When you’ve been sailing with your spouse for more than 30 years you get to know each other pretty well. It almost goes without saying that you don’t always see eye to eye and so sometimes there are negotiations, sometimes arguments and sometimes acquiescence. In the end, the boat keeps going, and the joy and wonder of sailing prevails. But not always.
This past summer my wife, Millie, and I set sail on a relatively short cruise from our home port of Huntington, Long Island, toward the east end of the island on Santa Maria, our Beneteau Oceanis 440. Our first port was one of our favorites, Sag Harbor, gateway to the Hamptons. We love Sag Harbor because it has great shops and restaurants, a theater, a supermarket by the waterfront and easy bicycle rides to all the Hampton villages. Millie enjoys cycling in this area, and she loves to cook on the boat, so the nearby supermarket is one of her favorite places. We spend a week there every year.
At the end of our week this year, we decided to leave for Block Island. It was a beautiful day with blue skies, a bright sun and a fair breeze. Everything was stowed away, the bicycles were on board and the outboard was removed from the dinghy. We weighed anchor around 1100 in order to catch the tide through the Race on our course to Block Island.
As soon as the anchor was up, I told Millie to motor toward a small island (really an outcropping with a big rock on it) in the channel leading into Sag Harbor from the east. We’ve done this routine many times over the years. The anchorage is outside of Sag Harbor and outside a breakwater. It is a popular spot for boats to anchor or pick up moorings. I long ago charted the route in and out of the anchorage and determined that when approaching the anchorage from the east, it is best to leave the channel when this little island, which houses a light and navigation aid 10A, is on our starboard beam. We would then turn to port and proceed south into the anchorage. Had we gone a little further before turning we would have encountered a green buoy, but we always turned before reaching it.
I had never told Millie that I had carefully charted this route in and out; I just did it, and we always motored toward the island when leaving the anchorage. This day, after telling Millie to head toward the island, I went forward to adjust some lines at the bow. Suddenly, there was a crash, and the boat lurched. I smashed into the starboard shrouds and even had to grab them to avoid falling overboard. We had clearly hit a rock. I looked up to see where we were, and to my surprise, we were not headed toward the island I had indicated, but rather toward the green buoy. I couldn’t believe it. Angry and incredulous, I shouted, “I said the [expletive deleted] island!”
I took the helm and started to back up. We nicked a few rocks as I tried to get out of the area, but since I knew there was clear water to starboard, we finally got free. That done, I went below to check the bilge. All seemed well, but now I wanted to take the boat into the harbor and get her hauled out.
The trip was filled with tension. We had never gone into the harbor, so we had to check the chart and watch the buoys while being aware of boat traffic. I also had to contact the marina to check if we could bring the boat in. It turned out the marina was not monitoring VHF, so I had to look up the phone number and call them. Finally, we were told to bring the boat to the yard and head for the Travelift. To our relief, there were two workers at the lift, and they guided us in and secured the boat.
Since I was bleeding and had some pretty bad bruises, we decided to go to a hospital to get the wound cleaned up and have some X-rays taken of my wrist and knee. Fortunately, the X-rays were negative, and my wounds didn’t require stitches, just bandages.
While waiting to be treated, I was obsessing about the boat. Our previous boat had a problem with the keel connection to the hull that caused me great consternation, and I feared I would have a similar problem now that we had hit a rock. On the way back to the marina, we stopped for lunch and when we returned, the boat was out of the water. Lou, the owner of the marina, gave us the good news: there was no serious damage, only a chip on the bubble of the keel. What a relief.
We decided not to stay on the boat that night since it was very hot and there were bugs everywhere. We also felt we needed some time away to gather ourselves before heading out. It took a while to empty the refrigerator and gather our belongings since we had to climb up and down a ladder to get to the cockpit. This was especially difficult since my leg hurt so much.
Once home in Huntington, we reviewed what had happened and why. It turns out Millie felt that going toward a buoy was safer than going toward an island. She didn’t realize that we were on the wrong side of the buoy, which was a navigational aid to keep boats from going into the rocks alongside the channel leading into Sag Harbor. We were already out of the channel and on the wrong side—the side where the rocks were.
Two days later we returned to the marina and found Santa Maria floating near the Travelift. The yard had filled and painted the damaged spot, and we were good to go. We began the task of reloading and reprovisioning. In the process we discovered that the water heater had moved. It took a good deal of effort to reposition the unit to its original location.
That afternoon we left the dock, motored to the anchorage area and hooked up to a mooring that the marina provided for a few days. We waited for some bad weather to pass and finally set off. This time we headed straight for the island—or better yet, navigation aid 10A.
Things I Did Right
• I had planned the route in and out of the anchorage
• I knew where the hazards were and was able to get out of the rocks without further damage
• Went to the marina and had the boat checked
• Sought medical help
• We took our time before we continued our cruise
Things I Did Wrong
• I never clearly explained to Millie why we didn’t turn at the buoy
• I should have used the navigational aide on the island as the reference point rather than just tell Millie to go to the island; she might have felt safer going to a navigational aid
Bill Wagner is a native Long Islander and retired professional educator. He and his wife Millie have been sailing in the New England area for many years.
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