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March 17, 2004
"Wind is nothing more than the movement of air." Canadian Hydrographic Service
The hemispherical cups on the wind anemometer are just a blur to the eye this afternoon. High winds force the meter to indicate a wind velocity of 47 knots. To the meteorologist it is just another wind that is caused by a "logical movement" of cold ocean air rushing inland to the California Sacramento Valley. This tiny indicator on the red roof of the Point Reyes lighthouse read out its uncaring, apathetic speed number that in no way described what that wind was doing to the seven of us sailing aboard the small sloop "TONDELEYO". Pt. Reyes is a major Pacific Coast land feature, a wind-blown, barren headland 25 miles north of San Francisco Bay shaped like a sort of semi-arc that juts out a few miles into the Pacific Ocean. The California interior valley floor heats in the summer sun, the valley air thermals upward, and then, to compensate, more cool air from the ocean rushes in. The hotter the day inland, the stronger the wind becomes at Pt. Reyes. This was a very hot day in the valley.
This was also 1968. I was classified as "draft eligible" by the Selective Service Board at Fourth and Clay Streets in Oakland. My classification was 1A, the "most eligible" to be inducted. "Least eligible", I thought, for a bank loan to buy a sailboat. All that was needed to put me out of business was a medium brown envelope from the Dept. of the Army with my induction notice. But, local bank manager Mr. Elmer Larsen seemingly ignored that. He understood a kid's passion to do something, something that seemed irrational to an older adult. He said to me that when he was young he always wanted a convertible car, but he felt he really couldn't afford it. Now, many years later, he was nearing retirement and could easily afford a convertible. Now he didn't want a convertible. Convertibles were cold and too windy. He was too old and had missed his chance to get something he dearly wanted at one time. I shook hands with him to complete the deal. He loaned me the money, and I agreed to keep making boat payments - even if I were sent to Vietnam or somewhere. So, I started making payments on an Islander 37 sailboat and remained in some sort of denial about my 1A draft status. For the next five years whenever they rolled my dice at the draft board, I got a seven and they lost. I was never called.
In fall of 1967 I moved all I had aboard TONDELEYO, and I entered every sailboat race on San Francisco Bay. I named the boat TONDELEYO, a name suggested by my father. He always named his boats after my mother, Ruth E, in an effort to try to get her to approve of his boat. My boat was a different case, however. In suggesting TONDELEYO I think he was still fantasizing about slinky Hedy Lamarr as she stepped out of the jungle saying, "I am TONDELEYO" in the old B&W film "White Cargo". TONDELEYO and I raced every sanctioned and unsanctioned sailboat race in the vicinity of San Francisco Bay. I raced the coastal ocean races. I raced the yacht club's lightship race, and I raced the Thursday evening "Chowder Races". I raced the The Midnight Moonlight Maritime Marathon. I planned on winning - winning something, somewhere, sometime.
I was urged on in this by my old friend Rick, a West Coast championship sailor who had a terrible temper and a tendency to puff about his successes. I often crewed for Rick. We entered many races, and we rarely finished. Rick was getting older. He was less adept at sailing and approached 300 pounds body weight. Before a race, we crew would pull the boat close to the dock. Rick would sit on the rail and swivel his feet into the cockpit. Once in the cockpit, he rarely moved except to shift to the high side on tacks. He was quasi movable ballast and that may have helped the boat sail a tiny bit faster. But, he made more and more tactical racing mistakes. Mistakes upset him; so he'd get mad, and blame the crew. That would upset the crew, and we'd commit some other blunder.
Once, just before a race start, the foredeck crew didn't cleat the main halyard properly. The halyard loosened as we milled in and about boats at the starting line. Suddenly the mainsail came crashing down, and the boom hit Rick on the head. Then the whole mainsail itself came down and covered him like a tent. Underneath, he was cussing and trying to pull the cloth away so he could see. We were slow to help. One of the crew said Rick could swear for five minutes without repeating himself. This halyard problem was not exactly his fault, but if one thinks about it, he had trouble getting good, experienced crew because of his temper. Sometimes he'd recruit neighbors or kids-down-the block. I quit crewing for him after he, in a rage, literally threw a kid down the companionway.
