Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Near Disaster At La Conner!

Pearl at rest at the city dock in La Conner. (Looking south)

Aug 30... We departed Pelican Beach in fog making judicious use of pilotage, radar, gps, and marine radio to pick our way through islands and into Swinomish Channel, a river-like channel that separates Fidalgo Island from the mainland. The fog broke just as we entered the north end of the channel and arrived in the artsy town of La Conner an hour later, and after a little waiting, managed a spot at a city dock right downtown (anchoring is not an option in this narrow channel and the currents can be swift as the tides ebb and flood). We enjoyed the art, bookstores, eateries, and did a whole lot of laundry.

Aug 31... After enjoying our last day here, we settled in to make dinner in the galley. I noticed the current was flowing fairly strong out of the south but we were secure on the linear dock with the boat facing south into the current. As we were preparing dinner below, Salty suddenly goes totally berserk on deck, running back and forth and barking at something in the water. As we came up to see what all the commotion was about, I jokingly quipped to Salty, "What is it Lassie?". Then I say what had captured his dedicated interest. A humongous root ball was floating down our starboard side northbound. Then I saw what was attached to that mass of tangled roots. This floating monstrosity of a log was over 100 feet long and flowing right along our hull. I quickly grabbed a pole and try to shove it away from our home, as if that was really going to move it. The current had complete control of this obstacle and all I could do was watch as it cleared our boat and managed a slight bend in the channel without hitting any of the many pleasure boats moored along the channel. Once we could see it was no longer a danger to any one, we could smell dinner burning on the stove top and ran below to manage a busy galley and hungry children.
After reading the "Chronicles of Narnia" to the children and tucking them into their berths, I did my nightly checking over the boat's systems, lines, halyards, hatches, and any other items that can become an nuisance during a good night's sleep on a boat. Tucked into our aft stateroom berth, we both settled in with a good book for the night.
That's when I heard the strange lapping of water against the hull near the transom. I crawled out onto deck in my underwear with a flashlight to see that the current has now reversed, and was now flowing at over 2 knots from the north and causing a notable ripple against the back of our boat. I double checked the lines for strain and made sure the rudder was centered before heading below to warm up from the exposure. I crawled back into bed and we read for another 20 minutes. We were both ready to turn out the light when our world experienced a force that shook us to our very keel, and made a deep resonating crashing sound that we will never forget. I don't remember this, but Shari says I yelled out "It's baaaaack" as I ran outside to see what I already knew had just happened.
The log could not have hit in a worse place. The pointed end had threaded past the motor boat behind us, rammed our nearly vertical transom, scraped along to our port side and promptly wedged itself ten feet in between Pearl and the dock. I looked out into the moonlit channel and could see the giant root ball, 100 feet away, attached to this log, and to my disbelief, it was still moving, being pushed down stream by the strong current. I immediately realized that a gigantic lever arm had just been wedged between us and the dock, and, very soon, something was going to have to give. I screamed to Shari to turn on the deck lights, turn on the engine master, and start the engine. We had to leave the dock now or one of three things were going to happen. 1. The force of the log prying us out into the channel would pull out the dock cleat (it looked more like the dock was going to come apart) and we would be forced down channel out of control with a giant log steering us at it's will and many obstacles in our path, or 2. Our dock lines break with the same result, or 3. The log rides under the rear hull, breaks off the rudder and creates a large hole where the rudder post had passed through the hull (if your not a boater, holes are bad, think Titanic).
Shari has the engine running in a heartbeat as I struggled to untie the bow line. Suddenly I looked up to see that option 3 was quickly becoming the most likely scenario. The bow was sitting unnaturally low in the water as I could see the rear end of our 25 ton boat being lifted like a toy as the log begins to ride under the transom. The strain on the lines was incredible and was making a sickening creaking noise that can only come prior to a sudden, huge release of energy. My time was running out as I released the spring lines, and my hero Shari released the final aft line from the boat cleat with a loud pop. The boat immediately swung out 30 degrees from the dock, I jumped on board to swing the rudder clear as the log broke loose from the dock and pirouetted around the transom of our boat. The root ball came near the far shore of the channel as it swung out into the lead heading south and the rest of the log cleared us down our starboard side. Some how we never drifted far from the dock and we were able to throw lines to the crew of the motor vessel that had been moored immediately behind us and had come out when they heard me screaming like a little girl. Amazingly, Shari was able to retrieve the tail of the aft line that she had popped loose to free us, and this really helped to pull us back into the dock since the strong current was working against us.
After getting the boat secure at the dock again, we started to assess the boat and check for leaks, holes, rudder damage, frayed lines, etc. All I can say is that I love thick solid fiberglass boats. We showed one small scratch on the transom (from the initial impact), and a small scuff on the paint of the rudder. Not even any stress cracks in the gel coat. It would have been totally different story if we hadn't been able to get loose from the dock so quickly. The log had been on the verge of hitting our rudder and the weight of our home didn't seem be stopping it.
We spent most of our night in thankful prayer rather than restful sleep. The next morning we asked Sydney and Annie if all the commotion the night before had scared them. Neither one of them had even woke up during the whole ordeal. I guess we've been working them too hard.



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