The Shakedown: Part One

From my journal entry dated November 8th, 2011.

I write now from the darkness of the v-berth feeling far from home though we’re here safely tied up to the Discovery World docks in Milwaukee.

Snow is in the forecast for tonight and as such, docks are quickly being pulled out of the water and stowed until next season. Thus, our time had run-out at Brandon’s dock at 106 Seeboth and we were left homeless–well rather dockless–for the night until we were able to arrive at Discovery World this afternoon. As such, we cleared all of our coolers, containers of paint thinner, orphaned lengths of line and other debris from the dock, finding each either a home on board or in the dumpster and set off into the cool night to find an anchorage.

Under motor in an overcast night and glassy waters, we made our way to Southshore Marina, dodging a mine field of mooring balls and treacherous shallow (4ft; we draw just under that) waters. We chose a spot south of the moorings; a familiar spot which I’ve biked by many times along the Oak Leaf Trail. As it were, we could see the occasional flicker of white bike lights though the trees as people presumably biked home for the night.

By the time we had our anchor down it was past 1am and I was struggling to keep my eyes open. With a night cap of a warm mug of Sleepytime tea with honey (I was too tired for whiskey even), Noah flipped on the radio to check the weather. As were were sitting peacefully at anchor in a windless night, it seemed impossible and surreal when the automated voice rattled out a forecast of 30 knot winds and 3 – 5 foot waves building late into the night.

With this forecast on our minds, it wasn’t surprising to be awoken (or was I already awake?) by Noah stating something wasn’t right. Sleepy-eyed, we pulled on socks and raincoats and headed out on deck into what was now a rainy, windy, dark night. What we found was out boat laying port side to the wind and stern to the anchor–a position near impossible to understand seeing as a boat in wind like that ought to lay bow directly into the wind and pointing at anchor–and a position which almost certainly meant our anchor was slipping. (Pulling our anchor up the next morning showed the anchor float line wrapped in knots around the anchor which probably had prevents it from biting and instead we rested solely on our anchor chain, causing us to rest at such a peculiar angle.)

Thus, we had to drop our secondary anchor and align ourselves between the two, a manuever which necessitated letting out more anchor chain then hauling the heavy beast back on board, pulling against the wind the whole time. Without Weston’s strength we wouldn’t have been able to do it. Actually, the three us of compliment one another really well. Weston with his strength, dock jumping ability and willingness to do what needs to be done, Noah with his confidence and competence of sailing and diesel engines and my experience with sailing, rigging and ability to make the boat into a home, not just a sailing vessel.

But anyhow, we got the second anchor down and after looking at landmarks for a good long while, felt confident we weren’t slipping and headed back down to our bunks. Keeping all my long underware on and pulling on thick wool socks, Weston wrapped himself around me and we tried to sleep against the rocking of the boat, creeks and haunting sounds of water and fear that were were silently slipping through the water poised to smash onto the rocks of the shore not to far away.

In the morning we woke up and it was mean as ever outside. The weather forecast from the night before was correct–30 knot winds and huge waves spilling water and spray over the breakwall. Though in all of the chaos and potential treachery, the lake was a greenish grey contrasted by the purplish brown on the breakwall and grey sky–a true November day in Wisconsin.

With the looming task of pulling up two anchors awaiting us–and one with nearly 200 feet of chain–we ate granola bars thick with peanut butter and pulled on our foul weather gear. Without going into the monotonous, torturous detail of the ordeal, pulling up the anchors was miserable and exhausting. It’s hard to even guess how long it took us–perhaps 45 minutes?–but as Noah put it, “It felt like days.”

Underway through the moorings, which felt like navigating through a mine field, Weston miraculously produced three steaming mugs of coffee which we were able to take pleasure in for a fleeting few moments. It was then we reached the entrance of the Milwaukee harbor–a narrow channel being pummeled by waves and aligning us directly into the eye of the wind.

Not ever having tested the boat/engine in weather like this, we collectively held our breath as we passed the end of the breakwall–or rather a huge pile of rocks the wind was fiercely trying to throw us against. Noah gave the command that one we got a bit farther up into the wind, we’d need to raise our staysail, the only way we’d be able to keep control of the boat in these waves and make headway into the wind. Weston and I slipped on our life jackets, downed the rest of our coffee and headed out to take up positions on the foredeck to raise the sail. Our first attempt failed–the wind swept us onto a starboard tack that would have taken us out to sea. We quickly took doused the sail and a few instance later pulled her back up, this time on a port tack.

For the next hour or so we made our way across the harbor. Weston and I tried to reef the staysail, a process involving one person getting on the very bow, running a line through one of the sail grommets and pulling down with all their might to shorten the sail while the other person controls the halyard sheet. Because of the placement of one of the hanks of the staysail stay, we weren’t able to fully reef it in, and the same with the rear reef point. Regardless, it was good enough.

Back in the cockpit Weston noticed his finger was bleeding. Nothing serious and likely just from getting whipped with the staysail sheet, yet effective at getting blood on anything he touched–the lines, the sails, decking, my jacket. The carnage went well with the pirate flag we had hoisted the eve before.

We were nearly at Discovery World now. We got ready our fenders and docklines and prepared to douse the staysail. Despite our fears of a high-speed approach, the docking was perfectly executed and calm. Thank god. A few of Discovery World’s staff had come out to greet us and we could see patrons watching us from inside the protection of the huge glass windows.

The next hour or so Noah and I spent making neat all of our lines and sails on dock and putting our cabin back in order. We ate some food, drank some coffee with a dollop of whiskey in it (to calm our still racing hearts) and crawled into our respective berths, zipping into our sleeping bags as the sun set around 5pm.

It’s 8:15pm now and Noah’s still asleep, myself just reading and writing, warm, listening to the lapping of waves of the hull and patter of rain on the hatch.

While merely a few miles from my own home, my own bed, my friends and roommates, I feel in a whole different place. Being on the water today reinforced the reality of that. We could see the city we know so well, yet were living a completely unique reality of it–one in which it was just us, the Dandelion, the wind and the water.

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2 responses to “The Shakedown: Part One

  1. As the first snow for the season streamed horizontally, fiercely pelting the Riverhouse in big, wet icy globs, I was thinking of the Dandelion and wondering what her dauntless crew was thinking and doing. Now I know. My love and prayers and thoughts are with you. xox mom

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