Sometimes you don’t want to go where you really want to go…

It was decision time.  There we were, sailing up Hale Passage, the wind, the waves and the tides all conspiring to sweep us out into the Strait of Georgia.  Which was exactly what we wanted.  What we wanted was to sail out across the Strait of Georgia to Sucia Island where we would presumably tie up to a mooring or dock and celebrate the first night of our big sailing adventure in idyllic splendor.  Except that we had one small problem…

Our outboard motor had just died—expired might be a better word.  This was not a simple honey-why-don’t-you-try-the-choke-this-time kind of a problem.

I suppose it might seem odd to the non-sailorish type to have your “sailing adventure” crippled by the lack of a motor, but there it is, the sordid truth: you can sail all you want when there is wind, but when there is no wind—and there is often no wind in the San Juan Islands—you need a motor.  You might also need a motor when there is too much wind to put any sails up.  And it is certainly a handy piece of equipment to possess when trying to maneuver in and out of harbors and marinas especially when dodging giant ferries, fishing trawlers and multiple other boaters.  So you can see why we were a tad concerned.

We had set out that morning from Bellingham, Washington after over 20 hours of driving punctuated only briefly by 5 hours of sleep in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Klamath Falls, Oregon and multiple food and potty stops for us and the dog.  We had negotiated interminable rush hour traffic in Portland, Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle.  All of this was followed by the final insult: the detour around the collapsed bridge over the Skagit River in Burlington, which was quite possibly the most badly marked detour I have ever attempted to follow.  Thank goodness for smart phones and Google Maps!   David navigated and I managed to pull it off with only one illegal lane change and no visible damage to boat or truck.

All of the delays put us into Bellingham much later than we had planned.  And we still had to make the obligatory trip to Wal-Mart, Home Depot and a grocery store before launching to buy all of the bits and bobs we had remembered on the way that were vitally essential to setting out on our trip and that we had completely managed to overlook in our initial preparations.  Somehow, we navigated all of these hazards and even managed to find a restaurant still open for a quick bite at 9 o’clock, but by the time we arrived at the marina it was far too late to even think about launching and we were far too tired to bother.  Instead, we crawled aboard the boat on its trailer and listened to the 1000 car freight trains rumble past the parking lot as slowly and as noisily as possible all night long.

We were finally able to rig the boat and launch Friday morning.  I left David to get things shipshape while I washed the salt water off of the truck and trailer and parked them in the long-term lot and walked the dog one last time.  When I arrived at the boat, David said he had to go up and get some hose clamps and hose for the outboard motor from the nearby marine supply store.  It always amazes me that we can watch a TV mystery and pick out the murderer in the first 10 minutes because of some stupid tip off and yet we never, ever, seem capable of spotting the foreshadowing of doom in our own lives.

But David procured the necessary parts in short order and oblivious to danger, we set out into a strong headwind and powerful chop.  It was so rough that the dog buried herself deep in the V-birth and refused to move even as I attempted to strap a life jacket on her.  We hoisted sails quickly “because the motor was running a bit rough” and we still didn’t hear the dum…dum…dum… in the soundtrack.  At one point, David looked back to notice that our American Flag had blown off of the backstay.   We probably should have turned back right then.  In the movie version, the camera would have zoomed in ominously on the empty backstay and the soundtrack would develop a decidedly menacing sound all meant to inform the viewer that we were as good as wearing red shirts on the Enterprise.  In our movie, we just sailed blithely on.

And it was a good sail.  The dog notwithstanding, it is exciting to beat to windward.  That’s when the boat heels over and you take spray over the bow and your sunglasses become worthless and you smile a lot.  Once I got over the initial jitters of finding myself pounding through the chop headed for who knows what adventure, I was really enjoying it.

We sailed out across Bellingham Bay, over the bar and into Hale Passage, which takes you between the mainland and Lummi Island and out to the Straight of Georgia.  That’s where the wind began to drop off some.  It was about one o’clock by then and we weren’t sure how long it was going to take us to make it to Sucia Island, so we decided to fire up the motor and motor-sail up the passage to speed things up a bit.  Only the motor was still running rough.  This might bother normal people, but this motor had run rough pretty much since we acquired it.  We had taken it in multiple times to be worked on and most of the “fixes” generally lasted one trip out of the harbor—if we were lucky.  I kept joking that it was possessed by evil demons and that we would be as well off hiring a priest to perform an exorcism as we were after multiple “repairs.”  We kept threatening to buy a new outboard, but we had yet to find ourselves angry enough or desperate enough to overcome the price tag. I was getting used to seeing David pull the cowling off and begin fiddling with the motor mid trip, so it didn’t concern me too much when he began working on it.  Mentally, I was calculating how many times he was going to have to do so during our upcoming week of sailing when I heard a loud snap and David said some very bad words.  Somehow, during the fiddling process, a brass fitting in the carburetor had snapped.

