Danger on the high seas
by Mark Wilme
The sun streams through the whispy clouds on this unseasonably warm April morning, the groups third day out. The gleaming white form of the Beneteau sloop glides forward on a broad reach, her sails pulling, her plumb bow cutting through the swell as she surges ahead, the bay still a little lumpy after the storm from last night blew through, but the sky is clear and the wind seems consistent and for the first time this trip isn’t on the nose.
The crew are comfortable now in the motion of the boat and also with each other after, everyone seems to have their sea legs again, muscles have regained their memories and the crew are working well as a team. The sun beats down on the cockpit and George at the wheel contemplates whether they should have put the awning up this morning before they left the anchorage, he adjusts his hat and sunglasses and feels the slight redness at the back of this neck “Gotta put some more sub block on that” he thinks. George looks across the cockpit at his crew and reflects on how they are coming together, Peter the studious one, even now his nose in a book, John, a guy who just sails by instinct - so much natural talent, and Sally, poor Sally he reflects for a moment on Sallys contribution to the team.
“OK, I’m ready for lunch” he says, “who’s turn is it to make the sandwiches?” Nobody offers. “Here John, you take the helm, I guess it is my turn” and George heads towards the companionway, brushing casually against something on the deck as he passes. Peter yawns and stretches as he looks up from his book, knowing he has to take care of trimming as John moves to the helm, he glances out at the water to get his bearings.
“Man Overboard” comes the cry from Peter, “Sally went over the side”. The crew of Calypso look at each other in disbelief, how could this happen ?
George turns back towards the cockpit striding towards the wheel. “Peter, you are the spotter, your only job until I tell you otherwise is to keep your eyes on Sally and your outstretched finger pointing at her, got it?”
“Aye skipper” responds Peter and he raises his arm, pointing towards where Sally now drifts astern, barely visible already, but a speck in the water
“Lets bring the boat up”, George takes the wheel as he issues the command and John moves forward to the cabin top winches and checks the lines are ready to run free and that the mainsheet is on the winch.
“Ready” says the crew, George turns the wheel and brings the boat up to a beam reach as John adjusts the sheets.
“You still see her Peter ?”
“Yes Skip, I got her”
“Call out the distance and bearing would you ?”
“Got it, 5-o-clock, fifteen hundred feet now, could be two thousand, Gee Skip, I mean ….”
“OK Peter, no time for that now, counting down to tack, ready team ?”
“In 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, coming about”, George spins the wheel this time and pushes the bow of the boat through the wind and brings the boat around heading back the way they just came from on the opposite tack, back towards Sally. John tails the mainsheet and George reaches across and adjusts the jib sheets with his free hand.
“Peter, distance and bearing?”
“11-o-clock. Two thousand feet, maybe, She’s drifting in this wind Skip. It’s tough to keep sight of her in these swells ”
“OK Peter, you’re doing fine, just don’t lose her” “John – can you furl in some jib? Let’s get the boat rebalanced”
“Got it Skip” – John furls in a quarter of the jib. “that’s good, thanks.” “Peter ?”
“’bout a thousand feet I reckon, maybe less, 10-o-clock , we’re closing – I got her better now Skip”
“OK, heading up”, George checks the distant coastline for some visual references, he also glances down at the instrumentation – the crew tacked efficiently, they are back to 6½ knots within a few seconds of the tack, “Good”, he thinks, “but maybe a little too fast, we’re going to overshoot a smiddgen”
“John, can you trim the main and be ready to knock off some speed when we get closer” the two make eye contact, spoken words are not needed to understand both men are ready and working together
“and tack - NOW”
The skipper flips the boat deftly from one tack to the other and John responds almost in unison handling the sheets the boom passes across the boat and John eases the mainsheet and settles the boat quickly to the new tack, John is a natural, anticipating and then responding quickly to the boat and the actions of the helmsman - that Wednesday night racing they used to do is paying off
“She’s passing in front of the bow now Skip, she’s on the starboard side again, four hundred feet”
“OK guys, final part, you’re doing good, prepare to tack one last time, lets get her on the port side of the boat so we don’t drop off a swell and run her down”, “ John - don’t touch that jib this time, Peter keep your eyes on her …… and, wait for it, Now”
The bow swings again to the right as the skipper puts the wheel over, but more delicately this time, the jib sheets stays cleated on the port winches and the wind backs the jib, the boat heels a little more with the jib now backed but the boat approaches Sally more slowly now as they count down the final feet”
“couple of boat lengths Skip, I think we got her”
“John, let the main out, we still need to lose some speed”, John dumps the main but this vessel doesn’t exactly stop on a dime and still has some way on.
“We’re almost on top of her, we are going a tad fast Skip” says Peter “don’t miss her George” he warns
“Would I ever ?” says the skipper and he works the wheel quickly to the left and the right, the boats big spade rudder goes over hard, first to one side, then to the other, biting into the water like a large underwater barn door, effectively putting the brake on and killing what’s left of the forward speed. The sails, noisily alternatively luffing and filling as he does so. George leaves the helm over and puts on the wheel brake and the boat heaves to alongside poor Sally as the crew reach over the side with a boat hook to help a wet and sorry looking Sally out of the water.
Sally, her one gallon milk jugs and empty detergent bottles tied together with cordage is unceremoniously lifted from the water and deposited on the side deck.
“Good job team, nice recovery”, Smiles all round.
“Now about those sandwiches”
WHEN DID YOU LAST PRACTICE YOUR CREW OVERBOARD DRILLS ???
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