A Sailing ParodyAuthors note: A few words have been censored. You will find bleeps where they used to be.
Port Townsend. A lovely town, full of tourists and sailors. A starting point for many long journeys. Many sailors say to their friends, “You know what always reminds me of my journey? That paper mill that’s putting all those bloody fumes in the air, that’s what.” This probably has nothing to do with Port Townsend’s booming paper mill. At least, I think it doesn’t.
I hadn’t known what to think for the past week. I was so excited for my voyage, but for some reason, the fuel pump exploding and decimating various important parts of the engine had me wondering if it was such a good idea after all. Of course, the guys at the yard said they’d have the hole filled up in no time, as soon as they could figure out where they put their concrete. This had not inspired me with confidence, filling a hole in a wooden boat with concrete, but I suppose that I should trust the experts more. At least they also said that the rusted bolts that hold the shrouds to the boat are so corroded that they won’t budge. That was quite good news to my poor younger self. I figured that I didn’t need to buy new ones, that the old ones would hold.
Anyway, entirely trusting in the experts, like the young fool I was, I sailed out of Port Townsend with a concrete patch in my hull and rusted bolts holding the shrouds on, and probably some other stuff that the experts had ‘replaced’. I vaguely wondered why my engine sounded like an old man choking on his heart pill, but I was too caught up in the pride of the moment to notice. Here I was, a young, brave adventurer, out sailing on my new boat. I saw a friend of mine wave from his old wooden schooner. I waved back, smiling like a madman. I was going out on a voyage. I couldn’t believe it. The only thing that would make it better was if someone sounded a horn to celebrate my going. As I left the marina, a horn sounded. I nearly burst from pride. But, perhaps I should rewind a bit, and tell the reader why I was so prideful.
My father had a boat up in British Columbia, in Sydney. We used to go out sailing in the summers and on weekends, if we had time and it was warm enough. Of course, Father considered zero degrees and above to be warm enough. This may have been a reason for his divorce. It toughened me up, though. I have such happy memories of trying to scream something at Father while 35 degree water broke over the bow and washed into the cockpit, usually something insulting about his lineage and mixed with the dirtiest words of the time. Of course, it was rarely uttered, due to the unfortunate circumstance of my tongue being frozen to the roof of my mouth, but I would try anyway.
My sailing days with him ended abruptly when father came home from sailing one day with pneumonia, frostbite, a strange infection of the tongue that involved it sticking to the top of his mouth, and various other things. Ever since then, he’s watched TV and read newspapers and golfed, just like every other old man I know. I was so disappointed, especially when I asked him what he was going to do with the boat. He said, nothing. I asked if I could have it. He informed me that it was at the bottom of the ocean, and it would stay that way if he had to personally dynamite every recovery boat that even thought of dredging it up. I figured he was a little irritated over his tongue infection, which had not entirely healed.
A few months after that encounter, I left for college. A year later, I was failing miserably, and blaming it on brain cells that had frozen to death and were never replaced. Of course, my teachers didn’t believe that, especially my neuroscience teacher. I went right on getting taught. I needed a break. I contemplated quitting college and going to the Rocky Mountains to ice climb with buddies. I was dissuaded when a friend came back with an interesting tongue infection. Then, I remembered sailing. That day, I left the UW campus in search of a yacht broker. I found one. His name was Bill, and he specialized in old, cheap boats. I asked to see what he had in stock. He looked at me strangely for some reason, then drove me to Lake Union. He showed me a nice old boat, the Peregrine. A nice name, I thought. “I’ll take her,” I said. I forked over ten thousand bucks to a beaming owner, then turned to admire the Peregrine.
She was beautiful, in a chunky sort of way. Oh, she was a bit beamy for my tastes, but I was sure I’d learn to like that. And it came with a lot of room inside, which was a bonus. And perhaps her bow was a bit bluff, but that was probably good for bashing through waves. I wish that someone had come and slapped me right then, and told me you want to flow through the waves, not bash through them. But no one did.
I stared at my boat in awe. It was mine. She was mine, I corrected myself. I had gotten a little rusty in sailing terms in the year and a half after my father’s boat sank.
I sailed, or more precisely, motored her, by myself, through the Ballard Locks. She turned out to be a cranky old boat, hard to turn, but turning all too well when you were trying to hold a straight course. But I loved her, because she was my boat, and I could sail wherever I wanted with her.
