Saturday, May 23, 2015

In Over My Head

My good friend Ryan has been working for several years restoring a 41' Formosa Ketch that he has named Lucid on the Bay. At various points in the restoration work, which has been long and challenging, I imagine that he's had far less pleasant things to call her. I just call her "Momma", in reference to his other boat which I call "Baby". One of the big early projects was getting the bow pulpit re-finished and re-installed. Aside from improving Momma's looks, the pulpit serves another very particular purpose: it houses the anchor rollers. Without the pulpit, you could only anchor by unceremoniously throwing the anchor over the side.

My, what a large pulpit you have....

As good a job as the riggers did reattaching everything, they got one thing wrong: the anchors. They weren't in the right rollers and they weren't attached to the right rodes. It was a minor hassle as the boat could still be anchored, but it was a hassle nonetheless. On our first "Guys Trip" after getting the pulpit installed, I took it upon myself to get familiar with the ground tackle and see about getting it all sorted out.

On the second morning of our trip, we were in Saint Michaels having spent the night at anchor there. We had been forced to use the oversized sea anchor and heavy rode to anchor, and after getting underway that morning nobody as looking forward to doing that again. We pulled up to the fuel dock by Saint Michaels Crab & Steak House to top off and pump out before heading to Hangover Cove to spend our second night. I had gotten the anchor rodes and the windlass sorted out by then and but still had to swap the anchors to the right rollers and attach them to their proper rodes. I figured that doing this at the fuel dock would be a good idea because the boat would be relatively steady, so I set about my work.

This is where I made a fundamental mistake: I removed the rode from the primary anchor without attaching anything else to the anchor first. The road hadn't been under any tension before, so I thought that the weight and angle of the anchor in the roller was sufficient to hold it for the 5 seconds it would have taken me to get the shackle for the second rode on.

I was wrong.

Before I could comprehend what was happening, I heard this loud, disheartening SPLOOSH! The anchor had shifted and fallen out of the roller before I could get the proper rode attached. We evaluated our options, and given the nigh opaque water involved, we decided it was best to not just hop right in after it. We continued on the remainder of our trip, forced to use the oversized sea anchor and too-heavy rode again for our next stay, and we started discussing options for how to remedy the situation.

Anyone who has bought an anchor for a sailboat will tell you that they are not cheap. Ryan & I spent the next week considering alternatives and finally settled on a course of action: I had lost the anchor, so I would go in after it. I am, among other things, a certified Scuba diver*. I had very little experience and I was hesitant to dive in zero-visibility water, but I figured that overcoming my fear and gaining some experience was a better option than forking over close to a thousand dollars for a new anchor.

We arranged a time with the fuel dock operators and Ryan, myself, and his friend Chris drove out to Saint Michaels in search of Ryan's anchor. I spent about half an hour, and the better part of a tank of air (which is quite a feat in only ten feet of water) figuring out how to navigate the bottom without getting turned around and, quite frankly, overcoming the irrational, abject fear that hit me every time my face hit that opaque water. I was up and down more often than the stock market in that first half hour. It took me several times down to be able to even able to let go of the pilings holding up the fuel dock We had a rough idea of where the anchor was, but my search efforts were being wholly inefficient and we were running out of time.

This is where I would have posted an underwater picture if any such pictures wouldn't have turned out looking like something out of a sewer.

Eventually, I figured out how to move about in something akin to a logical search pattern. I had given up on fine buoyancy control and was just on my hands and knees trudging through the muck. We knew that the anchor was within ten feet of the dock on the bottom, so I took down a boat hook and, holding it in my right hand, used it to keep myself a fixed distance from the dock while using my left arm to sweep out a full forward arc in front of me. After each arc, I crawled a foot forward and repeated.

It turns out that there is a lot of stuff on the bottom at a marina. Almost every time I swept my arm out, I hit something, often times multiple things. But all of it was small, relatively light, and definitely not Ryan's anchor.

And then...thump. I felt something big. I let go of the boat hook (which, thankfully, was attached to me so I didn't lose it as well) and got both of my hands on whatever it was. I ran my hands over it, and realized that this was it. This was the anchor! Now I just needed to get a line on it. This had been hard to find once and I didn't want to have to find it again. I picked it up and moved it over to one of the dock pilings so I would know exactly where it was. I surfaced, announced my find, took the line back down and attached it, and Ryan pulled up his anchor.

Is that the sweet smell of victory, or the dank smell of marina water?

We announced our victory to our friends who were waiting at home to hear the outcome, I got cleaned up, and the three of us retired to the neighboring restaurant for dinner and a beer. The whole search had taken only forty-five minutes including the thirty minutes spent acclimating. But it felt like a lifetime in the moment. To this day, whenever handling large items on Ryan's boat or posting pictures of sails with him, someone is sure to crack a joke about not losing anything overboard. I don't mind though; it serves as a reminder that I am able to conquer my fears and do what needs to be done, and I rather like that.

*My original Scuba instructor, one George Knode, always made a point to tell his students to not get in over their heads. It's an obvious pun, yet still good advice. Thanks George.

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