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Adventure Contemporary Thriller

It started with buying a boat that was sunk. I had saved up the money to buy a boat and was wandering around a boat sales place when I saw the upturned stern of a small sloop. I could tell is was a sloop by the mast partially angled out of the water. The cabin was completely submerged but the rounded stern was beautiful with the rudder giving little jerks with the falling tide movements. I ran back to the office and told them about the sloop. They hadn’t been out on the dock that morning and hadn’t seen that the boat had sunk.

That’s how it started. I bought her with an agreement to haul her out included in the deal. A friend helped me caulk her. Now, she was a her. I had her back in the water within a week of buying her and down the coast within a few days of that. But, she still took on a lot of water and I turned back to San Francisco to tie her up and check out where the leak was. She was a spitsgatter, one of the small double-ended boat designs used for fishing off the deep waters of the German or North Sea. She was Norwegian and sailed like a dream without me really having to steer on most directions of sailing. I didn’t find the leak but the water stopped entering so I figured she just needed swelling up after sitting at the boat sales place for over three months without sailing.

On a sunny day’s walk I spotted the dinghy half submerged under a pier with a green slime inside her and moss hanging from her sides like she had been abandoned for a long time. I needed a dinghy but this one was a little too long for my spitsgatter but I still needed a dinghy so I pulled her out from under the dock and getting wet got into her. With a paddle that was conveniently under one of her two thwarts I paddled it to a launch area and pulled it out, noting that she did not leak through the plywood planking. I also noted that the dinghy had moved easily even half full of water. I turned her over and poured out the water. I cleaned it up right there with the thought in mind to sell it and buy a small cheap inflatable with the money. The more I cleaned it the more I liked what I saw. The dinghy was a pirogue, a sharply pointed canoa and was built with strength in mind. 

So, now I had a dinghy. I started paddling around San Francisco’s waterfront amazed at the speed my dinghy made and ease of effort in gaining that speed. I named her Cloud, which went with my spitsgatter named, Gull. I tried out different ways of getting her aboard. Cloud was now a her. She was heavy and about the 12-foot long. Gull was 23-foot long. At the marina I used the main halyard to lift her with a rope stropped to her mid section and with quick movements was able to get the bow over the lifelines and then the stern to set her upside down atop the cabin with a little overhang past the mast.

On the way out the Golden Gateway I met the first swells and needed to retie Cloud a couple of times by the time I was past Mile Rock. It was a beat out to the 10-fathom line but a nicely sailing beam reach turning to go South toward Mexico six hundred miles away. Gull held her course and I was a happy sailor munching on pre-cooked fried chicken and boiled potatoes in the cabin telling Cloud about the good foods of Mexico. 

That first night was perfect with plenty of stars to sparkle and a very late moon. The next morning I noticed the breeze beginning turning Northerly and I let out sail and increased my speed measurably. Then, the seas began to build with the old current going one way and the wind another. I started surfing down small swells increasing my speed and wondering if I should continue on since I now had to pay attention to the steering and might get tired. I passed Monterey Bay and knew there wasn’t anything to go into until Morro Bay a full day away. The breeze turned into a wind.

When sailing with the wind from behind off the quarter section of the boat it is hard to tell an increase in wind since you are going with it. When I had to push the tiller over with force not to have Gull beam on to the mounding and taller waves I understood the wind had increased to more force than my sail area needed so I turned and came up into the wind so that I could reduce the amount of sail. When I timed it to get forward alongside the boom I let go of the tiller and jumped onto the little space along the cabin top to tie in reef points, lines through the sail that you tied under the sail after letting some sail come down the mast. On the cabin top I saw that it wasn’t safe with the dinghy sliding slightly in both directions. I also saw that Cloud obstructed any thought of getting to the mast to lower the sail. I also saw that the waves were getting higher with Gull’s bow now slamming down on the other side of the oncoming white topped swells. White tops means wind not breeze and serious thinking about what to do.

