Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Charlie Brown of Sailing.




Beautiful breeze blowing today. Even more crisp now than it was a few hours ago when I sailed across that mooring line.

It was one of those bright pink mooring balls with three dingys tethered to it in front of me to starboard. I had just come onto a port tack and was making my way through the mooring field in the west end of Cape May harbor. I thought I would be able to get by upwind of the mooring ball, but it was going to be close. At the last minute I pushed the tiller a little and headed between the ball and the dingys.
As I scooted through there I was thinking ‘this is probably a mistake’.

I might have been better off if I’d just run down the mooring ball – at least there would have been a fifty-fifty chance that I’d have brushed by on the upwind side of it, instead of catching the mooring line and gaining myself a little train of three dingys.

The mooring held, I guess, and when I saw those three dingys following me I let the sheets go. I paused for a minute to assess the situation, then took off my shirt and shorts and went overboard to see how the line was caught.
What I had snagged is the line called the ‘pendant’. The mooring ball marks and suspends the chain that goes down to the anchor or weight that is more or less permanently set in the bottom. The pendant comes off the chain and is supported in turn by a small float so that it can be retrieved with a boat hook.
It was tight against the skeg in front of the rudder. I tried getting my feet on top of the line and pushing down but I couldn’t budge it. I thought it was jammed in a groove or something. I tried diving under to take a look at it but I couldn’t see well enough. I felt along the pendant to the bronze clip that secured the dingys. I figured that if I could unclip it I could pass the line back under my boat and then refasten it and be done. I climbed back in the boat and fastened a line to the lead dingy and tied it to a stern cleat.

I must have figured out that the mooring was what was holding me in place and that if I got loose from it, my boat and the three dingys would drift off away from the float. With this in mind I threw out my small anchor, but I failed to make sure that it was set.
As Lyle Lovett says, “ . . . I had made my second mistake.”

I went back overboard and managed to pull some slack in the line and get the dingys unclipped. With the mooring line no longer taut under the skeg my boat began to drift, pulling its un-set anchor.
I climbed back aboard and watched as the distance between me and the mooring grew to ten, twenty, thirty feet.
I had traded up in problems. Here’s where I should mention the unreliable motor.
It runs, and I’m confident that it’ll get me out of a jam, but it won’t idle or run at slow speeds. You’ve got to start it, jam it in gear and push the throttle up. No close maneuvering, no backing up.
I shackled my bigger anchor to the main anchor line and tossed it off the bow. At least I’d still be in the right neighborhood when I finally figured out how I was going to get those dingys back where they belonged.

I decided that I should get in the lead dingy and row back to the mooring, pulling the other two behind me. I would clip the little train of dingys to the pendant and swim back to my boat. Simple. I climbed down into the first dingy and put the oars in the oarlocks.
Ahh, the circus is in town. Maybe I’ve rowed a dingy sometime in my life. I don’t really remember if I have. I rode a motorcycle once – that I remember. So maybe I never have rowed a dingy before. You’d have gathered that from watching my performance.
I could barely make it the two feet that separated the dingy and the boat, let alone row upwind fifty feet back to the mooring. I was picturing myself and my little dingy village being blown across the harbor. After what seemed like endless flailing I secured the dingy to the stern cleat again and climbed back aboard.
Time for Plan C ®.

I started the motor and with the dingys in tow I made a big circle, aiming for a spot between two moored sloops upwind of the mooring ball. I planned to drop my anchor there and ease my boat back down on the mooring by paying out line. I used up the eighty-odd feet of braided anchor line and had to add a hundred feet of nylon three strand. This worked out pretty well, but when I was down to the mooring it was about twenty feet off the starboard side - out of reach. I started the motor again and powered over a little past the mooring ball and got the boat hook ready to snag it as I swung back on the wind. No success, but this looks promising. Motored back past the mooring for another try. Got a hold of the pendant this time and secured it to the pulpit on my boat.
When I took a good look at the lines on the dingys I was pleasantly surprised to find that I hadn’t lost the bronze snap hook from the lead dingy. The second dingy was clipped to it and it had just been pulled back underneath. I clipped it back into the pendant and slipped my temporary line off the bow of dingy number one. See ya later, fellas.

I pulled my boat back up the anchor line hand over hand, stowed the anchor and got on back to the slip to clean the mess up. Maybe - if I'm lucky - no one was watching.

3 comments:

tina said...

This is great - maybe you should send it in to Sailing Magazine. A classic comical dilemma I'm sure many sailors have experienced. Love the title!

mary e said...

Sooo funny. If someone saw this performance you know you will hear about it. Small town
news. I think it has potential for an animated short film. And I admire your ingenuity and tenacity.

redw0rm said...

I think that's right about the animated short: done in the style of a sailing manual, with arrows and dotted/dashed lines and underwater shots and big circles with horizontal lines through them. What the copyright setup and this blog, anyway?