We ended our last Ariose Note at the point of gently grounding on the first day out on our grand adventure. It was too shallow to get into the dock at Main Duck Island, en route across Lake Ontario to the New York Canals that were to take us south. We needed another option.
There are many rules of sailing that one ignores at their own peril. One rule is to always have a plan B. Ours, when we weren’t able to dock as intended, was to anchor out. Dan, who keeps his boat “Happy Paws” at the Collins Bay Marina, had warned us that the limestone island offers poor holding ground. We used to think that it was the weight of an anchor that helps secure a boat, but it is really an anchor’s ability to dig into the bottom that provides holding. No matter what anchor is being used, dropping it on smooth rock means danger. We chose a partially protected bay at the marked entrance and lowered our plow anchor. There was a light touch of off-shore breeze. We were relieved to be able to actually see through the clear water that the anchor’s point had lodged itself in a crevice, and our substantial chain rode was well wrapped around rocks on the bottom. What concerned us though, was being able to release it when we were ready to continue on, but figured we would solve that problem when the time came. Releasing the anchor, we were to discover, was not a problem.
We paid out about seven times the depth of the water in our rode (the longer the anchor line or chain, usually the more secure it will be since a more acute angle better holds the anchor at an angle where it can dig in and not lift up). The forecast was for the winds to increase and change direction overnight, so we expected to swing on the anchor. Tim rowed our dinghy Poco in a circle around it, dropping a rope weighted with a bolt, along the way to measure depth, just to be sure that even as the winds shifted and we moved, we would have plenty of water under us. We did. We were fine.
After hanging out a bit to be sure we were holding, we rowed to shore and explored the gorgeous dramatic shoreline of Main Duck Island. We also enjoyed a chat with Jody and Chris, the couple with the slightly shallower draft who were able to dock here. When we returned to Ariose, she was in the exact same position. We were secure. We didn’t take a lot of photos as we expected to spend the next day exploring, and would have better light then. Glad we captured a few.
We were hypervigilant through the night, getting up several times to check on our position, especially when we felt the winds shift and Ariose began to rock ‘n roll. Each time we shone a spotlight on shore to check, we wondered, were we closer? Yes, but it seemed to be just because we had swung around. We attributed the short bursts of scraping sounds to nothing more than a bit of chain sliding on the bottom, because if we were dragging, surely it would be louder and more consistent. Wouldn’t it? I felt increasing concern, though, recognizing that with the wind shift, we were now anchored off a lee shore (another one of “those” rules: never anchor off a lee shore). If a wind is blowing off shore and the anchor drags, a boat will be pulled into deeper water but likely not be endangered. If we dragged on a lee shore, we would be washed aground. Here, on our first morning, we found that was exactly the position we were in.
As the sky brightened, I got up. The wind had indeed shifted 180 degrees, and although the driving rain was a deterrent, my concern outweighed the discomfort I faced so I donned a rain jacket and headed out. Tim waited comfortably cocooned in our cozy v-berth for my assessment. Rolling waves were breaking on shore, and the landscape looked nothing like the calm bay we had anchored in the night before. An initial “Tim, maybe my eyes are playing tricks but I think we’re too close” escalated immediately into a “Tim, we’re definitely too close – we’re dragging!!!” as horrified, I watched the shore approach. If the alarm in my voice wasn’t sufficient, the first gut-wrenching crunch of keel on rock was more than enough to jolt us into action. Tim leapt out into the cockpit, key in hand. All we had to do was motor out into deeper water and we would be safe. We needed to get out now! Is there a worse sound than the bottom of the boat you had lovingly worked on for months grinding into rock? There is. The raspy clunks of metal on metal of a starter breaking at a time when its desperately needed – THAT is a worse sound. We had no motor. The reality of our precarious situation hit with rock-solid gravity. The wind shift must have lifted what had been a secure anchor out of its crevice.
This was our first crisis situation we had ever dealt with as a couple, but it only took a moment to agree on the plan. We needed to alert help and we needed try to pull ourselves deeper with the anchor. Quickly.
