The Great Loopers. Chapter Three. Lessons learned.


“We have two lives. The lives we learn with, and the life we live after that…” Bernard Malamud.
From the log book on July 6, 2017. Written by the XO:
“We don’t know exactly what time we anchored in Point Judith Pond, because in our enjoyment of the first deployment of the Mantus anchor, we backed over Salty and wrapped the non-floating (!) “safety” line around the port prop. If I had to guess, we stopped about 1:15, then spent about an hour and a half bailing out Salty, cutting lines, swimming after the cushions and gas tanks, and unwrapping the prop. (Not to mention checking the bilge, testing the port engine and re anchoring). Fun.”

On the second day of our Great Loop trip we managed to sink the dinghy, and it was my fault. Let me explain. After reading so many reports of Loopers losing their dinghys, I thought it would be a good idea to use another line, a “safety line”, in addition to the towing line. Sounds good right? Yeah, I thought so too. Two lines are better than one. I simply used Salty’s long painter and clipped it to the tow bridle. But here’s the problem, the “safety line” didn’t float! There it is right there. It all happened in Rhode Island. We entered the Point Judith Pond and dropped anchor. I heard a sickening crunch, and in an instant the bow of our 12 foot aluminum dinghy was completely under the transom, pulled there by the non-floating “safety line” that wrapped around the running gear.

When I realized what had happened, I felt really bad. I got that uncomfortable red flush of guilt that started in the pit of my stomach and clawed its way up to my eyeballs. I was breathless, speechless, and worse of all, I think I scared the heck out of my wife. What was I thinking? Twelve feet of non floating line dragging behind the boat like I’ll never use reverse. I could have looped it a couple of times around the main tow line which has floats attached to it. But no. I just let it hang there, begging to be fouled.
I have never been so hard on myself as I was at that moment, and that made it all the more difficult to do what I had to do. “Snap out of it Rick. It’s probably not the dumbest thing you’ve ever done, although, it’s probably somewhere in the top ten.”
There were split second decisions that had to be made. The contents of our dinghy, equipment that we need, was floating away. At first the situation seemed dire.
“Should we call for help?” the XO asked. The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t think so. Our predicament was ugly but stable. The new Mantus anchor had set, our engines were off, and even though Salty’s bow was being held underwater by a half-inch line wrapped around the prop shaft, I knew it wouldn’t sink completely. As dictated by law, small boats are required to have floatation built into them. In Salty’s case, two of his seats are filled with foam.
I hopped onto the swim platform and sawed through the line with a serrated knife. Salty popped free but was filled to the gunwales with water. I started bailing as fast as I could. Meanwhile, the XO dove in to retrieve the cushions, oars, life jackets, and whatever other stuff was in the drink. I thought it odd that Salty’s bilge pump, powered by a 12 volt car battery, was still operating. That battery had been completely submerged! The Mercury 9.9 outboard motor seems to have stayed above the water, which is very good. Now we had to deal with the fouled prop. We got out the wet suits and masks. The XO went in first.
“Prop’s fouled,” she reported after a quick dive. She took a big breath and disappeared again. After several dives she came up with bloody hands.
“Barnacles like razors,” she said. “Couldn’t move the line.”
“I’ll try,” I said. I put on leather gloves and slipped into the water.
I’m not used to this kind of diving, ya know, with a wet suit and mask. In fact, the one and only time I tried scuba diving I didn’t like it. I felt bound up, claustrophobic, and couldn’t relax enough to enjoy it. The instructor and my wife were having a grand time exploring reefs and interesting fishes, but the whole time my brain was screaming GET ME THE HELL OUTTA HERE!
I took a deep breath and went under. In the wet suit I felt disconnected from the elements, a weird and uncomfortable sensation. Without weights I had to pull myself under the boat by using the swim platform supports which were covered with tiny barnacles. I could see how the XO cut up her hands. Being under such a large dark object, our boat, was strange, unnatural. “Get out of there Rick!”  I was fighting my instincts. I only got within a foot of the prop when I realized there was one instinct that I couldn’t ignore: air. With all the excitement my adrenaline must be spiking because just could not hold my breath for more than about 15 seconds. I scrambled to the surface.
“Are you okay?” the XO asked.
“Yup,” I said, but I was not okay. I was wicked out of breath, and I guess I was feeling my age, but I figured I could do a series of short, 15 second dives. Jeez! I used to be able to swim the length of a pool under water. Of course, that was twenty years ago, but still, 15 seconds!
I took a breath and pulled myself under again. I could see the ragged end of the line that I cut a few minutes ago. It was trailing two feet behind the prop. It looked like the other end of the line had wrapped itself several times around the shaft between the prop and the cutlass bearing strut. I tugged on the prop and it turned freely. That was good. The fouled line seemed to loosen slightly. Even better. AIR! NEED AIR! I surfaced again. The XO was leaning over the railing looking at me, concern written on her face.
“I think I can get it,” I gasped. “Couple more dives.” Down I went. This time I went right for the tangled part. I grabbed a loop and pulled as I turned the prop forward, remembering that I had the boat in reverse when it fouled. It worked! Two loops came free. AIR! NEED AIR! SURFACE NOW! Up I went. Gasping while holding onto the swim platform, it felt like the wetsuit was squeezing the life out of me. “Two more dives,” I thought. Down I went again. I freed another two loops, but the remaining line had a knot. My working time had diminished to roughly 3 seconds. Up I went.
“I need a knife,” I said between heavy breaths. “I lost the other one.” The XO went into the cabin and came back with a steak knife. I held it in my mouth pirate style and went under. I sawed halfway through the knotted line before I had to surface again. The XO looked at me expectantly. I think I was wheezing.
“You alright?”
“God I hope so,” I thought. “One more,” I said, and went under, hopefully for the last time.
Finally, the line parted and I hit the surface with the remaining line in my hand. The XO hung it on a hook as a reminder of how crazy things can get.

The last entry in the log for that day, Written by the XO:
“Lessons:
Wear gloves when diving on the prop.
Use floats on the dinghy line.
Have jobs when anchoring:
Rick anchors.
I wrangle the dinghy.”

It was quite a day for us. We don’t normally have such a hard time of it. I tried my best to put it all behind me, but I think I don’t want it all behind me. I want to learn from it. That’s the way it should be. Shake it off, but remember, or it might happen again.
Despite the auspicious beginning, it turned into a good day. We showered, ate dinner, and watched the sun set. Sleep came to me very early that night. In the morning we brought Ginger Lee even further into the Point Judith Pond and took a slip at the Ram Point Marina where we had our first guests of our trip. An old friend, Andrea Peitsch, came by with some of her buddies. One of them got seasick and had to leave. Imagine that, getting seasick while tied up in a slip on a calm night. Obviously not a Great Looper.

This guy got seasick.

I used to love this marina. It just felt right and the price was fair. New owners changed all that when they tripled the slip fee. We left the next morning and anchored off Gardner’s Island, the same place we fouled our prop and sunk the dinghy two days ago. No problems this time. We learned our lessons well.

 

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