Friday, December 12, 2008

Tale of Two Islas - Part Two

The Tale of Two Islas-Part Two

"It was the worst of times, it was the best of times, it was the age of wisdom…" Originally penned by Charles Dickens in The Tale of Two Cities, no words could more accurately describe our last day sailing in Belize and our first day in Mexico.

"Calling all stations, calling all stations, this is the sailing vessel Side by Side over."….. "Calling all stations, calling all stations, this is the sailing vessel Side by Side we have been dismasted, repeat we have been dismasted over."

As the sun rose gently over the horizon and a new day dawned in Cozumel we enjoyed a cup of coffee on board after a peaceful night of rest. We were excited about continuing on to Isla Mujeres, our final destination before heading to Florida. We untied from our mooring ball and with the morning sun still coloring the sky and warming the air we slowly made our way along the coast of Cozumel enjoying the waterfront scenery. As we rounded the point of the island and headed across the channel towards Cancun we lamented not being able to spend more time and explore this famous resort island and it's waters.

With our sails set we settled in for what was to be an easy 45-50 mile day sail. Shortly after entering the channel we realized that this often turbulent and current tormented piece of water was to be kind to us today, and we were loving being on a sailboat. As I scanned the horizon I realized that a ship in front of us looked to be a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter. As we got closer the distinctive orange stripe of the Coast Guard came into view. It was shortly after 7:00 a.m. and I decided to hail the Cutter.

After the appropriate introductions were made and we identified ourselves as a U.S. flagged sailing vessel the radio officer changed his tone from all business to as if he was talking with a neighbor. We wished the captain and crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Confidence a Merry Christmas and told them about our time with Commander Crabbs on the Coast Guard Cutter Thetis in Bocas Del Toro, Panama last May. Like our prior experience seeing the Coast Guard it was great to see "Old Glory" flown over such a beautiful vessel and I must be candid here and say that when the professional mariners of the U.S. Coast Guard call me "captain" on the radio it makes this wanna be sailor puff out his chest a little. They blew a greeting on their ship's horn and we both continued on our way.

As I strutted around the cockpit referring to myself as "Captain" and teasing the kids we tuned the SSB radio in for our prearranged daily check in with our sailing partners on s/v Side by Side. We had left Lighthouse Reef ahead of them and were out of VHF range necessitating communication via SSB radio which is the marine equivalent of a Ham Radio. As Susan established contact she looked out into the cockpit and said, "Side by Side has been dismasted." I slumped into my seat at the helm and with tears running down my face prayed that everyone was safe as Susan learned the complete story.

The prior evening around midnight while sailing in 15-20 knots of wind with a reef in the main sail under very mild conditions a thunderous bang was followed by the mast crashing onto their catamaran and then into the water. Thankfully they had been on a beam reach and the mast and boom, along with the sail and rigging, mostly ended up in the water on their port side. To a sailor, few events at sea are more terrifying than being dismasted. Normally the result of violent weather, but in this case it was a manufacturing defect in the rigging. As Marc and Angie attempted to calm the kids and assess the situation and their alternatives Marc did the single best thing. With bolt cutters in hand, the stainless steel rigging and lines were cut and the entire mast, boom, sails, rigging and other miscellaneous equipment sank into 2000 feet of water. Many sailboats have been "holed through" by a captain trying to "keep" his mast and rigging when a rogue wave turned the mast into a battering ram and drove itself through the hull.

It had gone from the best of days to the worst of days. Had we heard of a dismasting on another yacht we would have been concerned, but we have been sailing with Side by Side for the last 8 months and they have become like extended family to us. Their safety is as important to us as our own. We also understand the additional responsibility they feel regarding their concern for their kids. Using their engines they were able to safely make it to Isla Mujeres, and suffice it to say, dinner was our treat onboard Mima, complete with homemade brownies.

I am sure all of us have experienced those days when the range of personal emotions rivals the very best of roller coasters. As Susan reminded me of Dickens words and as I have considered the events of those two days I have been most struck by the less often quoted third component of Dickens sentence, "it was the age of wisdom." We are well served, it seems, reflecting on both the good and bad days life brings our way as much can be learned and wisdom gained from them both.

This life at sea, however, has the effect of instilling a different kind of wisdom. Perhaps it is a less cluttered and simpler wisdom: a wisdom that places great value and gain in making the simple and less convoluted choice. In the case of Side by Side your single concern becomes the safety of your ship and crew. You cut the rigging and lines and remove permanently the thing that with one rogue wave or event could sink the boat. It is not about insurance, saving the rigging, or the cost; it is about doing and making the single best choice. Robert Kurson in his book, Shadow Divers, describes the challenges of deep water diving and when faced with a danger or unplanned event states, "Fix the first problem fully and calmly before you even think about the second problem."

My father always told me, "Mark, when your priorities are straight decision making is easy." Perhaps that is the land based equivalent. The safety of ship and crew come first. All other considerations are topics for discussion at the yacht club. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and we are learning it has been a time where we have grown wiser.

Live Slow, Sail Fast, Love Well

The 4Wheelers

Note: S/V Side By Side was able to successfully motor to Ft. Meyers in time to be with family for Christmas. Their catamaran is currently under repairs and their hope is to be able to leave for the Bahamas in 4-6 weeks.

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