Sunday, February 26, 2012

"The Situation"

Inner Harbour, Scituate
No, this isn't the Jersey Shore. At least not yet.

I left Gloucester mid-morning, piloted to the mouth of the harbour by a friend.  He was kind enough to join me for a few miles after picking up on my apprehension and utter dread (the tears were a good sign) of heading to sea alone for the first time in more than a year.

The day was dull and overcast, and large swells from a distant storm were rocking Annie Laurie like a pendulum once we passed the breakwater.  It felt like the calm before the storm.  With 4-foot rollers but not a breath of wind, I puttered along under engine power alone, watching Boston's skyscrapers in the distance creep by at a snails pace.

The approaches to Scituate looked straight-forward enough. The visibility was fine, I could see the breakwater, and the series of Red and Green buoys leading to the outer harbour.  Aside from one Red marker mid-channel, obviously displaced recently by stormy weather, I had no concern regarding Annie Laurie's passage through the narrow channel.

A small lobster boat had approached from the south just ahead of my arrival, and provided the first inkling this might not be a smooth entrance.  When the 4-foot swells in 200-foot deep water converged in the narrow passage which quickly shallowed to 15 feet of depth, the waves more than doubled in size, and began to break.  I watched the lobster boat completely vanish in a trough, and my mind raced, as I quickly tried to weigh my options.   Avoid this entrance completely? Do a 180 and head south to the Cape Cod Canal?

But it was already too late.  I was committed.

Annie Laurie's stern was lifted high in the air, and I was recklessly surfing down the face of a wave, towards the edge of the shoal, momentarily without steerage as her rudder was helplessly out of the water. My knees went weak, and once in the trough, I looked back to see two more waves in the series.  Times like these, I ask why... WHY! WHY do I do this to myself!?  Are all the good times, when specked with these moments of horror and stress of extreme proportions that instantly take years off my life, are they all worth it?

Two more large breaking waves surfed Annie Laurie along the edge of the breakwater, and it was over as fast as it began. I was in the safe calm waters of the outer harbour.  There were plenty of empty moorings, and I picked up the first one I saw.  As I tried to calm myself from my most recent bout of terror, manically tidying an already clean and orderly deck, in sailed a beautiful Canadian-flagged boat named Christopher Robin.

We spent the night on adjacent moorings, as the wind caught up with the waves, and was soon blowing 25+ knots.  Not knowing the quality of the mooring I picked up, I spent the entire night peering through my windows, making sure the rocky beach on my stern wasn't getting any closer.  When a lull in the wind came the following morning, I watched as Christopher Robin dropped their mooring and headed for the inner, more protected harbour. I wish I had done the same.

The lull only lasted 20 minutes, and when the wind increased again, it was easterly and gale force. I was near the entrance, and from this direction, I had no protection.  I knew I couldn't spend another sleepless night of worry, so I decided in the rough conditions to follow Christopher Robin.  Unfortunately, the wind was so strong, it was next to impossible to get enough slack in the mooring line to take the loop off the sampson post on the bow.  I tried motoring forward, a dozen times, but by the time I ran from the helm to the bow, the wind would already have caught the bow and Annie Laurie would drifting sideways, mooring line taut.  My last option was my sharpest knife.

It was a downwind run to the inner harbour, no more than a half-mile.  Once inside, the winds were still 40+ knots, but there were no waves or current to contend with.  The problem now was that the place was packed with boats.  My challenge was to find a mooring without the wind blowing me into another boat.  To retain steerage, I was forced to motor faster than I was comfortable doing in this limited space.  I found an empty mooring, but again, by the time I ran forward and grabbed the boat hook to snatch the mooring line, the wind blew me off course.  I tried three or four times, before three guys in a skiff came out to offer their help.

One of them picked the line out of the water and passed it to me, just as Annie Laurie was blowing down over the mooring ball.  She was running over the line, and as I stupidly tried to hold a 4-ton boat against the now fifty knot winds, my hand became jammed between the line and the hull, as I was being pulled overboard.  When I got my hand back, my finger was bloody and crooked.  I was in denial for a few minutes, as I tried to convince myself a full break would be a lot more painful. At this point I felt nothing (did I mention this was the North Atlantic in November and I was working with bare hands?).  When I thawed, it was off to the liquor store for a bottle of sugarcane elixir.

That's when I finally met the crew of Christopher Robin, who offered to be my water taxi (with their dinghy Pooh) for the duration of the Scituate Situation, seeing I was unable to row my own dinghy with a broken finger.

And that was the answer to my WHYs the day before:  it's all about the friendships made along the way.