Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Taking a Different Tack Part II

By John S. Mickman

Sometimes I wish I had more of Jim's empathy. I chose to start a small business with brother Chris many years ago, and I'm afraid the rigors and constant stress of our company have taken their toll on me. I think I'm a little too focused and goal oriented to be a good, empathetic listener. If I make a mistake, someone's tree may die; if Jim makes a mistake, a person could die. Jim deals with this pretty well and is very good at comforting people. On the other hand, I'm pretty good in an emergency situation.

As I took deep gulp of my coffee, I looked checked the deck navigation system to verify our current position; to my dismay, it was dead! "Jim, something happened when that big sea hit us; we don't have any GPS or Radar!", I called out. Jim came around the helms station and looked at the now black screen and said, "That's not good. I wonder what happened?" 

I looked over the starboard rail toward the coast and said, "My guess is that there was a bad electrical connection somewhere that just got knocked lose. I don't think we'll be able to find the problem in this weather. We can't see shore, but I know where we are - at least for awhile". I knew there were no ships anywhere within 20 miles, and we still had visibility of about 2 miles; we were about 4 miles off shore at the time.

In addition to being a good doctor, brother Jim is also an excellent sailor and he wasn't too concerned - but we both knew this could work into a pretty good problem if conditions deteriorated. "So, do we have an new plan John?", Jim asked as we continued racing in a WNW course - heading offshore.

We've been in heavy weather sailing a couple of times together, the last time being offshore near the Virgin Islands. That time the winds were blowing the same, at about 25 knots, and the warm rain was coming down in virtual sheets. With this limited visibility, we had run over a crab pot buoy which became tangled with our rudder and propeller, turning this crab pot into a virtual anchor. To get clear of this the crab pot, Jim volunteered to dive overboard in the maelstrom to clear the line from our sailboat. He was successful and everything turned out OK. Things can happen fast in a storm at sea, and we were both pretty tuned in to the conditions at hand on this 'salty' day.

With a smile, I asked Jim to take the helm as I went below decks to get my iPad. My backup was a navigation app on the iPad on which I had loaded the southern California coastal charts. This great tool, as is also has a GPS locator loaded into it. As I worked the iPad, the virtual chart jumped to life on the screen, showing our current location, course, navigational hazards and available moorages and harbors.

Still smiling, I returned to deck and showed Jim the iPad screen and explained that as long as we don't venture too far offshore, we have navigational GPS almost as handy as our now inoperable onboard 'nav station'. Jimmy was pleased. "Good deal John. This is great. How far offshore do you think it will work?", he asked me. "Well, I know that south of Point Loma it is good for about 10 miles, but it may be different up here. But, I'm sure it will work for a couple of miles off shore before we lose the signal which will keep us safe even if it fogs up into a pea-soup. There are no offshore reefs anywhere around here. We're good to go", as we sailed on.

By 2:30 it was clear there was no way we were going to make it to Dana Point by nightfall, and I called Heidi to tell her. "So where are you going to moor tonight?", she asked. "There is a great harbor at Oceanside and we're headed there right now", I told her. "We should be there by about 5 o'clock - an hour or so before dark." We talked for a few more minutes and then I called the Oceanside Harbormaster on the VHS to confirm that there were some open slips at the transient dock; there were. The Harbormaster then informed me that they were dredging the mouth of the harbor and to be careful. Good advice!

After conferring with Jim, we came about with a new, more easterly course toward Oceanside. Just before 5 o'clock we dropped our sails outside the mouth of the Oceanside Harbor and fired up our engine. There were a half dozen other sailboats kind of milling around the entrance, seemingly confused about which way to enter the harbor because the huge dredging machine was blocking nearly the entire harbor entrance.

After trying to reach the dredger on the VHS radio to no avail, I chose a course to pass the dredger on our starboard side, around the churning monster vessel  and entered the harbor - using the iPad nav app. I knew there had to be at least one large flex-pipe leading to shore, but from our position we couldn't it. As we passes slowly by the prehistoric looking creature, Jim and I both spotted the big pipe that brings the dredged material to shore. To our delight, we had correctly chosen the correct course (a 50/50 gamble).The other boats followed our lead into the safety of the calm water within the harbor.

Once inside the harbor area, we found the transient dock, chose a slip and tied up to the well appointed dock. After plugging into shore power, we walked up to the Harbormasters Shack - which doubled as the Harbor Police Station, to pay the moorage fee. By the time, just after 6 o'clock, the Harbormaster had gone home for the day, and a burly policeman unlocked the door and grudgingly let us into the building.