I grabbed the VHF radio to issue a “PanPan” (that’s an alert that an urgent situation is unfolding, and although boat &/or crew are not in imminent danger, things could foreseeably escalate in that direction). We had successfully passed the mandatory Radio Operator’s exam so I knew what the protocol was, but I have never actually operated a radio and did not even know how to turn it on. Technological fluency is not my strength. I had planned to get comfortable with the radio during our stay-over on the island, never imagining we would actually need to use it any time, let alone any time soon. That was a mistake. Tim was more familiar through his work in the bush, so together, we issued the call for help. With each wave, Ariose rose up and crashed down onto the rock, sometimes with no more than a scraping sound but often with a jolt and shudder. We had no idea if our call was heard, and knew time on the radio was precious time that could be put to saving the boat, so I tried the “DSC” button. This is a valuable feature on some radios. A mere push of a button and an automatical distress call is issued every 4 minutes until the Coast Guard responds. Problem was, it did not work. Drenched, shaky with cold and adrenaline while being bounced around in the cabin, it took all my concentration to scan the too-small font for my middle-aged eyes instruction manual only to find that our radio’s MMSI number needed to be entered to use this feature. Thank goodness I had that readily at hand in our crammed cabinets. Perhaps it only took minutes, but it felt like hours to painstakingly scroll through and enter the 9 digit number and then tortuously, to have to repeat it for confirmation. Done, but still no acknowledgement that the Coast Guard got our call. We had filed our itinerary with my brother Dave, as we planned to for any passages that could pose risk, and he was instructed to alert search and rescue if he hadn’t heard from us by noon Saturday. It was now about 8:30 am Thursday. More than forty-eight long hours before we could count on help. Soaking wet. Exhausted. Cold. Discouraged. Even as our spirits plummeted, we realized that if we lost Ariose, we would be fine and that was what was important.
Meanwhile, Tim was in our dinghy Poco, fighting the waves, and I met him at the bow. I secured our secondary anchor to its chain – no easy feat as the boat bucked under me – and passed it to Tim in the dinghy – no easy feat as he avoided getting crushed under Ariose’s bow or being impaled by the anchor. He fought the wind and waves to row it out. Our anchor chain is so heavy, that it was hard to make progress, but he did, and he dropped it. We alternated anchors, and each time I hopefully heaved on the rode to pull us out as we were lifted by the waves … even a little… but no. I only succeeded in hauling the anchors in, not hauling Ariose out. We switched from chain to 200 feet of rope. Again, that was no easy feat since only the day before I had secured the shackle with wire which now needed to be cut off while being bucked by the waves. Tim could now row the anchors out further. Repeat. No luck. Repeat. Nope. They would not catch. Cursing didn’t help. Pleading didn’t either. Ariose rose up on the waves, and pounded down on limestone. She shook and we shook, but we were in automatic mode by this point, and now hardly noticed. The anchors did somehow manage to keep us pointing into the wind and waves, probably saving us from broaching and smashing the hull on the shore.
This clearly wasn’t working. Help wasn’t coming. Our only option was to repair the engine. Tim dug through our over-stuffed lockers and found the spare starter we had brought along. I wasn’t hopeful that this would be do-able. The gymnastics required to work on the engine in the best conditions were challenging enough. Doing so now seemed an impossible feat, but doing something, anything, was critical for our morale. So Tim got to work. His stubborn perseverance served us well as he contorted himself into the engine compartment, retrieving tools and bolts dropped into the icy dark bilge, with a never-give-up attitude.
At about that time, as I was at the bow still trying to get the anchors to hold, our VHF crackled to life. What a relief to hear Coast Guard Radio from Trenton transmitting about our situation – they got our MayDay! Wait – those aren’t our coordinates! Could there be another sailboat in distress out here? Moments later, they caught their error and I was relieved to hear the correction. Hope washed over me as I shouted to Tim that help was on the way. We would only need to make it through a few more hours, we thought, for the rescue vessel to arrive.
My relief switched to astonishment as only moments later, a Hercules plane, at low altitude, came directly at us, circled around to return, buzzing us again and again. As if our situation wasn’t dreamlike enough already, this pushed us into feeling like we had been plopped onto a movie set. A few minutes later, a helicopter appeared, dropping search and rescue workers onto the island. We rowed ashore to save them the wet walk out – and to give ourselves a break from the stress of Ariose’s keel relentlessly crunching on rock. The 2 guys (we never did get their names) were incredibly calm and comforting, quickly checking on our situation and on what we needed. They relieved our embarrassment at the seemingly over-done response by letting us know it was due, in part, to the training operation that was already underway as our call came in. The plane was in the air anyways, so it was easy to switch from a training to an actual rescue flight. They informed us that a vessel was on its way to tow us off, and reassured us that we had done the right thing in issuing a mayday.
As if on cue, conditions changed. The rain stopped and winds calmed. (Wow, those search & rescue folks really are powerful!) Tim re-donned his mechanics hat and got back to work on board.
