Sunday, August 7, 2011

At Least I am Not Allergic to Bees

It's not the way one wants to wake up from an afternoon nap on one's boat. My subconscious must have processed the information first, someone yelling, "single-hander! single-hander! your bow-line is undone!" I was out of the v-berth and bounding into the cockpit before I was really awake, knowing that I was the only single-handed sailor in the cove.  And that voice sounded way too close to be good. But then this day was weird from the start.

This summer the Bay has not been behaving the way I would like. It's been cool, extra foggy with an extra thick marine layer almost everyday, some days it doesn't burn off at all.  And I've felt my mood sinking. Grey, grey, grey - it doesn't do me well. But I needed some boat time, have barely sailed this summer compared to years past. So this morning I decided I would head to Angel Island for a day and night alone on my sweet old boat, the Donna Clare. I gathered some provisions (i.e. a steak, some wine, and my new Kindle) and headed to the marina and readied the boat for the sail. The marine layer was thick and the fog was moving quickly in through the Gate towards Berkeley and Angel Island. I headed west out of the marina and the wind picked up a little, building to 20+ knots by the time we were near the island. And then things got weird.

Usually east of the island there is a wind shadow where a sailor can drop sail and motor into Ayala Cove to moor in relative calm. But the wind started shifting, gusting, going from 10 to 20+ knots in seconds, seemingly coming from both north and south of the island, and even over the island itself. Weird. I would set the auto-helm with the boat into the wind and run to the foredeck to furl the jib and then the wind would shift and gust, fill the sails again, forcing me back to the cockpit to reset the auto-helm. I even tried, briefly, to heave-to but it didn't stick. After this game of gust-stall-switch-gust I finally wrestled in the sails and motored into Ayala Cove.

It's the weekend, Saturday afternoon, the busiest time of the week on the Bay. The cove was bustling with boats and the mooring lines were a complex web.  The wind continued to be fluky and the currents were running strong. I did a couple laps, motoring to the side of the mooring area, surveying the situation. I watched guys in dingies help another two boats moor, grabbing their bow and stern lines and looping them through the mooring buoys and then back to the boats to be tied off in a V-shape.  It's how it's done in Ayala Cove, otherwise a boat would swing in circles because of the strong currents that run with the tides (four a day, to be exact). 

After watching for a bit I swallowed hard and humbly asked a man in one of the dingies for help, explaining that I was single-handing and the mooring I was aiming for was a tight fit amongst the already tied up boats.  He obliged. After the usual comedic event that is mooring in a crowded cove, with the help of no less than three men in dingies, we tied her off, bow and stern. I finally relaxed. Mostly.

I had to moor between two spread out buoys and so needed more than 100 hundred feet of line on the bow.  This required marrying two hundred-foot lines before looping it through the buoy and back to my boat.  A man in a dingy and his young son had tied the knot and brought me the line to cleat off on the bow of Donna Clare. After it was all done, I thought about jumping in my dingy and rowing over to check the knot they had tied. I didn't. I should have. I really really should have.

I settled in, started cleaning up, coiling lines, stowing my gear, making the boat comfy for the afternoon and night. At last I sat in the cockpit to read my Kindle under the little bit of afternoon sun while the fog sat atop the island threatening to spill over into the cove. I am reading Storm Passage: Alone Around Cape Horn, a harrowing tale of a man who completed a single-handed circumnavigation via the capes, the Southern Ocean. It's an extreme thing to do and fraught with barely imaginable challenges, discomforts, and isolation - hundreds of days alone in the most hostile Ocean on Earth. I am always humbled by such stories as single-handing the Bay often scares the hell out of me! I cannot imagine being alone in the southern Ocean.

Looking over the bow of Donna Clare at the mooring
buoy from which the bow-line came free.
The wind continued to be fickle and cool so I retired to the v-birth under an open hatch. For some reason I kept looking aft, looking to see that the island was in the same place out the companionway hatch. I thought to myself that I was being a little paranoid. In retrospect, I know it's because I didn't check that knot. I didn't trust it. Always listen to your gut. It knows more than you. Seems I must learn this lesson time and again.

Then it happened, I heard the yelling for the single-hander. I was jarred from my nap, disoriented, wobbly as I bounded on deck. There we were, no bow-line, swinging towards shore, moving towards the boat moored behind me. I ran to the bow, tried to discern what had happened.  I saw both ends of the bow-line were still cleated to the deck of my boat; the knot had failed.  Men in dingies came to help, the woman in the boat to my rear helped fend the Donna Clare off her own boat.  Everyone was kind and I even heard a man on another boat say, "it could happen to anyone."  I was thankful for his comment, but ultimately, this was my fault.  I should have checked that knot. 

Looking over the stern of Donna Clare to the
 buoy that both Jim and I were moored to. 
After a good 20 minutes and lots of muscling of line we were secure again. Jim, the man skippering the boat behind me, was in his dingy and tied the knot this time. I asked him, "did you secure it, for sure?" "I used a bowline, it will save your life one day" he said with a smile. "I think it already has" I responded, grinning. The bowline is the sailors knot.  Strong as hell, easy to undue after use.  I could tie it blindfolded.  I shook his hand off the bow of my boat, reaching down to him in the dingy.  Then I suddenly acknowledged a pain I had been aware of since running up and down my deck barefoot.  I finally said "ouch" and looked down to see a bee stinging me on the bottom of my foot between my toes.  I flicked it off and checked for a stinger.  Jim looked up from his dingy and asked, "are you allergic to bees?"  "Not so far" I said.  "Well, I have an epi-pen if you start feeling weird" he added.  Good to know. 

I trust that Jim tied a good knot. He's motivated to. If the line fails it's his boat that I will swing into. "Time to open a bottle of wine" he said as he climbed back onto his own sailboat now properly behind my boat. I agreed. I am sitting in the cabin working on a glass of Prosecco and I think my heart rate and blood pressure are finally starting to slow. Again, not my preferred way to wake up from an afternoon nap.  But at least I am not allergic to bees.  Or worse yet, alone on a boat in the Southern Ocean.

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