19 January, 2005

An amazing day in PT. It was almost sixty. Unreal. I am so so happy. Did lots of little things. Had a good talk. I'm so encouraged.
Someone told me today that (my engine aside) I may have the nicest boat in the marina for under forty thousand. (And I'm way under - I bought it for eighteen, put about ten into it). Yeeha!! Things are really really coming together.


18 January, 2005

I'm back on the ball again.
Feeling much better. I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I'll a little to scared to look.
I have been running my heater 24.7 and that has helped my morale. I'm healthy again. I got to hang out with Jamie and Jeremy and talk about Widge.

It is amazing to be this far along. A few big things, but nothing overwhelming. I ordered the part today that I broke right before I left for SC - I was worried about being able to find it.
But it was no problem.

Everything is great. I need to get back out again, as soon as this part comes in.

I'm stoked to head to Missoula. I want to ski. I want to see everyone and play in the snow and have a warm house.
I want to find a home for my car.

I am gonna look for some temp work, like subbing, or working with at risk youth, something. I have some time before the weather improves and I get out of here.

All in all, my spirits are much improved.
Okay, this isn't as clean or SHORT as it should be,
but here's

PART 2 of The First Tale of Adventure of the Grim

(Scroll to the last entry if you haven't read Part 1 yet. It isn't right to skip ahead.)

I soon realized releasing a mooring ball in a fifteen knot headwind and with only yourself to do it was no mean task. I had to coordinate the speed of the boat to the drag of the current and wind. I kept coming up well short of the ball. Finally, with the proper timing, I eased up on the buoy and, with a slip knot, I attached another line, this one shorter than the first, to give me an extra second to untie the bowline (knot), then this temporary line was easily untied by pulling the slipknot. The mooring line I quickly threw on deck and I raced back to the helm—full throttle—and I was clean of the boats and bay. (Mystery Bay is small, and mooring balls are set right in its mouth.) In the end, this singular action of untying the mooring would become the deciding moment for the fortunes of the voyage.

Once in the middle of Tilisuk Sound with plenty of sea-room to get the sails up I hoisted only a reefed main. The boat heeled heavily, the deck almost under the waves. It felt like I was cruising, but I could tell from the shoreline that I was barely making any progress at all. The tide and wind were almost as fast as I was.
Getting back out into open water was exhilarating, though it was also accompanied by the shadow-realization of what a challenge even the start had been and that there was certainly no going back. I was locked in.
The wind was blowing straight down the Sound, the direction I was heading. I sailed as close to the wind as possible, but because of the slow progress, tacking through the wind very difficult. With no speed, a boat tends to stall, or get stuck, without crossing all the way through the wind, and will sometimes simply be turned back to the original point of sail. If there is land ahead, this is a bad thing, and such was the case.

So I thought it wise to run the engine; the engine would add a few knots of speed and help with the tacking. All the while I was running up and back checking to see that everything was stowed. I would lash the tiller so the boat would hold its course, which it did. Everything was going great. However, in all this hustle, I neglected one thing.

As I prepared for a tack to port, without warning, the engine died. First, it was alarming because it had never happened before, and second, because this was a crucial time, no time for the engine poop out. The wind was howling and land was rapidly approaching on the starboard. Several things happened and didn’t happen in this moment. Without thinking or doing anything else, I reached down and turned the key to restart the engine. This was a costly mistake. The battery didn’t seem to want to turn the engine over. This was curious. I knew the battery was good, and the engine was perfectly warm by now; it had run twenty minutes, I’d say.
What was going on?
Then at last it cranked up. Thank god. I breathed a deep sigh. That could have been disaster. Feeling like the worst was behind me, the episode demonstrated just how much was at risk. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears.

With the engine now running, I turned the tiller to tack—Wonk! It clonked on something hard. It was caught. The tiller was pinned to starboard. Oh, this is bad, I thought.
For some reason I thought about the engine, how it had mysteriously cut out. I opened up a hatch at my feet that opens into the engine room. The engine was indeed running fine, but then I noticed—the driveshaft was totally disconnected from the engine at the coupling. The shaft was projected aft—blocking the rudder.