Shortly after, the Search & Rescue vessel inflatable rendez-vous’ed with us. Nathan was at the helm and Jeff hopped on board. It took a bit of work to get us into deeper water, but it sure felt glorious to be afloat again. We pumped out the water that Ariose had collected from rain and waves, and continued to check our bilge, relieved that no more was entering. As Jeff and I bundled up the bridle and lines and weighed anchor, Tim announced that the replacement starter was in. Really? How the heck did he pull that off? A twist of the key, and the melody of Ariose’s Yanmar engine grumbling into action was music to our ears!
We set off under our own power back toward Kingston accompanied for a short way by Search & Rescue, then the Coast Guard released the vessel and we continued on. That 5 uneventful hours motoring back was both serene and surreal. We were safe and sound, and hopeful that the damage to Ariose wasn’t too extensive.
We’re not sure if anyone from the Coast Guard will ever read this post, but if so, we want to express our gratitude. This was not a life and death situation, although we recognize that things could have escalated. The Search and Rescue machine was not only incredibly efficient (quick response, effective communication, well resourced), but the people involved were able to offer exactly what we needed. Everyone was genuine, thoughtful and reassuring, and even able to share a welcome touch of humour at the right moments. Thank you so much to all.
We had some explaining to do as we pulled back into Collins Bay Marina. We had forgotten to hand in the washroom key when we checked out the previous day, but no one fell for that as the reason for our return. We held our breath as Ariose was craned out the next day, hoping beyond hope that there would be little more than cosmetic damage. We had a local fibreglass repair expert present to offer advice, but it was obvious even to our inexperienced eyes that Ariose’s injury was substantial. The rudder had been split and its bottom edge smashed, and our keel was grounded down with a few holes along its seam. A couple hours of pounding on limestone had taken its toll on Ariose, but it was still amazing to see that the well-built Alberg 30 held her own as well as it did. The story would have been different with a newer or lesser boat. As one of the less-well built crew, I can’t say that my body held it’s own as well. Every muscle in my arms and back complained loudly for days afterward about the unaccustomed strain.
Here’s a few shots of the damage (trigger alert to those who love sailboats):
Since then, our days have been a whirlwind of getting information and making plans. We had an “A” option – leave Ariose in Kingston for the winter to allow drying and proper repair to then resume our adventure next year; “B” – haul to southern New York state, beyond the canal which closes November 20th, for repair and continue on; “C” – obtain a quick temporary repair, enough to make us seaworthy again, continue then haul out further south for a proper fix; and several permutations of those options. Dealing with the insurance claim, getting quotes on repairs in Kingston and in southern destinations, researching options, sourcing transport trucks capable of hauling Ariose, figuring out customs requirements … we felt like we were plunked into full time administrative positions.
The marina, although technically closed, made us feel welcome and Collins Bay Yacht Club graciously offered us their clubhouse, which we comfortably adopted as our warm, dry, powered mission control centre. We were showered with understanding condolences and embraced with support from everyone.
Finding a replacement rudder was an appealing, although remote, option for a quick fix that might allow us to get through the canals before they closed. We mass mailed yacht clubs, associations of Alberg owners, boat wreckers, and anyone else we could think of and crossed our fingers. We’ve since been inundated with such heart-felt and helpful responses. To our surprise, a few days later, a saviour named Harold who lives only 2 hours away and happened to have a couple derelict Albergs he had used for parts, responded to our kijiji ad. By the next morning, not only had he delivered a replacement rudder to us, and leveraged the relationship he had with a local boat yard with indoor facilities to get them to agree to do the work for us. By noon that same day, Ariose was loaded and hauled to the new boat yard and it seems that they were willing to tackle things quickly. Our optimism soared.
So now, we’re back on track. Ariose is in Loyalist Cove Marina’s capable hands with repairs coming along nicely (thanks to owner Dave and his exceptional staff for taking this on!), our insurance company has been easy to deal with, and a manager from the New York Canal Corporation has assured us that even if we sneak in a few days before closing, they will ensure we get through. We have moved off the boat into a bed and breakfast and are enjoying the luxury of daily hot showers. While Ariose is out, we are taking advantage to do a little more maintenance work on her. As a bonus, we’ll head to Montreal this weekend for a quick but precious visit with one of my kids, Rachelle.
Three weeks into our cruising journey to southern climes, and we have made it from North Bay all the way to Kingston Ontario! We hope that we have now more than fulfilled our rite of passage and have fully come into the sailing fold. We know there will be future excitement in store for us but may that adventure be a little lighter on the adrenaline factor. Please.