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Life Lessons in a Sea of Uncertainty

February 5, 2018

I helped a friend recover a burnt sailboat. He wanted the boat, and friends help friends. He bought the 41 foot boat for under two thousand dollars..and he might have paid too much. Here is what I learned. Some of this is about sailing and some is about life.

Sailing may be simple, but there are lot of interrelated parts on a 41 foot boat. We motored this entire trip..and had to. First, the sails were either missing or in rags. Second, you can’t sail up and down the Louisiana rivers and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Remember, I said this boat had been recovered from a fire. Surprising things happen when you assemble a lot of unreliable parts.

Even the best charts include surprizes. We found that out as we ran aground several times. One GPS system showed us in a marsh as we motored along a 15 foot deep canal. Reality is what you see when you look outside. Reality is the depth you measure with a lead-line as you work your way around the boat. Sometimes that is all you need.

In theory, it is easy to feel your way around and find a good place to anchor in a poorly charted body of shallow water. It isn’t easy to do that with a 20 thousand pound sailboat. It is made harder by trying it on a moonless night. I respect the people who can.  I also respect the people who choose not to. You’re easily disoriented in the dark. Also, you may not recognize when you’ve got the boat stuck.. or unstuck.

When you have questionable gear, it is great to have good people aboard. We knew we had to repair the depth-sounder before we started this trip. We did, and we repaired several other systems enroute, sometimes several times. I don’t have a lot of experience at electrical repairs so I straightened up loose lines and studied the boat. I also made up two anchors to be ready in the rollers.

We spent one night aground. I spent the night worrying about how to get us free. We were never in danger. We were warm, fed, and dry. I should have been counting my blessings and enjoying the sound of rain on the cabin roof while we waited for morning light.

Sometimes you get lucky. The wind and tide lifted us off the bottom in the middle of the night. It helps when you take advantage of good fortune. Remember those anchors and anchor rodes I talked about? Having them at the right place and the right time was invaluable.

We had learned our lesson about exploring the shallows. After dawn, we crept back through a small canal at a walking pace. It is better to find problems slowly than at full speed.

The big guys were nice to us. Pushboats move barges along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Controlling these lashed-together 10,000 ton vessels isn’t easy, but the captains do it every day. They push their barges up against the bank and wait for traffic to clear or for the fog to lift. We stayed out of their way. If we did the right thing, they would never have to act as if we were there. They were nice enough to throttle-down as we passed behind them.

There is a reason that quality marine parts are overbuilt and extremely reliable. The reason is that failure can be costly. We had no options if our engine died. Stay out of situations where your life depends on everything working right, like being too close in front of a loaded barge. We didn’t depend on luck, but we had our share.

A thirty year old boat is worn and a previous fire sure doesn’t help. We had to run a diesel generator because of an unknown problem in the main battery charging system. That means we were dependent on two engines, though losing the diesel generator wouldn’t have been an immediate problem once the batteries were charged. We had charts, but we knew we needed radio to get through locks and bridges. We wanted GPS and radar. We had them..most of the time.

The depth sounder and main engine transmission failed as we neared the dock. We pulled the 20 thousand pound boat for the last 30 feet of its voyage. Now it is in the slip where it belongs, but sometimes you just have to get out and push to get the job finished. Other than a few bandaids and some bottom paint, we made the trip unscaithed.

Like I said, I helped my friend, but I’m not sure I did him a favor. Boat owners will understand.






4 Comments leave one →
  1. Alan permalink
    February 5, 2018 6:44 pm

    One definition of “boat”, it’s a phrase, not a word, is Break Out Another Thousand. Also, sailing has been described as follows. Third CLass Travel At First Class Prices. I make no claim to originating the above, matter of fact, I came on them either from boat owners or from books on boating/sailing. I tend to get seasick in sailboats, so, my celestial navigation escapades or efforts are limited to position finding standing on the beach, or when away from the coast, via use of an artificial horizon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 6, 2018 8:45 am

      Thank you for your comment. I get seasick and airsick too..if I’ve been away from them for a while. I’m lucky enough to enjoy myself while nauseous.


      • Alan permalink
        February 6, 2018 6:11 pm

        I never got airsick, though the smallest aircraft I ever remember flying in was a fairly large single engine passenger plane, and then there were a few jaunts in the DC-3.


  2. February 11, 2018 6:22 am

    Perfect example of the idea that only hard work, training, and persistence can turn dreams into reality. (Great flipping wodges of cash being another essential ingredient.)

    Liked by 1 person

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