Sailing stories needed

Ed Jones

Secretary/Vice Commodore
Thread starter #1
Hey, guys, it's early spring and the sailing is getting knarly. Which means some of you may have some wild and crazy stories to tell, like, "There I was, solo in my Capri, the wind was blowing twenty knots and..."

And, and... Hey, tell us your story. You don't need to be another Hemingway, just pound the old keyboard. Post 'em here, and lets see who has the wildest story to tell. Thanks!

Ed Jones

Secretary/Vice Commodore
Thread starter #2
Sailing Stories

Okay, guys, just to break the ice, here's a story of my own...

Ed Jones

Fear of Lightning

Each lightning bolt seemed closer than the last. “Keep your hand off that shroud,� I told my crew, shouting to be heard over the wind and the driving rain. “If it hits the mast it’ll run down the rigging.� I was only a kid, and in deep trouble. I knew there had been a chance of a storm, but nothing like this...
* * *
By the time I was fifteen, in 1950, I’d done a fair amount of dinghy sailing, enough to make me confident I could handle the frequent summer thunderstorms that arose on our home waters, Lake Murray, in central South Carolina. A bit too confident, as it turned out.
The trouble all started when one of the neighbors across our cove, Bob Wilson, called me one summer day. “Ed, I hear you’re a pretty good sailor.�
“Well, I’ve been sailing since I was a little kid.�
“Yeah, I’ve seen you out in that Snipe of yours lots of times. Listen, I’ve bought an old Lightning. It’s up at Harden’s Landing and I need to sail it home. But I’ve only sailed once or twice in my life, and I need somebody experienced to go with me. Would you be willing?�
Two days later Bob’s wife drove us the ten miles to Harden’s Landing and dropped us off, along with a lunch she’d packed in a cooler.
I looked over the Lightning. There was no trailer, and she sat at the dock. The bottom looked fairly clean, the big advantage of keeping a boat in fresh water. But the rigging looked tired, and the cotton sails were limp and mildewed. A pair of faded life jackets with frayed straps lay in the cuddy, along with a couple of paddles and a bucket. Not too promising. At eighteen feet, it would be the biggest boat I’d sailed.
“I got it real cheap,� Bob said. “When I get it home I’m going to fix it up, paint it, and maybe get new sails. But first we have to get it there.� While I made my inspection he was busy pumping out the bilge with a cheap little pump. “As you can see, it leaks a bit. Something else I’ll have to work on.�
I examined the sky. It was ten in the morning, and a few cumulus clouds already dotted the horizon. A light breeze ruffled the water. “Let’s get going,� I said. “I want to get home quick, in case a thunderstorm comes up.�
The rig was pretty simple, and there was only the main and jib, so it didn’t take long for us to get the sails up and shove off. I steered while he dug into the lunch. Well, the beer part of the lunch.
He handed me a Coke. “You don’t drink beer, do you?�
“No, sir.�
“Well, if you decide you want one there’s more in the cooler,� he said. “Gonna be a hot one.�
I hoped he wouldn’t drink too much. If the weather turned bad I’d need a sober crew person.
The sails were totally blown out, but we were beam-reaching, so it didn’t matter. And once we had cleared a long peninsular we could turn downwind for the final leg to home.
By eleven o’clock I was hungry, and ate a sandwich and had a second Coke. Bob was on his fourth beer by then. Surprisingly, there seemed to be a lot of water in the bilge already, so I put him to work pumping the bilge again. Better than sitting there drinking, I figured.
What worried me most were the clouds to windward. They were boiling up into the hot, hazy sky, growing fast and reaching for the stratosphere.
I pointed at the clouds. “We might have a problem.�
Bob’s head swiveled. “Where did those come from?�
“They’ve been growing for the last hour. I think maybe we better put on those life jackets.�
He looked startled. A husky man, his eyes usually had kind of a sleepy, half-closed look. But now they were wide open. He sat down the beer can, fumbled around under the cuddy, and pulled out the life jackets. Mine had no buckles, so I just tied the straps. One side of the jacket was split, and the ancient kapok stuffing was poking out. Great.
The wind started to build, and it was shifting ahead of us. We were still on starboard tack. I sheeted in, but the ancient sails were so blown out I knew going to weather would be a challenge. But the point we had to round was only a mile ahead, and I figured we could lay it.
A sudden puff caught us, heeling the boat sharply, and Bob yelped as he hiked out, one hand gripping the weather shroud. I couldn’t help grinning. “Hang on!� I shouted. “This could get interesting.�
But before we’d gone another half-mile the wind was up to about fifteen knots, the sails were luffing wildly, and I knew we hadn’t a chance to clear the point, not with those sails. Should I tack?
I looked at Bob, who was hanging on with both hands by now. I decided trying to beat to weather was hopeless as I had no confidence he could handle the jib sheets in those conditions. “Bob,� I shouted over the rising wind, “we’ve gotta run downwind. We can’t clear the point.�
Bob nodded, now looking scared. “Where will we go?�
“We’ll run down to George Sumner’s cove. It’s pretty sheltered, and he has a mooring we can tie off on.�
“Whatever you say.�
I turned downwind and eased the sails. If I’d had an experienced crew I would’ve dropped the main and run with just the jib, but I was afraid Bob would be unable to get down the big main and tie it off. Oh, well, we were off the wind, so it didn’t matter. We’d just go all the faster.
I looked back. The sky was black, and the water was covered with whitecaps. A curtain of rain was sweeping down toward us, fast. “We’re gonna get wet...�
Just then a massive bolt of lightning lit up the sky, followed a couple of seconds later by a huge thunderclap.
“Oh, my God,� Bob muttered. “That mast is like a big lightning rod.�
