Thursday, April 30, 2009

I hate to quote Donald Rumsfeld but he was right about one thing.  "You don't know what you don't know..."  

Our first trip, now safely in the books was really great.  It was fun and exciting yet nerve racking and sometimes scary.  More than that though, it was a great learning experience - akin to being hit with a fire hose full of information.  

For months, we had been planning this trip down to the last detail.  We had all the bases covered and felt that we had a good handle on things.  We had spent hours pouring over the charts, surfing the blogs and reading Chapman's guide to Seamanship.  At some point though, you have to just get out there and do it.  Enough of theories and technique. Time to put down the books.  We wanted to get in the game!  

And so we did.  

We headed down to Norfolk on a beautiful Saturday morning to make ready the final preparations to the boat.  She needed a day to make a few last minute adjustments, most notably a change in her port of call.  The United States Coast Guard requires that all documented vessels have their name and home port clearly marked on the transom (back end of boat).  The previous owners had their home port in Southport, NC and it was with a little melancholy that we removed those letters.  On some level we were taking over stewardship of a wonderful piece of machinery that had brought years of joy and wonderment to all her past owners.  The torch was being passed and now it was our turn.  As I affixed our lettering to Maya, it reminded me of when we brought our first child home from the hospital a day or so after he was born.  As I was fumbling around trying to put him into the car seat for the first time, I thought to myself, "damn".... "do I really know what I am doing?"  

I am sure "W" felt the same way on January 20th, 2000, however, I am not sure that he ever recovered.  

And so the next day, with two full tanks of fuel and a wing and a prayer we quietly slipped from our berth and headed eastward down the intercoastal waterway (ICW).  The conditions for our first day were spectacular.  Clear skies, calm winds and water like glass were the rule. Surely King Trident was looking out for us on our maiden voyage.  

Within the first hour, we encountered a draw bridge.  This bridge didn't raise up like most, but rather swung around to let you through.  We were the only boat going through and I think Kim felt a little guilty looking at the line of cars waiting for us to pass. At a top speed of 10 mph, it takes a little time to get through.  My thought was that it was Sunday morning and if they were on their way to church they would surely be reminded that patience is a virtue.

Most of the day was uneventful.  That portion of the ICW is essentially a man made canal where navigation is not required.  It is a 300 foot wide ditch that goes for miles.  It made for a nice start to the trip as we had nothing to do for 5 hours except keep it between the treelines.  Low stress.  

Around 2 o'clock, we had planned to stop at a nice little cove and try our hand at anchoring. Two is a little early to stop for the day but the thinking was that since we had never dropped the anchor, it might be wise to give ourselves a little extra time to figure it all out.  That turned out to be wise thinking.  As we pulled into the anchorage, we noticed that there was another boat already there.  It was neatly tucked into a spot and her occupants were sitting on the aft deck enjoying what looked to be an early happy hour.  Little did they know that there was going to be entertainment involved with their evening cocktails.  The water looked deep enough and the charts and depth finder confirmed this.  We had 4 feet of water under the boat and that should have been plenty.

I put on my gloves and made my way out to the bow where the anchor was.  I don't know why but it looked strangely like a child's car seat (but I think we covered that already.)  Kim was up on the flybridge, keeping the boat as stationary as she could, given the winds and the current.  I needed to work fast so we could set the anchor where we were.  I knew what all the books said about anchoring and the procedure seemed simple enough.  Untie the anchor from the bow and let gravity take over.  Once it hits the bottom, slowly move the boat backwards allowing the anchor to set, or dig itself into the bottom.  You will know that it is set as the chain that holds the anchor to the boat gets taught.  You will also know because you stop moving.

It was that second part that didn't seem to be happening.  The anchor was on the bottom, this we knew.  We moved the boat backward and the chain got taught.  After a few moments, we noticed that we were still drifting backwards (towards the weeds in the shallow water).  In the flying biz, when you are coming in a for a landing and things don't look right, you do a 'go around'.  In that maneuver, you climb back into the sky and come around again for another try at the landing. In the Navy, I am told that is called a 'wave off'.

So we waved off.  No big deal.  We pulled up the anchor, took the boat back out into deeper water and tried again.  Same procedure.  Drop the anchor, back up the boat and pray like there is no tomorrow that it catches.  No dice.  We were drifting again.  Another wave off.

Okay so we are new.  These things happen (although in the flying biz, you have to nail a landing eventually or you will run out of fuel).  We had lots of gas- it was pride that was running low.  An hour had gone by and we were still getting nowhere.  I am not sure but I think we had four or five wave offs.  Finally we heard a crackle on our radio.  It was the crew from the boat parked next to us.  Apparently they couldn't take it any more either.  They offered a simple suggestion to us.  They said to let out 100 more feet of extra chain before backing up the boat.  That helps the anchor to drag along the bottom instead of lifting up as you move backwards.  The dragging is what makes the anchor catch.

Well we knew that you needed to let out some extra chain (they call it the 'rode' in the marine world) but we didn't think you needed that much. At that point however, we were willing to try anything.  We let out the chain, Kim put it in reverse and the boat stopped moving.  Let me tell you that it is amazing how long you can hold your breath if you have to.  We stood there hoping that this was the time.  One minute, two minutes, three.  We were holding.  Five minutes, ten.  I think we did it.  Fifteen minutes and the other boat called again.  "Nice job" they said.  "Looks like you could use a drink" they added.  "Come on over, the bar is open."

Thanks to their help we never had another problem anchoring.  From then on we nailed it every time on the first try.  Just like that car seat.

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