November 16, 2009

Damn Bananas!

Maia asked me not to buy them.

“When exactly are we leaving?” She asked as she eyed the bunch in my hand. I assured her we would finish the bananas before pulling up anchor. After all, everyone knows that bananas are bad luck on a boat.

We’d been waiting for the right weather window. And when it came on Friday the 13th, we stayed put. We’re not superstitious people, but why invite trouble?

So we headed out at first light on Saturday morning; out through the sloppy swell that seems to live at the mouth of every harbour. The cat was sick, I was green, Maia stared intently at the horizon and Evan looked grim – it was a typical start to a passage.

The sail south was exuberant. The sky was clear and bright, the wind was in the 15-25 range and seas were hitting 10 ft. We were occasionally clocking 12 knots as we leapt from wave to wave. Even though queasy I still had the urge to cheer, which I did, silently, in my head, while slumped at the settee. Evan and Maia looked like they might have been silently cheering too. I’m not sure where the cat had crawled, but he was probably not cheering.

We kept on like this. For hour after hour the wind would propel us up a wave then the swell would catch us with a bang and hurl us down the breaking crest. It was loud, rough, unsettling and exciting. The sort of thing you try to convince yourself you’re enjoying because you’re sure you should be, but it’s all a bit too dramatic.

Slowly the wind eased. Not all at once – but with a rise and a fall. In the dark night the wave crash and the surfing sensation became less predictable and our motion felt less like hurtling forward and more like wallowing side to side. The speed on the GPS dropped to 3 knots and at midnight we decided to motor.

At 3am I was off watch and asleep. I woke when something hit my hull, just under my shoulder. I jumped out of bed when something went bang at the stern. I joined Evan in the cockpit and we stared at our rudder.

Our rudders are designed to kick-up when we hit something. A concept that is great in theory, but often annoying in practice. Once the rudder is clear of debris you carefully lower it back into position and tension it with a rope. But this time the rope had snapped. The rudder was swinging freely behind us, and because the rudders are linked together, it was impossible to steer.

I think I’ve mentioned that things always go wrong at 3am, on moonless nights, in sloppy conditions. Our rudder would have been simple to fix in a calm harbour. Ev would have tied a new rope in place and tensioned it. But when waves are lifting your stern, hurling it aside and burying it in cold foam, crouching on the lowest step, reaching into a tiny crevice that is often submerged in deep swell, while a heavy rudder tries to crush your arm, as you attempt to tie a one-handed knot – well, it’s hard.

I felt sick and helpless as I watched Evan get battered and buried by the phosphorescent waves, under a silky starlit night, where Orion glowed more brilliantly than I’d even seen. As I tried to help, and tried not to throw-up, I wished we were somewhere else, anywhere else. But I also knew life on the ocean is like that: moments of unbearable beauty and utter shittyness all mixed up in a way that you can’t divide them apart.

I felt oddly calm – knowing we weren’t in danger - that if this fix didn’t work another would.
We had options.

Evan worked his way through options 1-4 as methodically as you can when you’re clinging to the back of a boat that’s trying to hurtle you into a cold black ocean. After an hour, the rudder was secure enough that we could steer. We crawled back inside. Evan changed into dry clothes and we both sat silently on the settee for a while - uncertain what to feel.

That fix lasted until 8am, when the temporary rope broke and Evan got to do it all again, in daylight.
 Maia noticed the bananas as we arrived at Morro Bay. She looked at me accusingly as she pointed at them. I wanted to tell her we can’t be superstitious, but I couldn’t. I also didn’t throw them away.
They’ll make good banana bread.


Deb said...

Spent a long time reading your blog back to the beginning this evening. We're 2 1/2 years into our 5 year plan and I have to say that you have way more ambition than we do. I think we'll be looking for something already rebuilt! Incredible amount of work and I deeply admire your stamina.


Diane, Evan, Maia and Charlie the cat said...

We were just stupid, Deb:) If we had it to do again we'd buy a finished boat. We got our first boat read in under 6-mos. It was a much saner way to go.