So now we weighed our options.  We could continue on our merry way with no outboard and hope that somehow, by some miracle, we could make our way to a port—without a motor and very likely in fickle wind conditions—where we could somehow and by some miracle effect repairs or purchase a new outboard.  Or we could turn around and head back to Bellingham where we knew there was a marine supply store within walking distance of the harbor with possibly the most complete collection of bits and parts for boats that we had ever seen.

We turned around.

Now, before you go typing any smarmy platitudes in the comment section about how we made the “smart” decision or the “wise” decision, let me tell you we made the only decision possible.  To have continued on for a week of “sailing” in the San Juans in that particular boat without a motor would have been insanely stupid (a lesson which would be pounded blatantly home less than two hours later) and while we can be stupid at times, we are not insane.

And I know this is where the story should end, but not so fast—literally!  We had been sailing north on a beam reach which means the wind is coming at a 90 degree angle over the port (left) side of the boat, so that when we turned around, we were still sailing on a beam reach, only now with the wind on the starboard (right) side, headed south.  We were moving along quite smartly approaching the red buoy marking shoal waters off of Portage Island.  This had been the last “mark” we passed on the way out.  Now we would be reeling them in in reverse order—first the red buoy, then the point off Portage Island, then over the bar leading into Bellingham Harbor (giving the buoy marking the rocks off Eliza Island plenty of room), past the anchored barge, then the red buoy off Post Point, then on to the marina where we would whip out our trusty credit card and purchase a new outboard motor.  Or so we thought.

And the red buoy was there.  It was right there!  Only that’s when the wind chose to die.  It didn’t die suddenly, though.  At first it toyed with us like a cat playing with an ill-fated mouse.

“Over here!” It would cry, ruffling the water temptingly.

And we’d follow the ruffles and gain a little way on our buoy until the wind would laugh and die off again, only to ruffle a new spot that was…just…over…there… And then we’d watch the buoy recede as the tide began sweeping us north up Hale Passage in the direction we desperately wanted to go, but just as desperately needed to avoid.  And this, children, is what we call irony!

So we came up with the brilliant idea that we could somehow, you know, wire the broken fitting back together.

Only, that didn’t work.

As we watched the red buoy grow smaller and smaller, we finally became really desperate and decided to try to run the outboard with David simply holding the fitting together.  Only David couldn’t hold the fitting together and start the outboard at the same time.  So he held the fitting together inside the carburetor while I stood behind him and pulled the string to start the engine for all it was worth, and it worked!—sort of…  He could only hold it together for so long before his fingers cramped and he would have to let go.  So we travelled in spurts.  We kept trying to improve the system so that he could hold things together longer but we could only ever get so far at a crack.  Every time we would stop for David to rest his fingers and to brainstorm better ideas, the tide would continue its inexorable attempts to push us in the wrong direction.

But finally, we managed to spurt ourselves over the bar and into Bellingham Bay proper where the tide was not quite so insistent.  We even got a little bit of a breeze and made some progress under sail…for a few tantalizing minutes anyway.  Then it died completely.  We tried a few more engine spurts, but by now, David was having real problems holding the fitting together with the result that we were spitting as much gas out of the engine and into the bay as we were using—not good!  (It had also occurred to us that we had created the perfect bomb with David at the epicenter.  All we needed was one spark and that movie might not end so well!)  We had to write the engine off completely at that point and think of other options.  Using our trusty GPS, we estimated that we were only two and a half miles from the marina at this point, but it was a long two and a half miles!

First, we called the harbormaster.  Was there someone who could tow us in?  We would be happy to pay.  The perky lady who answered the phone gave us a couple of numbers and we started there.  The first people we called weren’t even willing to come out because they were “just too darned busy.”  Okay…  The first fellow said since we were a sailboat, we should just sail in.  Really??  Cause we never thought of that!

Next we called BoatUS.  For the non-boaters, BoatUS is the AAA of boating.  Could they give us a tow?  This turned out to be a not-so-simple process, requiring a conference call between David, BoatUS, Vessel Assist and the cast of a Broadway musical–at least that’s how it sounded to me.  The nearest Vessel Assist turned out to be in Anacortes.  We had foolishly assumed there would be one in Bellingham.  So, it turned out we would have to pay for Vessel Assist to drive all the way from Anacortes (about 16 nautical miles), then tow us 2.5 miles to the marina, then drive all the way back.  The price estimate came out to about $750!  We could simply dive overboard, swim to shore and buy a new boat for that.  And our particular plan with BoatUS does not cover unlimited towing, so we were going to have to pony up more than half of that ourselves.  David thanked everybody politely and we went back to examining our options.

