Basic seamanship and small boat handling seems to have eluded me. This is strange. I mean, I teethed on Chapman’s! I’ve spent most of my life with a tiller in my hand. I took the USPS safe boating course when I was in diapers. I learned celestial before I learned to drive. Hell, I once even dated a nattily-uniformed girl (well, dyke, actually) from the USCG Auxiliary!
Yet I still make the stupidest mistakes.
Example: I recently single-handed into Coral Bay for the Blues Festival. Instead of anchoring, I decided to pick up an empty mooring a friend of mine told me I could use.
I wasn’t exactly sure which one it was, and went to the wrong mooring first. There was a strong, gusty wind blowing. The brisk breeze was kicking up quiet sea on the rocks just to leeward. ‘Oh, well,’ I thought, ‘I’ll just have to ‘execute’ the maneuver perfectly!’
I did. I brought Wild Card straight into the wind and allowed her to stop her dead in the water with the buoy directly under the bows… absolutely perfect EXCEPT that it was the wrong buoy.
I spotted the correct buoy just downwind. Wild Card’s bow paid off and she trotted off directly at it as if a faithful dog. This was fine with me. I won’t have to return to the tiller, rev the engine and circle… I’d just be able to grab it on the fly.
Wild Card did her part perfectly. She actually bumped the large white mooring buoy with her stem. I had no problem reaching the small float with my trusty boat hook. However, the mooring hawser was extremely heavy because it was a large coil of wet, slippery, tangled line. I wasn’t expecting this. Thus I was unable to quickly secure it to my bitts. In fact, it was hard to lift aboard as I trotted down the port side of the moving boat.
Since the boat was moving with almost 20,000 pounds of inertia I knew better than to attempt to stop it without taking a bend around sometime strong.
But by now I was running out of boat. I decided that I’d lunge forward, gain some slack and secure the seaweedy mooring pennant to my genoa sheet winches.
This would have worked perfectly if I hadn’t had to go around my bimini supports to gain a fair lead. I fumbled this simple maneuver for one nano-second too long and thus was one millionth of an inch shy of being able to secure it to winch or cleat.
I grimly decided I would just have to stop her by brute force. Unfortunately, I was not braced well and the massive pull toppled me off my feet. Thus I began being dragged aft.
Quick as a wink, I passed the pennant around my stern rail and horseshoe buoy, braced both my feet, gulped, and took the full load of the moving boat with my flabby arms.
…with my suddenly-considerably-longer flabby arms!
…here was a job for Popeye and I hadn’t had any spinach with my rum in a long, long time.
No, maintaining my grip (both on the rope and reality) was not easy. I could feel my muscles tearing, hear my tendons popping, sense my lower back protesting… but I held firm, damn it. I was resolute. Utterly. Thus, I stopped her. Hurray!
The only problem was I could not let go to do anything. My arms were fully extended beyond the transom. Sweat was beaded on my forehead. Every muscle in my body ached. My brain screamed, “Let’s go, you damn fool, let go!”
I desperately looked around the cockpit for a piece of line. Normally, my cockpit is littered with spare coils of line. However, we’d just straightened up the boat for guests and I was out of luck.
I glanced up and was puzzled to see a bunch of people in dinghies sort of rafted-up-and-drifting nearby. I hadn’t noticed them when I’d pulled in. Strange. But before I could fully consider this new development, the wind gusted strongly. I was again being pulled aft… sort of ‘strained’ through the maze of stern rail uprights, antennas, GPS sensors, SSB coax, self-steering control lines… just a complicated spider-web of expensive & fragile items of great importance.
“…argh…” I croaked as my turned-away face was mashed into the stainless steel tubes of my Monitor windvane.
“…tsk, tsk, tsk,” clucked the vaguely sympathetic folks in the rafted dinghies.
There was no denying it now. I had an audience.
I smiled sickly, as if this on-going nautical situation was a mere trifle… a normal-if-silly event of no real consequence… for an experienced sea dog of my caliber.
I knew I had to do something quick. I was hyperventilating. My pulse was off the Richter scale. I was cramping up. And, worse, my audience was growing.
With a desperate lunge, I let go with one hand, snatched the bitter end of a nearby jib sheet, bowlined it to the mooring pennant, then belayed said line to a cleat… and fell backwards on my cockpit cushions.
I was now officially attached to the mooring. There was one small problem. My boat was backwards.
“No worries, mate!” as my Aussie friends would say.
I reached into my cockpit locker and grabbed a hundred foot piece of line. Excellent!
