In 1970, I quit my job (good boss, good job, good money), but, I was bored stiff and could not do it anymore so I told my wife that I was going sailing, East, for a while and she could come with me, or stay at home. So, with my wife and two boys ages 1 and 4, we set sail from Corpus Christi, TX in early May 1970. We generally traveled 40 to 60 miles each day primarily in the ICW. Stopping along the way, to enjoy, but that is another story The following incident takes place on the way back from the Bahamas, by my lonesome. The rest of the crew jumped ship on the Florida East Coast before I went to the Bahamas. The following takes place on the way home, alone.
I sailed out of Tampa Bay at dawn heading West across the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Panhandle. I sailed all day and into the night with a fair wind and good sea conditions on a course to Apalachicola. The wind became brisk and shifted around toward the East which allowed a beam reach. With the wind shift came a completely overcast sky. Visibility was good but the ambient light from the moon and stars was all but gone. Moon light is comforting because it provides, visually, a relatively large place in the world. Without that bit of light the world at sea gets very small. The site line is feet rather than yards.
|The author in a different time and a different boat.
I had learned to get the boat to sail a fair course in those conditions and I set the wind-up "West clock" alarm clock and dozed off. Normally when the boat changed course, I would wake up quickly, but this time? I eventually woke up and noticed the compass course was off. I tried to steer the boat back to the course and realized that it would not steer at all. It maintained a run and would not move. After some confusion I noted that we were moving slowly. Did I mention that I had been towing a dingy for a thousand + miles? It was upside down and acting like a giant sea anchor. The painter sounded like a bass guitar string when plucked. No way could I pull that slick wet small line with well over 200 lbs of tension. The main was 245 Sf and the wind was in the upper teens and just no way to get the sail down... What to do?
Let me list the smaller mistakes that became big. The painter was tied on a cleat with no (0) extra line so that I could not tie another line to it, lead it to the bow and release it from the aft cleat thereby allowing the boat to head up into the wind and depower. I learned to tow the dingy at the end of the painter length to keep it from chasing down a following swell and ramming the boat. I also learned not to take a dingy unless it fits "on" the boat.
So, I cut the painter and let it go.
I loved that dingy and it was my first real boat build and an original design. I would be proud of it today.
The author's boat - an Atkin "East Riding"
Now! The boat is sailing fast on a beam reach. The dingy is gone astern, floating submerged just at the surface and no moon or star light and the sea is at about 4'+ but regular. I tack to see it one last time, perhaps, or was it just angst? Sure enough I come over a crest and I get a glimpse of it about 10' away. I try to do it again. It works. I try it again. It works. If I hit it with the bow the boat at this speed it will crush because it has a ton and a half of water in it. It is amazing that I could keep track of the boat position without seeing is until a few seconds before I got to it. Why can't I try to go down wind a little and try to stop by it and reach under the gunnel and raise the side enough to let the water suction release? I try it and it works but the suction is too great and I fear falling in the water 70 miles from shore. I had to let go, and tried it again and again with more determination and frustration each time.
Finally, I got it turned over and bailed out and then back under way. I got to Carrabelle which was the closest port that I knew and was familiar with. I tied up at a dock and went to sleep exhausted. I woke up mid morning and I hurt. I hurt as bad as anything ever in my life (even 40 something years later) and could not move, turn over, or breathe without worse sharp pain. I had broken/separated one or more ribs. After a lot of panic, pain, shuffling, worry I was able to sit up, get dressed and up to the dock. Carrabelle in 1970 was a really small town. I asked someone walking by if they had a doctor in town and the answer was yes, just a few blocks that way. Sure nuff in an old white painted frame house was a young sandy haired surfer looking doctor about to drive away in an old rusty 47 Ford. I told him my problem. He examined me, sort of, and listened to my chest with a stethoscope and pronounced that I had broken or had separated my ribs but it did not make any difference since he did not think there was any internal bleeding. The treatment would be the same which is nothing but time, but I could get a elastic bandage from the pharmacy down the road, to put around my chest to help the pain. I asked which way and he said he would just take me there. I asked him what I owed him. He said nothing and would not take anything for saving my life, or at least that is how I felt at that moment. I thought I was dying.
The Universal Atomic Four engine was sick and I needed to get it running better when needed. I found a paradise a little farther East down the coast and did a valve job on the engine with two electric drills, grinding wheels, and some grinding compound to seat them, borrowed from a guy that had a boat there in the marina and a summer home, two sons with gorgeous girl friends and a ski boat with a parachute that would take you up so high that the 5' deep water under you looked like it was 5" deep. I will never do that again or a run on sentence...ever.
It is amazing how a good compass properly adjusted can guide you across open water for days and get you within a mile or so, even swinging 6-8 degrees with each swell that passes.