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Murphy’s Law at Work

Thanks to John Sullivan for this week’s boating story. He proves once again that some things in life just happen and you don’t have any control, especially when there are boats involved. My best advice to students is to always anticipate what could happen and have an alternate plan.

This story goes under the “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong” category. Some years ago, my brother and I set out for a routine spring ritual, moving the boat from the marina to our mooring. Sounds simple enough, but…

(At this time I want to make it clear that I do not mean to express or imply any negative comments toward any manufacturer of boats or relevant equipment.)

I was aboard my Columbia 26 sailboat, and my brother Pete was aboard his Catalina 25. I was alone on my boat and my brother had a friend John with him. Our task was simple, get my boat out of the marina, motor through a short channel, and sail it about four miles to the mooring. Once at the mooring, shackle the mooring ball, and take the winter buoy with us back to the marina in Pete’s boat.

The meeting before the trip was brief. I had an airhorn on board, and if I needed help with anything I would sound the horn. With everyone in agreement on our procedures, we set off at about 4:00pm. This should take us about three hours (“…a three hour tour”).

The inboard engine on my boat was at best temperamental, at worst, not worth its weight in scrap metal. However, after some verbal abuse from me, she decided to start. I quickly released my dock lines and headed out. As I headed for the channel opening, I felt a 12 knot head wind. The 4 knot current was in my favor (thanks be to God). As I got right in the middle of the narrowest part of the channel the engine quit, and would not start. The next two sounds were my air horn and some more verbal abuse from me. By the time Pete and John got to me I had drifted through the worst part of the channel, and was heading for a mooring field. So we quickly updated my vessel’s status from “Not Under Command” to “Vessel in Tow”, and narrowly averted an insurance nightmare.

The outboard on my brother’s boat faithfully got us out into the open waters of the bay. Once there I hoisted the sails and cast off. For about the next hour we had fun racing against each other up the bay until we got to the mooring.

The plan was to have John get in the dinghy and row over to the mooring, shackle the mooring ball on. Once the ball was secure, I could then hit the mooring where he and the dinghy would be waiting. Then, Pete would pick us up in his boat under power. Not terribly complicated… really.

First problem: my brother attempts to drop his main sail, and the halyard jams. Won’t go up, won’t come down. He has to cut it down, and breaks my friends knife in the process. My brother’s turn to exercise some verbal abuse. Meanwhile, I took my jib down, and I’m circling with my main only (my motor still wasn’t cooperating).

Next John gets in the dinghy, heads for the mooring only to find out that the shackle won’t fit the mooring chain. His turn with the verbal abuse. I hit the mooring pretty well under sail, but almost knocked him out of the dinghy in the process. I tie a docking line directly to the chain as a temporary fix, and have to leave it like that overnight. If I didn’t already have a reason to lose sleep, I did now!

Still a little hot about cutting his main halyard, Pete picks us up and we start back to the marina, jib alone. We get the great idea to put up a spinnaker to make better time. It works, however, it’s starting to get dark… and cloudy.

Once we got back to the channel it was totally dark, and the wind was completely dead… did someone say rain? We tried to start the outboard, but… no go! This was the only time in this engine’s history that it did not start. Fortunately, the current was in our favor again (gone so long the tide changed). We drifted through the half mile long channel in the dark, and pouring rain. None of us had foul weather gear. That took about an hour. The spinnaker was hanging like a wet dish rag.

We reached the end of the channel, a quarter mile from the marina, and got caught in a whirlpool. We realized we were slowly, gently moving in a circle. One more try on the motor… it starts! Under power we finish the “Sail from Hell” and arrived back at the marina sometime after 11:00pm. We were broken men.

After we put the boat away, Pete returned to his car only to find the windows down and his foul weather gear inside.
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