October 2, 2011
“PAUL!!!! PAUL!!!!!! WAKE UP!!!! THE BOAT!!!! WE’RE LOOSE!!!!!!!!”
This is probably just a dream. I’m going back to sleep.
I mean, it’s got to be. Only today we were fearing just such a bad dream. I must have brought it upon myself.
As a sailor living aboard a boat, sleep is always a little troubled, and sometimes you rest uneasily.
Out at sea on passage, you’re concerned with all those open ocean thoughts, especially as you come off watch and try to close your eyes. The boat is hurtling along through the ocean, and you’re wondering if you’re about to hit something? A rock? A great big tanker? A partially submerged container? Flotsam from the Titanic? Is the wind going to continue to pick up? The seas? Should we have put another reef in? What’s that humming noise? Are we drawing too much on the batteries?
You’d think that you’d rest comfortably once you make it into harbor. But although it is substantially better, a whole new host of concerns arise. Will our anchor hold? Did we put out enough scope? Are the lines chafing? Will there be a problem with the tide? Will the wind shift and bring in a swell? Is that a cricket on board or is a water pump running endlessly?
Or maybe, “Is this mooring strong enough for our boat?”
We walked through a local village a couple of days ago, and Sima got to talking about these stresses. “I’ve been thinking,” she said. “I love our life, but I’m also starting to kind of want a house. You don’t have to worry as much, you know. Wind, waves, submerged rocks – they’re not so much of a problem when your home isn’t floating.” We talked about it as we headed back to Leander. It’s true, I agreed. Especially when the weather kicks up, boats can be tiring. A blowy wind can take the stuffing out of you, especially when it whistles – or even worse, when it roars – for a couple of days on end.
And the wind has been doing that recently. We have been on Leros, a Greek island in the Aegean, for about a week. We’re not too far from Kos and Rhodes and the Turkish coast.
We spent our first five days in Pandeli, a town and small bay on the east side of the island. The village was beautiful, nestled among some surrounding hills. But the hills, as nice to look at as they were, also act like a funnel, gathering puffs of air from this hilltop and that, and channeling them into a throaty blow that harrassed Leander and her crew with varying degrees of intensity. We went about the boat working to quiet various straps and lines, which whistled, creaked, or groaned in the gusts. (Wind is a little less bothersome if you can’t hear it.) We got rid of most of the noise, using a series of pulleys and blocks to lead the lines away from chafe points, but Leander still wasn’t noiseless.
When we saw that the forecast called for 40 knots plus in the coming days, we figured it was time to move. If Pandeli was uncomfortable in normal conditions, we could only imagine how bad it would be if the wind got really bad.
On one of our long hikes, we had visited another village on the southern end of the island, a place called Xerokampos. It looked calmer and more protected, and the guide books confirmed this when we later checked. So we decided to come here.
We arrived yesterday, and took a mooring about 100 yards from shore, in just 20 feet of water. And today the winds did arrive, right on schedule. When we paid attention, we saw gusts of 30 knots, and it was probably the case that some were higher.
Earlier today, I went for a run, and on shore I bumped into a Dutch couple, Jope and Anneke. Their boat was also on a mooring. As I was rowing back to Leander, I saw Jope suddenly sprint back to his dinghy, and then charge out to the harbor. I looked to where he was headed, and saw that his beautiful forty-foot yacht was floating free, heading for the rocks on the far side of the bay.
A sailor’s worse nightmare.
Jope got to his boat, which had drifted about half a mile away from its mooring. Fortunately, the boat had moved sideways, its hull sailing crossways to the wind, rather than heading straight out to sea. If it had done the latter, Jope, with his small dinghy, might not have been able to catch it. As it was, he was able to jump aboard, start the engine, and back it away from the rocks. As Jope headed back toward us, I rowed our dinghy to a nearby mooring, and then helped him secure his boat.
We joined Jope and Anneke later for a drink. (One beer for me and one glass of wine for Sima – we don’t drink much in general, never at sea, and only a little in an unfamiliar anchorage.) Anneke told us how scared she had been. “You have nightmares about such things, but you hope that it never happens! And then today, it did! I think that I will have unpleasant dreams tonight!”
We thought the same, as we returned to our boat for dinner and then bed. The wind had really picked up, and was causing Leander to sail back and forth, jerking at the mooring, sometimes agressively. The groaning of the line helped elevate the stress, but also our alertness. We checked the lines again. At 9:00 p.m., Sima and Alexander were able to fall asleep, and I dropped off a little while later, using a book to help take my mind off of the noises out and about.
But it was probably a troubled sleep.
“PAUL!!!! PAUL!!!!!! WAKE UP!!!! THE BOAT!!!! WE’RE LOOSE!!!!!!!!”
I shot out of bed. It was 1:00 a.m.
“WHAT?!! What’s happened?”
I tried to blink the sleep out of my eyes, tried to see. But I couldn’t make sense of the world right away. Just what was Sima saying? What had happened? Wasn’t everything OK? Couldn’t I go back to sleep?
“Turn on the engine!! We’ve moved!! We’re loose!!”
It wasn’t a dream. Drat.