Once through the locks, and out in Puget Sound, I decided I would raise some sails. I motored past a buoy. It was a red one, and I tried to remember the saying. Was red right leaving? Or red right returning? I assumed the latter, since it was catchier, and went to the left. My decision was correct. I only ran aground once getting out of the channel.
Out in the Sound, I decided to raise some sails. I tied the tiller, prayed to God that the course would hold straight, and scrambled up to the mast. I stared at the different halyards and lines and sheets, trying to remember which halyard was connected to the mains’l. Then, I remembered that my father had always attached it to the base of one of the shrouds, and turned around. There it was! I grabbed it, undid the bolt, and slid it over the top of the mains’l, and made it fast. Then, I realized that I didn’t know which winch to wrap it around, and I had also forgotten to see if the boat had a winch handle on board. I went back to the cockpit. Luckily, there was an old, rusty, battered winch handle in the cockpit, which I grabbed. I trotted back to the mast, and raised the sail with the winch. Under one sail, I decided to relax a little. I won’t go through me realizing I had no supplies, or the shopping, or the realization that what I really wanted to do was sail from Port Townsend to Mexico, then to Hawaii, and back.That was how I found myself in Port Townsend in a boat.
As I marveled at the fact that someone had blown a horn at my going, my friend, Pete, came up the companion way. He looked over my shoulder and shouted, “What the bleep!” I glanced over my shoulder. There, a Washington State ferry was tooting its horn frantically at me, and coming on at something over 15 knots. I screamed, and yanked the tiller over, forgetting that it was a tiller, not a wheel. The Peregrine turned in completely the opposite direction I wanted to go, starboard instead of port. I frantically pushed the other way, and she heeled over as she turned, then righted herself. The ferry passed by, too close for comfort, still tooting its horn, while tourists waved down at us. I was too weak from shock to wave back. Pete, however, was glad of the attention, and waved back. At that point, I knew where the horn had come from.
Pete was a friend of mine at the time. Our fathers had been sailing buddies, so Pete had had some experience sailing. Pete and I never really got along until we both realized that we loved neuroscience. In fact, we were leading experts in neuroscience. We were always coming up with new ways to prove our theories, but the professors always lifted their eyebrows at our new evidences, and then told us, flat out, that there was no such thing as a frontal attention cortex, and even if there was, there was no way it could be infected with an icy growth, since such a thing did not exist. This was too bad, since I was hoping I could get a refund on all those months I had spent in college spacing out. I could do it at home for free, but if you do it at college, it can cost you thousands.
But this is me wandering again. I’m always wandering. I once went wandering while we were sailing, and ended up in a coast guard patrol boat with hypothermia. And another time, I went wandering in the suburbs of Seattle. It was Pete who rescued me that time. He was a bit proud about that, and I was severely compromised. On the one hand, I wanted to tell him that since it was in his own backyard, it wasn’t much of a rescue. But then I would have to admit that I had to be rescued from someone’s backyard. So Pete and I devised a story full of ghost bears and evil otters with laser guns. No one believed us, of course, but it was worth a try. Pete was that sort of kid; he was always wanting to build upon his glory, and he would build it so high, it would collapse.
That’s why he accepted my offer to go on a voyage so eagerly; he figured he could boast about a voyage, but knowing him, his stories would have been full of pirates and the coast guard valiantly saving us at the last minute, machine guns blazing, and someone shouting orders in that loud, carrying voice you always hear in Hollywood. Of course, we would have picked off some pirates with the large rifles we had happened to bring with, in his story. Hopefully, that gives you something of an insight into Pete’s character.
We had raised sail somewhere between Port Hudson and Mid Channel Bank, a series of rocks north of Marrowstone Point. We sailed up to Point Wilson, and there we had our first problem of the trip.
Neither I nor Pete had known that at about this time of day, when the tides were running like this, tide rips formed past Point Wilson. We learned at this point, though.
I had an exchange with Pete about what to do next. It went as follows;
“There’s tide rips up ahead,” I said.
Pete looked up from his book. “Yeah?” He said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Okay,” He said, and looked back down at his book.
We hit the tide rips right about then. A noise like a lot of water bashing against a wood and concrete hull filled our ears. A mysterious howl rose in the air as I wrestled with the tiller.
