Thursday, June 13, 2013

Renting Dinghies and Changing Underwear - Meredith Tries UnsuccessfullyTo Get to Albania

2013 06 13
Preveza, Greece

Our sailing budget contains one unusual line item.  

Many boats have a line in their budget for "dinghy maintenance" to cover repair, cleaning and protection of this essential piece of sailing equipment.  On Meredith the line item is "DINGHY RENTAL".  We never can keep a dinghy attached to our boat for long enough to have to maintain it.  In six years we have had three dinghies.  We do not buy dinghies; we rent them.  

This is partly the story of the end of life of the second of those dinghies.  

Our first sail of the year, the shakedown cruise, was a great success.  In less than twelve hours our erstwhile sailboat, Meredith, sailed seventy five miles from Marina di Ragusa  around the south east tip of Sicily to Syracusa.  This inaugural sail, undertaken with a modicum of apprehension for fear of failure of boat, boat systems or crew, was such a success that we decided we were ready to "head out".  Our plan was to make direct for Sarande in Albania out of Syracusa, a distance of about two hundred fifty nautical miles.  The boat was sound as were its crew.  We were ready.

Apparently our self assessment was a bit optimistic.  Is it ever otherwise?

A pleasurable week was invested enjoying what is probably our favourite urban anchorage of all time in Syracusa.  The persistent lack of wind which had plagued us for days was changing and we had a favourable forecast with light winds which we hoped would carry us to the port of Sarande on the southern coast of Albania.  

Up at dawn we were away in good order.  The wind was indeed light but as reported we were committed to sailing the Med this year.  There is something wickedly delightful about drifting along at three knots in a light cooling breeze.  It invokes the same guilty pleasure that playing hooky from school on the first nice day of spring brought to the fore in our younger days.

To be sure our forward progress was limited but we were sailing and life was good.  As the sun declined on that first day and dark curtained down around us we found ourselves midway between Sicily and the mainland of Italy.  With the sun went the wind and we were in doldrums.  Discussing our pledge to "sail without aid" we tidied the sail plan, set the light air vane on the windvane and settled in for a quiet night.  

About an hour after dark it was clear that we were being drawn inexorably into the Straits of Messina the narrow gap which secures Sicily's island status (the water that separates Sicily from the mainland).  Regardless of which direction the water travelled through the Straits, and in truth we did not know, we were, without aid of wind, being sucked by some current into the maw of this aqueous black hole.  The Straits of Messina were not where we wanted to go.  

Five hours of motoring carried us out of the current and into "clear water".  In five hours we were not able to rationalize our decision to "sail without aid".  The BC and I divided what was left of the graveyard shift into a watch plan and caught some sleep.

Making no forward progress over what was left of the night the ship woke to a building breeze.  Ten knots carried our boat along nicely at four to five knots for the entire second day.  Again, as light waned and the sun made for its western repose our wind followed.  Again we were without aid.  This time we stuck it out.  For three hours we both dozed in the cockpit.  The boat made about one nautical mile in that three hours.  Then things changed.

My awakening was gentle.  Through the hypnopompic fog of cockpit sleep a light breeze set off my brain's wind alarm.  This hypnopompic fog is the bane of sailors.  Sleeping in two or three hour stretches overnight draws down on the reserves of psychic energy needed for a brain to proceed from the dream state that preceeds wakefulness (the hypnopompic stage) and finally to consciousness.  Like those fabled hummingbirds who must wake and instantly take flight or die the mind of a sailor must, when the call comes, grab the closest rung of the ladder to ego and make his way sharply to the surface.  There is no "snooze button" on a passage. Most sailors on small boats do not enjoy full deep REM sleep but rather find themselves close the surface of consciousness at all times.  We are minions of the hypnopompus.

Anyway from sleep to sailor took but seconds this time around.  The BC on watch was ready.   We set sail.  It was night so we set less sail than the wind would carry.  Our practice at night is a practice of caution as it is with most sailors who are not racers.  This particular night our caution paid off.  In minutes the ten knot breeze was twenty knots, ten minutes after that  thirty knots, then thirty five and finally forty.  Damn.  

We reduced sail at once and turned to a course that would minimize the bashing we could expect to come from the waves that the forceful wind would most certainly create.  The process of minimizing and changing course is second nature on our boat.  Having been here our actions are instant and instinctual.  We got out extra clothes and our offshore gear and our lifejackets and settled in for a difficult night.  We did not consider our dinghy.  We should have.

There was no good reason for us to have been towing our dinghy on a three day crossing.  Never do we tow a dinghy more than twenty miles.  There were circumstances to be sure, eg we had used the foredeck on the first day of passage to repair our gennaker sock.  The foredeck was still fully occupied with that light air sail while the copious quantities of 3M 5200 we used in the repairs was curing nicely.

Well the waves that night grew quickly and erratically.  Wind met opposing current which enhanced both the speed with which the waves grew and the agitation the resulting wave patterns exhibited.  In one bad stretch where I had to disable both the windvane and the autopilot due to the wildly gyrating waves one wave out of nowhere came at us from the stern.  This wave was rogue.  It grabbed the dinghy and literally tore it from the painter.  To give some idea of the force of the wave our dinghy was attached by three lines to three different purpose built reinforced attachment points.  All three points were ripped from the dinghy in an instant as the BC and I watched, unable to take effective action, from the cockpit.  We turned head to wind and took a stab at finding our poor now orphaned dinghy but this was hopeless.  After twenty minutes of fruitless and I would say pointless effort we turned back on our most commfortable course and continued our journey.

We consoled ourselves with the fact we had not paid a lot of money for the dinghy in the first place and dealt with the foolishness of our having been towing it at all.  Not terribly competent on our parts.  

Having lost our tender we were unwilling to continue to Albania, the last Stalinist dictatorship on earth.  We felt that consumer goods would be in short supply.  A diversion to Greece seemed in order and so we set our course for Preveza where we knew the chandlers all too well.

Two more days of sailing in thirty knot winds and two to three metre waves and we were tied safely and comfortably to the free dock in lovely Preveza on mainland Greece.  That was yesterday.  That afternoon we found the chandler and a new and inexpensive dinghy will be here late today or tomorrow.  In Italy such a purchase would have taken weeks.  Unlike its fellow class members in the Club of PIGS (Italy, Spain and Portugal), Greece does business. 

What about the Underwear?

Not what you think: this has nothing to do with fear and its byproducts.

High winds and agitated seas are just part of sailing.  There was no danger in the conditions in which we found ourselves but there was discomfort and inconvenience.  At night there can be some increased apprehension, everything being scarier in the dark.  We reduce sail, slow the boat, adopt a comfortable course and carry on.  If the conditions grow violent we heave to and sleep.  The problem with such conditions are the inconvenience and the trouble sleeping.  I hate that.

However when we arrived neither Connie nor I had changed clothes for two days and it was beginning to show.  Tied up on dock we took extended washes in the sink, threw our "stiff with salt" clothes in the laundry and went ashore for a drink.  

This morning I rose early and dressed grabbing a fresh pair of underwear in the process.  As I slid the first leg into the clean undercloth I remembered that I had got out new underwear just the day before.  The fresh cloth was returned to the drawer and yesterday's underwear adorn my nether regions as I sit here typing. On a boat resources like clean underwear are not to be squandered.  Change only when required.  

When the dinghy arrives we are away to Sarande, now only a short hop in protected water.

No comments:

Post a Comment