., In preparation, I had detached the Danforth from the 10 feet of chain on the anchor rode, but left it clamped to the bow pulpit where it lived, a good 10 feet above the waterline.  Big mistake on my part.

We don our foul weather gear and PFD's, and prepare for 30 minutes of unpleasantness. We can see the squall line to the NW, and in we go.

Well, this was more than the usual 60 mph winds, and my little WWII-era Atomic 4 engine couldn't keep her bow to wind, so we were turned against our will and swept downwind with the squall. There was nothing for it, she wouldn't answer the helm. It blew 80 it seemed, but we were fine running before it all under bare poles once she got pushed  around and heading downwind, and I had helm again, except we were going to be set ashore on Bodkin Point before it blew over us so we had to do something different than this. Nothing to do but throw the anchor over and hope it sets up. Doug goes forward to do that.

He comes right back. "Anchors gone"  he says. A 22 pound hunk of steel got lifted out of its rack and carried away by a thunderstorm wave, 10 feet up. Yikes. I don't recall seeing it go, but I was concentrating on trying to steer. Glad Doug wasn't carried away. In hindsight we should both have been clipped on, but it had never been like this in a normal thunderstorm.

We had to turn to port and take the by now large, steep seas broadside because we had to make searoom to avoid the shoal to starboard. Worst ride I've ever had with 70 plus degree rolls. I knew we could make it but it was rough, felt a little like we could be tripped, a very unsettling feeling.
But Doug was brave enough to go to the foredeck and try to anchor us, in the worst conditions possible. He was a good man to have on a boat in a bad time. In this, and many other trying times.

Next installment: Gale Warnings? What Gale Warnings?

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