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The Trailblazing ketch Dawn
The Trailblazing ketch Dawn
By David Jones of the Qld Maritime Museum
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What not to do - a story of stuff ups! Print E-mail

By Jo Djubal

“Let’s just go ...”

Sitting on the mooring on our new boat finally got the better of us.  We’d been fine tuning for months and finally had enough.  We still had a suspect port motor with a curious lack of power but the starboard engine was like new and we wanted to scrub the bottom at a nearby bay.  We also needed to remind ourselves we were still on a moveable creation!  “Okay.  Let’s do it.”  Which is all well and good, spur of the moment type stuff,  but our quest to escape the mooring and simply potter over the channel turned into an epic of reasonably irritating proportions with no one to blame but ourselves.

The following is our story ...

We let go the mooring at 0915, anticipating a 10 minute motor around the dog leg of channel markers and into the bay – short, simple – don’t even have to take the awning down.  It’s a beautiful sunny morning with just a whiff of breeze expected to pick up later to about 15kts south-easterly.

The port motor’s doing its usual thing (of not doing anything much at all) but water’s gushing from both exhausts beautifully.  The starboard engine sounds wonderful but – we don’t seem to be going anywhere.  Mmmm ... Shoulda checked the props?  Shoulda/Woulda/Coulda, it’s too late now, we have next to no propulsion and begin a slow motion slide on the tide.  We consider going back to the mooring but doubt we have enough momentum to even turn around, let alone push the tide back.  At least this way we’re drifting with our pointy ends downwind! Dropping the anchor’s also out, the narrow channel excluding that option. 

We could haul the headsail out from down below and hank it on.  Or undo the awning’s many lines, unclip the boom cover’s multitude of clips, find the top batten for the main and raise it –  if we had time.  No, there’s nothing we can do right now.  If we have to, we can use the dinghy’s mighty 3.3hp.  (That should manoeuvre a 12m long, eight metre wide four tonne cat ... shouldn’t it ..?)  Remarkably, we stay calm and successfully manage to not hit the Susie Lou, a14m steel trawler or port channel marker – which we fail to round.  Unfortunately, our attempt to make the channel now has us on a beam drift towards the crowded swimming lagoon sand bar and the cup of calm is draining ...

Miraculously, we somehow manage to escape a lopsided, parallel park beside a flock of pelicans and some sunburnt pensioners and continue our voyage north, feeling decidedly Kon Tiki-ish.   A few obstacles are looming, however, like a huge houseboat, smattering of fishing dinghies and, eventually, the jetties of some palatial homes where surprise crash visits from out of control catamarans are probably not really welcomed.

Right.  We have to clean the props – now.  The tide’s coming in and who knows how long the mission will take.  It feels kind of strange trying to drift onto a sandbar mid channel instead of avoiding them – but what’s even stranger is we just don’t seem to be able to hit one.  Eventually the law of averages rules and we breathe a sigh of relief as the anchor drops into unblemished sand in waist deep crystal clear water.  It’s almost idyllic – apart from the yelling as Project Props begins ...

Tidal pull necessitates the use of a rope which will be tied around Steve’s waist to prevent backwards drift.  Rope? Check! Goggles? Check! Scraper? Half check! (Only have a pathetic, rusty, round edged thing.) Butcher’s knife? Check! Snorkel? ... ah  ... what?  We can’t believe we’ve left our stack of snorkels in storage ashore – and not having at least a couple of decent scrapers aboard?  Duh!  Urgent fossicking begins for anything vaguely resembling a snorkel or parts thereof.  A water spout thingoe connected to some other spoutish thingey-majig  is quickly utilised.  The safety aspect is pretty dubious but even as we stuff around, the tide’s rising.

Initial inspection reveals something on the end of the port sail drive leg that may once have been a three bladed prop but is now a solid living sphere of crusty marine parasites.  We may as well have had bowling balls down there.  Oh well, at least our suspicions are validated.  We just hope the rusty old scraper and Silly Sollys butcher knife are up to the job.  (Along with us for that matter!)