Now the trick to appearing ‘way-cool’ while doing complicated boat-handling maneuvers is to not rush. Just move slow, and everyone thinks you’re super-together, right?
So I tied the 100 foot line onto the mooring pennant, cast off the pennant, passed everything outside of everything nonchalantly… and leisurely… oh-so-coolly… began to stroll up to the bow.
I knew that the long line would allow me plenty of time to get there. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten about my dinghy. I’d been towing it and it had been hiding ‘out of sight, out of mind’ on the other side of my boat.
And, evidently, it had become entangled with the mooring ball.
Suddenly the dinghy appeared, shot forward, and snagged its brand new outboard motor on my extension line.
Now Wild Card was being held at a 45-degree angle off the wind in a complicated triangle of dinghy painter, mooring pennant and extension line.
I attempted to flip the extension line off. Again. No luck. I took a deep breath and calmed myself. One more time… yes, I finally got it flipped off… and realized I was out of time.
I dashed for the bitts like a meth-crazed madman! I almost made it… just a couple of inches shy… “Oh, God, no!” I heard escape from my lips as I started being dragged backwards me towards the shrouds.
It was agonizing. Demoralizing. Horrible!
I was stumbling backwards like a drunken Ed Munster. Humiliation was imminent. My boat was now almost completely sideways to the gusting wind.
“Oh, boy!” I was chanting, “Oh, boy!”
I managed to hold on and clamber over my lifelines at the same time… and just snag the lower shroud with my left hand as the pennant line took up in my right.
I was now acting like a human rubber band between boat and mooring, my feet kicking crazily in mid-air. Even worse, because a sideways boat has more windage, there was far more strain on the line than before.
It could feel my arms elongating even further. I was getting wider, wider and wider instead of my usual fatter, fatter, fatter.
…and I could now hear an increased buzz from the dinghies. “Is that REALLY Fatty,” someone asked, “or did an incompetent landlubber steal his boat?”
“…maybe he’s making a what-not-to-do video,” suggested another, craning his neck to spot the camera boat.
“…I told him he should stop the drugs long ago,” lamented a third.
Needless to say, I couldn’t join in with the laugh track. The pain in my arms was so immense that I was having difficulty estimating how many tons of force was required to blow out two 53 year old shoulder sockets.
And the rocks weren’t all that far away to leeward.
Cap’n Eliot from the three-masted schooner Silver Cloud majestically putt-putted by in his dinghy. A true gentleman, he gave me the professional courtesy of pretending not to be staring as he passed. (I silently vowed to buy him a drink upon our next meeting.)
Now, of course, all I would have needed to do was nod and a dozen Good Samaritans would have rushed to my assistance. But, hey, aren’t being stupid and pig-headed two of the things I’m most famous for?
I mean, I’ve got a Caribbean-wide reputation for Depth-of-Dumbness and now didn’t seem like a good time to attempt to change it.
So I grunted. Strained. My face turned red. My entire body started to quiver. Yellow liquid ran down my outer leg. My tongue protruded from between blue lips…
…but I was finally began to pull the line in, inch by inch. Once or twice the wind gusted and I had to stop, hold fast, and pray to a Higher Power… but another time there was a lull long enough for me to clamber back inside the lifelines, fall backwards with a crash (clipping the back of my balding head on a ventilator) and brace my feet on the toe rail.
There was a smattering of half-hearted applause from the dinghies, but the general sentiment was voiced by one big guy off a half-sunk powerboat, “What? Cap’n Fatty’s Fabulous Mooring Show is over after only half an hour?”
I didn’t reply, being too busy trying to remember my cardiologist’s telephone number, how many aspirins I should start chewing, and if my Last Will & Testament (which leaves my entire dog-eared collection of Mad magazines to the KATS kids program) was up-to-date.
During all this time, my long-suffering wife Carolyn was impatiently waiting on the dinghy dock. Suddenly she was surrounded by a laughing, leering group of excited sailors: my highly entertained, bursting-to-tell audience.
“…you wouldn’t BELIEVE what Fatty just did…” giggled one of the sailor-girls.
“Was it utterly stupid,” Carolyn shot back brightly. “Unbelievably ignorant? Completely dumb? Totally unnecessary? Infinitely infantile?”
“Yes, yes, yes,” the crowd sang out with glee.
“Well then,” Carolyn said from hard experience, “then I WOULD believe it!”
Of course I didn’t know any of this when I picked her up after carefully Mercurochroming a dozen of my larger wounds.
“How did it go,” she asked.
Luckily I answered with the whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth. “…just another Fat day in Paradise!” I said.