Rick had installed a new main sheet track that featured a small sensitive traveling car about as big as my fist. It had a ball bearing race machined inside. You could tighten the main sheet hard as you could and still the traveler, with its one hundred ball bearings, would move to proper position along the track with the slightest pressure. Rick cherished it. This gadget is commonplace today, but in those days this traveler was unique, a very precision device. Rick was excellent at positioning the boat for a good start. Once off Treasure Island, he approached the start line in gusty winds and jockeyed near the starting line close amongst eight or ten other boats. We came fast downwind and jibed close to the weather end of the line. Boats converged even closer, and there was the usual yelling and shouting. As the boom and main sheet jerked across the track with the jibe, the ball bearing car accelerated to extremely high speed. It accelerated so fast that at the end of the four-foot track, it burst through the metal stop. All 100 ball bearings immediately shot out like grapeshot from a 19th century cannon. Ball bearings peppered the hull sides, sails and crews of the leeward boats. Ball bearings rolled down their sails dropping onto their decks and plinking into their cockpits. Rick "blew up"; we quit and took another DNF.
We remained friends, and I still listened to his sailing advice now that I had my own boat. Rick told me that heavy winds blew inside the bay but outside in the ocean, racing was nice. He suggested I equip my new boat with huge light weather sails for racing outside. My new spinnaker was cut full and as large as possible. Whereas most boats were rated with a maximum sized 150 percent genoa, I accepted a rating penalty and had one cut even 30 percent larger. This light dacron headsail extended from the bow aft past my steering station. Anything to leeward was blocked from my sight by the huge sail overlap. For some reason I thought Rick was telling the truth about ocean sailing, but in fact he himself, didn't sail outside the 'gate'. He always got seasick. He'd been on the Trans Pac once or twice, sick the whole way. For some reason, I followed Rick's advice implicitly.
I equipped the boat, had it measured for its handicap rating, was penalized for the large sails and was now underway on leg one of the Drake's Bay Race. This was the season's first overnight race of the offshore Danforth Race Series - a set of mini-ocean races that offered local sail racers a chance to appear macho, to be bold enough to go racing out the "gate" on weekends. This morning with gentle 15-knot winds we started inside the bay just off the St. Francis Yacht Club and sailed westerly out the Golden Gate. There was smooth water. Boats were still packed close together as we passed the high red south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge deck was enveloped in fog, but the beaches and the rows of white Victorian houses were still visible off the stern. The ceiling lowered, and we slowly sailed into low coastal fog at Pt. Bonita. We rounded and headed 20 miles northerly toward a finish line inside the bight of Drake's Bay. There, we were to stay overnight at anchor and race home the next day.
The wind freshened to 22 knots. White caps were superimposed on the long ocean swells. The bow frequently buried in steepening, choppy seas. The rail was in the water constantly. It worsened, and we had made the beginner's error of not reefing soon enough. The boat was overpowered with sail when a heavy gust forced us over on the peak of a wave. The mainsail ripped free of the boom and flailed about.
Bill and Rob went on deck and tied the mainsail back down to the second reef line, carefully lacing the sail foot to the boom. That was OK. We continued the beat, and the boat faired better with lessened sail area. Now, the boat had its own steady rhythm in the waves. Although we were uncomfortable, we felt confident with our slow steady progress up the coast. Again and again the bow lifted up a wave, sliced the wave top, fell off and buried into the upcoming trough. Green water sloshed over the rail, down the cabin sides, around the cabin top and into the cockpit. Salt spray blew, curving around our faces and shoulders. Salt water seeped inside our foul weather coats. I hunched in the cockpit steering while three of the crew stayed on the weather rail - acting OK. Interestingly, as conditions worsened, none of us, none of the crew even suggested that we might turn back.
Just before dark we were near Drake's Bay, the wind now gusting 40 to 50 knots. It was Bill, still hunched on the weather rail, who spied the committee boat. The committee boat appeared at times when we simultaneously reached a wave top - then it would disappear behind the spray on the wavetops. Their masthead light was swinging a crazy arc, and for some reason, I felt a bit sorry for the committee, rolling about out there, waiting for the last stragglers. What I didn't know was that there were practically no stragglers. A third of the fleet had turned back hours ago.