Next we called the Coast Guard.  Assuring them that we were in no way in any sort of danger and wouldn’t ever remotely even think of using their resources, we asked if they had any suggestions.  They said call Vessel Assist.  They may also have suggested calling the “just sail it in” guy.  I can’t remember.  Then they suggested we flag down a passing boat to tow us in.  We scanned the nearly empty bay, then looked at each other despairingly—also not-so-simple…

That’s when we started paddling.  I know some of you might ask why we didn’t think of that sooner.  Well, you know how much I love our boat because it is ballasted?  I believe I’ve mentioned this once or twice now.  See ballast would be…um…weight.  So while we had, indeed, thought of paddling; up to this point, we simply hadn’t been desperate enough to try to force all of that weight to get up and move using our own feeble physical strength.  It’s not like paddling a canoe or rowboat.  The deck of the boat is high enough off of the water that you really have to reach down to get the paddle to bite and the boat weighs almost 2000 pounds.   But we did seem to be out of other options and surprisingly, we actually began to make progress.  We were able to keep up a consistent pace of just under one knot.  We calculated that at this rate, we would make it back to the marina by 10 o’clock that night—assuming we could continue paddling at this pace for 2.5 hours.  Unless one of us had a heart attack first!

It was about that time that we saw two RIBs festooned with armed and armored men dashing across the bay.  We were amazed when they turned and dashed over to our location.  Had the Coast Guard had a change of heart?  It turned out that they hadn’t.  The guys in the RIBs had noticed us paddling and had come over to see that we were okay.  They hadn’t even spoken to whomever we talked to on the phone.  They were friendly and polite and yet ever so unhelpful.  I offered to fake a heart attack, but that would only have gotten me off the boat and then poor David would have had to paddle alone.   Soon they dashed off to look for mariners stupider than us who might be in real, actual danger.

So we were pretty much resigned to paddling until the wind came back up or until we were completely exhausted when we saw a fishing boat working its way back to the marina about a half a mile off.  We waved in a desperate and desultory fashion meant to convey that we would really like a tow, but would totally understand if they couldn’t or wouldn’t help us because that’s what we were getting used to.  We actually thought they hadn’t seen us and were chugging on their merry way when they miraculously began to describe a slow turn towards us.  They had seen us and were willing to give us a tow.  So we tossed them a line and were finally “rescued.”  The fellow driving the boat was great and didn’t tow us too fast or try to “crack the whip” with us just for a cheap laugh.  He must have been Uncle.  Grandpa minded the towline while Dad sat and cleaned up lingcod after beautiful lingcod while the kids watched in rapt attention.  They refused to take any money for gas and simply let go of the rope as we passed the guest dock and we coasted right in.

The punch line of this story is that when David walked into the outboard motor dealership the next day expecting to whip out the credit card and cringe while they rang up a new motor, he said “unless you happen to have a carburetor for a 1985 Yamaha…” and it turned out they did! In fact, they had several in stock because, as the girl at the counter put it “That’s a real work horse of an engine.  A lot of people around here are still using them.”

So for a tenth of the price of a new engine, he was able to replace the carburetor and we were able to set off again on our great sailing adventure, just one day late.  The motor ran great the whole time and our new American flag stayed firmly attached to the backstay!


What do you think THAT light means?

Why is it that so many of our boating trips seem take a dark turn into epic saga territory?  I’m thinking we might just need to change our names to Njorl and Sigrdrif.  Maybe not.  I might have to start writing my blogs in verse and I’m not sure I’m up for that.  We’ll just leave the rhyming to Longfellow and get on with the story.

I’ll do the Hollywood recap for those not familiar with the story.  We’re sailors.  We got a boat and named it Nighthawk.  Nighthawk is ballasted.  We got a new (used) truck last year to haul Nighthawk because Nighthawk is ballasted.  We’ve had quite a few fun adventures in the last year including losing a wheel off of the trailer, which wasn’t fun, but was an adventure.  There, now everyone’s up to speed.

Compared to all of our former boats, Nighthawk is a very different animal.  Not only is she ballasted, she has a little cabin and two people can actually sleep aboard her without having to go ashore and pitch a tent.  This has opened up whole new worlds of possibility for our sailing trips.  We have even slept aboard her in a campground, using her like Captain Ron’s Amazing Nautical RV.  We may look a little silly climbing aboard our boat resting very unnautically on its trailer to go to bed, but we make up for all silliness when we back our “RV” down the boat ramp and sail gracefully off across the water.

