Learning the Hard Way

The statistics for the day’s sail were as follows:

-My wife Meg’s 1st sail on Lyric
-My 2nd sail on Lyric
-My 1st miserable day at sea

The winds were brisk 20-25kts coming off the shore at Morrissey Blvd onto Dorchester Bay. Meg had a bag full of suntan lotions, 2 books, a straw hat, a skimpy little bikini, and a couple of towels. I knew that no one in their right mind would swim in Dorchester Bay given its constant frigid temperatures and pungent aroma. This is a branch of Boston Harbor, not the Gulf of Mexico. No, this bag of tools was designed for comfort cruising. Meg was aware that I was heavily embedded in the learning process and not only did not ask for help, but often refused it even when I knew it would be of benefit. She was prepared to arrange a spot in the cockpit and stay there unless I was struck by lightning or asked for her help, of which the former was more likely.

I thought to myself on the 40 minute ride to Dorchester Bay that I need to make this a calm sailing experience to win over my wife. No dipping the lee rail on a reach, no violent gybes, and above all, no looks of panic on my face if anything goes wrong. I knew these things would make her nervous, almost as nervous as they made me. We arrived at the beach and I began prepping the inflatable Zodiac for our short journey out to Lyric. All went well and the trolling motor pushed us silently out to the mooring. The wind was behind us, helping us along, and blowing just a hair beyond my comfort zone. I assured myself that all was well and smiled to Meg whenever she glanced my way. Lyric loomed in the distance like a sleeping bear and for some reason this day, I was not comfortable awakening her.

mooring1We arrived at the boat and I made preparations for launch. It was Saturday and power boats plowed by frequently with thier large wakes. Meg took her place in the cockpit and rhetorically offered her help. I refused as always and she watched me scurry around hanking on the jib and readying the mainsail. She wanted to help. I could see it in her eyes, but like a stubborn mule, I was in charge and needed to do everything on my own. I knew that I would be single-handing often and I wanted the practice. I raised the mainsail and dropped the mooring line and Lyric was free. The mainsail caught the wind, I spun her around like a pro and headed out the channel. The boom was out to the port side, and unfortunately, this would require a gybe to turn to port out the channel. I planned on swinging her around to starboard and tacking into a reach, but that would require that I go slightly past the other side of the channel and tack back in. I did not see a problem with that plan of attack, but Dorchester Bay has some tricky waters

The wind picked up, and we were on a fantastic run. I fiddled with the sails a bit, and showed off to Meg with some wing-and-wing running. We were flying and Meg and I were both impressed with my apparent skill. We smiled peacefully at each other only to be interrupted by a sudden vibration and a RUMBLE! RUMBLE! RUMBLE! The boat shook and the tiller violently jerked in my hands. We were only about 50 feet off the far side of the channel and we were running aground hard a slowing rapidly. I dove into the companionway, cranked up the swing keel about five turns of the winch and jumped back to the cockpit to start our tack. I swung her about in a hurry and got us out of danger. The wind caught us on a reach, heeled the boat over, and slowly dragged us off the ground. I let out sail a bit and we were back cruising along at a beautiful clip.  Crisis averted, or so I thought. We sailed on a reach for a little while, and Lyric seemed to be OK.
“I’m impressed,” said Meg.
“Yeah. It helps when you know the boat, and you plan for….”

The mild weather helm I felt in the tiller was now gone and the boat started to round up into the wind. I was no longer controlling her. The sails luffed violently and the boom came swinging across the cockpit like a farmer’s scythe. We were completely out of control and under full sail. I looked back at the rudder to find it completely sheared just aft of the first pintle.  The lower half of the rudder dangled behind the boat. I wrestled the broken rudder into the cockpit and scurried onto the deck to drop sail. We were now, dead center of the channel, seemingly pointed into the wind for now, but directly abeam of the large wakes produced by the powerboats cruising by. The boat rocked heavily side to side and ached and moaned with each rolling wave. I finished hauling in the mainsail and then headed to the bow to lash the jib. When I returned to the cockpit, Meg peaked out from the beneath the mainsail that was now a large blanket covering the entire stern of the boat and said, “Can I help yet?”  I smirked at her, growled, and continued organizing the tangled mess of canvas.

