Stop! The ship you lose may be your own

SAIL - - Contents - by Charles J. Doane SAIL’s Cruis­ing Ed­i­tor, Charles J. Doane, sails on the Maine coast and down in the West Indies when­ever he gets the chance. He is the au­thor of The Modern Cruis­ing Sail­boat, pub­lished by In­ter­na­tional Ma­rine, and is a con­tribut­ing blog

An aban­doned boat re­turns from the dead

Iam both em­bar­rassed and a lit­tle proud that I’ve had to aban­don two boats in my life. To save face, I must add that nei­ther ves­sel be­longed to me, nor was under my com­mand; still, the emo­tions in­volved are strong. The em­bar­rass­ment, of course, is easy to un­der­stand. Any time you aban­don ship there is a feel­ing that you have failed. What­ever mishap has oc­curred, you will al­ways wish you had mas­tered it and brought your ves­sel safely through it.

My first lost boat was rather grand and an­tique, a clas­sic 78ft Alden schooner—once a queen of the Navy’s WWII Cor­sair fleet—that was 60 years old when I sailed on her. All of our voy­age from Florida to Spain was a slowly un­rav­el­ing catas­tro­phe, and I don’t think any­one in­volved was too sur­prised when we fi­nally lost the old girl in a river on Spain’s south­west coast.

Our pride in that case stemmed from the fact that we man­aged to get the boat across the At­lantic at all, given how fragile and ex­hausted she was. She nearly sank from under us dur­ing our first at­tempt to reach Ber­muda, and the yard crew back in Florida who helped us fix her up af­ter­ward only laughed when we set out for Spain again. Un­for­tu­nately, our em­bar­rass­ment was aug­mented by the fact that we ul­ti­mately lost her by run­ning aground. To be frank, she did not sink ex­actly, but in­stead failed to float again, and the evac­u­a­tion amounted to noth­ing more than a dinghy ride to a nearby dock.

I never had a chance to re­visit that wreck, but a fel­low ship­mate did and later showed me pho­tos. Though these were taken only a few months after the aban­don­ment, I was shocked and sad­dened by how de­graded the boat had al­ready be­come.

I told the story of my sec­ond mishap three years ago in this mag­a­zine ( Aban­don­ing Be Good Too, May 2014), a more ex­cit­ing tale for sure. This was a win­ter de­liv­ery on a brand-new 42ft cata­ma­ran where al­most ev­ery­thing that pos­si­bly could go wrong, did. We were tak­ing on wa­ter through so many leaks it was im­pos­si­ble to find them all. We had no elec­tri­cal power and no mat­ter what we did, the boat would only steer in cir­cles. We drifted for three days try­ing to solve these prob­lems, par­a­lyzed more than 300 miles off­shore, and in the end called the Coast Guard for help. The fact that they came to get us with a he­li­copter only added to the drama.

In this case, our em­bar­rass­ment was com­pounded by the ad­vent of the In­ter­net, as the on­line peanut gallery in­stantly rose up to be­rate us as in­com­pe­tent after we stepped ashore. Still, most of their cri­tiques were base­less and we did take pride in the fact that we’d kept our heads and acted de­lib­er­ately through­out our ad­ven­ture.

I wasn’t sure if our cata­ma­ran would sink or not, but after months passed with no sight­ing I as­sumed she must have. Thus I was sur­prised—al­most ec­static at first, but also skep­ti­cal—when, three years later, I re­ceived a note from a fel­low on the is­land of South Uist in the Scot­tish Outer He­brides. At­tached were pho­tos of an in­verted twin-hulled wreck, cov­ered in goose­neck bar­na­cles that had a dis­tinc­tive pair of re­verse “wave-pierc­ing” bows.

Could this be our boat? I ex­changed more notes with my Scot­tish friend, re­ceived more photographs and fi­nally there came one with in­con­vert­ible ev­i­dence: the name on her tran­som, up­side down, half buried in the sand, made vis­i­ble through bar­na­cles that had been scraped away.

What an odyssey! A drift of more than 3,000 miles, from near the Vir­ginia coast all the way to Scot­land. And what a range of emo­tion it has evoked in me. There is the sim­ple joy of dis­cov­ery, of learn­ing the end of the story. There is anger, when I study the pho­tos and rec­og­nize the open wound of the es­cape hatch in the star­board hull, which re­fused to stay shut dur­ing the gale we en­dured. There is all the em­bar­rass­ment and pride, re­mem­bered and re­vis­ited. But mostly I just feel sad. For even if you don’t know their story, the de­crepit bones of any lost ves­sel will al­ways de­serve mourn­ing and re­spect. s

The re­mains of an old friend, Be Good Too, dis­cov­ered on a beach in the Outer He­brides; she came ashore al­most ex­actly three years after the au­thor aban­doned her

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