So we’ve had a few trips where we’ve slept on the boat overnight.  And last fall, we “conquered” sailing in San Fransisco Bay, something we had only done previously in “big” chartered boats.  (Admittedly, we need a much heartier complement of sails to stand up to the kind of wind the bay delivers, but we did all right with what we had and didn’t get knocked down or hit any other boats or ships or islands or anything else important.)  After we survived that day, it was a mere leap of logic for us to think we could possibly take our boat up to the San Juan and Gulf Islands, another place where we have chartered bigger boats in the past.

We’ve been scheming and planning for this for months now and poor David has run himself ragged installing bits and bobs on Nighthawk so that we can, hopefully, survive the San Juans.  There are so many different parts to this plan and so many places where something can go wrong, that covering every single contingency would be completely impossible.  So it was a relief to take a break from all of our preparations and head down to the “Delta Overnighter” with our sailing friends, the Potter Yachters.  Besides, this would be a good dry run for the longer trip coming up just a month away.

By Thursday, it was clear that there would be at least 20 small boats attending the cruise.  We would launch at B & W Marina, located right next to the Mokelumne River Bridge on Highway 12.  David and I got a little worried about parking places at the marina and decided to drive down after work Friday instead of Saturday morning.  After all, you can never tell what crazy delay might happen on the drive down…  He called the marina and they said it would be no problem for us to launch at 9 or 10 o’clock at night, so David and I met up in Gardnerville after work for our trip.

And everything was going fine until the check engine light came on.

It waited (naturally) until we were headed down the west slope of the Sierra in an area where there was no cell service and pretty much nothing around.  Why would the light just come on like that?  The truck was running fine…  And it kept running fine for maybe 10 minutes after the light came on, and then?… not so fine.   I was driving at the time and I stated, “It feels just like the old truck did when the injectors were clogged.”  (When will I learn not to say things like that!)  We were able to limp along because the grade was mostly downhill, so we managed to make it to a gas station that, thankfully, had a pay phone because there still wasn’t any cell service.

We tried all of the usual tricks to fix it:  Open the hood, stare at the engine, randomly wiggle hoses and tap on parts, and make faces at it, but nothing seemed to work.  David even went so far as to remove the air cleaner and bang on that some, but everybody knows the air cleaner is really just a practical joke installed by automakers in Detroit to make people think they might actually be able to fix the truck and to create income for all of the quick change oil places.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a hidden camera installed in there.

“Hey look, Bill, he’s taking off the air cleaner.”

“This ought to be good!”

The truck kept flashing signals at us that it was out of gas, but we knew it had three quarters of a tank.  So David kept looking for useless parts to remove while I borrowed a phone book from the convenience store operator and looked for local mechanics.  There were several who advertised “roadside assistance.”  I called the first one and he said “well, I could maybe get to it in a week…”  Oh, sure!  Doesn’t “I need roadside assistance” sort of imply that I am—you know—at the side of the road?  Right now?  Needing assistance?  I’ll just pull out my handy tent and sleep here for a week until you can come along and rescue me!  The next two didn’t even bother to answer.

David and I were very upset we were going to miss our weekend of sailing, but we knew it was time to call for a tow.  I got on the phone to a nice, perky operator at Boat USA.  I have to say, she displayed far more intelligence than the average AAA operator I have dealt with.  We worked out the details and she said she would call back.  I gave her the number of the pay phone and told her I’d call back in twenty minutes if I hadn’t heard from her since we weren’t exactly certain the pay phone would actually ring if she called.  And then I waited.  Suddenly, as I was standing there waiting, David drove by in the truck and honked and waved at me—huh?

Turns out that he thought maybe the truck had some problem with the gas tank so he opened it up and shook the truck to try to hear if there really was gas in there.   He could hear the gas, so he put the gas cap back on and restarted the truck.  For whatever reason, that fixed the problem.  So, off we drove (after thankfully cancelling the tow).  Our check engine light was still on, but the truck was behaving fine.  Once we had cell service, I checked out all of the possible GMC dealers in the area and we formed about 6 different contingency plans, but the bottom line was that we were going to launch the boat first if we could somehow make it as far as the marina, then deal with the truck.

We got to the marina and set up the boat in the dark.  It was not nearly as bad as we thought because there was a street light near enough to sort-of see.  We were a little stressed about raising the mast because you couldn’t see the top of it in the dark, so if the forestay got tangled up with one of the shrouds, we weren’t going to know about it until we were in trouble.  But even that went fine, so I started the truck up to back down the boat ramp and noticed that now the check engine light wasn’t even on!  Silly truck!

