Tuesday 24 March 2009

The stupidest thing

I pulled Onawind Blue across the soft sand to the edge of the sea. A light force three blew from the southwest forming a small cross-sea with the remains of a southeasterly swell. The waves, at one, to one and a half feet, were manageable. Though every now and then a larger set with two to three foot waves washed in I knew that OB had handled more in the past and that leaving the beach should present no problem, even if I did get a bit wet.

Readying the boat on the sand, moving smoothly from one task to the next,
I felt surprisingly in tune with Onawind Blue. I have sailed very little this year but it appeared that my sailing memory was alive and fresh. As all those familiar rigging details snapped into place—the oars attached with loops of rope to their pins and the lines to their blocks—I couldn’t suppress a satisfied smile. With the sails gently flapping and the bows resting on a fender pointing towards the sea I stood back and admired my OB.

Then, with my pride already swollen, a strolling couple stopped and took out a camera. They were waiting for me to launch and wanting to give them some good photo opportunities I rolled Onawind Blue into the water, hopped aboard over the stern and sat at the oars, taking a few long strokes to punch through the first series of waves. I hauled the trailing fender aboard and returned to the oars in time to guide the boat high over the next wave. The bows splashed down and white water frothed aboard. That would have made a good photo, I thought. Beyond the breaking waves I lowered the rudder, then moved automatically to insert the daggerboard.

I remember when my illegally parked car was towed away. I stood for an age gawping at the yawning space where it was supposed to be. Now I gaped at the forward thwart. There is no place to conceal a large daggerboard in OB’s small cockpit but even so I shifted the life jacket to check it wasn’t hidden underneath. In my hurry to launch, puffed up like a strutting bird, I had forgotten that last, all-important gear-check.

Onawind Blue skidded off diagonally across the water. With no daggerboard I wouldn’t be able to regain my launch spot. I had no choice but to return to the shore. I bucketed out the water that had come aboard then turned the boat and headed back.

I decided to row-sail through the waves. With the oars I could slow the boat through the breakers and, more importantly, by back rowing with one oar and forward with other, keep it stern on to the sea. I raised the rudder and began to row. The water was flat but as I neared the beach a largish set of waves loomed up behind. I dug the oars in deep to stop the boat and the first wave, steepening sharply, past underneath. I rapidly manoeuvred the boat to get stern on to the next, larger wave and as I back rowed with the port oar it lifted off its thole pin. I saw the loop of rope sink. The unattached oar felt useless in my hand. I rowed hard with the starboard oar but had little control of the boat. OB was at the mercy of the next wave.

Spring has arrived on the Mediterranean but although the days can be balmy the sea is still cold enough to raise the heartbeat to 180 and give an ice-cream headache. However, I felt no cold whatsoever as the wave capsized Onawind Blue. My only concern was to prevent the mast tip touching the bottom and levering off the foredeck. I somehow managed to right the boat before it turned turtle and hold it flat as the next wave crashed through. I dragged the wallowing OB towards the beach. The boom had detached itself from the mast and it swung about dangerously. Oars, fenders, buckets, my shoes and cushion littered the sea downwind. Transformed in seconds from a clean machine to a wreck I pushed OB to the sea’s edge. But full of water she was too heavy to beach. I left her for a second to gather up armfuls of gear and the sea sucked her back in, loading her to the gunwales with water.

I held OB against the sand, bucketing hard with one hand, but every wave tried to pull her back into the water. I felt like the sea was trying to claim her, wrapping her in cold tendrils, dragging her down, and found myself involved in a serious struggle. There was no one about to beg assistance, I could barely hold her against the beach to bale and was forced to accompany her as every big sea lifted her up and sucked her away from the shore. I’d bring her back to the sand every 10 metres or so and bale furiously. But I couldn’t do this for long—only 50 meters downwind a rocky spit had been uncovered by the recent swell. With visions of OB’s red bottom splintering on the rocks I dug my toes into the sand and wedged my knees under the gunwale. Holding her with my legs I baled with both hands. As she grew lighter and higher in the water I used the sea to move her further onto the beach. When she began to feel safe I undid the drain plugs. I pulled her up the beach as she lightened and relaxed only when she was a good distance from the sea’s chill grasp.

I went home and collected the daggerboard then went for a lovely evening sail. It was only later that I discovered the large welt on my head. And the next morning I felt like I’d been involved in a brawl.

It is just as well to have an early season reminder of the dangers that exist only scant metres offshore.


Anonymous said...

It's strange when we get these reminders on how thin is the line between success and failure. One minute you're posing for a photo opportunity, the next your boat is smashed to matchwood. I'm glad you managed to avert catastrophe.
Will you be finca bound during the easter break. We'll be there for a few days, I'm not sure which ones yet. Maybe the weekend of april 10th.


Chris Partridge said...

Ouch - so glad you and OB made it out of the surf safely.
This is exactly the reason why I like rowlocks with horns that hold the oar securely (though knowing my luck it would happen the day I didn't bother to tie the rowlock down).

Ben said...

I’ve lost an oar in this manner before and really should have sorted the problem out before it happened at a critical moment. Rowing normally this is never an issue. Its only when I give a powerful back-stroke that the oar can come off the pin.

Anyway I’ve seen pins with a braid around their tops, which should be enough to stop the rope slipping over, and I’ll go down that route.