Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An Oxbow Incident: The Geopolitics of Docking a Boat

Today the Bottom Half of Pico, Tomorrow, maybe the rest
Meredith Moored at MarinaHorta
2011 07 18

Horta, Faial, Azores, Portugal

From Flores to Horta on Faial was was a typical upwind slog: "Bang Bang Slam" from get go to finish.  In the stiff breeze every Tilley Hat had dork strings fixed like bayonets.  By the end of the trip the seven sailors on three boats, two Canuck, one Brit, had been tolled.

As the sun set after twelve hours of headlong rush across the ocean Meredith hove to.  This gave the Budget Committee a chance to cobble together a meal without having most of her pottage relocate itself from pot to floor.  Also it permitted her to wield knife without fear of errant wave bringing an unwanted slicing motion to its blade. After this brief respite we continued refreshed but not really ready for another twelve hours of this - in the dark.

In Azores one must clear into and out of every port.  We arrived Horta tired, all three boats, to find strong surge and echo along the wall to which all boats must tie to clear in.  The wall was perpendicular to the wind and as the wind drove the waves into that wall the waves bounced back.  Where the bounced waves met incoming waves the wave height was nearly doubled and an odd and unpredictable pattern of dancing and crossed waves set up.  Along the wall there was little spacefor a boat to tie up.

Meredith, first in of the three boats, took the smaller of two spots, two or three feet longer than our boat.  Bringing our trusted waterhorse alongside the opening we stopped all forward motion and let the wind blow us straight in to the wall.  OK.  It was supposed to be this easy but the surge turned boat control into a significant aerobic excerise.  In the end we were happy with our approach.   We were grateful for our big "Spit and Sputter" fender salvaged by the BC from the ocean.

Half an hour's pleasant paperwork later had me out of the office to find the other Canadian boat moored and the Brit coming in to occupy the sole remaining spot on the wall. 

This is where the story begins.

The British boat came in nicely enough.  We watched as the skipper sloughed through a turn finding and then countering a strong push from the east wind.  The water looked far more agitated than I remembered from my own docking, testament to the concentration which was applied at the helm.

The members of the other Canadian boat leapt to the job of catching lines and helping tie up the Brit:  Canadian skipper at the stern and a crewmember at the bow.

On the British boat stood a feisty and fearless woman (with a solo crossing of the Atantic under her belt), waiting to toss a line ashore.  Catching was female crew from the Canadian boat, a charming and capable young woman who joined her boat in Bermuda and had been adopted by her boat and the entire aging cruising community as unofficial "niece".  In Flores I advised that "you have eight uncles".

As bowline was tossed ashore Canadian crew bent to the task of tieing up to a bollard right at her feet.  The bollard was also adjacent to the bow of the British boat and provided no springing effect to prevent the boat from moving aft.  This fact did not strike any of the participants or indeed any of us in the audience.

To all appearances the operation seemed a complete success. 

As the bow line was being tied a French sailor, fiftyish, stringbean thin and sunbaked, rushed up yelling "move it up.  move it up!!!".  Crew ignored him and continued to tie up. 

"No No!" exhorted the Frenchman.  "Move it up!!  At once!!".  The behaviour was unusual to say the least but the Frenchman seemed genuinely agitated about something.  The Canadian crewwoman again muttered a response and continued. 

All at once the Frenchman pushed the Canadian woman aside and grabbed the rope.  He started to untie her work moving the line to a bollard forward of the bow of the British boat. "IDIOT!" he yelled "Look Up.  Move it up!" 

The Canadian crew did not look nor did anyone else I think.  No one but me.

The wind had pushed the British boat back towards the Canadian.  The surge had both boats hobby horsing vigorously.  Up and down in massive oscillations the welded stern of the British boat was about to bounce over and onto the pushpit from the Canadian boat.  Expensive damage was the only outcome.

The French sailor was trying to tell the crewmember that she needed to tie her line to a bollard forward of the bow so she could arrest the backwards movement of the boat.  

The British woman lit into the Frenchman.  She was unabashed in giving him a firm tongue lashing.  The Canadian crewmember flushed with embarassment which quickly turned to anger.  The Canadian skipper, having adopted his crew almost as a ward applied all the vigour of a parent protecting child in his verbal haranguing of the French interloper.

The Frenchman, who had in my humble opinion, prevented two boats from expensive disfigurement, shouted a loud "Bah", threw his hands down and walked away, at every step loudly vilified by the crew of the two boats he had helped.

Now if the story ended there most people would see the point.

As they will do things on shore intensified.  I think a bit of English French animosity sparked the next bit, evident on both sides.

Our clear sighted French sailor, no doubt stung by unwarranted criticism and appalled at the inability of those involved to even recognize what had happened, decided to criticize the captain of the British boat for his entry.  Big mistake.  Not only was the Frenchman wrong in his assessment but the British captain, a barrel chested man with oak staves for forearms, was not a man to permit himself to be called "Idiot" by someone of such suspect lineage. 

An international incident was averted only by the captain of the boat on which the French sailor was crewing.  He loudly and firmly dressed down his crewmember in full view of the audience ordering the man back to the boat.  This had the desired salutory effect.

Violence was averted.

In a formal inquiry any barrister of even modest accomplishment could apply cross examination to adduce a pattern of truth  from the testimony of the participants that might leave the errant French sailor more of a hero than has been appreciated to date. 

When that inquiry finished everyone would hate how the lawyer had twisted and distorted the facts.  Just as they will when they read this.

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