We were all set to motor around the spit from the boat ramp to the guest dock.  All we had to do was park the truck and get the dog aboard.  She had been waiting all this time in the truck, so I took her out for a walk while David was getting everything shipshape, then we headed down the dock.  And that’s when we found out that we own Kaylee, the Incredible Non-Nautical Dog!  She was terrified of the motion of the dock as we walked.  The first time out, I had her off the leash and she made it about halfway to the boat before turning around and taking off.   I had to chase her down and put the leash on.  Even then, she made it clear that she didn’t want to be on that scary moving platform.  It was hard not to laugh at her as she slithered along with her legs out at an almost 90 degree angle and her belly scraping the dock.  I started calling her the lizard-dog.  But we got her on the boat and as soon as we got to the guest dock, she shot up into the v-berth and curled up into a little ball for the night.  David and I could sympathize—it was almost midnight!

The next morning, I spent a lot of time walking Kaylee up and down the docks trying to develop her sea legs (and to amuse myself, to be honest).  I also called our mechanic back home and asked about the truck.  Turns out that David reset something when he pulled the gas cap off and that is why the truck started running again.  He said we should try and drive it home and we made an appointment for the following week.  By then, we were pretty glad we had launched Friday night as the docks were getting busy.  Not only was our group there, it was simply a very busy Saturday morning at B & W.  The parking lot was filling up with small sailboats stepping masts, hanking on sails, and getting ready to launch.  They were all competing for dock space with various fishermen, water skiers and other recreational boaters.

By 9:30, we were all on the water weaving an intricate dance above the bridge.  Our leader, Jerry, finally decided we were all there and radioed the bridge tender to let us through.  Soon we could hear the bells ringing for traffic to stop.  The whole gaggle of boats made a dash towards the bridge as it began to turn and we were finally off.  It was a beautiful day and the wind was blowing perfectly.  We all hoisted sails and had a marvelous run down the Mokelumne River between the levees.  Right before it spills into the San Joaquin, the river makes a sweeping turn to the right.  With the change in direction, all of us began tacking back and forth in the narrow channel, trying to avoid collisions with each other, all of the motorboats, and the shore.  We felt sorry for the few large motor boats we saw trying to thread their way through the fleet as we all dodged and wove across their paths.  There’s a reason sailboats have the right of way, but normally, you try to be polite.  Still, in a tight situation like this, you sometimes just have to tack and hope the guy in the motorboat gets out of your way.

We were also trying not to run aground.  The eastern shore opens up into an area of shoals and tules and if you push a tack too far, you are likely to feel mud under your keel.  Every once in a while, we could see one of our companions spinning in an odd way rather than moving forward, indicating they had misjudged a bit.  The shoals get even worse as you reach the San Joaquin River.  Last year, we ran aground there and we didn’t really want to do that again.  The worst part is that when you head out into the San Joaquin, you can see the shipping channel markers and they look like they are right there, but first you have to make your way across the shoals.  A depth sounder is on the list of “things to do before the trip.”  Unfortunately, David hadn’t been able to do it yet.  Instead we had to trust the chart plotter on David’s tablet to give us our correct position and accurate information about the bottom.

Meanwhile, the wind just kept building and building.  We had a marvelous sail down the river until we reached our overnight destination—Spindrift Marina.  We descended upon their docks like a flock of starlings, but they had been forewarned and were ready for our group with plenty of dock space and the all important card keys for the bathrooms.  We had all made it except for the two members of the group who were sailing over from Rio Vista.  They had been checking in on the VHF, so we knew they were sailing up the San Joaquin and would soon join us.  The wife of one of our group members who doesn’t sail with him, thank you (because small boats are scary and unpredictable) had parked their motor home at the KOA campground across the road and this became the gathering point for the group.  We took Kaylee for a walk along the levee, then decided to head back out for more sailing.

By then, the wind had built even stronger and we had a fantastic sail, tacking our way down river.  Kaylee spent most of her time down below.  She would lie on one of the berths until the boat heeled farther than she liked or we hit a wake and then she would pop up like a startled rabbit with a very worried expression.  She only came on deck a few times.  Each time, I would put her life jacket on which she took as some new barbaric form of punishment and would slink immediately down below again.  Poor girl—I need to start having her wear it on walks at the house to get used to it.

After tacking almost all the way to Three Mile Slough, we turned around and headed back to the marina on a run.  That’s the payoff for all that work tacking, but it’s sort of like spending all day climbing a mountain only to ski down it in half an hour.  In no time, we were almost back, but as we headed for the channel through the tules, we saw our fearless leader, Jerry, headed out with some folks who had come by for an afternoon sail.  We couldn’t resist heading back out with them, matching them tack for tack.  The wind had gotten even stronger and as we hit 20 degrees of heel more often, Kaylee kept popping up and down like a hyperactive jack-in-the-box.  We decided we’d better sail a little more conservatively if we ever want our dog to learn to enjoy sailing, so we reefed the main (which reduces sail area) to make her more comfortable.  We finally headed back in after one of the best sails we’ve had in a long time.

