Monday, February 16, 2009

Aground again...

After a really pleasant week of fairly warm weather and reasonably moderate breezes, the weather predicted colder and more unpleasant conditions: lows in the high twenties, highs in the 40s and low 50s.  Since my fuel gauge was reading less than a quarter tank of diesel, I decided I'd better get fuel so I could safely run the Espar diesel heater as much as my little shivering body desired in the coming days.  I decided this inspite of the fact that I was pretty sure I had more fuel than the gauge indicated, but it had been a few months since I'd been aboard Alizee, and maybe I had a bad recollection of how much fuel was in the tank after bringing her down to Oriental from Norfolk last August.  So, I girded my loins and hunted up Rodney, the assistant dock master, to help me get her from my slip at Oriental Yacht Harbor to the fuel dock a couple of thousand yards across the harbor near Oriental's town dock (as seen from this web cam).

Now, first of all, understand that Alizee is still new to me.  I've been sailing fin keel boats the past decade and I'm still not too comfortable (well, really not comfortable at all) with full-keel boats, even cut-away full keel boats like Alizee.  So the very idea of backing out of a slip is tentative, if in wind of any sort a bit terrifying, and from a fixed dock slip with pilings and such it's almost prohibitive.  But, the wind came up (okay only ten knots plus but nevertheless...) and the fixed dock with its pilings was a matter of fact, so there I was, backing out, Rodney using all his muscle and weight to help guide me out ... he was going to jump on, but couldn't at the last minute, so there I was on my own.

Well, this was a test.  What the hell, I'm supposed to be going to the Bahamas for two months where I'll be on my own quite a bit, I suppose ... HEY! WHERE ARE MY EYC FRIENDS WHO ALL WANT TO COME TO THE BAHAMAS?  LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU WANT TO COME!

So, I'm putting down the fairway, feeling pretty good about myself.  "Aye, aye skipper, you're doin' all right now."  And as I make the turn across the wide open harbor, going inside a sailboat anchored in the middle, I get a yell from the captain of that boat.

"Ahoy, I've got an anchor out there.  Watch out you don't snag it."

I look around, see that I've already long passed his anchor line.  "I'm sure I didn't snag it," I answer.  And, then ... then ... I realize I'm almost dead in the water.  I put my eyes back on the depth finder, which was six feet or so when the other captain hailed me, and ... OMIGOD! ... it's two-and-a-half feet.  I'm dead in the water.  Aground!  On the mud!  Expletive deleted!

I see Rodney, walking briskly around the harbor to meet me at the fuel dock, and I hold my arms up in dispair.  He leans on a railing, and I can see him chuckling aloud.  "Welcome to North Carolina," he seems to be saying.  "You're one of us now."

The captain from the anchored sailboat offers to row his dinghy over and carry my anchor out so that I might kedge off.  I think he feels a bit guilty that he distracted my eyes from my depth finder with his concerns which were clearly slight.  He did a yeoman's job carrying my anchor and chain rode out at least a hundred meters, but when I started winching the anchor in, and it dug in, the mud proved to have too strong a grip on Alizee's cut-away full keel.  Now I couldn't even bring the anchor in, as the windlass simply slipped.

Now I faced a couple of options.  Wait for the tide to go up ... at least six hours ... or do what all farsighted captains do ... call "vessel assist" and get a free tow because one was farsighted enough to have signed up for the boater's equivalent of the motorist's AAA resuce plan.  I know, you're thinking I wasn't that farsighted.  But, how wrong you are!  Not only am I farsighted, I have an unlimited "Captain's" card.  So, I called US Boat/Vessel Assist, and in fifteen minutes the tow-boat from Deaton's Yacht Service was tying up beside me, doing the paper work, and in another fiftenn minutes had raised my anchor and pulled me out of the mud.

In another fifteen minutes I pulled up to the Oriental fuel dock, where Rodney and the fuel dock attendant helped tie me up.  I fueled up (and wouldn't you know it, it took only twenty gallons; I was not even half empty; so much for the fuel gauge's accuracy), and I also filled up my water tanks (110 gallons all together), and washed off the mud from the foredeck that had been hauled up by the anchor and chain.

Leaving the fuel dock, the wind struck over 25 knots ... as I later discovered it only hit 25-27 knots during the thirty minutes I was leaving the fuel dock and heading to my slip. ... I had to try turning around twice to get headed out the harbor, and then when I reached my slip, it took three tries to get into the slip.  Thanks to help from Rodney, who rode with me on the little trip back to the slip, and to the harbormaster Ross and another sailor on the docks, I got back in.  Whew!

And all this was before noon.  Just another day living on a boat and getting ready to go cruising.  That afternoon the rain started threatening, and I managed to get my bimini up just in time to keep my dry in the cockpit.  Not sure what's next, but it's all one step at a time.


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