This was almost too much to comprehend. The first question was why, though running over a crab trap seemed the only likely answer, which later proofed false. I didn’t have the time to spare on such “unimportant” questions. Currently I was the only man aboard a vessel with no motor and a rudder pinned to starboard, which, if it isn’t obvious, has the effect of making the vessel want to do doughnuts. May I remind you that the wind was gusting to twenty knots and that I was mere minutes away from being blown into a rocky beach two-hundred yards behind me. Thus was my predicament.
What would you do?

I was a bit dumb-stricken. At first I tried to sail, for lack of any better thing to do. This was brutal. I’d get blown down wind; I’d let out sail only to quickly turn and jibe violently.
It only took one of those jibes, ringing my mainsheet and traveler, to show me exactly what to do next: I dropper the mainsail. This in a way was total defeat. No sail, no motor—no way. At least I realized this sooner than later. There was no choice.
So now what? The wind was blowing like an eastern Montana afternoon; I had no steerage and a shoreline rapidly approaching. My mind was racing. You can do this; you can do this; you can do this; YOU HAVE TO DO THIS!
First, a safety net: the VHF. Channel 16; I hailed the Coast Guard: “Coast Guard, Coast Guard, this is a vessel in distress. Do you copy? Over.” I told them that I was disabled and drifting into a lee shore; I gave them my coordinates. They kept trying to get more information, and I had to tell them I had to save my ship, and if they’d just show up that would be great.
I jumped back on deck and surveyed my situation, a bit becalmed now. Disabled, drifting, shore—I hadn’t read a damn thing about this scenario. Intellectuality be damned! I was winging it. Only one thing came to mind, and not very confidently, but an idea: drop the anchor.
Of course! What else did I have left? I was so close to shore the water had to be shallow, shallow enough. I seemed to remember a shelf right about here. And I had a lot of chain and a big anchor. It would work. I could feel it.

I dumped it. The anchor fell like a star; the chain slithered after it like a tail in the sky. More chain, more, more, more. I didn’t know how deep it was, but the wind was making white caps now, whistling through the shrouds. I locked the chain and waited. I knew this was the thing. The anchor was the trick. It was gonna hold; I knew it, and I knew that this was the best I had.
I watched the shore. I watched and waited.

We didn’t budge. The wind and waves beat as they would but we held fast. I was so proud of my boat. Then I remembered; this was sailing; this was what I was what I had to be able to cope with if I wished to be a sailor; this was the nature of the game.
I got back on the VHF and hailed the Coast Guard again. I reported that Grim was disabled but stabilized and safe and was no longer in need of assistance. My voice sounded much more clear and in command than it had fifteen minutes earlier.
I continued watching the shore.

My brain started putting together the pieces. Must have been a crab pot. I ran it over; it conched out the engine. Ahhh! Now I realized my second error, though still oblivious to the first. When the engine died I attempted to restart it WITHOUT first taking it out of drive. A hasty and inexperienced move. As it turned out, the propeller was fouled, by object unknown, and could not be turned. So, when I attempted to start the engine with it in gear, the entire force of the battery went to turning an unturnable driveshaft, hence the weak sounding battery. If I had put the engine in neutral, it would have started up naturally and only died again when re-engaged. This would have been curious; I would have repeated the process, but I may have figured out that the prop was jammed.

All driveshafts have a coupling where the shaft meets the engine. My shaft has a rubber section inserted in the coupling to flex and absorb vibration; it’s called a flexible coupler. At the time I didn’t realize this was a specialized part and that everyone didn’t have one. I would learn that this wasn’t the case, that a coupling was simply the assembly of the driveshaft meeting the engine without the rubber. When the starter was bent on turning a shaft that wouldn’t turn, the force was great enough to break this flexible coupler. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet bought a backup for it.
How was I to replace something I didn’t have? I wasn’t sure, but first things first: the prop was tangled. Start there. Untangle it.

Dreadful as it may seem, my blood was still really pumping. Coast Guard were still hollering on the radio asking questions, trying to find a tow if I needed one, which seemed like a highly likely scenario. I stripped down to my underwear, put on a full float suit, strapped on a harness, clipped in and jumped overboard.
It had to be done. My god, it will take your breath away.