Bill went below to get some help to douse sails after the finish. The boat's cabin was soaked. Wet clothing and gear were tossed around. Three of the crew were in bunks, sick and useless. Allen was in the lee pilot berth, in a semi-fetal position, facing the hull side. Someone else was stretched out on the seat. Sandwiches were squashed on the cabin floor. I leaned forward to look down the companionway. Bill was moving about grabbing handrails, pushing off the cabin sides and stepping aside the mess.
I have now learned that if you take ten people that function at 100 percent on the shore, at sea one or two will perform at 90 percent, two will be of marginal help and the rest will be useless or next to useless. It is true of myself. Out there we become undisguised. I have been seasick and useless at times, but today I felt good. Four of my crew was drawn from a bulletin board ad I had placed at the University of California Sailing Club. I asked for anyone, anyone interested in crewing on races inside and outside of San Francisco Bay. We were nothing but raw recruits and beginners.
With the committee boat insight, I was feeling just a tiny rush of success. I could be proud of just finishing this race. Then the stainless steel deck fitting holding the jib tack down, broke into pieces. It literally exploded with some pieces rolling down deck and the rest flying overboard. This freed the jib at the deck, and the whole sail shot half way up the headstay bunching the sail toward the mast top. The bow now dropped off a particularly steep wave and buried into an upcoming bottomless trough. For a few seconds we just stared ahead as the bow slowly lifted heaving a sheet of spray at us. I sent Bill and two of the least-sick crew to the foredeck. I yelled, "Just tie the sail down - and we'll quit." I started the engine and powered across the finish line. Someone waved at the committee and we took a DNF.
We motored inside the bight as far as we could to set the anchor in sandy mud. Drake's Bay is totally open to the south, but like today, northwest winds are most usual. We were safe - unless the wind shifted. The bow swung around pointing into the wind and toward the beach. Seemingly secure for the night, the seven of us went below to recover. I heated a store-bought Lasagna in the boat's cranky alcohol stove, we ate and afterwards, we told our own stories about the day's happenings. There were only enough bunks for six, so Greg slept outside on the floor of the cockpit wrapped in the torn jib sail. Inside on the convertible dinette berth were Jacques and Rob together. Big Rob snored constantly and slept well. Frail Jacques complained - even raised his fist. It was a hopeless demand. The rest of us slept very little.
The Sunday race home was a "simple" run down the coast, wind at our backs. TONDELEYO crossed the starting line under bright sunny skies. The crew rigged the spinnaker, and it broke out perfectly. The damaged mainsail was still reefed to the second row of points. Being shortened way down, it fully exposed the big spinnaker to the 18k winds. High lumpy seas, left over from yesterday, rolled under the boat. We moved at hull speed, and at times started to surf on the wave backsides.
In strengthening winds the high collar on my foul weather coat began flapping about my neck. The spinnaker - the full shouldered maximum-area spinnaker that I had ordered from the sailmaker - that monster red colored spinnaker that was perfect when the wind blew 10 knots the spinnaker that Rick said would be perfect out on the ocean merrily swung out there before the boat. It began to remind me of the laughing, jolly "fat man" at the entrance to the fun house.
Allen had already puked his morning breakfast overboard. Seagulls dived down on his breakfast as it streamed astern. Bill and Rob, two who never got seasick, were negotiating with the rest of the crew for their "unwanted" food. They knew it was going to be a rolling, rough day and likely to worsen. They knew that the rest of the crew, every nauseous one of us, was going to lose his appetite. Even in the worst of conditions, those two were always hungry and ready for a beer. So now they were feeling great of course.
A following wave lifted the boat, and the "fat man" wallowed to the side forcing us to roll, dip a rail, and come up, roll and dip the other rail. After seeing Allen heaving and hanging over the rail, everyone else readily offered up their "worthless" cache of sandwiches, chips, soda, and beer. Bill and Rob's game always worked. First, they'd pick on the one who appeared most nauseous, the easiest.
"It's a little lumpy out today, huh? Feeling kinda bad? Whoa, hold on, that was a big roll. We dragged the boom a bit on that one. Think you might not want your sandwiches? A beer might make things worse, huh? (pause) Well, since you're just not 'gonna eat, (pause) ... think I could have your sandwiches? Your beer for sure?"
