Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Words I Wanted to Hear

I know it has been a bit since pounding out thoughts to words on this Blog. Perhaps it has taken me that long to recover from my last adventure on the "high seas". Let's set the "way back" machine to two  Sunday's ago and the scene, a perfect sunny Howe Sound day.

I had been feeling very good about Corleto's recent marine survey and my tires had been pumped by many about my docking prowess. This sailboat skipper thing was really beginning to grow on me. We had met a fine fellow that has a berth next to ours at the marina. He sails his boat single handed and is always looking to have others join him on the water. 
After a day of cleaning, our neighbour Aaron, invited us to join him with Corleto out on Howe Sound/ English Bay for an afternoon of having some fun in the wind. It sounded great. The weather forecast was for light winds, a perfect day on the water with sails full and land based troubles far far away. 

Charlene and I cast off just before 11 am and motored our way out into the Sound. Aaron with his 29 foot sailboat Serenity Now was not far behind. The sun was out and the winds were very light about 4 kts. 
I hoisted the main, and the jib and both filled with the breeze and just like that Corleto came to life as I set a course toward Bowen Island. 
Amazing how the sounds of the rigging and the sails take you to that happy place that defines nirvana.

A look behind us, and Aaron on Serenity Now, putting out his laundry and filling his sails. A scan ahead off our port bow, a club outing from Bowen Island. The fleet all heading toward the entrance to English Bay. We adjusted our course to parallel the Bowen Fleet, keeping a sharp eye out for ferries in and out of Horseshoe Bay as we made way. All was right with the world. The name Serenity Now seemed very appropriate, for that is what were were feeling serenity, now.

Aaron, Skipper of Serenity Now in Howe Sound

Howe Sound is shaped much like a funnel and is flanked by mountains on each side. It a beautiful fjord  with winds that can race down from the glaciers of the Tantalus Mountains,  Mount Garibaldi and the backside of the mountains of Cypress Provincial Park. 

Just after noon, I noticed that Aaron, had changed course and was heading back toward Horseshoe Bay. He had been having some difficulty, or so I had thought. What he saw and what I missed was the katabatic wind that was about to make our day a whole lot more,,,,, interesting. 

Charlene first felt a cold kiss of air on her cheek and mentioned it to me. The winds began to pick up and all of a sudden, Corleto was accelerating to 6 kts. 
OK i thought this would be fun clipping along toward English Bay with some speed. We had this brisk winds coming from our port quarter and we were on a run towards Point Atkinson. The boat was surprisingly calm with this sudden wind burst. But the winds just kept picking up. I figured the wind speed went from 5 to 30 + kts in about 4 minutes. I had Charlene prepare for a Gybe as I wanted to put the wind to my Starboard quarter. I hardened the main sheet to bring the boom as close to center as possible, and Gybed. It seemed to go quite well, that is until both of my Jib sheets went flying through the blocks and began whipping around the front of the bow.

Shit, a rookie mistake, no stopper knots on the jib sheets. Now the jib was making an ungodly sound with sheets in and out of the water. 
I had Charlene take the tiller while I would scurry up front to get control of the wayward Jib. 
She could not seem to hold the course and the sudden weather helm forced her to turn the boat onto a beam reach. With a full main the boat healed over so far I thought she would put the rails into the water. Just at that moment I had grabbed the Jib. The sudden force of the now fully powered sail damn near threw me overboard. I simply let go of the sail and scurried back to the helm. All the while poor Charlene was fighting the helm. Corleto was doing circles at a rather fast speed. Fortunately there were no other boats close by.

Serenity now?,,,, more like Apocalypse Now!

I managed to get back to the helm.
By this time I could see that Charlene was completely spooked and shaken. I had to get this sail under control and get this Jib down. My mind was racing at light speed. I am sure my heart rate was doing the same. 
I maneuvered the boat in such a way as to have the way word jib sheets flip to the cockpit I managed to grab one. The boat gybed- I didn't plan that one- If that happened again I figured I would rip the boom  right off the mast. I managed to have Charlene take the helm one last time. My mission this time was to just get the jib down and secured to the pulpit. This time Charlene managed to keep her course, sort of, for the 2 minutes it took me to get the hanked sail down and a sheet tied to act as a tie down for the headsail.

I got back to the helm. 
Now as the winds and waves are increasing yet again, I had to come up with a plan to get what was an over powered Main down. I put the boat into a run and began to head to the mouth of the Sound with the plan to duck into the lee of Point Atkinson using the point as a wind break or to head to the lee side of one of those massive ships at anchor in English Bay. 
Of course what I should have done was just turn the boat into the wind and drop the sail, but again with the speed of thoughts flying through my brain, the thought scanners missed the most obvious course of action.

The other problem with my boat is, there is no topping lift rigged from the top of the mast. All Corleto has is a lift that hooks the boom on the center of the back stay. Completely useless to me in this situation. 

No matter. 
I had an over powered main, in a run, with a crew member that was shaken and worried about potentially loosing me overboard, and wanting to avoid crashing the boom onto the deck. 

I eased the main out. The boat was now a bit "happy-er". 
Then I worked on comforting and reassuring my crew. I told her of how proud I was of her for keeping her course while I got the headsail down. She became quiet. That worried me. But I spoke softly and reassured her that we were OK and that the boat was OK. 

I then hardened the main sheet and began to bring down the main. I placed the boom on the dodger. The main was finally down, the squall seemed to be over. but the seas were now very choppy. With the engine running and my crew calm, I turned the boat towards home and began the long slosh home to Horseshoe Bay. 

We both were silent as we headed home. I was just trying to get my heart rate back to non lethal levels. Charlene was now battling sea sickness.  Could this get any worse? 

We finally pulled into Horseshoe Bay. I slowed the engine. I tried to get fenders ready and at least one dock line ready. The boat was still being smacked by rough waves. 
I asked Charlene if she was able to get up on the bow with a dock line. She did. 
As I turned the corner into our Marina, I noticed a figure waiting at our berth. It was Aaron. He helped us tie up and had tea on his boat, something to help calm us all. It was an amazing gesture. One that I will not forget. 

Charlene got off the boat and collapsed into my arms and let it all out. I figured the next words out of her mouth were going to be "I'm never getting on this boat ever again". And just like that my sailing days would be over.

But she said- " Murray, I think I should take some sailing lessons"

I had her enrolled the next day.

Charlene- during her Crew Course at Cooper's 

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