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Cruising Tales – Crisis At Sea Among the Herd

Being in heavy fog is like having your head inside a
pillowcase. You can’t see out of it in any direction except your soggy
foul weather boots.

The worst fog story at sea that we ever heard involved Charlie Peet, a charter captain who came to
St. Thomas in the 70s. He was sailing
his fifty-foot yawl Santana off San
Francisco in dense, smothering fog. Coming on deck for
his early morning watch, he looked over the side and stared at the fog. He
gestured toward it and casually asked his son who was at the helm, "Do you
know what those are?"

"No.
I was wondering what they were."

"They’re rivets!"

Several
days, the races for the America’s
Cup in 1967 were called off due to fog after a couple of hours of everyone
milling around the course waiting for it to clear. When a race was called, the
hundreds of spectator and excursion boats would slowly head back for
Newport. Most, like
ourselves, who were not familiar with the waters, got into lines, one behind
the other, like little chicks following their mama hen, which would usually be
a Coast Guard boat.

On one of
the days after the races were canceled, Avenir happened to be the first
boat at the front of a line. We slowed down to allow the Coast Guard vessel to
go ahead of us. Instead, it slowed and indicated that it would follow us!
We slowed again, trying to force it to take the lead,
but it wouldn’t bite. There we were, without radar,
unfamiliar with the area and "newbies" to
boot, having to dead reckon most of the way back to
Newport, and lead the herd. Perhaps that
Coast Guard cutter wanted to check out the lines of the cowgirls we had on
board.

On the
last couple of race days the skies were clear, but the wind was up and the seas
tossed Avenir in every direction as it did with all the other spectator
boats. Although most were going at different speeds and in the same general
direction, a few did dare to challenge the pack and thread their way against it.
That took guts!

Our 24
Texan charter guests were a hearty bunch. Like cowboys, some dozen of them rode
astride the main boom. Gideeup Avenir! Most of
them preferred to sail with a drink in one hand and the other on a
girl’s…you fill it in. But on this bronc,
both hands had to hold onto the saddle, it was that rough.

We
galloped up and down the parameters of the race course. Few of the guests could
eat for fear of tossing their caviar. Fortunately, visibility remained good
that day but the wind rose higher, making even more waves. Steering in such
conditions was challenging. When Mike came off the larger waves, he had to put
a lot of pressure on the wheel.

Until the steering cables broke and the
wheel spun freely.

Cautiously he throttled down slowly and eased Avenir away from
the crowd. He gave the helm to Perry Bass,
one of our very wealthy guests and an excellent sailor, raised the jib and
mizzen and went below to fix the cables.

The
guests were delighted to help. Some tended the sails,
others fetched tools and assisted Mike. By the time the repair was completed,
Perry had almost steered us to the finish line. When Mike went topsides, Perry
was glowing and reluctantly gave the wheel back.

Grinning
widely, Perry said, "That was a lot more fun than watching a one-sided
boat race. I would have taken her to the finish line but I was afraid
you’d have a heart attack and you’re too nice a fellow to do that
to!"

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