After we were through, I realized that this had been Pete screaming, but at that point, I thought that there was an unholy alliance of the water and air gods, and they were trying to destroy the poor Peregrine. The sails were flogging back and forth as the wind shifted, or rather, as we spun around in circles. We were being pushed towards the shore. I shouted at Pete to take the jib down, while I turned on the motor and tried to wrestle us out of the tide rips. For some reason, the unearthly howling noise stopped as Pete began to winch in the jib. I shouted at him to tighten down the mainsheet, which he promptly did. Now with the motor on, and the mainsheet tightened down, we were able to make slow progress out of the tide rips.
Once we were out Pete sat down with a thump, and picked up his book. I managed to catch a glimpse of the title as he turned away. ‘Mutant Ninja Vampire Frogs’, was the title. I thought that was strange, at the time, but figured there was no accounting for some people’s tastes.
We were now out of Admiralty Inlet, and out on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I thought it was cool that we had made it this far without sinking, but Pete seemed to think that it had been nothing. He pointed out that we were still only six miles from Port Townsend. I was reluctant to admit that, but he had started reading again before I could admit it, so I let it drop.
Two days later, we were out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, without anything bad happening once. I was excited. Pete seemed nervous. I had begun fishing off the back of the boat, but the one time I caught something, it had attempted to bite my toe off and then had flopped back in the sea.
Pete laughed at my screaming, and pointed out that it was a very tiny fish, but when I offered him the fishing equipment, he was suddenly very eager to go down and make the tea, which was something that made me feel worried for his health, since he was so eager to not make the tea most of the time. I didn’t argue with him though; I wasn’t particularly fond of making tea. When he came back up with a tea cup in both hands, I pointed out some huge dark clouds off in the distance.
“Think we ought to be worried?” I asked.
Pete glanced at them and said, “Nah. We’ll be in a port by the time those reach us.
I wasn’t so sure. They seemed awfully big, and they were moving quite fast. “But, Pete,” I said. “Our next port is over forty miles away.”
Pete looked thoughtful. “Very true,” he said.
He stroked his beard, and looked towards the huge storm clouds looming to starboard.
“Well,” he said reluctantly. “I suppose we had better start prepping for the storm.”
He went down below to begin tidying up. I looked up at the sails, and wondered how strong the winds would be. The cup of tea sat unnoticed in my hands as I stared at the sails. How long till the storm hit? By the looks of it, we had thirty minutes, maybe an hour at most.
The wind had been gradually picking up this entire time, until it sat at something like fifteen knots. The Peregrine was making good way, going five and a half knots, and heeling over to perhaps twenty five degrees. I stared at the storm clouds, and called for Pete to bring me the VHF. When he brought it up, I took it, and, still staring absently at the storm clouds, I switched to the weather channel.
The recording of a woman sounding like a computer came on. I paid it no mind, until I heard, “For the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca…” I listened intently. “…there will be gale force winds of fifty knots, with gusts up to sixty five from 13:45 to 18:00. Storm conditions will continue into the morning. Wave height will be between ten and twenty feet. For the Strait of Juan de Fuca…”
I tuned out at that point, furiously calculating in my head. If there were such high winds, and we were under double reefed mains’l and storms’l, then we could probably go seven knots, making the amount of time it would take to get to our next port about seven hours. It was about one o’clock PM, which meant we would be in by eight o’clock, if nothing went wrong. We had perhaps thirty five minutes by this point, but there was no telling when the storm would really hit. The wind had risen to twenty.
Pete was back up top, with stout rubber boots on and water proof pants, and was shrugging into his rain jacket. He then proceeded to buckle on a harness, one of the new ones I had purchased in Seattle. I mentioned the weather forecast to him. His eyes widened momentarily, then he shrugged.
“We can handle it,” was all he said.
The wind was still picking up, and Peregrine was heeling over more. I kept my hands tight on the tiller, and asked Pete to go put the first reef into the mains’l. He went on up to the foredeck, stumbling as the boat tossed him around. As the mainsail began to come down, a gust of thirty five hit, sending us into a heel of forty five degrees before we righted. And then Pete was coming back from the foredeck, soaked from spray. He came into the cockpit and spluttered as a wave crashed into the cockpit and hit both of us full in the face. I decided that it was time to put a second reef in the main before the wind got too powerful. When I told Pete, he nearly bit my head off, which was why I found myself up on the foredeck getting soaked. I clipped myself onto a shroud, and dropped the sail part way down the mast. I tied the reefing line to a hitch, then winched up the sail until the line was tight. Then I scrambled back to the cockpit, and dropped in. It began to rain. Pete looked slightly smug when he saw how soaked I was. I glared at him, then began to winch the jib in. It then occurred to me that I had no idea how to replace it with the storms’l, so I double reefed it and left it at that. Then I sat back. Now all that we had to do was sit out the storm.
