Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reasons Why Wednesday: She carried us through the storm

Reason Why #7: She carried us home safe

So here we sit aboard safely in a slip at the gorgeous Wentworth Marina, bellies full after a homemade dinner from the galley, Jimmy Buffett on the radio, glasses of red wine and another "project" in process. Last Saturday seems like a lifetime away but when we stop for a second and think about what we went through the fear still shudders through us. 

Lists, Lists & More Lists
So, flashback: we arrived in Portland last Friday afternoon with the biggest smiles our faces could contain and excitement abounding. We hit up the marine store with lists and longer lists to outfit our boat for the weekend's trip, picked up Jill's cousin Chris, our crew, at the Greyhound station, provisioned our galley and cracked the first boat drink aboard. 
Before stepping aboard our boat for the first time! 

First Boat Drink on our very own Boat - rum & diet with
Portland's Old Port in the background
After some delicious beers at Novare Res in Portland we made back to the boat for a good night's sleep to prep for the trip south in the morning. Around 4am the wind had picked up a lot and Tim went out to secure another line to the dock. At 7:30 Tim's parents and the last member of our crew, Tim's brother Andrew arrived to the docks. The sky was grey and the wind was strong. Fog had come down the Fore River and the outlet from Casco Bay to the Gulf of Maine was barely visible. It was cool and VERY breezy. We listened to the NOAA weather forecast over the VHF radio over coffee - "Small Craft Advisories" were issued for Casco Bay and Saco Bay but it sounded like Sunday was going to be worse so we made the decision to head out - we had the crew, the provisions and the excitement. 
Casting off the dock for the first time in our new boat!
As we left the Fore River and entered the Gulf of Maine we went into a fog bank. A huge cruise ship was appearing out of the fog. Eerily there was no other boat traffic heading out. The waves were choppy and the winds were blowing around 15 knots - perfect weather for sailing our boat. 
Cruise Ship appearing out of the Fog at the mouth of the Fore River

Skies were ominous... 

Portland Head Light in some light choppy waves
We raised the sails and were cruising between and 6-7 knots, already very impressed with how Zephyr handled in heavier winds and waves. The waves were starting to build. The forecast we'd listened to hours earlier had said it was 4-6 foot seas with 10-15 knot winds. At this point it was consistently 5-7 foot seas and the gusts were topping 15 knots. Spirits were high and our boat was handling the heavier seas masterfully. Plowing straight through those big rollers without being turned or tossed. We passed Kennebunkport, our original planned stop over. The Sunday forecast we'd heard hours before had made us think that the next day was going to be worse and so we decided to push on south and try and make Portsmouth by nightfall. Still there were no other boats out and channel 16 on the VHF was eerily quiet. This is when things started to turn... 

A video before things really picked up - Zephyr mastering the 7 footers!

First, our side shroud, one of the cables that holds up the mast lost its pin and disconnected. A screwdriver and some electrical tape was a good, quick fix. The waves built some more, now consistently above 7 feet. The winds were topping 18 knots. We still felt good about making Portsmouth by sunset. Then our mainsail ripped off the boom. It's a self-furling main so there is no "dropping the sail" it must be furled in. The furling didn't quite wrap tightly and we ended up having the sail rip back out slightly as the winds were now over 20 knots and the seas were hitting 9-10 feet. This was not good. We turned towards to shore hoping for a safe harbor in Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, Maine. Fear began to take over on the boat at this point. Waves were 10 feet, the boat was heeling at 60 degrees and as you sat on the high side you could look down from the crest of a wave at least 15 feet to the trough of the oncoming wave. Still, our boat rallied through, never letting her bow get buried or being tossed broadside to waves. She was simply amazing in those seas and winds. Her heavy displacement, lead keel and incredible build proved to us that she is capable of handling most anything Mother Ocean throws her way. 
Words cannot describe the calm and control that the helmsman, Cousin Chris, exhibited that afternoon. Among the huge waves and winds and whipping main sail Chris piloted the boat with a smile on his face and a demeanor that calmed the crew. As we approached Cape Neddick, York, Maine we received a cell phone call from Tim's parents who'd been following our trek south in their car. They'd run into a local sailor, Peter Hughes, who warned us not to anchor in Cape Neddick. In the waves and wind we'd end up dragging anchor right into the seawall. He urged us to continue on just a little further south to York Harbor. The thought of spending even another 5 minutes in the seas and wind was not something we'd wanted to do but we turned back out, rounded Nubble Point Lighthouse which had at least 75 onlookers who'd come down to watch the giant waves and made for the red nun marking the entrance to York Harbor. Tim's parents said the gasps and the "what are they doing out in these seas" cries from the onlookers at the lighthouse riddled them with fear as they watched our boat disappear behind 10 foot troughs of the waves. Peter Hughes assured them that we were OK and though we were getting tossed around a lot we were going to make it to safe harbor. I'm glad we didn't have to hear the gasps of fear, we had enough fear on board amongst ourselves. 

