Friday, September 08, 2006

More scares

The adventures have continued, without us even being able to take time to stop and take a breath. Every day is crammed full of working, buying stuff for the boat, cleaning the boat, getting stuff ready for the boat, even talking and thinking and reading about the boat. We have less than a month now before we actually cast off. Our goal is September 30 to leave.

Last week, after our wonderful zero day in Quissett Harbor, we decided to give ourselves a more rigorous challenge and go through Woods Hole for the first time. Woods Hole is the very difficult channel between Cape Cod and the Elizabethan Islands. The tide runs really strongly through there, and they recommend not going through at all at any other than slack tide. It worries me, in some ways, that we haven’t even been through it yet. We’ll have even rougher challenges ahead.

Anyway, my brother came out to sail with us for a couple of days on the boat, and we were going to head for Martha’s Vineyard, on the other side of Woods Hole. We had a beautiful day-sail, catching and losing a light five-knot breeze. We’re very stubborn about not turning on our engine, so we didn’t, instead floating along at barely a knot. Eventually we decided to swim off the boat in motion, jumping off the bow and letting the boat float by until we grabbed the swim ladder in the back and pulling ourselves onboard. It was a blast.

By the time we hit Woods Hole the wind had picked up, but we still left most of our sail up, figuring we’d try to sail as much as possible through the Hole. It’s a good thing, because after we had passed the first couple of buoys, the alternator belt (which also ran the cooling system, as it turned out) on our engine blew. We abandoned our plan to get through the Hole, and took a sharp turn into Hadley Harbor, right on the edge of the channel. Hadley is an extremely protected but shallow anchorage off the Elizabethans. It was gorgeous—mirror-still water, trees overhanging the edge, egrets in the eelgrass. We anchored in seven feet of water in an anchorage marked in our old guidebook. There was seven-eight feet of water marked on the chart, and we figured it was low tide, so we thought we would be fine, even though there were no boats on our side of the harbor.

We had a beautiful steak dinner on the grill, with baked potatoes, grilled zucchini, fresh from Sally’s garden, and wedges of onion, seared black on the edges. We went to bed, bellies full, only to wake up at a 45-degree angle. The boat was completely on its side. It was absolutely terrifying. I’ve never had to walk across a flat surface at that angle, and the angle kept increasing until you had to claw your way up the outside of the boat. Inside you pulled yourself from handhold to handhold. By the time I woke up, Karl had already rowed halfway across the harbor to see if he could set a second anchor to pull us off our first. My brother lolled, groggily, on the lee berth.

We tried to use a halyard to pull us toward our second, lighter anchor, but couldn’t figure it out in the exhaustion and confusion. Karl waded around the bottom of the boat to figure out what we could do, and discovered inches-mud and eelgrass. The boat didn’t seem in any immediate danger, so what could we do? We went back to sleep, wedging ourselves in corners so we could feel something like stability.

I was terrified. I was convinced, while sleeping, that we would land on a rock, puncture our side, and not only lose our boat but all of our savings to salvage it. And of all places, right off the Forbes estate. In the morning, our angle had only slightly improved. Some friendly neighbors with an outboard motored by to ask us if they could help us pull off. We decided to just wait for high tide.

Finally, at noon the next day, we set an anchor a hundred feet out, hoisted our mainsail, and sailed off the clump of mud we had evidently hit. We had to sail, because we still had a snapped alternator belt. We sailed off a little too early, though, hitting the Hole an hour before slack tide and trying to sail straight into the current. With all sail set, we were barely moving. Our only choice was to run the engine in short bursts, waiting until the overheating alarm went off. We finally powered out of the harbor and headed back towards Marion, egg on our faces yet again.

It feels like we keep running into these crazy problems. Maybe this is just par for the course for the crazy thing we’re doing, but I feel like we’re getting into more than our far share of scrapes. Still, though, things progress apace. Everything’s coming together. We bought ourselves brand spanking new anchor rode with forty feet of chain, plus a backup handheld GPS, RAM for our computer. We’ll spend more this month than we probably did the rest of the months put together. I’m just hoping it doesn’t cut too deeply into our cruising fund. We nearly tear each other’s heads off about every three days. There’s just too much stress with all we have to do. We can only hope that the decisions we made when we were saner were the right ones. Things will straighten themselves out when we’re at a perfect deserted anchorage for the third week in a row, with nothing to bother us but love and time. And maybe some fish.

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