Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A big scare, followed by paradise

I’m in the boat right now. It’s about two pm, and the light’s sliding its way across the companionway hatch. Karl rigged up an awning for us out of a hunter green bed-sheet left for us by the previous owner. It’s like a boy-scout tent over our cockpit, rigged over the boom and tied to either lifeline stanchion. We sailed out here yesterday, to Quissett Harbor. I think we’re taking a zero day today, like we took so many on the trail. Our hike was really about the zero days.

That’s what blows me away out here. It’s absolutely free out here, once we’ve set the anchor and we have everything we need on the boat. We made each other eggs and bacon this morning—Karl fried the bacon, I made the eggs—and ate out of little wooden bowls while we drank ice-cold water and warm soy milk, that we forgot to put in the icebox. This is perfect. This is exactly what we’ve spent all this time waiting and working for.

We had a scare a couple of weeks ago, a big scare. It made both of us question, really, what we’re doing. Last week we didn’t even go sailing on my days off, which is the first time we’ve done that since I started having days off. The week before we sailed out to Cutty Hunk. Our goal was Newport, but the prevailing southwest wind in Buzzard’s Bay has been our bane. We beat across the Bay all day long and ended up giving up at the far end of our last tack and heading into Cutty Hunk, the last of the Elizabethan Islands. The Elizabethan Islands stretch out between our side of Cape Cod and what they call here “the Islands”—Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Cutty Hunk has a great harbor, a little tiny pond nestled in the heart of the island, with a twenty-foot channel cutting into it from the Bay. We anchored there, next to some other like-minded cheapskates. I don’t understand why anyone would pay $40 a night for a mooring when you can anchor for free right next-door. We wandered around the little island town that next morning, bought coffees, watched the island community zip around on their golf carts and electric scooters.

The sail back was choppy, but fast—we sailed before the wind in about three hours what it had taken us to tack against eight. We didn’t have to be back to Marion until the next day, so we decided to anchor in Mattapoisett, the next town over, for a change in scenery. When we came into the harbor, our engine wouldn’t start. We had pushed sailing longer than we really should have for safety, just because we always try to sail as long as possible. And then went Karl when to turn the engine over, it chug-chug-chugged but wouldn’t start.

We panicked. Our immediate reaction was to stop our motion, and we dropped the mainsail. In hindsight that was our biggest mistake, because we completely lost control of the boat. We drifted in the harbor, across the channel, to where all these boats on our moorings were. We tried to set anchor, what we felt was our only option for stopping the boat so we could work on the engine, but we couldn’t control the motion of the boat to set the anchor, and it dragged with us as we drifted towards the Ned Point lighthouse, that marked some nasty-looking rocks. Finally we decided our only choice was to pull anchor and sail away, so Karl yanked up the 35-pound anchor, while I unfurled the jib and tried to sail us the hell out of there. Our goal at this point was still to try to anchor, but we’ve never set anchor under sail before, and we had no idea how to do it. We sailed successfully back across the channel to where the anchorage was supposed to be and again tried to set our anchor, which again dragged. It dragged us right into the mooring field, where at least a hundred giant boats lurked, menacingly. We were panicking this whole time, screaming at each other, running back and forth across deck, heaving at lines, gouging ourselves on pieces of deck hardware, leaving streaks of blood and mud from the anchor, poring over our chart, ripping our hands open on lines. The anchor kept dragging and dragging, relentlessly, towards the boats. It felt like slow-motion. I noticed how the boats were closer, then closer, then closer. I thought, we’re not going to hit them. I thought, nothing’s going to happen. And then I saw our anchor come dragging up the mooring line of this other boat, catch on the mooring ball, and our boat swing towards it, in slow motion. Karl did a crazy action-movie super-hero leap over to the other boat, which probably cost at least a quarter-million dollars. I started frantically throwing fenders over the side, and Karl wedged his body between our boat and theirs. They say never endanger your body at the expense of your boat, but if we damaged that boat, our bodies wouldn’t be worth squat. We don’t have a quarter-million dollars lying around anywhere. Just the paint job on that boat cost twice as much as our entire boat.

I don’t know how, but the anchor pulled free of the mooring. That’s the most miraculous part of the whole story. I tried to pull the anchor up, terrified of whacking a hole in the other boat, but couldn’t pull it over the side. Eventually Karl leapt back over to our boat and hauled it up while I unfurled our jib again and fled the scene of the crime.

We ended up returning to Marion and successfully anchoring under sail just past Silvershell Beach five minutes before Karl’s brother and Ralph showed up in their powerboat to rescue us. We left the boat there and spent the night at Karl’s brother’s house, eating much-deserved Chinese food.

The whole ordeal spooked us. We ended up relatively unscathed, aside from the gouge in Karl’s shin, and a slightly splintered toe-rail. We haven’t been arrested for damages yet. But we took last week off, and now we’re taking today off. We need to be reminded of why we want to live this way, what the end goal is. The end goal is this: me, sitting feet up, typing away, Karl out on deck, chatting with the neighbors and brainstorming ideas for the boat, a little row across the harbor to a lookout point and a swim planned for this afternoon, and BLT sandwiches for supper.

No comments: