Saturday, August 12, 2006

Never Say Never

Isle La Haut, N 44 03.223 W 68 38.777

Saturday August 12, 2006

We sailed down to Duck Harbor on Isle La Haut today in search of beautiful nature. We found it. Most of this island is part of Acadia National Park and it is wild and unspoiled. Duck Harbor is very small and narrow, and it took me three tries to anchor satisfactorily. We rowed ashore and set off on the hiking trail. In just a few minutes we came upon a clearing and Libby spotted berries. Not just any berries but wild raspberries. We enjoyed ourselves greatly picking berries. That's the first time since living in Sweden that we picked berries.
We chose the trail for Duck Harbor Mountain. It was an easy climb and it took us less than a half hour. That's my kind of mountain. I remember climbing Camels Hump Mountain in Vermont. On those climbs I was tired after the first 25% of the way up and wished that we were at the summit. This mountain was more modest. The reward for achieving the summit was a spectacular view of the island, of Penobscot Bay, the sailboats plying her way, and of the mainland and the mountains behind the bay. Since this was a low humidity day, the air was clear and visibility unlimited. It was a very rewarding moment. Rewarding enough to justify the journey up here from Yucatan to see it.

When we returned to Tarwathie the wind had picked up and blew straight in on the narrow harbor. That made me feel very insecure so I decided to move us to a more secure anchorage for the night. That turned out to be not so simple. We raised the anchor and started out but just a few hundred feet out I heard the unmistakable sound of something fouling the propeller. I quickly put it neutral and stuck my head over the side to see what. Sure enough we had the line of a lobster pot wrapped around the propeller. Oh no! One should never say never. We had been telling everyone that we weren't afraid of the lobster traps because of Tarwathie's full keel and skeg rudder. It made it nearly impossible for a trap line to foul our propeller. Indeed, we had numerous times that we heard the trap floats scraping down the length of the hull only to appear harmlessly in our wake. Well famous last words -- this trap proved me wrong.

I jumped into the dinghy to see if I could dislodge the float and the line easily. No luck. The waters were very choppy and the stern heaved up and down several with each wave. One time it came down on the dinghy and half swamped it. It was filled with two feet of water and nearly sunk. I scrambled back onboard. Libby asked if we could use a sail. "No!" I said, "We're on a lee shore. The sail would drive us into the rocks. Besides the lobster trap should anchor us." "Well," she said, "We're drifting toward those rocks behind you." I looked and she was right. We were now only 100 feet away from a huge boulder sticking out. The depth was 60 feet -- too deep to anchor within 100 feet of shore. Nevertheless, I rushed to throw out an anchor with 100 feet of rode. That's far too little scope but more rode would have let us drift into the rocks. Then I scrambled below to fetch my mask and snorkel, ran back up on deck and jumped into the cold cold water.

Back at the propeller, I Iooked astern. The rocks were only 50 feet way. Then I looked down. I could see that the trap line was wrapped around the shaft with 5-6 turns. I braced my feet on the hull and pulled with all my might on the line, but nothing budged. Then I pulled my switchblade knife from my pocket and began sawing at the 6 turns of line. Boy was it fortunate that I had a snorkel and mask and that Tarwathie's propeller is shallow enough for me to work with the tip of the snorkel still above water. The boat was still pitching violently fore and aft so I had a wild ride. It took about 10 minutes to saw through the turns and to pull all remnants of the line loose. In reality it might have been 5 minutes or 20 minutes. It's hard to estimate time under those circumstances. When I was done I looked back at the rocks. Good! We hadn't drifted any closer -- the anchor held.

I climbed back on board and told Libby that we could use the engine to keep off the rocks. Then to the next task. 60 feet is too deep for anchoring. One has to pull up the full weight of the chain vertically. I had 40 feet of chain plus 20 feet of rope out, and the wind was still blowing and the boat still pitching in the waves. I had to winch up the rode inch by inch using the windlass and it was very hard work. Perhaps it had caught on a mountain of old lobster traps below because it took much more than normal force to break it loose from the bottom. I think that took longer to raise the anchor than it took to cut the line off the propeller. During that time Libby labored to use the motor and the rudder to try to hold us stationary and bow into the wind.
Finally we were free and we motored away, this time keeping a sharper eye than ever out for lobster traps. Libby said that this event put Tarwathie in more peril than anything we've ever done before. Perhaps so.

We didn't have to go far to find a secure anchorage. Only a mile away we sailed into a tranquil cove. In an instant we moved from peril to idyllic nature. In short order we saw dolphins, a seal and an eagle. 5 minutes later we were anchored securely and looking a picture perfect cottages on the slope above and small children rowing around in a skiff. I was chilled to the bone so I went below to change and to huddle under a blanket for an hour. When I returned above decks after an hour or so the eagle was still there and there was a rainbow in the eastern sky. Maine really is beautiful.

I just resharpened my knife. I'm very glad for my policy of always having a sharp knife in my pocket. It is the single most importand emergency device one can have.

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