The makeshift snorkel functions surprisingly well despite the odd speedboat wake prompting some spluttered swearing.  The tethering rope proves of little use but we persevere.  Our execution of the mission is ingenious, if not hilarious, to nearby fishermen as I hold the weird, bendy snorkel contraption straight with one hand while clutching the waist of Steve’s boardies with the other to hold him against the tide.  A giant wedgie results but there’s no time for aesthetics or comfort and he battles on admirably.  I also have to exert a certain amount of pressure holding him down there.  Near drowning occurs at one stage as I hold my fingers over the snorkel top in an effort to prevent a wake passing down the snorkel.  (At least some air would have been mixed with it ...) I wonder why he’s fighting so hard against me holding him down and I’m lucky not to be stabbed by a flailing butcher’s knife (either accidentally or intentionally!) as he resurfaces gasping for the breath to swear.

At last the port prop is a prop once more.  Steve gets a brief reprieve from his wedgie and near death experience before we take on the starboard side.  Which, for some reason, is a lot harder.  There seems to be more barnacles and the current feels stronger as the tide really picks up pace.  The tethering rope is discarded and left dangling after proving totally useless.   Steve’s hair is blinding him so I quickly wrap my bandanna around his head.  He drops his goggles which drift a fair distance before we spot and retrieve them.   The wind is picking up and the tide has risen just enough to allow small wavelets over the many protective sand bars.  He begins bleeding from numerous minor barnacle abrasions ... sharks like that don’t they? 

I quickly push aside the image of us fighting Jaws with a blunt butcher’s knife and rusty scraper and return attention to getting the job done so we can get out of the ‘bloody’ water.  We try extending the snorkel with another length of hose and learn why the hookah is such a clever apparatus.  You just can’t suck air too far down without the aid of true technology.  Our snorkel creation has reached the limits of its design objectives and is thrown aboard.   We’re cutting it pretty fine but Steve finally surfaces, bleeding but smiling.  All done!  Mission accomplished!

We scramble aboard and start the port motor ... gently reverse ... Yes!  Back to neutral as I run forward gleefully to raise the anchor.  The starboard motor starts – then stops – abruptly.   “Whats **#$@  happened???!!!”  Forgotten rope around the prop on our one good motor – that’s wot!

Any reserves of calm are finally sucked dry and all hell breaks loose.  Steve dives over the side, goggle-less.  Even without them, he can see it’s a proper jam – coiled right up and inside the shaft.  Extreme arm splashing and swearing ensues.  The water’s now armpit high.  I chuck him the goggles and a serated  knife.  (he’s an excellent catch ...) Pure adrenalin is now used in the effort to free the prop before high tide.  If we fail, it means a night anchored in the middle of the channel before a VMR tow the next morning ... and if there’s one thing we never  want to experience, it’s a tow.  Least of all by VMR, who have far more important agendas than picking up a couple of dodo head yachties stranded mid channel due to pure stupidity.  A haul out might even be necessary to remove the prop.  I see the associated dollar signs going down a toilet ... No, we have to free it – now. 

“Well at least it’s a clean, jammed prop ...” I offer in an attempt to be positive.  It doesn’t change the mood of the situation which is dark grey – pitch black actually.  After 15 minutes of frantic diving, the first ragged strands of rope are finally pulled free.  Each resurfacing sees a little more retrieved until the final pathetically munched up slip of twine is thrown aboard triumphantly.

So it had taken us about three hours but we were finally ‘happening’ again.  Besides a true cat-astrophe nearly occurring while I was pulling up the anchor and discovered our cat, Mango, in the rapidly filling chain locker ... our  ‘voyage’ was uneventful.  We motored into the bay like nothing had happened, found a beautifully big empty spot, dropped the anchor, bedded in, snubbed down and collapsed in the bean bags with nibblies and drinks.  So much for scrubbing the bottom…

“Howyrgoin ... “the speedboat circled us slowly,”  ... dya know ya in the tow zone?”

“What?”

“The tow zone – for waterskiiers an’ stuff ... How hard is it for youse ta move?”

So  ... after dislodging the dumbest cat on earth from the anchor locker – again – we re-anchored, left our drinks and nibblies to the flies and simply went down below to collapse in our bunks, muttering lots of shoulda/coulda/wouldas while the wakes of power boats rocked our rope strewn beds and visions of Dunce Caps swirled through our heads ...

 


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