Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Worst/Longest/Last Goodbye

In the nine years since we bought Pelagic, we have been in and out of a lot of harbors.  And in all the tight maneuvering that has entailed, through all the vagaries of tidal eddies and crosswinds, we have never once so much as grazed another boat.

But this is a story about goodbyes.

We came to Auckland last Friday to catch up with our good mates on Pacific Bliss, with whom we shared a wonderful time in the Tuamotus and Societies two years ago, and hadn't seen since.

We had a wonderful, and timely, catch-up with them.  Pacific Bliss is in the process of changing owners, and after five years of remarkable travels Colin and Liz and Zinnia and Cosmo are about to transition to life ashore in Nelson, on the South Island.

When Monday rolled around, it was time for us to make tracks.  Which meant saying goodbye to this wonderful family after a too-short, but perfect in its way, re-connection, with no idea of when we'd see them again.

Good-byes are part of the sailing life, and we did it like pros.  Warm.  Kisses, hugs, expressions of love.  But quick.  That's the sailors' way.  And, since the family and boat who we collectively refer to as "The Bliss" were about to part ways, this was likely their last goodbye to sailing friends before they began their new life, off a boat.

Alisa and I hopped aboard.  I put Galactic in reverse.  We backed out of the marina pen, just as per normal.  I put her in neutral and let her drift back while we waved at Colin and Liz and shouted out amusing comments.  Waving goodbye from a moving boat gives a natural stage, a great setting for saying goodbye to friends as they slowly recede into your past.

When our distance from the boat behind us was just so - maybe four meters - I shifted into forward.

And we kept moving back.

I immediately knew something was wrong, and my instinct was to warn everyone.  I gave her more throttle.

We moved back.  Everything slowed down.  I was trapped in this moment where I suddenly couldn't influence the course of events.  Galactic was moving without me.

I left the wheel to try to fend off.

The impact was huge.  Violent.  Loud.  I found myself looking right into the faces of the couple who had been relaxing below on their boat and came running into the cockpit at the first impact.  I was shouting "I'm so sorry," like a maniac.

Things were breaking.

Our wind generator - it didn't used to be like that
And then it was over.  I don't know how I figured it out, I don't remember taking the boat out of gear.

But I had looked back at the boat behind me and, turned around as I was, I had confused forward and reverse on our athwartships throttle/shifter.  And when we didn't move forward as expected, I gave it more throttle, which brought us up to a destructive ramming speed.

I will not endeavor to tell you how awful I felt as I walked around to meet the other boat owners while Alisa and Colin and Liz tied up Galactic.

It being Sunday in North America and Europe, where the insurance companies of the two involved boats reside, we decided to spend another day in Auckland, not wanting to leave the scene until affairs were straightened out.

I will not endeavor to tell you how awful I felt all the rest of the day.  I found that taking the kids to a play park that afternoon was something of a palliative.  I got the chance to do some big-city Christmas shopping with Elias the next morning.

And then, with the two insurance companies notified and the wheels set in motion for making things right, it was time to leave.

Once again we said goodbye to Colin and Liz.  Once again we leapt aboard and I put her in gear.

And once again I found myself in a waking nightmare.

In retrospect, I think that I hadn't adequately explained myself to the person helpfully holding our bow line.  I had instructed him to pull our bow in as we left, to help us make the turn.  I didn't think to say that once we were out of the pen, he should let go of the line.

So, Galactic pulled back, and with the bow held firmly against the side of the dock (I think this is what happened...), we missed our one chance to make the turn so that we could pull out of the marina in forward.  And with that one chance gone, I had no Plan B for salvaging this completely routine maneuver.

I was reduced to backing up and trying to turn again.  And backing up, and trying to turn again.  And with every missed turn, the wind was pushing us back down on the line of docked boats we had just left.

People shouted, and came running, and boarded docked boats to try to fend us off.  Luckily the two boats we hit were docked bow-out, so we hit their anchors and caused them no damage.  And, in spite of, or due to, some desperate shoving against the momentum of our 18 metric tons of home afloat, we managed to escape damage, too.

I was inconsolable as we finally motored free from the marina.  I was livid.  Raging.  I screamed until I went hoarse.  I could not believe I had stuffed it up twice, leaving the same marina.  In front of the same audience.

You might say that I was suffering from nothing more than a bruised ego.

I will counter that going to sea in your own boat, with the idea that you can get yourself and your loved ones and all your worldly chattels across the shifting expanse safely - well, that is nothing but an exercise in ego.  To be successful in this game you have to, of course, forever treasure the humility that comes with realizing how small and fallible you are in the face of the sea.  But you also have to keep alive the belief that you are equal to the test you've set yourself, that you can, with total self-reliance, meet the age-old challenge of going down to the sea.  You have to believe that you can do a thousand difficult things, when needed, to make everything right.

So, in addition to a very public humiliation of twice playing the role of idiot who can't operate his boat safely, I also got to confront my inability to do the most basic thing on my boat, twice in a row.  Phew.

Oh, and the coda.  Colin and the kids came roaring out in their dinghy after we'd finally left the marina, and handed up a six pack of very good beer.

Talking between the two moving boats, Colin told me to go anchor up somewhere and have a beer or three while I began the forgetting process.

And then he said goodbye.


  1. That's a helluva way to leave Westhaven marina, Mike. You poor sod. Really feel your pain and shame. But life's got this way of dumping the tall ones every so often. No rhyme or reason, just happens. Hope you don't play those re-runs over in your mind for too long, and that beer, Christmas cheer, brine and sun do what they do for everyone else, blur the memory of December in Auckland.

    1. glad to know that blurring the memory of December in Auckland is the thing to do. And- can't wait to read about your re-power!

  2. After weeks of waiting for Azore high to come back from vacation, we left Lanzarote to at least sail to Tenerife. Steve checked and doublechecked the salt water intake. He usually just checks it once, so when he doublechecked it, he turned it off. We went back, needless to say, to hunt for parts in far away places.
    Brother and sister under the skin, Tracy and Steve

  3. Oh, if you simply change the names, your second scenario is nearly identical to the pickle I got into about a year ago. I think everyone who owned a boat in the marina was out the day we turned into the wrong channel, way too narrow to turn around, but try we did, in a strong crosswind. Over and over, we hit a few dinghies on davits, no damage, kept trying to get out and kept going deeper into the channel, sideways. And I wanted to die, of embarrassment I suppose. We even cancelled plans to take friends sailing the next day because the same crosswind was blowing and even though we'd found our way into the correct slip in a wider channel, my confidence that we could get out of there and back in, unscathed was completely shot. Yeah, beer helps, but time is what you need.

    1. We've all been there and suffered the idnignity of screwing up a departure or arrival - just be grateful it took you 9 years. Seems to aptly fit with the title of your blog too, so that should be your quota for this "lifetime"!

      Love your blog - keep sharing your experience with us.

      S/Y BEKA

  4. I'd tell you about all the docks I've bashed into... But it would be far quicker to list the ones I haven't!

    1. Boats, Fatty, I was bashing into boats, not docks! Though I appreciate the sentiment.