We were moving fast, and doing well overall. Prompt corrective steering usually prevented a loss of control, but this boat had a predilection for broaching. Later in the season other sailors who watched us began to refer to the "TONDELEYO Broach" specifically something to look for if they were racing near us. Broaching TONDELEYO, a dangerous event, was actually so easy. Sailing downwind in following seas, the boat would roll. The "fat man" would swing out to the side. With so much of the spinnakers' force coupled to the heeling mast head, the boat would be torqued off course, forcing the boat beam to the wind. Beam to the wind, the boat slowed, and the full spinnaker now pulling to the downwind side, easily pulled the boat over - over, that is, until the wind spilled out of the "fat man". The weight of the keel created a righting force that brought the boat upright again - whereupon the "fat man" also came upward, fully exposed to the wind stream. If the boat's course was not promptly corrected - perhaps because we were surfing diagonally down a wave face - and if we did not get control of the sheets and guys, we'd go over again. We were the hesitant dog jerked headlong on his leash.
God forbid that someone fall overboard now. By the time that the spinnaker was doused, engine started and the boat turned around, the poor devil in the water would be far astern with only his head showing above the surface whitecaps. Keels were becoming smaller in the new fiberglass boat designs. Rudders were mounted higher and farther aft. TONDELEYO was a fine boat but she had a too-small rudder located far aft in what sometimes became turbulent water. When the stern lifted, a good portion of the rudder came out of the water. What rudder remained in the water was riding in a burbling wave-top turmoil, fully stalled. This left the helmsman with no control and at the mercy of the "fat man". An unproven boat, an inexperienced crew and a neophyte helmsman - that was our setup. We were about to experience a broach followed by two brutal knock-downs, followed by more knock-downs due the complete loss of steering.
A wave pushed the stern slightly to starboard. The bow pushed into a trough. I leaned against the tiller to correct our course. The "fat man" swung out to starboard. We started into another "TONDELEYO broach".
I fell forward as the oak tiller broke clean off at the cockpit floor. All that remained of the tiller to rudderpost fastening were four inches of fractured bronze nubbin on the cockpit floor. The rudder blade itself, still attached beneath the hull, waggled uselessly in the water.
Without rudder control the boat veered further to port, then the "fat man" pulled the boat over bringing the mainsail flat to the seas. The boom dug deep into the water and quickly bent back against the vang. It looked like a crimped soda straw. TONDELEYO started to right herself. I looked around. None of the crew was lost overboard. We had harnesses, but nobody wore one. The boat had no lifelines. Everyone just held on. The boat fully righted low down in a wave trough. The next wave lifted us, and at the wave top the winds began to fill the "fat man". He blossomed. We broached, and we went over again. This boat was a puppet, and the wallowing, jolly red "fat man" had all the strings.
The spinnaker sheet was fouled in the reversing block. Someone freed it. The spinnaker began oscillating, wrapping itself about the wire head stay in a figure eight. Bill and Rob, who were barely able to get on deck, tried to lower it. The "fat man" had jammed solid at the masthead, and he wasn't coming down. They wrapped the nylon spinnaker cloth about a winch and tried it crank it down. No luck. As best they could, they rolled it around the head stay and tied it. Even then, it partially filled and collapsed.
We were still without rudder control when a wave now pushed the stern the other way, to port. The relative wind direction changed, caught the mainsail on the lee side and the bent boom came zipping over my head. We did a flying jibe. Luckily nobody got clobbered. What was good was that we were now headed away from shore and "safely" out to sea. We were "stabilized" for awhile.
Bill and Rob, working one hand for themselves and one hand for the boat, got the spinnaker pole lowered. Somehow they seized a hatch board to one end. Never tested, this crazy configuration was planned to be our "backup" steering device. Lashed to the backstay, the contraption was to work like a long steering oar. Ha! As the stern rose out of the water on a wave, the "steering oar" swung uselessly in mid air. As the boat's stern buried in a wave the strong fluid forces on the buried steering oar effortlessly made Bill and Rob dance about the tiny aft deck. They were on the wrong end of a fly swatter.