Now out of immediate danger, I returned to the cockpit and lashed the mainsail around the boom. I sat for a moment and thought over what just happened and what can I do now to remedy the situation. I am guessing that our little bout with the oceans floor did a job on the homemade mahogany rudder (not made by me), and the pressure from the weather helm finished it off. My only option at this point was to fire up the iron wind and motor back to the mooring about 300 yards back. I lowered the motor into the water and she fired up on the first pull. I turned hard, and she spun Lyric around into the wind. That was about the extent of what my newly acquired 1987 2hp Johnson was going to do for a 1600-pound sloop heading directly into the wind, waves, and current. Lyric sat still while the Johnson chugged away. She fought hard to fall off the wind, only to be brought back by the chugging Johnson. With a lot of effort, I could keep her pointed straight, but she would go nowhere. It was about the same time that I realized that my boat was severely under powered, that a 40 foot cabin cruiser plowed by Lyric’s stern creating the largest possible wake that a boat can make. The wake hit the stern hard and with my weight now hanging over the transom trying to control the motor, the transom plunged deep into the water taking the little 2hp under water with it. The motor, as useless as it was, was better than nothing, but was now swamped and not starting from the water that it took in.

Meg sat silently knowing full well that I was close to losing my mind. My first sailing trip with my wife, on the boat that I spent countless man-hours “getting seaworthy” was now adrift and heading out to sea. I would imagine the expression on my face was some sort of stern seriousness shrouded with a guilt, anger, and panic sort of grin. I was at a loss. I gathered my thoughts and went through my entire tool inventory in my head thinking of a way to fix that damn rudder. I then went through my entire limited knowledge of outboard engines thinking what I needed to do to get that damn motor running again. Both queries came up empty. We sat, and sat, and sat while the better part of an hour passed.
“Try the motor again.  Maybe it’s dry,” timidly suggested my wife hoping the sound of her voice wouldn’t cause me to jump overboard.
“It won’t start.  It’s completely swamped,” I grumbled.
“OK,” she said.

It was the only clear thought I had at the time, but it was a thought that said, “Try the motor. You know she always seems to be right.”
I moped back to the transom and gave a couple pulls to the old 2hp. She sputtered a little longer with each pull and after about 6 pulls, she sputtered to life. Ah, control again. I pointed Lyric back into the wind toward the mooring and restarted the game of swinging the bow back and forth through the wind. It was all I could do to keep her pointed straight and forward progress was exceptionally slow. On the way back, we passed a large channel marker.  It seemed like an eternity that we approached, sat beside, and finally passed it. I estimate the distance to be about 300 yards and the time it took to move Lyric that distance was about 1 1/2 hours. I was angry, embarrassed and distraught as my wife sat there, read her book, and soaked up the warm sun. She was calm and collected, and seemed completely unfazed by the whole debacle.
“What’s up?” I asked hoping for her to say something snide so that I could yell and scream about, venting my frustration on something other than the inanimate objects that I was already blaming.
“I wasn’t worried,” she replied. “I knew you’d figure something out.  You always do. I think you handled it quite well.”

At this point, the oddest of things happened. My face involuntarily tightened and my teeth began to show. I was unsure of what was happening to me and to this day, I’ll deny it, but it seemed as though some sort of smile was forming. My wife’s utmost confidence in me to assess and correct a trying situation was very satisfying and comforting to me as a sailor. If she, as an observer, had that level of confidence, than so should I. I acted quickly to get us out of immediate danger, I focused on the tasks at hand and all possible solutions, and most importantly, I listened to my wife when she told me what to do. I stood proud on the stern of Lyric and fidget with the now growling little 2hp until we arrived at the mooring. I tied her off and Meg and I both packed away her sails. This, I thought, was one of those times I’ll look back on and laugh. This was one of those times that your blood boils so high that you just have to laugh at yourself. This was one of those times that Murphy and his damn set of Laws just seemed to get the best of you. This, was just one of those times. As we glided away in the dinghy, I glanced back and scowled at Lyric who now had her back turned to me. Today, she was not my friend.

The events of that day and Lyric are now well over a decade and countless sailing hours behind me.  To be perfectly honest, I never felt any love for Lyric.  She was an old tired boat that really wasn’t much of a boat even when she rolled off the shop floor for the first time.  From a sailing perspective, she brought me very little joy, but she was clearly the most valuable boat I ever owned.  Lyric was like that mean sports coach you had as a kid.  The guy that yelled at you for every play and never seemed satisfied with anything.  I spent over a year restoring Lyric.  When I started her, I had zero experience with boat restoration.  When I finally took her out, I had more experience than I could have ever paid for at a school.  Above all, when I finally took her to sea I learned that cutting corners was not an option when it comes to being safe on the water.  Thankfully, my wife and I were not hurt, but if a couple other things worked in a couple other ways, it may have turned out considerably worse than it did.  Lyric was my mentor and my hard-ass coach.  I hated her and miss her.

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