I went on deck. I still couldn’t really see. I tried to clear the cobwebs. The wind howled. My eyes squinted and blinked some more.
I started the engine. Sima turned on the instruments. I kept trying to make sense of the world, but still couldn’t really do it.
It finally registered that we were floating loose. We had drifted to the side of the bay, the other side from where Jope had been. I looked at our depth, and saw seven feet. That’s not much.
I put Leander into reverse. Are we moving? Did I put it in gear? I did. Were we aground? Even though the depth read seven feet, maybe the rudder or the bow was in sand? On a rock?
As the cobwebs cleared, I realized that the reason that I couldn’t see much was because it was pitch black. But I could see that we were moving. And I could to some extent orient myself with the lights on land, but the darkness and my fogginess combined to confuse me as to where I was, how I was moving, and where I was going. I turned on the chartplotter, and now its screen blinded me. I pushed buttons to dim the screen, but a process that usually takes a couple of presses took me about ten. I kept on looking up from the screen to try to see what was happening, but with the bright monitor now inches from my face, saw little.
Finally the screen was dimmed. Now I worried about where we were moving. My first concern was the land from which I’d backed away. Were there rocks nearby? I maneuvered Leander to the deeper part of the bay, and watched the depth under the keel grow. That was good. Now we had to worry about other boats in the harbor, and the several other mooring buoys. We couldn’t see much of anything on the water.
Sima took out our enormous spotlight, and illuminated our immediate surroundings.
I headed out of the harbor, slowly, to catch our collective breaths, get some room, and to make a plan.
Sima took the wheel, and I went forward to see what had happened. The mooring line to which we had tied was thick and beefy, but it had chafed completely through at the bottom, where it had attached to the cement block underwater. It should have been chafe protected. We cleaned up the jumble of lines at the bow to ready ourselves to take a new mooring.
As we headed out of the harbor, downwind, the seas began to pick up considerably, and we turned back in. As we nosed Leander back into the wind, we felt its full force. It was a gusty wind, and would abate for a moment, and then blow again like the dickens.
We discussed whether we should drop the anchor or take another mooring. We decided on a mooring. There were eight other boats that seemed secure. (The Dutch boat had slipped because his line had come undone, rather than the mooring line.) And it would be a challenge to find the space to swing at anchor when everyone else was moored.
As we headed back in, Sima shone the spotlight on the obstacles, and we dodged the other boats and the outer moorings. Alexander helped immensely by calmly observing his surroundings, seemingly inured to the stressful overtones in his parents’ voices. We picked a mooring close to shore, and headed for it.
We’ve become pretty adept at picking up moorings, and I can’t remember the last time that we didn’t grab it on the first pass. But tonight was more difficult.
Sima got the mooring briefly in her hands on the first pass, but she couldn’t keep hold of it. Nor could we get it on the second, third, or fourth passes. The wind was really blowing hard. It was pitch black. The feeder line on the mooring was string-thin, and very difficult to grab. And young Alexander was also involved. Sima had earlier gone back down below, dressed him in warm clothes and his winter hat, and put him into a pouch and on her back. I drove the boat, getting us as close as possible to the mooring, and Sima’s job was to grab it with the boat hook and pull the line aboard. With Alexander hanging onto her neck, it was a challenge for Sima to bend down around the bow rail and get hold of the mooring. One is somewhat less dexterous with twenty curious pounds on your back, trying to help but really just getting in the way. In addition to moving the boat about, the wind also made communication between the two of us difficult, and its force gave Sima only seconds to grab the mooring before the boat was pushed away . And I couldn’t see any of this very well from back in the cockpit.
On the third pass, Sima hooked the buoy with the boat hook, but the wind began to blow us off before she could pull it on. I ran up to help, and grabbed the boat hook. But the wind was too strong, and we couldn’t hold the line with the boat hook. The line, however, had no problem holding the boat hook, and pulled it from my hands, just after it bent in two. Something to add to the “To Purchase” list, I noted as it bobbed away.
We have a spare boat hook, but it is only half as long. Sima’s job, which had been difficult a moment before, now became just about impossible.
On the fifth pass, the wind abated a little bit. Leander nosed up close to the buoy, and Sima was able to get it close. I took the boat out of gear, sprinted forward, and was able to bend down and scoop the feeder line as it began to drift away. I pulled it aboard, got hold of the thicker mooring line, hauled for all I was worth, and we were able to secure the line to a cleat.
Ten minutes later, we were properly re-tied to the mooring.
Back down below, Sima and I hugged – partly to give congratulations for good teamwork and a job well done, and partly in relief. That wasn’t much fun.
How had Sima woken up? Paul had heard nothing! Sima said that she’d heard a thud and then a bang at the back of the boat. Even when she sleeps, her ears are closely tuned to hear anything exceptional from Alexander. This bump in the night must have been on the same frequency.
Our adrenaline was still pumping. Alexander’s too! He and Sima crawled back into bed, but Alexander wanted nothing to do with it, crawling to and fro, laughing and giggling, and generally kicking up a ruckus. It’ll take him a while to relax. Us too. So at 3:00 a.m., I write this note, while Sima tries to ease Alexander back to la la land.