On the foredeck Helmut, a German exchange student who had done some mountain climbing in Europe, brought the anchor and anchor rode on deck. Holding on with one hand, he had assembled the anchor and line on deck almost as neat as a climber's belaying rope. This he continued to do even during the flying jibe. He felt that with the water depths around 20 fathoms, and with 300 feet of anchor line available, the anchor just might set, drag or slow us a bit. Maybe it would bring us bow to wind, keep us off the rocky coastline, and we could effect some repairs. Maybe, we could then un-foul the "fat man", get him down and perhaps, by balancing sails, get control of the boat. There was no chance, instead we heeled on the face of a steep wave. The anchor and the rode slipped off the deck. The line swiftly payed out and the anchor set solid in the bottom off Duxbury Reef. I saw the nylon anchor line draw tight and stretch and stretch ...and stretch. Then, exceeding its 10,500 psi breaking strength, it snapped. The boat never slowed a bit. Out of control, we continued.
I don't remember who or how we did this, but we did manage to get some of the jib up and even tweak the mainsail a little to balance sails. That gave us some directional control. TONDELEYO sailed, barely, on a starboard tack out to sea. I got the flare gun, and shot off a meteor flare. A coastal marine research ship saw the flare and headed toward us. They approached about a hundred feet off, hailed us and said they'd call the Coast Guard. I don't know how long it took but it seemed very soon when I saw a Coast Guard cutter with its bow breaking through the seas. It was heading toward us. They arrived and tossed us a towing line. Helmut made it fast at the bow and at the mast.
The cutter turned, and headed south toward Pt. Bonita. Spray burst from the slack towline as it lifted from the water, drew tight and so effortlessly yanked our bow around. The cutter accelerated to 10 knots! That exceeded our hull speed, of course, and being rudderless, we begin to surf a wave, heading off course again! Just like with the "fat man". We were now in danger of being dragged over by the Coast Guard. I had stationed Helmut forward near the towline with a knife. He expected this problem and was about to cut the hawser when a deckhand on the cutter saw what was happening. The cutter quickly slowed to about 5 knots, a tolerable speed for us. Off the stern we dragged a line with a hatch cover lashed at the end, and that way, we followed rather comfortably.
TONDELEYO was damaged, but we were all safe. Under tow, I thought of where Helmut was three hours ago - on the pitching foredeck near the anchor line. The anchor, having fallen overboard, had set near Duxbury Reef. The half inch line was literally flying off the deck as the boat headed, rudderless, downwind. What if a loop of anchor line had snagged his foot? He would have shot overboard, helplessly snagged underwater. What if any of the seven of us had fallen overboard? We couldn't turn around to save anyone.
We entered Bonita Channel, rounded the point, and were slowly towed under the Golden Gate Bridge. For the last hour, Gary was crouched on the cockpit floor. He had somehow wired a makeshift tiller attachment to the fractured bronze nubbin on the rudder post. The water inside the Bay was fairly calm, so with his repair, I could steer with very gentle helm pressures. We decided to cast off from the cutter. Under our own power at about 2 knots we maintained control. I hailed the cutter and waved to the crew, thanking them. We were very grateful. We motored slowly past Alcatraz and on to our home berth on the Alameda Estuary.
At 8 AM Monday, I am off the boat and back at work. There's no draft notice in the mail. That's a relief. I left the boat's heater on to dry the cabin's carpet. It was wet and soggy when I got up last night, and I hoped it would dry out in a day or two. During the week I plan to clean the boat, get a new aluminum boom extrusion and transfer all the fittings and hardware to the new boom. I'll call and order a new anchor and 300 feet of anchor rode from Johnson and Joseph Chandlery on Jack London Square. Tomorrow I'll drive to Sausalito and drop off the sails for repair. I'll send out a notice to the crew asking for their help in the upcoming Hearst Regatta.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004 Port Sidney, British Columbia, Canada:
Today winds are out of the west, cold winds with gusts to 36 knots. There's rain. I have no intention of taking the boat out, but I listen to weather reports anyhow. The Canadian Hydrographic Office predicts wind speeds of 55 to 60 kilometers per hour. When I hear a wind number over 60 kilometers per hour, I quickly convert. It's really 36 knots. Then, I relate that condition to some past sailing experience. Because I am the sum of my experiences, Love of Liberty now stays in the harbor when the wind blows. I no longer have a young man's interest in the blunt, immediate world. Ellen and I stay comfortable. However, I do think about Mr. Larsen, the kind bank manager. I am sure he died a comfortable "wealthy" man, but just today I thought Mr. Larsen really should have bought that cold, breezy convertible car."
With regards, Terry
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