When we got back in, it was almost dinner time.  Spindrift is a great marina because they have a restaurant right there across the levee.  I had just enough time to grab my card key and shower bag and get clean.  I could tell there are quite a few live-aboards at the marina because the shower had an interesting assortment of shampoos, conditioners and soaps.  I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the light to the shower area, but decided this might be best as there were probably microorganisms the size of trolls lurking back there and I didn’t want to see any of them!  And once again, I’d forgotten to pack a pair of shower shoes—ick!  I made a mental note to be sure these were in the bag before the San Juan trip.  Also the shower had only two temperature settings that I could discern:  sort-of-warm and sort-of-not-so-warm.  I was fine with that since I felt like my internal organs had been deep fat fried all day.  That’s one of the unintended consequences of being religious with the sunscreen—it keeps your skin from burning, but provides you with a sealent layer that cooks you internally.  Remind me to try it on the turkey next Thanksgiving.

One of our biggest fears never materialized.  We were afraid to leave Kaylee behind on the boat when we went to dinner after her sprees of destruction in our house.  But it turns out, Kaylee sees the boat as “the truck we drive on the water,” and had no problem being left behind.  David checked on her half way through the meal and she was happily snoozing away.

The trip back on Sunday was almost anticlimactic.  We all turned out at the restaurant for the $5.99 steak and eggs Sunday special, then afterwards held a skipper’s meeting at the marina.  Rather than dying down overnight, the wind had simply shifted and built even higher.  It was collectively decided that the smaller boats would motor and that we’d all meet up at a certain location before heading to the bridge to count heads and collect our wits.  David and I might have tried sailing the whole way if we had had better sails, but we sailed the first part under jib alone, then motored once we hit the Mokelumne.

It took us the better part of an hour to get all of the boats back out of the water on to their respective trailers.  If anything, the boat ramp was even crazier than it had been Saturday morning.   It was 2 or 3 by the time we were finally ready to travel.  Originally, we had planned to drive up to 50 or 80 in case the truck decided to act up again, but we were too tired and decided to chance it over 88.  We needn’t have worried.  The truck made it home fine.   Unfortunately, my words came back to haunt us and we had to replace the fuel injectors the following week.  So now it’s “The truck so nice, we bought it twice!”  Ugh.  We knew when we bought it that fuel injectors were going to be a possible weak point, but when I think of the things we could have done with that money, like buy Max, or replace my FourRunner (which is its own epic saga), or replace the windows in the house, or replace the horse trailer, or take a trip to Paris and Rome (okay, you know I’d replace the horse trailer before going to Paris) well it is kind of heartbreaking anyway.

Interestingly, I looked up Viking names for Kaylee on the internet and came up with Hollr, which means faithful.  I couldn’t find an old norse word for “nautical,”  I suspect because every Viking was expected to be nautical.  There was probably some derogatory term for a landlubber that the Vikings yelled out right before they lopped off your head, but I couldn’t find one, so Kaylee is safe for now.  By the time we got back to B & W, she was doing a lot better.  Of course, we never heeled on the way back since we were mostly motoring, but she did a lot better on the dock at the boat ramp, which was probably the least stable dock all weekend—she looks less like a lizard anyway.  I couldn’t find a Viking word for lizard either.

So “Skoal to the Northland!” and thus ends my tale.


The Adventures of Nighthawk

Episode 23: Nighthawk dictates a letter…

Oops—sorry, wrong comedy show.

Nighthawk is our boat. Usually when it becomes known in conversation that David and I are the proud owners of a boat, people jump to the conclusion that we are out waterskiing or fishing every weekend. Unfortunately for us, we aren’t. Instead, we belong to that great bastion of nautical snobbery—sailors! I say unfortunately, because waterskiing and/or fishing would be infinitely cheaper. You water-skiers are sniggering right now and thinking to yourselves “you haven’t priced new water skis lately, have you?”
To which I reply that one cleat on our sailboat, which is mainly comprised of cleats, lines, downhauls, blocks, jibs, clews, more lines and gudgeons (whatever they are—we just point vaguely at the boat whenever we say the word gudgeon and hope no one ever catches on that we haven’t a clue); anyway, one cleat on our boat can cost more than a new set of water skis any day of the week, and you will need dozens of these cleats just to tie up to the dock, much less sail the boat anywhere. I have this game I play whenever we visit West Marine products wherein I look for the most expensive piece of deck tackle I can find. It is usually in the neighborhood of around $300-$400 dollars. And these are the cleats they are willing to put on display. The really expensive stuff is kept in a vault somewhere guarded by trolls and dragons. (And don’t even ask what a gudgeon costs!)

