Sunday, April 25, 2010


About 11:30 last night, I thought, "Well, Mr. Automaton, where's your big-time storm?"

A few minutes later, as I was brushing my teeth I heard something that sounded like a tractor rumbling down the dock. I turned off the water and cocked my head sideways, like a beagle, listening. 

At the same moment I identified the roar as wind, the boat made a sharp heel to starboard, the lines groaning at the shift.

"Really? Zero to 30 in the time it takes to brush my teeth?" I asked.

In answer the starboard rail squished the bumper into a piling with a loud SCREEEEK.

I realized in that moment, that most of my attention had gone toward keeping the boat away from the dock on the port side, to the complete neglect of anything that might push us to starboard, like a 30-knot wind at midnight.

That's when the gusts turned into a steady blow, and my guts turned to jelly.

The rain started pelting on the fiberglass roof. Lightning flashed. The boat started rocking in earnest, bang, bang, banging against the dock lines and screeching on the bumper. It sounded like I was lying beneath the tracks in a busy subway station.

This boat weighs more than 10 tons, and in that moment the whole of it was resting on my shoulders.

It was not the storm that scared me. No, this was much bigger.

This boat has been on the water -- and around the world -- for 10 years. Now in my first week as caretaker, is it doomed to break apart on my watch? Am I actually capable of taking care of a 40-foot boat -- by myself??? Have I finally taken on more than I can manage?

And worse, if I can't manage tied up to a dock, how will I react in the big, wide ocean? Will I even survive? 

I was having an existential crisis with a thunderstorm as the soundtrack.

I called Chip. 

"It's blowing. I don't want to go out there. What if a line breaks? What if I loosen the line and the wind gusts and the boat gets away from me?" I babbled.

He calmly talked me down, or in this case, up.

"It always sounds worse than it is. Just put in some more bumpers if you can't pull it off the piling."

So, I took a deep breath, put on my big girl foulies and went up there. As advertised, it wasn't all THAT bad. It was cold and raining, but it was the foulies that got wet, not me. During the previous week, I had learned how to unwrap the dock line from the cleat part of the way, wait for a little break in the wind, then haul it in before the next gust. And that's what I did, hauling in the port breastline, between gusts inching by little bits away from that starboard piling.

But, just in case, I jammed in one more bumper before going below.

And by morning, I had conquered a few more items on the checklist:

30-knot squall at the dock: CHECK
Existential overreaction at midnight: CHECK

There are never photos of the good stuff.

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