I had to get the dinghy off the top of the cabin and tow her behind. The mainsail was starting to tell me that I was not guiding the boat, so I jumped back into the cockpit and pushed the tiller to leeward away from the wind and gull settled nicely pointing a little off the wind but leaned too much toward the water taking some on the deck in a steady stream. The dinghy had moved over and was hanging a little off the cabin top and weighing the boat down. I moved forward along the deck and untied the line on the water side of the boat, holding onto the middle of the dinghy with my thigh. Her weight pushed me onto the lifeline and I grabbed a cabin top toe rail not to fall overboard.

Cloud’s bow turned and hooked itself under the lifeline. I moved slowly forward and pushed the dinghy up and over the wire line, then crouching to seize the opportunity to lift the boat over my head and onto the line and one stanchion that held the lifeline up. I slipped under the dinghy holding onto her with my left hand while grabbing the bow line that was still neatly coiled and tucked into the toe rail. I tied the bitter end of the line to the toe rail and lifted Cloud up and over into the sea trying to tilt her to land with her bottom down. It worked but she immediately submerged her pointed stern under and scalloped a bunch of water into the bilge. The paddle upended and fell over the side into the sea. I couldn’t think of that now as Cloud was banging into the side of Gull’s grey hull.

I sat for a moment to work out what to do next. Gull felt relieved to have that weight dragging her side down gone but started to skip off course again. I ran back along the deck to the cockpit and jumped in, correcting the course, still going back toward Monterey Bay now. I sat there with Cloud thudding harder as she turned her bow into the hull with the wind increasing and the waves beginning to tower more. We sailed up and through and slammed down the other side of the mountains of wet. 

I went forward and released the dinghy painter that almost slipped out of my hand from the pull of the weight of a half full dinghy. I wrapped the line around my hand and regained the cockpit to tie the line off to my port bollard. I adjusted the line so that when we turned Cloud would have her distance about her length astern of Gull hopefully pulling her bow up to ride the waves without going under. I climbed over the cabin top again and holding onto the boom made the mast, fumbled with the halyard and pulled the sail down to the second set of reef points. I pulled in the rear clew reefing line and tied them both off. I clambered back to the cockpit and with my hand on the tiller I rested for a few moments.

I turned the tiller to windward and Gull responded immediately with a couple of waves pushing her around. We started moving downwind again and surfing. I did not want to look behind me to see how high the waves were getting but had to when Cloud began banging into the round stern of Gull. It took me a few thuds to pull up the guts to look back and saw the sharp bow of Cloud above my head and rushing down a comber toward Gull. I pushed the helm over to move aside but her line pulled her toward us anyway. I had to keep steady on the descent of the wave curl to keep Gull in control and couldn’t keep trying to get away from the heart rending thuds that Cloud was giving her.

The wind was increasing to gale force and I still had too much sail up for the wind and my bow would soon be pushed down into the passing swells and pulling the boat down into the sea. Thud. I pulled out my knife and looked at Cloud with tears forming with the salt water in my eyes. 

I cut her loose and she rose on a swell with her bow pointing upward and down like a wave of goodbye to me. I turned back to the course and too much sail and with a very heavy sigh I turned Gull around again to round up into the oncoming seas. When she settled pointing off a bit from the wind I jumped onto the cabin top and crawled to the mast and let loose the halyard to drag and claw down the mainsail. On my knees I moved along the cabin top tying off the mainsail to the boom using the elastic cord I had running hooked along the boom. When I finished I was already with a foot in the cockpit. 

Now, the dinghy was gone out of sight with no chance of ever recovering her but the motion aboard was almost calm. I turned the bow around to surf again under just the jib and the surfing was easily managed now. We smoothly climbed up the backs of the running away thick water and flew down the other sides at an angle that kept the bow up. I was tired and saddened by the loss of Cloud but knew I had done the wrong thing in getting her in the first place and the right thing in cutting her loose for somebody else to find. I said over and over even to this day that she was found by a kid on the beach and brought home to his or her delight. 

I was now heading South toward Mexico without the best dinghy in the world.

March 02, 2024 13:56

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1 comment

Leslie Kirc
15:27 Mar 15, 2024

I marvel at your details. For the average reader this might be a turn off. I hope cloud is washed ashore as you envision. In the third sentence the is should be a this. typos do occur.


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