Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Continuing Education

Every day of sailing is the same: learn, learn, learn.  We thought we knew our home waters of the Morbihan Gulf well, but this week, we’ve learned quite a few lessons about the gulf, about Mareda, and about ourselves.  Some of those lessons have been painful.

We took advantage of blustery weather and impending repairs in Vannes to spend some time getting reacquainted with the gulf.  The gulf is listed as one of the 50 most beautiful bays in the world and is said to have a different island for every day of the year.  (I believe the official total, however, is around 80.)  A lifting keel opens up numerous possibilities in the gulf and we set out to explore areas we haven’t visited in over 10 years.  We hid behind Irus Island for a night when the winds were blowing strongly from the south and took a lovely day sail around Arz Island with a stop at Ilur island, which everyone says is a paradise and which we found to be only so-so. 

Our recent escapades in the gulf.  Red marks from left going clockwise are Ile aux Moines, Ile Irus, Les Logodens, and Ile Ilur.
And then we did what we’ve already done numerous times: stopped for the night along the floating docks at Ile aux Moines.  But this time, we pulled in during mid-tide when currents are at their strongest.  To get to the docks, you first have to weave your way through a maze of a mooring buoy field, where the currents push you sideways as if you were on a conveyor belt running perpendicular to where your nose is pointed.  This conveyor belt also runs at strange angles to the docks.   

Promotional photo of Ile aux Moines, where you can see the mooring field and 2 small floating docks and the bottom left of the field.
With 20 knots of wind blowing, we lined up to the dock head-to the wind and current…or so we thought.  As soon as Patrick reduced the throttle, the current took hold of us and slammed us into the corner of the dock.  Clearly, this is something that happens regularly, since the wood protecting the corners of the dock have been splintered to bits, exposing a sharp metal corner.  Once so engaged, it’s almost impossible to pull away from the dock.  Neighboring boaters nervously popped out of their boats to see what was happening and rushed over to help us with our lines.  We slid and scraped our way alongside the dock and tied up as quickly as we could, thanking our new neighbors for the help and trying to downplay our embarrassment.  One old sailor tried to ease the tension and told us, “You know, a successful docking manoeuvre is a tragedy for the spectators !”     

Once everyone had gone back to their boats, we took a deep breath and stepped off the boat to survey the damage:  one big deep wound in the gel coat exposing the fiberglass, a long shallow scrape running about 60 centimeters, and 2 very bruised egos.  Say what you will, it’s much more embarrassing to screw up in a flashy new boat than with a modest-looking old one.

Two days later, with the winds still howling, we decided to leave the dock to get closer to Vannes for an early morning arrival.  We thought we could find a free mooring buoy behind the Logoden islands that would be reasonably sheltered.  Leaving the Ile aux Moines docks, we had strong currents pinning us to the dock again.  We tried our best to get the nose to pivot away from the dock by putting the motor in reverse and pulling against the stern spring line, but that was only marginally successful.  Patrick had to gun the throttle as quickly as possible once the nose was away from the dock, but we still had a hard time turning away.  The owner of the big fancy motor yacht in front of us turned pale as we brushed past his boat at 3 knots with only about 50 centimeters to spare.  Our bruised egos take another sharp punch.

When we arrived at the mooring buoy behind the Logoden islands, we turned into the wind (18 knots) and current (2.5 knots), motored up to the buoy and successfully passed our line through the metal ring on top of the buoy after 2 attempts.  But as we cut the throttle and pulled the line through the hook and back onto the deck, the current and wind pushed us back rapidly.  With all of Patrick’s force and a ½ turn already around the cleat, he was straining to try to keep it from being ripped out of his hands.  I ran forward to help him, got my hand on the lines and pulled as well. 

Mistake !  I SHOULD HAVE put the motor in gear and advanced towards the buoy to take the strain off. 

Four hands grabbed onto the small length of line that remained.  When our grunting and cursing drowned out the sound of the howling wind, I told Patrick to just let it go… it was useless.

I dashed back to the helm, but not fast enough.  The currents had turned us sideways and I was close to broad-siding another boat.  My reaction (again, not the right one) was to kick the fenders overboard to protect the hull.  Patrick (correctly) took the helm and pushed the motor into high gear (I hate doing that) to get us out of the buoy field, with only centimeters to spare.  We quickly agreed that we weren’t going to try to pick up the buoy again, since the currents and wind were clearly too stiff for us to spend anything resembling a calm night there anyway.

As the adrenaline died down and we headed towards Vannes, we both noticed we had pain around our wrists.  I had a bloody gash and swelling on mine where my hand was caught between the line and the navigational light on the balcony.  Thankfully I was wearing sail gloves or it would have been worse.  Patrick had a few mysterious red friction burns around his wrist…and NO WATCH.  Apparently it got snagged in the line and went overboard in the struggle.

We motored on to the waiting dock for the port of Vannes and tied up, defeated.  The waiting dock is a great option for early entry to the port (which is barred by a bridge with only a few openings per day around high tide).  But it’s also not free for a night stay, which just added salt to our wounds.

And now, we’re settled into Vannes for the next few days waiting for the steering wheel pinion system to be replaced (and to carry out a rapid gel coat repair…)  The part ordered by the shipyard wasn’t the correct one, and so we are staying in port courtesy of Jeanneau, with the promise that the correct part will arrive in 2 days.  This suits us just fine as it is still blowing a gale out there and we would have been faced with at least 2 more days of trying to hide behind various islands, coping with strong winds and currents everywhere we turn.  The lessons learned were good ones, but I’m in no hurry to try to prove to myself that we won’t make the same mistakes again. 

I've also learned another thing about the gulf in writing this blog post: despite having sailed here for more than 10 years and lived here for 6, I have very few photos of the gulf !  Must remedy that...


Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor said...

Oh no! I feel for you guys. I hate docking. I do love the line that guy said to you - “You know, a successful docking manoeuvre is a tragedy for the spectators!” Why is it no one is ever around when everything goes smoothly?

Yia Yia Thompson said...

Marcia (a/k/a Shady Lady and evidently really Yia Yia Thompson): totally thrilled with your blog and lessons: you do a phenomenal job of telling it like it is, which I love, and your writing is superb, ma'am. Thanks for all the joy, pleasure, and vicarious passion you give your readers. Well, me anyway! Geoff too - and a swimming buddy whose husband is married to a sailboat . . . sharing your world!

Maria and Patrick said...

Thanks Ellen and Marcia ! Sympathy and kind words make the embarrassment seem almost worth it...

Unknown said...

I had a big crash in the marina at Christmas time. My boat normally lives on a mooring, so I am not used to these kinds of manoeuvres particularly when there are spectators and expensive boats to crash in to!

My confidence took a big hit then as well. Don't worry we have all been there. I wrote a post about our crash and some of the other silly things I have done or seen too.

Hope your wrists are feeling better and you have managed to fix the scratches ok.

Maria and Patrick said...

Thanks Viki,
I remember reading your post with multiple scenarios, but re-reading makes me feel even better ! The SO 379 with it's double rudders and sail drive propeller make going in reverse quite tricky. Patrick's been doing 99% of the maneuvers in port (I do mooring buoys and anchoring) but I'm going to have to bite the bullet sooner or later. Now that there's a big scratch in Mareda's side, I'm feeling a bit braver !

Unknown said...

Good luck. X