Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Always Bring Extra Crew

We had been planning this trip for years now, ever since we got our new boat. My brother and sister-in-law really wanted to come sailing with us, but life kept getting in the way. Most recently, life came in the form of my small nephew. But now that he's quickly approaching 3, and we've got the boat so much closer, we synchronized our schedules and went out last weekend. We warned them that something always goes wrong and that half the fun of sailing is finding out what will go wrong this time and then fixing it. We've rarely sent guests home with boring stories.

We had intended to arrive well before our visitors, to stow our stuff and check on a few things. Bryan lived aboard most of the week while the girls and I were at Girls Camp, but it was his last week at Oracle, so he was a bit preoccupied. Of course, packing took longer than we anticipated and, of course, we forgot the girls' life jackets. (I can't wait until they are big enough for the extra adult ones we always have on board. No. I take that back. They're growing too fast already!) So we showed up only a few minutes before our family and then we did the headless chicken thing for a bit. At least they got to experience what is apparently an essential part of a typical sail for us.

We pulled up our headsail right away, taking advantage of the perfect north wind to help fight the current as we pulled away from the dock. Then we hauled up the main for a fast upwind sail downriver--not too far, we didn't know how Small Boy would respond, but soon he was shouting, "Ready, about!" at each tack (and randomly in between) like an old salt. We turned and sailed downwind upriver (got that?) on the Washington side of Sand Island for a while but before turning back upwind, we put a reef in the main. The wind had picked up a bit more and the reefed main made for a much more comfortable ride back around to the Sand Island Dock.

We had fun using Split Pea to ferry camping gear to shore for our visitors while the kids invented new ways to get dirty on the beach. S'mores over the campfire followed grilled corn and sausages and we all went to bed happy. 

After a windy, bumpy night on the boat, the campers joined us for a very leisurely breakfast (another Lee family boating tradition) and we set off again for a sail. Err, make that a "drift." After tacking unproductively across a few times, we gave up on making any progress past marker 77 without assistance from the engine. Bryan suggested motoring up to Sauvie Island for lunch and a wander in the bird sanctuary and everyone agreed.

Everyone but the engine.

It didn't cough or sputter, it was just on one second and off the next. When the problem didn't appear to be any of the usual suspects (fuel, spark plugs, etc.), we declared lunch the first priority, sailed toward shore, and dropped anchor. Blood sugar levels (and attitudes) restored by fajitas and Oreos, the men poked at the engine while Hannah played with her cousin, my sister-in-law and I lounged in the cockpit and Meira read the engine repair manual.

When attempts to reattach "this dangling wire" to "that thingamajig" resulted in stinky smoke, we postponed dealing with the engine and decided to sail back to the long, empty city dock instead of trying to sail into our slip at the marina. The sail back was uneventful, but docking when the wind and current are opposing is never easy and this was no exception. We prepared well, sending the kids below and giving everyone a job to do, trying to anticipate all the things that could go wrong.

We sailed past the dock, intending to turn up into the wind and tuck back in next to the dock. The current had other ideas though, and as soon as we turned downriver, we stalled out in a hurry, lost steerage, and got knocked sideways toward the breakwater. With a yank on the tiller and "turn, baby, turn!" from the captain, LiLo eased away from the breakwater and made for the inner finger of the dock. Thankful there was space at the end of the float, I scrambled to the bow pulpit to prepare for a hard landing. We were heading in bow-first and, despite loosing the sheets, approaching in a hurry.

I don't really know how I managed to climb between the headsail and the bow pulpit (a curve of protective metal railing at the front of the boat), jump down to the float, and keep the bow from smashing into the dock. I do remember rushing to loosen the dock lines from the starboard side (we thought we were docking port-side...lesson for next time: release all the lines when docking in difficult circumstances!) and looking up to see the guys madly fending the stern off a fishing boat, watching Split Pea drift lazily in as our frantic motions gave way to the exhilaration of relative success.

We've wondered since if there would have been a better way to dock, but, as my brother commented afterward, "Any landing you walk away from is a good landing." We provided ample Sunday afternoon entertainment for the bored fishermen on the docks. No boats or people were damaged in the making of this memory. And we (yes, even our press-ganged crew) are already plotting to go out and do it again.

So if we ever invite you to go sailing with us, consider yourself warned:

Something will likely go wrong.

You may be asked to use skills you do not possess to help salvage a situation you do not understand.

You will almost certainly want to come again.