I didn’t want to think about it. I had my hands full, trying to spot the entrance to George’s cove about three miles downwind. I figured it would take about half an hour. More than ever, I wished we were carrying just the jib, but trying to drop the main now was out of the question. I wondered if Bob would be okay if we went over. I had no idea of how good a swimmer he was. At least it would sober him up...
Another lightning bolt, this one closer, struck just as the rain hit us, a cold, blinding downpour that soaked us instantly. Now I would have to guess which way to steer for the cove. No compass, of course. I told Bob not to touch the rigging.
We raced on, my mind racing as well. I decided to edge closer to the shore, and follow it until it opened up into the cove. I steered more to starboard until I heard what sounded like surf breaking to my right.
There were several inches of water in the bilge, some from the leaking hull, some from the rain, making it harder to steer as it sloshed around. The Lightning was wallowing in the swells, the bow dipping as the waves lifted our stern and the bilge water rushed forward. I was worried about losing control if the bow buried itself.
Bob got out the little pump and went to work, but he couldn’t even keep up. “Use the bucket!� I yelled. He nodded and dragged the bucket out of the cuddy, but his bailing was slow and not very useful. I began to wonder if that old life jacket would keep me afloat.
Time dragged, and I was getting tired from wrestling with the tiller, trying to keep the water-logged boat on course. Suddenly, a break in the rain gave me a momentary view and I saw the cove opening to starboard. But now I would have to harden up to a beam reach to get in.
“Get ready to hike out,� I yelled as I sheeted in the main, letting the jib flog.
Bob scrambled out onto the rail as the old Lightning heeled over. The weather helm was fierce and I had to pull with all my strength to hold my heading. Then, to my relief, we finally reached inside the cove where the water was flat. But now the rain was back, and it was hard to spot the mooring.
Bob came off the rail and laid on the foredeck, mooring line in hand. “I see it!� he called out. “Dead ahead!�
“I’m gonna luff up to it. Don’t miss it! I don’t want to have to make a second pass!�
To my amazement, he crawled forward, reached out, grabbed the buoy on the first try, and whipped a loop of the line through a ring welded to the top. Moments later, we were secure. Wet, cold, and miserable, we somehow managed to squeeze into the cuddy where we laid waiting for the rain to stop.
But just a few minutes later I heard a familiar voice. “Hey, boys, could ye use a spot of hot coffee?� It was George Sumner, the old Scot who was also my boss. He owned a woolen mill where I worked after school as a quality control assistant.
I crawled back into the cockpit and peered out. George was alongside in a dinghy. “Climb in, lad, you and your mate.�
George, a real tough guy in the style of Hemingway, had rowed against a stiff wind to the mooring. He wasn’t even breathing hard. I wasn’t surprised. After all, George had survived being sunk by a German U-boat in World War I and little things like thunderstorms were nothing to him. We tumbled aboard and ten minutes later we sat in his snug kitchen, drinking hot coffee.
“I saw ye lads reaching in. And I said to myself that boy at the helm looks a lot like me Eddie. And sure enough it was.� He clapped a heavy hand on my shoulder. “Good work, lad.�
I felt myself swell with pride. “Could I have some more coffee?�
“Sure. Cream and sugar?�
“Nope. Just black.�
I went sailing with my son one weekend in mid August at Canyon Lake in central Texas. The sailing weather was beautiful for the first half of the day. It was only later in the day when we were hit by a thunderstorm and 26 mph winds, with a 38 mph gust as measured by the Lake Canyon Yacht Club’s weather station, when things got hairy. From my vantage point, during the worst of it, the waves picked up to about three or so feet and white capping. My son and I rode it out, sailing only on the main. I let out the main as much as I could to try to de-power the boat. Even then, going back to the launch, we got up on plane for what seemed about five minutes as we crossed the lake. The centerboard and boat made loud, strange humming sound that sounded similar to a whale singing. As we got into the cove near the Comal boat ramp, the winds started to die down, and the skies finally looked as if they might be clearing. When I thought the worst had passed, I told my son to unfurl the jib. Just then, we were hit by another gust that blew us over in a split second. My son fell between the main sail and mast and I landed squarely in the main sail, which caused the boat to immediately turtle. The mast then stuck in the mud, and I couldn’t right the boat. Some jet skiers and a ski boat came by to gawk. The ski boat got too close and collided with my boat, taking a nickel size chip out of the hull on the bow. To make matters worse, we were quickly being pushed into the shore by the waves and wind. A jet skier tried to tow us back out to deeper water so that I could free the mast. I finally got a jib sheet over the boat, and I was able to get the boat back in its side. However, even with my son and I hanging on the centerboard, with a combined estimated weight of 290 pounds, we couldn’t right the boat. That was the first time that has happened. To that point, I had the boat over accidentally twice, and another half dozen or so for capsizing practice. Usually I can right it by myself in a few minutes. With my son and me still hanging on to the side of the boat, we beached on the shore. Thankfully, it wasn’t rocky where we landed. We got the boat back upright and on the water, but I was so tired by then, I couldn’t get the boat underway again. The wind and waves kept pushing us towards the shore. The same jet skier who helped earlier helped us again by towing us back to the ramp. Put simply, it was very humiliating, but I was very grateful nonetheless because I barely had the strength to move after that fight.