But this expensive hobby seems to be our lot in life and over the years we have owned a succession of sailboats. This particular iteration is a 1978 Balboa 21 that we bought a couple of years ago from one of David’s friends who was leaving the country and thought it might be smarter to sell the boat to us rather than try to sail it to England. This is our second season with her and we spent most of the first season trying to brainstorm a really cool name. I really liked “Two If.” Get it? Huh? Okay, David didn’t like it either, so he tried coming up with names like “Summer Wind,” only in other languages like Finnish or Latin. None of those really struck a chord. At one point, I thought he had settled on naming her “Ellie E” after his grandmother, but after trying it on for a few weeks, he nixed that one too. Somehow, she became Nighthawk. We both love our nighthawks, but I wonder if, somehow, naming a boat after a bird that will suddenly execute a plunging dive is such a great idea. I picture us sailing happily along one day when she chooses to live up to her namesake and—whoosh—dives straight down Edmund Fitzgerald like to the bottom of the sea and people ever after wonder what really happened to the Soule’s.

Nighthawk also happens to be our first ever ballasted boat. And what is ballast? Do you remember Weebles? “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down!” Probably not—they were a pretty stupid toy actually, but the point is that Weebles didn’t fall down because they had ballast. You could hit them and they would just pop back upright and that was pretty much the extent of the fun. So although they did have a catchy slogan, you can see why they never really caught on. But Weebles notwithstanding, the concept of ballast has been used for years in a somewhat laughable attempt to get boats to stay upright. This is especially true for sailboats which have a tendency to “heel” or “lean” inconveniently whenever the wind blows which is, ironically, what makes sailing fun—wind that is. So heeling is just a part of the game and is also, incidentally, a smashing way to have fun scaring inexperienced sailors or “landlubbers.”

“Boy, she’s really heeling today! Hope we don’t have us a accident!”

And it mostly works like it is supposed to. Say you are sailing along and you get hit by a rogue wave or attacked by a sea monster or a giant shark or run down by a totally oblivious cargo ship. And let’s say it is a really big totally unrealistic mechanical shark that actually hits the boat hard enough to roll it completely over until it is upside down. That’s right folks—at that point, the boat will act like a giant Weeble and pop back upright (only a lot slower than your basic Weeble, so take a deep breath). Of course, it will go sailing merrily off without you because you forgot to use a lifeline and are too busy being eaten by a giant mechanical shark to swim after it. But that’s the general idea.

Ballast is a really great thing to have when you are sailing on Topaz Lake, where you can be sailing along, let’s say north, on one tack, then suddenly find yourself sailing along, still going north, but on a completely different tack wondering what the hell just happened. We once sailed in a complete circle on the same tack, which is only possible if you are sailing on a lake in the Sierra or in the giant whirlpool from Pirates of the Caribbean. In an unballasted boat, these quirky little lake sailing tricks can be quite exciting. The word sailors use is “sporting.” Conditions on Topaz Lake are pretty much either what we call “boring” or they are “sporting.” Frankly, they were beginning to turn both of us into “weenies.” (I think that’s the proper nautical terminology.) And I will admit to being far more weenieish than David. In fact, I was beginning to dread sailing on the lake, so I was all for buying a ballasted boat.

But ballast has its drawbacks. I mean, basically, it is weight. And basically, weight makes things weigh more. A lot more! So my poor truck went from hauling Hobie Cats and Wayfarers, any one of which could be picked up and moved by 3-4 burly men or women and to which the truck responded “Huh? Is there something attached back there?” To hauling a ballasted behemoth which you couldn’t pick up and move with 20 college students AND a Volkswagon and that made it creak and groan almost as badly as it did when hauling two horses across Nevada in the horse trailer. I already knew it was time to replace the truck, but Nighthawk was truly the beginning of the end.

On our final trip “over the hill,” we noticed a funny noise coming from the front end of the truck. We pulled over somewhere east of Lodi and checked all over the front end. We couldn’t see anything, so we kept on driving. We checked it again somewhere west of Lodi, but still couldn’t find the funny noise. Finally, when we made our last turn off of the freeway, David noticed the steering seemed wobbly and we pulled over and this time he noticed that we only had 3 lug nuts holding the left front wheel on. We thought we would just get some more lug nuts until we realized that the studs that hold them on were gone also! So we tightened up the three remaining lug nuts, (only one of which was really doing anything in terms of actually holding the wheel on the truck at that point) and limped the last few miles to Mom’s house. The next morning, it was off to Schwab, who was fortunately able to fix it. The mechanic said “oh, yeah, this happens all the time on these older trucks!” They always make these statements after the fact as if any fool ought to know… Why didn’t we lose the wheel when we were driving 65 on the freeway? We lead very blessed lives.