Chris masterfully guided us into the York River and up the channel and within 2 minutes and a few hundred yards it was dead calm. We truly understood the meaning of "safe harbor". We tied up to the fuel dock at York Harbor Marine and thanked God, Poseidon, Buddha, St. Brendan, the patron saint of Mariners, karma and whatever else we could think of for delivering us to safety. We especially thanked our boat, Zephyr. She was as strong as we could have ever imagined. Her issues with the sail and shroud were user error and a result of deferred maintenance, not something wrong with her. She took those waves and wind and carried us over and through it without once showing any sign of being overpowered. Mr. Perkins, her engine, exhausted himself to give us enough speed to plow over the waves rather than be crashed into by them. Our trust in Zephyr grew exponentially that day. 

Peter Hughes (thank you to the spirits above for connecting him to us that day) spent an hour helping us untangle the mess that had become the main sail. There are a few holes that were ripped, not bad considering that sail flapped in 35-45 knot winds. We'd expected there'd be strips of fabric left. Sailors say that every patch in a sail is a story. We certainly have a good story for the couple of patches we'll have to get. We cracked open the best tasting beers we've ever had, I cooked up homemade jambalaya and as a crew we relived the afternoon, the fear, the exhilaration, the craziness. We commended eachother and thanked God and those we love in heaven who watched over us that afternoon for keeping us safe despite our poor judgment in going out that day. We learned a lot! Small craft advisories = do not go out. Consistently increasing winds + waves = turn back. There are no safe harbors for our size boat between Kennebunkport and York. When there is forecasted waves from an offshore Hurricane = don't go out. CHECK EVERYTHING IN YOUR RIGGING BEFORE HEADING OUT!

Capt. Tim taking her home on Sunday
The next day was drastically different. Calm seas, light breeze and a short 1 1/2 hour sail south to our new home port at the Wentworth. We were so much more appreciative of the weather because of what we'd been through the day before. A harbor seal greeted as we approached the entrance to New Castle and monarch butterflies flew next to us as we turned towards home - It was a perfect moment. We were greeted by our families and friends who were cheers'ing and clapping as Tim came into the slip. We disembarked, hair matted, eyes dry, muscles sore from being so tense for so long the day before. We were different, we felt stronger and also so humbled by what we'd come through. We'd learned the inconsistent and powerful nature of Mother Ocean and the steadfast strength of our boat. We'd also learned a lot about ourselves, we'd cheated disaster, we'd rallied through with many surface bruises from being tossed around on deck but with a strength and trust in ourselves that can only be achieved when you conquer something like we did. 
Coming into Little Harbor on Sunday
 So now we have some fixing to do to our girl - sails to be patched, shrouds to be secured... but it feels like an honor to be able to fix this boat that did so much for us on Saturday. She got us home safe and now it's our duty to be sure she is at her best before we ever challenge her like that again. 

"Confronting a storm is like fighting God. All the powers in the universe seem to be against you and, in an extraordinary way, your irrelevance is at the same time both humbling and exalting."

Franciose LeGrande

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