Today’s story involves a 24 hour ‘heavy weather training run’ aboard GS2 in preparation for the upcoming lap. The weather forecast for Wed/Thurs/Fri was grim – torrential rains followed by winds of 20 to 35 mph and big seas – sounded like a good opportunity to get my ass kicked and see what did and didn’t work on the boat in these extreme conditions and try to get it fixed before the big trip.
This is always a good idea but few people actually do it because the reality is that going out sailing in the rain and cold and wind sucks. But inevitably some weakness is discovered in the man or the boat that would be great to fix before you have to live with it for four months alone.
So I arrived at Maine Yacht Center in Portland on Wednesday morning to find the weather exceedingly hideous: torrential tropical rain – winds gusting to 35 mph and very limited visibility due to fog. So even I said, ‘may be this is not so smart’. But after a while the worst abated and by 3:00 I decided to go for it. The MYC boys helped me get off the dock clean and I hoisted the main with two reefs in Portland harbor and headed out the cut to the Atlantic. My goal was to go through all the storm sails and procedures, so I hoisted the staysail and headed down east at about 10 knots boat speed in a 20 – 30 knot breeze.
As I went past Monhegan Island towards Seguin Light, I ran over a lobster pot, which snagged on the boats keel and brought us to a stop from 10 knots. It is a really weird feeling to have this happen because it is like the hand of god has inexplicably reached out and stopped the boat while the sails are still full- but you have gone from an action video to a still life. I tried every conceivable trick to get the rope from the lobster trap off the keel bulb but to no avail. Since it was by then well after midnight, I let the boat drift along while I tried to get a little sleep.
At daybreak, I got the boat sailing again and it was moving, just not at its normal pace – very sluggish. But I had gone about 10 miles during the night, so I thought maybe the pot had cleared itself and hoisted more sail even though it was blowing 35 knots. I was rewarded with the tack shackle of the jib exploding and the hanks that held it to the forestay gave way like the buttons on the front of a dress shirt so the jib was flogging itself to death attached only by the halyard at the top and the sheet at the deck. I tried to lower it slowly but it ended up in the water and then under the boat which made retrieving it rather difficult. Back to the sailmaker for that sail!
So after recovering from that debacle, I realized we had been dragging around lord knows how may lobster pots for quite a while, so it was time to be free. However, I was not excited to leap into the chilly and dark Maine waters, so I called a friend to see if we could find a diver. However, I soon realized I was too far offshore to reasonably get to, so I had to suck it up and jump overboard to cut the line.
For some reason, I was quite a chickenshit about doing this- aside from the obvious risk of being alone and potentially not being able to get back on the boat. But eventually I sucked it up, stripped and jumped into the water with a mask and a knife and cut away the lobster pot and rope wrapped around the keel bulb 10 feet below the surface. I was able to do it quicker than I expected and surfaced and began to swim like crazy back to the boat, which was drifting downwind rapidly.
But I realized quickly that I would not catch it by swimming, so I pulled myself in to the boat with the safety line I had tied around my waist. It felt very good to hoist myself over the transom back aboard amidst the rolling seas breaking over the boat.
By this point I felt I had learned enough for one day, so headed back to Maine Yacht Center to nurse my wounds and internalize my learnings.
I did learn a lot about the boat and was able to overcome the fear of jumping into the cold ocean offshore alone, so I think it was worth the trip. Now ready for a beer and a sleeping bag, 40 days.