So we bought a new truck. Used actually, because we would have to rob a bank to be able to afford a new truck and I don’t think they let you sail or ride horses in prison. It is much heavier duty than the old truck, has far fewer miles and is much younger. So when our first sailing trip of the year rolled around, we thought we were set. Nighthawk emerged from her winter hibernation with a newly finished centerboard, a new Genoa and a few other improvements. (Note to water skiers: the stuff to finish the centerboard costs around $75 a quart and you will need several quarts to get the job done so you still don’t impress me!) We were all set to go. Friday afternoon, I drove home from work prepared to drive her in to town to meet David. As I was driving up the hill out of Holbrook Jct, I remember thinking what a nice day it was and how nice it was to have a diesel that didn’t even need to slow down going up a hill hauling a heavy boat. You could almost hear the strains of Beethoven’s Pastoral playing in my head, when suddenly there was a jerk and a whump behind me. I looked back in the side view mirror to see the left wheel of the boat trailer separate itself from the trailer laughing “I’m finally free!” and continue on down the road on it’s own little parallel journey.

So I calmly stepped on the brakes and pulled off the road. As I did so, my renegade wheel wandered off into the oncoming lane without the slightest sign of slowing down or turning off. Uh, Oh! I began to flash my lights madly hoping that the cars coming in the opposite direction might notice that they were about to go toe to toe with my fleeing wheel. Fortunately, the first car saw it and swerved at about the same time the wheel made it to the far side of the lane and shot off the road altogether and into the weeds. Whew! Then I freaked out. I tried calling David, but I could barely talk. Fortunately, the next person who pulled over to help me was my cousin’s husband—also a sheriff! It’s handy to have relations who drive vehicles with flashing lights and radios and clout with dispatch. He was nice enough to position his vehicle with its lights in such a way that the other cars and 18 wheelers would slow from 70 to a sedate 65 as they passed by us to show how safety minded they are. He also called for a tow truck.

If you’ve ever waited by the side of a road for a tow truck, you know what it is like to be poised on the edge of a black hole. Scientists who study black holes should stop designing fancy experiments and just study people waiting for tow trucks—their data would be much more valid than anything they could postulate from observations using the Hubble Telescope. Of course, if astronauts knew that being poised on the edge of a black hole is, in fact, identical to waiting beside the road for a tow truck, they would never volunteer to go on the mission. David actually made it from Carson City, through rush hour traffic to my location, before the tow truck did. After much debate, we decided to have the tow truck haul the boat into Schwab and leave it there for repairs.

This involved a lot of scooting, pulling, lifting, raising and lowering of ramps and general praying on everyone’s part, since it turns out that putting a one wheeled boat trailer which happens to be carrying a well ballasted boat up on top of a rather large tow truck is as complicated a procedure as docking the space shuttle to the International Space Station. But, we finally got it done and chained up and the tow truck headed for Gardnerville with the entire shebang—boat, trailer, tow truck and all—heeling slightly to the left as any good nautical operation probably should. I was somewhat concerned about what the oncoming drivers thought of this monstrosity that must have appeared, from their perspective, to be diving off to port at each and every moment, but none of them swerved off or acted the slightest bit concerned. They were probably too busy texting their spouses or BFF’s to even notice. Getting the boat and trailer off of the tow truck turned out to be every bit as complicated as getting it up there with the added excitement that gravity, which you would think would help, was in fact being just a little too helpful.

So Nighthawk still hasn’t tasted water under her keel yet this year. Aside from a black rub mark (from the tire hitting the boat) which David was able to buff out, a small crack in the gel coat and a crumpled fender on the trailer, there was no major damage. David spent most of the day Saturday checking out the Benecia wind reports which were so dismally bad (blowing 2, gusting to 3) that he was kind of relieved we didn’t make it after all. I was disappointed because I was really looking forward to calculating the mileage on the new truck while hauling something over the mountains. Still, that’ll happen soon enough. The only lingering affect reared its ugly head today. I took my horse trailer in for its annual wheel bearing pack and at every bounce, wobble, shake, wiggle and vibration, I was ready to pull over to check the lug nuts “just in case.” I had to force myself to keep driving, but I kept looking back at the tires to convince myself they were all still there anyway.