"What can I do for you guys?", he asked in a markedly unfriendly tone, like we were bothering him. "Well, we just got into town and we're tied up in Slip #3 down there", I replied, pointing over to Morning Star. "We want to pay the moorage fee. Can you make that happen?" "Yea", he grumbled back to us and pointed to an inside door within the small building entryway. I went through the door, as the cop went through the next door down, putting him on the opposite side of a large counter in a good sized office area. The door I had entered through closed, and I heard a loud 'CLICK' as an automatic lock slammed into place. Jim hadn't come through the door.

With a markedly alarmed tone, the cop called out, "What happened to that other guy?". I quickly replied that I didn't know, at which point the cop ran back through his door and I heard him yell out, "What the hell do you think you're doing wandering around here?". I heard Jim reply in a much subdued tone, "Well, I'm just trying to find a restroom. Do you know where I can find one?"

"Yeah, I know where you can find one, but you can't just wander around the Police Station like this. I'm the only one on duty and I'm already doing you guys a favor letting you in after hours. Come through this door", the cop directed Jim, with a tone that was getting more gruff with each sentence. I watched as first Jim, then the cop, returned through the door on the opposite side of the counter from me. The cop grumbled something to Jim and pointed to a door marked as a unisex restroom.

After watching Jim enter the restroom, the cop turned his attention to me and asked to see my license and insurance certificate. I passed these documents over to him for examination, but noticed that he was nervously looking over his shoulder ever few seconds to watch for Jim when he came out of the restroom. I also noticed that he kept in right hand on his pistol holster; I didn't know if it was a habit of his or if he was expecting to use his firearm on one of us dangerous looking, pleasure sailors. In an effort to put him more at ease, I made small talk with him as I filled out a couple of forms for him, commenting on the weather, asking about local restaurants...

Jim was in there quite awhile, but the cop was feeling a little more comfortable; he took his hand off of his pistol. "There is a small craft advisory out for tomorrow", the cop said to me. "Here is a copy of it", he said as he pushed a computer printout across the counter to me. At just about that time, Jim came out of the restroom and began to meander through the office area. The cop looked annoyed and said to Jim, "you know this isn't really a public area of the building. I'd sure appreciate it if you would get over to the other side of the counter with your brother", he said as Jim perked up and walked directly over to the door, went through it and then tried the now locked door on my side of the counter. I opened the door for him and Jim joined me safely on 'our side' of the counter. After paying the cop $25, Jim and left and returned to the boat.

Once there, we popped open a couple of beers and read the Small Craft Advisory. It predicted sustaining winds before noon the next day up to 25 knots, increasing to 30 knots sometime after 12 o'clock noon. "Well", I started, "25 knots is about what we had all day today Jim. We only have about 18 miles to Dana Point, so if we get an early start, we should be there well before noon. I don't think this is going to be a problem. I think we should throw the lines off at about 6 AM which should put is at Dana Point well before noon." Jim agreed, "Yea that sounds good to me. And I really don't want to spend all day tomorrow in Oceanside. Let's plan on leaving early like you say before the wind picks up mid-day."

The inside of Morning Star's cabin is all dark, teak paneling and with our kerosene lamp on, it is nice and cozy. We discussed the events of the day over a couple of cold brews and agreed that the boat was doing well except for the navigation system. I had taken a quick look at the wiring harnesses and they looked just fine. However, the iPad chart was really all we needed and we both felt comfortable with this back-up system. Jim and I were a little beat up and wind- burned from being on deck all day, but we felt good.

I took a last long pull off my beer as I thought about the plan, "OK Jim, let's be ready to leave the harbor at 6 tomorrow, but we'll take a look at it to and get an updated forecast. If the weather looks any tougher than we like it, we'll make the final decision at that time. Let's find a place to get dinner in town", and we left the boat to get something to eat.

The alarm went off at 5:45 AM and I rolled out of my bunk and started a pot of coffee. Going out on deck, the sun was not up yet but the sky was beginning to show a gun-steel grey and the low clouds were streaming past Morning Stars rigging, hell-bent for high water. I looked at the anemometer and it read 20 knots of wind, right there in the harbor. Hmmmm...

Back in the deckhouse, Jim was heating water for his tea while he finished putting his sweater on. "Looks like you're about ready to go Jim" I said. "Let's fire up the engine and get the rigging ready to go while we're waiting for the caffeine to get ready." By 6 o'clock we were throwing off the lines and heading out toward the breakwater.

As we glided through the water under power, a light rain started coming down which the wind was driving in sheets. Jim and I both squinted into the weather, watching for the navigation buoys that would guide us out of the harbor. When we reached the tall, stone rip-rap breakwater, a hundred pelicans were standing in a straight line across the top, beaks into the wind with wings tucked tightly to their bodies. The anemometer now read 24 knots.

End of Part II
Watch for the conclusion of 'Taking a Different Tack' in next weeks' Newsletter

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