I can’t remember exactly how cold the water here is, 48 degrees? It comes down from Alaska. It’s cold. People drown in ten minutes. The current kept pulling me away from the stern. The float suit was too damn buoyant, and I could hardly get down in the water to really see. It appeared to me that the prop had cleared itself somehow. I saw something shiny, but I thought it might be the extended driveshaft. I didn’t investigate further. Illogical now, but I was cold and not particularly lucid at the time. So with slightly rubbery arms I pulled myself back aboard. I screamed with satisfaction at being crazy enough to jump into the NW water in December. It was still only eleven o’clock in the morning. The wind was still howling, and the only thing to go right was the anchor.

My god, I thought, I’ve got a flight in less than twenty-four hours.
This was a mighty fine jam. I laughed about it. And smiled. However, I was supposed to meet Elle in the airport in Chicago, and I would be crushed not to be there.
How would I even call her?
The Coast Guard said the only tow they could find would be from Friday Harbor and would take two hours to arrive. Time didn’t matter. But how much would it cost? They called back and said, nine-hundred dollars!
I thought not.
I could buy a few more plane tickets home for a fair shake less. I would have to be creative. And patient.

I needed something to do. I needed to find a way to make progress. How had this happened? I went forward and checked the anchor line, put my hand on it to feel if the anchor was crawling on the bottom at all. I noticed a line hanging over the side, the same line I had used to catch the mooring ball in the morning. As I went to pull it up it wouldn’t budge. How could that be……then, like a bowling ball to the head, I knew. I knew right where that line led to and how it got there. Somehow, in the circus of getting everything stowed, it had been neglected. At some point wind or wave had knocked it over; it had swept down the side, along the keel and into the propeller. The prop had clogged and caused the motor to stop. The first and final piece to the puzzle, the impetus to the whole.

Running over a crab trap I could accept. The seas were rough. But losing a line overboard, that is like sabotage, a crime of the highest order. It is almost ironic: I am the neat-nick, the perpetual coiler of line. Hell, I’ll uncoil a line just so I can redo it. I tie knots in my spare time. For me to fall victim to this sort of carelessness—honestly, it’s kind of funny.

Now I knew what needed to happen. The rudder needed to be cleared. To do that the prop must be freed; to do that, the line must be untangled from the prop; to do that I must go BACK into the water. And this time I must not fail. This time I knew what had to be done. And it had to be. No progress could be made otherwise.

This time I was calm and sedate. It was significantly harder to muster the strength to jump in again, to jump in with a mission and not simply investigating. This was crux. I sat and focused. No float suit this time. A knife clipped to my harness. Might as well wear the same already wet long johns.
After some deep breathing, I stripped down, put on the wets, harness on. I didn’t want to jump, but I did. The water was so cold it was difficult to hold your breathe. I had already caught the line with the boat hook before jumping in. I followed it to the prop and found the loose coil. I fought passion. I couldn’t simply rip at the bird’s nest; I had to be methodical. Patience. Always pull the same strand. I would bite that strand in my mouth so as not to lose track. This is taking too long, I thought. I kept my head out of water most of the time and luckily the transom (stern) never really tried to drown me.

I don’t know how long it took. Five minutes? I don’t know. When that last strand came out, I was booking to get out of there. Patience. Again. This isn’t a game. I had to remember what I was doing. I had to get back in the boat. If you’ve been in the water long enough, you lose your strength, and it was a mighty big pull-up to get up and over the lifelines. Holding onto the toerail, I did the first pull-up to the life line. I breath deep and hoist myself strongly, chest up to my hands, my right legs swings up and plants on the deck. From there it was simply form to get up and back on deck safely.

The adrenaline wore off fast. It wasn’t enough to get dry and into clothes. My teeth were chattering like mad. I was so proud though. I pulled it off. I down.
I pulled out my sleeping bag and climbed in. I got out the video camera and talked into it explain some of the situation. I boiled some hot water.

