A Nautical Novice on Lake Nokomis

It was a beautiful afternoon with a gentle breeze from the southeast. My wife, Catherine, and I were out for a romantic sail. What could go wrong?I was eager to set off in our recently acquired boat, Ruach, a 13.5-foot trailerable Expo Solar Sailer designed by Garry Hoyt, Ted Hood, and Everett Pearson. Cath, a first-timer, was nervous, but throwing in a picnic
Author:
Publish date:



It was a beautiful afternoon with a gentle breeze from the southeast. My wife, Catherine, and I were out for a romantic sail. What could go wrong?

I was eager to set off in our recently acquired boat, Ruach, a 13.5-foot trailerable Expo Solar Sailer designed by Garry Hoyt, Ted Hood, and Everett Pearson. Cath, a first-timer, was nervous, but throwing in a picnic lunch and a good book sealed the deal. We donned PFDs, lowered the centerboard, unfurled the sail, and eased away from the dock.

Ahh, smooth lake sailing. A good place for me to get a sense of this boat. Years before I had crewed in Block Island Race Week, where anyone sober enough to tie a sneaker was welcome ballast. Now, 30 years later, I was relearning how to read the telltales, tack smoothly, and avoid other boats. It was good to be back on the water. Seriously, what could go wrong?

Then those little events that conspire to turn the ordinary into the unusual, the innocuous into the significant, began.

Far off across the lake, I saw the bottom of a hull. I came about and told Cath we needed to help the guy out. I could already feel my heart racing. We sailed close by, and I asked if he needed assistance, which he did. I turned head-to-wind, furled my sail, and dropped the anchor. Cath watched me with mild interest. I tugged on the anchor rode and found that the anchor hadn’t set in the muddy bottom. I figured it would eventually—maybe. I cleated off the rode and tightened my PFD. I must confess that recently viewing the Coast Guard rescue film The Guardian may have played a large part in my midlife bravado. I told Cath the guy really needed my help, and, without another word to her, leapt into the cold lake and swam rapidly to the overturned boat. Look at me, I thought, I am a sailor and a rescue swimmer!

Matt (the guy) and I made a number of unsuccessful attempts to right his boat by standing on the daggerboard. Then it turtled; the mast was stuck deep in the mud. A man in a beautifully built cedar-strip canoe paddled out to offer his help and suggestions; he thought we could free the mast by pulling up vertically from the canoe. Matt had unclipped the cable, but it slipped from his grip. One of us had to dive for it. Now it occurred to me that diving for a loose cable under an unfamiliar boat in cold water had “drown potential” written all over it. Luckily, a lifeguard in a rowboat appeared on the scene, asking if we needed any help. At that point I realized that Cath and Ruach were 100 yards away and approaching the swim area. Clearly, the anchor had not “settled,” and even on the lapping waters of Lake Nokomis Ruach had drifted away. I realized, embarrassed, that I hadn’t briefed Cath on what to do if I left her alone and neglected to set the anchor.

The 100-yard swim in the PFD was punishing; once I reached Ruach I had just enough strength left to pull myself aboard. I hauled in the anchor, which had finally set, and started the solar-powered electric motor. I steered back to Matt and his overturned boat, afraid to look at Cath. She was sitting there, calmly eating carrots, but I knew what she was thinking. I stood on Ruach’s bow and heaved the mast up from the mud. Once the boat was righted, I motored away, glad to have been able to help, but aware that Catherine and I had much to talk about. I admitted it right away: “I did everything wrong!” We talked for quite a while, laughing the grateful laughs of those who could have been in worse straits, but for whom a humbling learning opportunity had just been provided.

Now I know three important things: (1) Be sure to train crewmembers in safety issues and practice captain-overboard drills; (2) Never leave a perfectly good boat to rescue someone else when you are more helpful in your boat; and (3) When your gut tells you the anchor isn’t set, believe it.

Peter Bailey lives and sails in and around St. Paul, Minnesota, with his family. The Back to Basics Contest asked readers to write about an experience that taught them a key sailing lesson. For more on the contest turn to page 10. SAIL thanks Offshore Sailing School, Pink Shell Beach Resort & Spa, and Gill for their sponsorship.

Related

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com No chafe, safe stay  If you’re leaving the boat unattended for a longish period, there’s a lot to be said for cow-hitching the shorelines, as this sailor did. They’ll never let go, and so long as the ...read more

belize600x

Charter Special: Belize

It would be hard to imagine a more secure spot than the Sunsail base on the outskirts of the beachside community of Placencia, Belize. The entire marina is protected by a robust seawall with a channel scarcely a few boatlengths across. It’s also located far enough up Placencia ...read more

DSC00247

DIY: a Top-to-Bottom Refit

I found my sailing “dream boat” in the spring of 1979 while racing on Lake St. Clair in Michigan. Everyone had heard about the hot new boat in town, and we were anxiously awaiting the appearance of this new Pearson 40. She made it to the starting line just before the race ...read more

01-oysteryachts-regattas-loropiana2016_063

Light-air Sails and How to Handle Them

In the second of a two-part series on light-air sails, Rupert Holmes looks at how today’s furling gear has revolutionized sail handling off the wind. Read part 1 here. It’s easy to look at long-distance racing yachts of 60ft and above with multiple downwind sails set on roller ...read more

HanseCharles

Video Tour: Hanse 348

“It’s a smaller-size Hanse cruiser, but with some big-boat features,” says SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane. At last fall’s Annapolis Boat Show, Doane had a chance to take a close look at the new Hanse 348. Some of the boat’s highlights include under-deck galleries for ...read more

amalfitown

Charter Destination: Amalfi Coast

Prego! Weeks after returning from our Italian flotilla trip last summer, I was still feeling the relaxed atmosphere of the Amalfi Coast. It’s a Mediterranean paradise, with crystal-clear waters, charming hillside towns and cliffside villages, plenty of delicious food and wine, ...read more

image005

Inside or Outside When Sailing the ICW

Last April, my wife, Marjorie, and I decided to take our Tartan 4100, Meri, north to Maryland from her winter home in Hobe Sound, Florida. This, in turn, meant deciding whether to stay in the “Ditch” for the duration or go offshore part of the way. Although we had both been ...read more

MK1_30542

SailGP: There’s a New Sailing Series in Town

San Francisco was the venue of the biggest come-from-behind victory in the history of the America’s Cup when Oracle Team USA beat Emirates Team New Zealand in 2013, so it seems only fitting that the first American round of Larry Ellison’s new SailGP pro sailing series will be ...read more