Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten out sailing half a dozen times. Most days, I’m happy to report, progress was made and I’ve SLOWLYYYYY but surely been staring to figure out this whole wind-powered thing. Then there are days, like I had a few weeks ago that humble me in a hurry.
On this particular day in question there was a steady breeze between 15 and 20 knots, which had Karen and I zipping around Narragansett Bay at a solid 6-knot clip. Falling into a lull of complacency, I turned the boat too slowly while tacking and ended up in irons (facing directly into the wind, unable to maneuver), which after multiple weeks of avoiding was extremely frustrating. I fired up the engine (that’s cheating, I know) to maneuver us out of out proverbial stalemate. While doing so a strong gust pulled a loose jib sheet from Karen’s hands. Murphy’s Law was our third crewmember that day, and he placed that sheet into the water and into my spinning prop.
The line spooled around the prop and seized the engine. What amazed me first was how quickly things had gone wrong, one second I’m sailing with sunshine and a smile on my face, the next I’ve lost the power of my engine and jib sail, oh, and that stiff breeze I mentioned before? Well it was pushing us towards cliff-side homes that were growing in size by the second.
The first course of action would be to take down the jib and free it from the line that was pulling it overboard. I told Karen to go down below and grab a knife as I lowered the jib. She came back up holding a dulled steak knife.
“This is the only one we have,” she yelled out.
Good grief, I thought to myself, recalling its inability to cut my chicken dinner the night before. With no other choice, I began hacking at the sheet with a furious pace until I finally freed my sail. Returning to the wheel and using just the mainsail, I could maneuver the boat, but barely. I could keep us off the coast but I realized quickly that I would not make it back to Jamestown with the main alone, I needed to free my prop from the tangled line and revive my engine. Thankfully a mooring ball appeared just a few dozen yards from the shore. I aimed my bow for it, and had Karen snatch it with the boat hook. The mooring line looked as if it came from the Jurassic era. There were pounds of green growth, crustaceans and what I was convinced was a Pterodactyl egg growing on it. Pausing for a moment to mourn the loss of my clean boat, I secured the mess to the cleat.
Now for the dreaded part; diving in to cut my prop free. Seconds after entering the water, I realized I had a tough task ahead of me. Choppy conditions were tossing the boat around and her high stern was slapping the water with gusto.
“I save you from the scrap pile and this is how you treat me,” I thought to myself while imagining the stern knocking me out. Thanks to the conditions, it would take almost half an hour before I could get the line off the prop. I was eventually able to fire up the engine and limp back home.
During that return trip I cursed the boat, I cursed the wind, I cursed my knife but mostly I cursed myself. I made multiple mistakes, but thankfully I also learned numerous lessons that day the most important was that being complacent is much more dangerous than being caught in the irons.