It probably took close to half an hour or more to recover from the water. I drank my cocoa. I made a tuna sandwich. I thought of where I could find help and what would that be. Now that the prop was free I could free the rudder.
I could sail again.
But this was little good. I couldn’t sail up to my anchor. I couldn’t sail through the entrance to this sound with the wind direction the way it was, nor could I sail solo into my slip. I needed another shear plat coupling.

“Coast Guard, Coast Guard, this is Grim. Do you copy over?”
“Grim, this is Coast Guard, switching to channel 22, over.”

I asked the Coast Guard if they would call a friend of mine, Ben, he lives in a boat near mine in the marina. He also works with Jim, who sold me my boat. It was Sunday; I thought maybe he might motor over here and bring me a new coupling. But it was Sunday; how was he going to get a coupling?
They said they would call him a tell him to get on the radio. Ten minutes later I hear, “Jonah, Jonah, this is Ben. Do you copy?”
“Ben, this is Jonah, turn to channel 22, over.”

We talked for a while but could figure no easy solutions. He asked around and could find no one with a skiff to come out to where I was. He was in no hurry to sail his boat out himself. I couldn’t blame him. Not that it would have done any good.

But amazingly enough, he did have a spare coupling and it was the right size as mine. Amazing. So if he could find a way out here, conceivably, I could fix the motor and start heading hack to Port Townsend. I think it was about two in the afternoon now. Ben started looking around for a way out to me, but with no success.

As the afternoon fell, the winds died down to nothing. The sound that earlier was covered in whitecaps was now glassy and calm.

What could I do? First, I needed to remove my coupling. This turned out to be a chore. Half of it was corroded to the engine shaft. With a little liquid wrench and some time I wedged it out with a __________. I got it all disassembled and looked at it. I didn’t like being passive. What if his coupling didn’t fit for some reason? Why couldn’t I fix this one?
Why not?
I got out a file, epoxy, and a vise. This didn’t have to be perfect or permanent—it just had to make it to my slip. I probably wouldn’t need it at all. I roughed the rubber with the file and cleaned it. I mixed the epoxy and dabbed it on, squished the pieces together, then stuck them in the vise. Now it was a matter of time. How much time I wondered? D Does epoxy work on rubber? It was the best I could think of. I figured it would need at least twelve hours. This would be real close.

A bit before the sun set Ben came back on the VHF. He said a buddy and him were going to drive to the island near me and then kayak over. He’d bring the coupling and then I’d be in business. Everything on my end seemed squared away. All I could do was wait.
I boiled some more cocoa, smoked half a cigarette and started singing. I sat and sang and sang, not words, just sounds. Sometimes it sounds like Spanish, other times more like a Buddhist chant. After an hour or two I heard voices. I got out the binoculars and could barely make out to shapes in the distance.

Somehow Ben and his buddy didn’t even see me until I yelled at them. They tied up their boats and came aboard. As Ben got aboard he handed over two pieces of the coupling. “Where’s the third piece, Ben, the rubber part inside?” He looked at me a little confused. “What?” he said.
I knew he didn’t have the center piece, the rubber piece I talked about, what I call the “shear plate.” I had always thought of that plate as part of the coupling, but Ben’s confusion made clear that actually, the plat only goes inside the coupling. There was nothing wrong with my coupling. Now we had two perfectly good couplings and one ruined shear plate. I explained this to Ben. He understood and said that most boats don’t have that mechanism, but that it is cool that mine does.

I offered them some cheese and tea. I explained my epoxy plan, and they laughed, but said it may work. Ben called a buddy of ours to try and get more advise. This is difficult to explain, but the shear plate fills a certain amount of space. The driveshaft cannot simply be pulled forward to meet the engine coupling. Matt suggested temporarily spanning the gap with very long bolts. There wouldn’t be much strain on the bolts. Then it hit me: Put in the shear plate. It won’t matter if the epoxy holds. Instead of replacing the individual bolts, span the entire thing as Matt suggested. Esentally, the shear plate fill s the space and the bolts take the rotation. It could work.
But did I have these unusually long bolts???
Your damn right! And the nuts too.
All was a go. I tightened them down as much as I could. They kept getting tighter and tighter. Then I realized it was because I was compressing rubber. This would be a problem. Ben’s friend, Dean, paddled back to the car. Ben stayed with me to help me back into port.

