What part of gale warning don't you understand?

Just a reminder. No matter what you boat looks like. No matter what your experience level. Mother Nature has you beat every time you get too big for your britches.

My tag line has always been to remind me what happens when you let your pride make too many decisions for you. It’s a little tease at myself based on an incident I was part of years ago. I was going to retire the tag line recently, but after my trip yesterday I’m going to let it stand a few more years again.

35 knot winds were forecast, but I thought I could stay well enough protected by strategically choosing a route through the islands. I really wanted to get the boat the 60 miles to home and not worry about her. Instead, I got clobbered in about a 3 mile stretch of open water I figured I could muster around shortly after leaving port yesterday morning. Well, I got around, but got forced to jog into 35 knot windwaves with 20 miles of fetch for way too long and in the full force of the gale. They were too steep to run in the troughs and even at a diagonal I was making precious slow movement in the direction I wanted. First the anchor blew out of its pulpit, luckily before I got into the worst of it and was able to risk a trip to the bow to secure it. In the worst exposure of it all, I could not avoid about 3 big ones and all hell broke loose. The dingy blew out of its choks. I had secured it on the bow and the stern. The bow let loose, but the stern held so it did not leave the boat. Instead it fipped up and over backwards and crashed down from the sundeck into the cockpit upside down. At that point the davit was swinging wildly bouncing off the mast. There was no chance of me leaving the helm to secure it. Actually, there was a good chance of me leaving the helm, just not intentionally. I’m thinking toe rails now around the helm and securing the wheel with grade 8 bolts. If the wheel had broken loose, I would have gone with it.

At that stage I had jogged into the waves and made about a half mile off the point I was trying to round. Safe enough distance. I was timing sets from neutral to full throttle to pick and choose waves and find the smaller paths through them, but it was only a matter of time before I would not be able to avoid another biggun. If that happened I didn’t know what damage the dingy hanging off the stern cockpit was going to cause and didn’t want to find out. I watched for the meanest wave I could find, narrowly avoided the worst of it and then gunned the wheel and the throttles down the trough and came about and got my butt on the back of a wave. I don’t know what about the hull form, the soft chines, moderate keel or what, but this boat rides a lot nicer taking waves from the stern that I would expect. She didn’t get pushed around at all and rode nicely. It was kittens in comparison and I quickly jogged another mile to the protection I was going for.

My prospects for taking any other chances that day were over. I had one more big body to cross and no stomach for it. Things had gone WAY past sane already and I had a dingy handing off the stern and who know what I was going to find inside. A short run down the channel later and I pulled into Friday Harbor. Unfortunately, the harbor marina was exposed to the Northeasterly winds. Not good, so I ducked behind a small island in the harbor outside the marina and put the hook down out of the winds in calm water.

For the next two hours I worked on the dingy. With just about every free line on the boat and the davit crane, I finally figured out how to flip it upright, hoist it up to the sundeck and finally get its bridle back onto it ultimately get her back into her chocks. For what had occured, the damage was not too bad. I only found one gelcoat gouge in the boat, about the size of a dime. The throttle lever control mount for the dingly outboard will need to be removed and out in a vise to straighten. The teak caprail on a two foot section of railing on the sundeck was torn off, but I found the teak and it looked alright. The stainless stantion it screwed to was sheared right off. The plastic dolfin on the dingy motor was destroyed. Otherwise, we came through okay. Honestly I’m surprised by that. The rear window in the cockpit actually survived, can’t figure that out! Even the teak caprail around the cockpit looked okay. I figured it would have some nice carvings.

Next up was peeking into the salon. The 32 inch LCD was still on the wall. The galley looked a hydrogen bomb had been detonated, but my favorite Nespresso maker was still on the counter. The contents under the sink, decided to come out and roam around, but all the glasswear somehow stayed in their own locker and not a single glass was broken. The aft stateroom was not too bad, though every drawer was open and they are the kind that have a small notch and generally lock in place. A captains chair in the salon helm had gone flying but did not break anything and of course a basket with quite a few books and stuff in it look like it was the victim of a bunker buster. An hour of cleanup and the boat looked good, no damage found. The 32 inch tv was not working, but I later found that it had moved a little on its mount and simply pulled the power plug out.

With the boat put back together, I pulled anchor and undertook my next task. Getting the boat next to the dock in 20 knot winds, the marina only had partial protection. Did I mention I was single handing the boat this whole time? Ultimately a good samaritan came out and helped, and it was a big help. Got her in on the 2nd try.

All’s well that ends well. I took the ferry home yesterday. I’ll return to the islands this weekend and try to get her home.

Just remember…in the end its mother nature who decides what is safe and what isn’t. Were only here to make judgemet calls, not decide the outcome. While its nice to know where the edge of the cliff is at, be very very careful when you know you are getting close to the edge. Yesterday I stood on the edge of the cliff and let my toes hang over. A little bit too close for comfort. Lots of things I’d probably change next time, but the most important lesson to avoid having to be an expert in all the little things I’d change is to just stay home.

I mean really…..What part of gale warning didn’t I understand?