First published 4 March 2018
…a few inches makes. I can see women everywhere nod knowingly.
Okay, vulgarities aside, it’s true: just a few inches of water lifted me from being a resigned and nervous to happy and calm, all in the space of just a few minutes.
It started with Saturday’s mondo nor’easter. It blew through the Mid-Atlantic with not a whole lot of precipitation but a whole lot of wind. Storm-force winds: steady in the 30s and 40s, with gusts into the 60s out of the north. Knots, not miles per hour. It wasn’t too bad up in the cove where Further is tied up, but out on Chesapeake Bay it was blowing right down the bay. That meant the wind was pushing the water right out of the bay and into the ocean. Which meant that the water level dropped — even up in my little cove. And with a wind that fierce, the water level dropped a lot.
I knew based on the forecast on Thursday that Further would end up sitting in the mud. It happened before during the winter several times and is, according to the locals, a winter phenomenon. As I say: it happened earlier this winter, so when Further’s keel touched in early afternoon on Friday I wasn’t too worried. Earlier in the winter I wound up high-and-dry enough that my propellor was actually sticking out of the water, but Further drooped forward, toward her bow, and it was simply an inconvenience getting on and off the boat.
On Friday, the water raced out of the cove. I went from floating to touching the keel to most of the rudder out of the water in just a couple of hours. And for whatever reason, Further not only sagged forward she sagged sideways, toward her port side.
Sitting in the mud isn’t a big deal. The keel and hull are strong and the mud in my cove is quite soft. What was nerve-wracking was that as Further sagged to port, her mast got closer and closer to the mast of the sailboat tied up beside me. I doubled up my lines on the starboard side hoping they, and a piling that stood between the two boats, would keep me vertical enough if the water continued to drop. And given the forecast — the winds were supposed to peak Friday night but continue blowing out of the north until Monday — I had every expectation that most of the water was leaving of the cove.
My neighbor helped me with my lines and thought I’d be fine. I wish I’d had her confidence. Our masts weren’t lined up as Further tilted more and more, so that gave me a little bit of room. There wasn’t much more I could do late on Friday I climbed into my bunk and went to sleep.
And when I say “climbed” I mean “climbed.” Further was heeled over probably 30 degrees to port so I slept more on the side of the hull than on the mattress. But I was warm and cozy, and I’m blessed that when I’m tired I can sleep damn near anywhere. I actually zonked out from midnight until 5 a.m., and then again from 5:30 till 7.
I woke on Saturday to find the boat in basically the same position as it had been in when I went to sleep: tilting forward a bit and steeply to port. Another climb up and out of my berth, through the cabin, and then a long stretch and jump to get to the dock revealed that no, the boat hadn’t sunk any deeper. But I had. Assuming the forecast meant that, at best, Further would be in her predicament until at least Monday, I wondered from coffee shop to coffee shop in Annapolis, unable to bear looking at her as she sat like a beached whale. I worried about everything: how long the lines could hold up under the strain, if the piling could really bear Further’s weight, when the electrical work that was scheduled for the coming week could actually happen since there was no way the guy was going to be able to get his tools across the gap from dock to deck. And it was doubly a shame to sink into such a funk because Saturday had dawned gorgeous: brilliant blue sky; warm sunshine; yes, still breezy but not as bad. And I couldn’t enjoy it. All I could see was my foundering vessel as dark thoughts raced through my mind, most along the lines of: what the hell had I gotten myself into? Seriously. I was THAT bad.
And then something almost miraculous happened, and it happened at the most unexpected time.
I was sitting at the picnic table on shore near Further as the midday low tide approached. Jumping on board (I’m serious: literally JUMPING from the dock) to once again check the lines, I looked to a piling in the middle of the cove, the one with the depth gauge nailed to it. Friday night, as Further reached her nadir, the water was about an inch away from the base of that piling. But now, as the tide was bottoming out, the water was touching the wood where it entered the mud. The water was about an inch, maybe two, higher than it had been the night before. But the tide was still going out AND the wind was still blowing from the north. What the…?!
A short while later, right at dead low tide, and the water had surrounded the base. A little more time and it was now an inch on the OTHER side of the piling. The water was coming back into the cove.
By mid-afternoon enough water had come back into the cove that Further was no longer resting on that piling. I placed a second fender on the boat’s rail, just in case, and tightened up her lines. A short while later, I had to tighten her lines again. A bit later, while tightening the lines again, my neighbor walked into the marina and exclaimed that our masts were almost parallel once again.
Further wasn’t floating yet, but wow! What a transition. And still the water came flowing into the cove. I could savor the sunshine pouring down out of the blue sky and welcome the ducks that swam around my bow. I returned everything in the cabin that had fallen from its place the night before and enjoyed being able to sit on a horizontal seat.
All’s well that ends well, I suppose. I removed the secondary lines this morning (Sunday) and reset all the primary lines such that Further is a tiny bit farther out into the cove and a tiny bit closer to the starboard side of her slip. And in hindsight, I can be happy about a few things.
For one, the boat was comfortable when heeled over. That’s important because that’s how she’ll be when we’re out at sea. Yes, I’ve lived life at an angle before and it’s fine. But it’s a drag when you’re doing it at the dock. Second, some friends (both in Annapolis and farther flung) were very helpful throughout the stressful parts of this event. Third, this was a record low water level (eclipsing the record set earlier in the winter) and spring is fast returning so a repeat episode seems unlikely, knock on wood. (If I see a similar forecast in the coming weeks, I’m motoring out of my marina and staying at some other marina with deeper slips for a couple of nights.) Combined with another recent hair-raising episode (I’ll recap that one later) that let me know my bilge pumps and alarm systems work properly, and the takeaways are that Further, despite all her scrapes and bruises and other signs of age, is a well-found vessel. I look forward to getting her out into bluewater where she can let down her hair a bit and be in her element. That day is coming…