It hit us. Wind howled through the rigging as Peregrine bashed through the waves. Pete hung off the leeward side, then came back up, looking ill. I grabbed the tiller, and both Pete and I wrestled to keep a straight course. It was awful, trying to go up into the wind, into the waves. Finally, I decided I had quite enough, and, while going down the backside of a wave, turned her about.
The motion was much easier, and we sat there for I don’t know how long until Pete said, “Isn’t that shore ahead?” I peered up ahead. It was shore. I said, in a voice that sounded calmer than I really was, “Pete, we’ve got to do something! What do we do? What do we do?” Pete wasn’t sure. At least, that’s the impression I got from the way he was staring at the shore, slack jawed. I took a hold of myself. “Pete, we’ve got to get the sails down. I’ll start the engine while you winch the jib in,” I said, or rather shouted. Pete jumped then scrambled towards the winch. I turned the engine key. The engine rumbled to life, squealed, and died. I frowned at the key. I tried again, and the engine gave a wheeze before dying again. The jib was winched in.
I told Pete to go down below and check the engine, and see what was wrong. He climbed down below, muttering to himself, while I gloomily watched the shore get nearer.
After a moment, Pete shouted up, “Ok, turn the engine on.”
I turned the key. The engine rumbled to life, and stayed on for an entire five seconds, before there was a loud, ‘Pop!’ and it died yet again. Pete came up the companionway, bleeding from multiple small cuts on his face, saying “Bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep!”
“What happened?” I exclaimed.
“The bleep fuel pump blew up in my face!” Pete shouted back. I gulped.
The engine was out of commission.
“Unfurl the jib,” I said faintly.
Pete nodded and scrambled to the winch. The jib began to unfurl. I watched it. Pete stopped it at a double reef, and tidied the line. Then, he glanced at me.
“Shall we turn her about?” he asked. I nodded.
I began to turn her about, while Pete kept the boom from swinging around to hard. The jib flogged a moment before Pete pulled it in. Now, bashing through the waves, trying to keep up into the wind, I said, “I think we should head back for Sooke.” Pete only nodded.
“Ready about?” I said.
“Ready,” said Pete.
“Helms alee!” I cried, and pulled the tiller towards myself.
Slowly, Peregrine came ‘round, and then stalled.
“C’mon!” I said through gritted teeth. “Just a little further!”
Finally, jib flogging, she came around and settled on the opposite tack. I breathed a sigh of relief. Pete winched the jib in slightly, then sat back. Keeping my hands tight on the tiller, I wrestled to keep our course straight.
Pete was utterly exhausted by now. I felt utterly exhausted, too. Pete went down below to put some bandages on his face, and came back up, saying, “There’s three feet of water in the bilge, and it’s rising!” I looked down below. Sure enough, a few inches of water was sloshing about on the floor. I thought it must be because of the planks working; they had done that on all the old ships, so there was no reason for it not to be true on my old wooden cutter. And now we were rounding Cape Flattery, towards the relatively calm waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Then, we ran aground. I lurched forward in my seat, then fell back into it. Pete fell face first onto the cockpit floor. Poor old Peregrine was heeling over sharply, with the waves lifting her up and pounding her onto the rock. I was sure her side would cave at any moment, and we would drown. Pete was scrambling to his feet, shouting, “The radio! Call the bleep coast guard!” I reached for the radio. The waves lifted us up, and pounded us back onto the rock. I raised the radio to my mouth, and my mouth began to open. An especially large wave came in, raised us up, and began to bring us back down again. I was sure we were done for. The wind whistled through the shrouds, and I seemed to hear the low booming of water on rock even better than before. My skin was tingling; adrenalin, I supposed. All I could see and feel was the water coming up towards us, and the feeling of my stomach in my throat. Then the wave was passed, and we were floating again. I closed my mouth. I realized I had been screaming incoherently into the radio. I vaguely wondered what the coast guard would make of that. But I didn’t care. I was still alive! I threw up over the leeward side. Then, scrubbing my mouth with the back of my hand, I let the main out, and, while Pete took the tiller, adjusted the jib to downwind sailing. As I sat back down, I said, “You know what? This big ocean sailing isn’t for me. Let’s go to the San Juans and hang out there, and then we can go back to Seattle.” “Yes,” said Pete. “Yes, I like that idea.”