I had to take a second and reorganize my mind. I had to concentrate. I was tired, stressed. It was time to sail. What had to be done and in what order? Everything was in order. Everything was fine. We pulled the anchor and set back out into the middle of the sound. The wind started to pick up just enough to sail by. I raised the main and the storm jib. My blood started boiling again.
I did it. Somehow we were underway again. I couldn’t believe it. I may yet see Elle in Chicago. I never would have thought.
But I wasn’t there yet. On a day like today, one should never count their chickens too early. I was aware of that.

We hadn’t been underway ten minutes before the engine started sounding unnatural. We had enough wind to sail by so we cut it and I went below to check it out. We would need the engine to make it through the entrance to the sound and into the harbor.
To my surprise the nuts I had so arduously tightened were on the brink of turning straight of the bolts. Because the shear plate was rubber, it was impossible to crank down to a place that would withstand the vibrations of the motor. I decided the only way was to use some threat sealant. Hopefully the sealant would lock the nuts in place. In the end, this wouldn’t work either; I’m not sure why.

As we approached the entrance of the sound we realized that none of the buoys were lit. This was a real hazard because the channel was very shallow and makes a sharp s-turn; without the buoys, it would be damned hard to not run aground.
This got stressful. I felt like we were approaching the entrance, but Ben disagreed, thinking we were still further back in the sound. It was crucial because we had to decide when to cut out into the sound, predicting the next buoy. He didn’t know the sound and I had done this three times in the last week, and I was captain, so we turned.
To my amazement, we almost ran smack into the buoy. It was an incredible stroke of good fortune. From there it was a matter of following the proper coarse to finding the next buoy. It was time for the engine.

This time the engine ran better. As we made our way through the last of the turns, the rattling returned slightly. Again we were able to use the wind, so I went below and tightened them all down for the last time.
Entering Port Townsend Bay was triumphant. The wind was blowing nicely. Once again we had only open water between us and the marina. This was the fun part, the joy of sailing part. The skies were clear. A sailor could hardly ask for more. If it weren’t for my early flight and my partner that I had inconvenienced I might have sailed around all night. But as it was, it was nearing eleven o’clock and I had plenty more to do. Outside the marina I dropped the sails and took the helm. We eased into a quiet marina without hardly a ripple in our wake. Grim slid into her slip easily.

I stepped off onto the dock and looked at her. It hit me.
We made it. We really, really made it. Unreal! I didn’t think I had a chance. No tow; no cash; just a friend to help navigate in the dark (and also the long bolt idea—let us not forget),
Another thing that hit me was how tired I was. I spent a lot of hours hunched over the engine with that coupling, cold water, and just shear intensity of a day. I hadn’t had a day like this in a long time. I didn’t fully realize it, but this was just what I needed before heading home. This wasn’t what I had in mind, but the result was the same: heightened self-confidence. I was tested and I prevailed. I was christened as a sailor today.

I took Ben out for a late-night burger and a beer. We laughed at the day. It was a good sail home. I breathed so deeply in the car on the way to dinner and back. I thanked him heartily and walked from his boat down to my own. The next few hours I spent stowing gear, cleaning up, packing my bag, making sure everything was safe to be left, put a emergency note in the window. At this point it was about three am. I needed to leave by four. I decided a shower was in order.
I cleaned up and hopped in the car, exhilarated for another journey—to the airport! Elle awaits.

11 January, 2005

Quiet days

A bit lonely and down. I have a lingering, mild cold. I am rather lethargic and unmotivated.
Chalk it up to post-vacation blues.
I found out while I was home that there may be a warrent out for my arrest--this never helps! Apparently an old Wyoming ticket I had, which was supposed to be dropped (it was for failing to have proof of insurence, which I mailed to the court), wasn't. Obviously they didn't recieve the letter.
At least my car wasn't impounded at the ferry terminal.

The first few days back were great. I just slept. They were divine.
But now I am trying to do things and I find myself uncomfortable. It is cold; I have the sniffles; my head itches; I need a shave.

