I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving! I have so much to be thankful for, but I hardly had a moment to take time for reflection. I was definitely thankful that the boat was still floating at the end of the day. She was bruised but not broken.
The day started early. I had rafted up with a fellow who I had met back in Grafton. We have been traveling in company and really enjoying ourselves. His wife had to get off of the boat to take care of a sick family member when we reached Cape Girardeau, so it became even more important to have my hands available to help with things on his boat, a 36-foot trawler. He is very capable of handling things himself, but I think we all are familiar with how nice it is to have someone else around. His wife has never had to get off the boat before in the many years that they have been voyaging together. It was too bad that she had to depart just before the holiday.
So there we were--anchored at about mile 7 on the Ohio River, just downstream of America Bar. The river is wide at this point--more than 3/4 of a mile wide. It is also quite straight. This means that if the wind comes up there is plenty of fetch to build chop. The weather forecast wasn't that bad for the night, and anyway I wanted to get an early start on cooking the food in the morning, so we didn't separate the boats. When I went to sleep the wind was blowing straight up the river and against the current, creating about a 1-foot chop and making the boats lie beam-on. I had stayed up until almost midnight making pie crusts and getting other things ready for the next day. I didn't sleep well because the weather made me uneasy.
I was up at about 0445. The wind had come up more and the boats were bouncing around dangerously. It was now going to be very difficult to try to separate the boats because of the motion and the 25+ knot wind pinning the boats sideways to the 2-knot current. I went below and found that the captain of the other boat was awake too. We decided to try to move the boats as they were, which was against my better judgement, but it was dark and boisterous out. I don't have any instruments or radar and there was heavy barge traffic on the river. The navigational marks are not lit at night and are almost impossible to see without a powerful searchlight. We only had about 3-4 miles to travel upstream to make it around a bend and find relative shelter.
We hauled the anchor and started across the stream. We could not point directly downwind because of the bar between us and the channel. We had to cross it, which made the boats roll.
When we were about halfway to the channel a big set of waves hit us. Both boats rolled rail-down. They did it at different rates of course and Cavendysh's rail got pinned under the rubrail of her bigger neighbor, forcing all of the fenders out. i cut the throttle and turned the trawler away from her tow. The boats crunched together sickeningly a few more times before their way came off and the change in course moved them apart.
Now we were near the eddge of the channel and there was barge traffic coming at us. We had to be sure not to hit a buoy or get caught in the way of a tow. It was difficult to steer at slow speeds with the wind wanting to push us around. We got straightened out and got the fenders back between the boats. I got in Cavendysh and started the engine and loosened the lines to give me more room to steer off. I wanted to separate the boats, but we still had the problem that we had before--we risked more damage as we separated. So, I just steered along and the captain of the trawler drove his boat.
We had to turn around to try to find some shelter so that we could work things out. As we made the turn there was more contact between the boats as the trawler turned too fast, driven by the wind. At least we were pointed upstream now and running down the waves, so things were more controllable.
I sat and steered for about an hour before things calmed down. Once we were in calm enough water to separate the boats safely it was Ok to just stay together and tow Cavendysh, which is what we did. At that point the damage was already done, so why worry? We still wanted to enjoy a good meal together, which wouldn't have happened if we went our own ways. I got back on the trawler and began to cook everything for a full Thanksgiving spread. Things were looking up. I waited for daylight so I could inspect the damage to our poor boats.
We soon came to a lock that needed to be transited to continue up the river. We called the lock and learned that it would be a few hours before we could get through, which is typical when there is a lot of commercial traffic. We anchored out of the channel and I could concentrate on cooking as the wind was now blocked. The sky looked dark because a front was forecast and about to come through. We both hoped that we could make it through the lock before then.
Around 1300 the front arrived and we were still waiting for the lock to open. The wind switched 180 degrees and instantly we lost our protection. I hoped that there wouldn't be too much wind to go with the dark clouds, but soon the wind was up over 30. I went back to the galley and tried to finish working on stuffing and a bean casserole. The waves only took minutes to build. I went back outside when we heeled over in a gust that was definitely over 40. It spun us around and my Cavendysh was now pinned by the current against the bigger boat again. In the new, stronger wind (recorded up to 43 and it was solid, not gusty) the waves came up again in an instant. Rain reduced the visibility to less than 1/4 mile and the temperature dropped from near 60 to the low 40's in minutes. I was soon pushing fenders back in and calling the other captain to bring more over. There was nowhere to go--we were in a cul-de-sac. I just hoped that the wind would blow through quickly as I stood out there in the driving rain (it was blowing so hard that I barely got wet as it all went over the boats) and tried to keep my boat from getting crushed and rolled under the rail again. The fenders were getting cut on all of the jagged edges and loose screws from the earlier bumping. I pulled screws in between rolls to try to save the fenders. I was lucky not to get a hand or finger caught between the fenders or boats!! I was also thinking about the things that I had left on the sotve and in the oven, but I couldn't leave even for 30 seconds to turn off the burners.
The wind did die down after about 20 minutes. A half-hour after that it was below 20 again and the waves were calming down. Whew! No more damage done (except a lot of wear on the fenders and one that split under load) and well, things were OK again so I went back to cooking dinner. The lock called us to come through at about 1400. We were lucky that a hole in the lineup for the lock opened up. I had heard a tow asking for assistance because he had been driven onto a shoal in the wind. That may have been what helped us get through without more hours of waiting.
We focused on enjoying what was left of the day and got into the eggnog well before dinner. We continued to tow Cavendysh alongside, as we made it to the Tennessee River and it is twisty and narrow and offers good protection. I surveyed the damage--two bent stanchions and one bent/partially pulled-out stanchion base, a bent stud on my port shroud (shroud needs to be replaced), some evidence of movement in my two after port chainplates (breaks in the sealant--I have to pull the chainplates later to inspect them and the knees), a crushed genoa car and turning block, and plenty of gouges in the anodized rubrail and topsides. Nothing structural, just gelcoat. I will fix the gelcoat. That's no big deal. The only thing I can't fix is the anodized rubrail. It will always have a story to tell about Thanksgiving day 2010. The trawler suffered fiberglass damage to the rubrail, which is also the hull-deck joint, and a 6-foot section of ripped out and bent stainless rubbing strake.
We still managed to enjoy the rest of the day. The boats can be fixed. We are both experienced boaters and knew the risks of what we were doing! Was it worth it? Well, there's a good story to tell...
The Contessa stood up very well to a couple of solid thumps. The t-track for the genoa and the car took most of the load of being pinned under the rail of the trawler. That is what caused the damage to the other boat. The rig took a bit of strain because of Cavendysh rolling towards the other boat as her rail was forced down; same for the stanchions. The only real problem was a deficiency that I knew about and had planned on fixing (It was already on "the list")--the stanchions are only backed with whimpy little washers instead of backing plates or at least oversized washers. The boat will be better than ever after the repairs. I plan on stopping in Dog River on Mobile Bay because I heard that it is cheap to stay there and that there are good suppliers close at hand.
We temporarily repaired the trawler's rubrail with thickened epoxy covered with duct-tape--no more sharp edges! Cavendysh is going to spend some more miles towing alongside, as this is a good arrangement that allows socialization between the crews while underway and saves hours on the little Bukh without costing a noticeable amount of speed or fuel to the trawler. We are heading down Kentucky Lake right now and hope to be in Mobile in two weeks.
Until next time...
"Fait de ta vie un rêve, et d'un rêve une realité."- Antoine de Saint Exupery