The positive news is that Jamie and Jeremy are coming to visit. This has prompted me to clean the boat a bit and do some laundry. This has made me happy. I've run a bunch of easy errands as well.

I'm moving on along.

Also I've had some important dialogue on future plans. Things seem to be falling in place well. Now if I can just fix what I have broke.....

08 January, 2005

The First Tale of Adventure on the Grim.

Part 1

There is a time for patience and a time for daring. Experience is a pendulum swinging between the two. For two and a half months I’ve worked in Port Townsend, learning slowly, taking small steps, listening, aging like a Bristlecone Pine in the Nevada desert. The weekend before, a friend I had sailed Grim for the first time. Everything had gone smoothly, easy winds and clear skies. Now it was time for my first trip alone. This was the last weekend before I flew home to South Carolina on Monday to spend an easy time with family over the holiday. I needed to do something important, something noteworthy, something to represent all the work of my time here; I wanted something to show for all the effort.

The plan was a simple trip: Friday I would head out across Port Townsend Bay, enter Tilisuk Sound, and head down the Sound to Mystery Bay. I’d anchor my boat there for the night and head back to PT Sunday afternoon in time to clean up, pack up, and drive to the ferry on Bainbridge Island, catch the ferry to Seattle where I would fly out of Monday morning. It would be a long day for sure, but it would provide me with something to smile on while away in South Carolina for two weeks. And indeed I have smiled a lot about it sense, and laughed, but nothing ever seems to go as planned and this weekend was no exception. The calm Saturday was but the calm before the storm. Sunday was my true Christening as a sailor.

Saturday was clear and calm—no wind. I fueled up and headed back out, loaded with fuel, food, water, and just about everything else I own. The idea was to sail, but with no wind, I’d have to motor I motored along, relished the blue sky and warm weather, made a little video for my family. The entrance to Tilisuk Sound is tricky, but Brian and I had sailed through it just the weekend before. It was almost too easy. I was hardly paying attention, just following the buoys. Mystery Bay grew in front of me, a small divot in the coastline to the left, then the masts of moored boats came into focus. I swung in behind them and drifted slowly up to a mooring ball. The current didn’t stop me as well as I had expected and I kept on drifting past the ball. I reversed a bit and was able to catch it and tie on.

I stowed the sails and made clean the deck. As the sun set a thick fog rolled in. The sensation was like drifting in space. There was no way to distinguish land, air, water—everything was grey and the same, all around. It was quiet and there wasn’t a wave. The boat was as still as the ground. I ate some dinner, fixed a cup of cocoa and spent hours on deck, smoked a cigarette and watch the fog drift. The horn of the ferry would bellow in the distance, impossible to tell just how far. I slept hard and had good dreams.

As I slowly awoke I could hear the wind whistling outside through my drowsiness. It was another clear day, but this one, more typical of Washington, was blustery, a bit too blustery. The VHF relayed that there was “a small craft advisory” in effect for the day, and things weren’t supposed to improve until evening.
This wouldn’t do.
My flight was at eight am tomorrow morning—in Seattle! I didn’t have time to mill around Mystery Bay all day. This would prove to be a perfect example of why you never ever sail with a schedule. True as this my be, what I was really thinking about was a different sort of timing: I had been patient. I had practiced and started small. Small steps. Perhaps it was time for a dive into the deep. The wind wasn’t that bad, 15 – 20 knots. I’ll see worse I’m sure, some day. It wasn’t like I had to go all that far either. All I had to do was get closed hauled, get heeled way over, scream with exhilaration, make a few tacks and I’d be back. I tried not to think about the entrance to Tilisuk Sound or docking with this sort of wind. I was simply trying to gear myself up. I was feeling pretty good. Really, I knew I could wait it out and be fine, but I wanted it. I wanted to work for it; I wanted to risk failure. I thought I was ready, at least ready enough.

Perhaps I didn’t know what that meant, but I cranked the engine and got ready cut loose the mooring ball.


07 January, 2005

at last!!!!

Feeling a bit worn out. Slept all day - might have a cold.
So great to be back.
A funny and a crazy story to come.