The Knock Down, a love story…

The squall is building overhead and my thoughts are leaning in the direction of, Wow, I’m glad we’re not out there now…”

Dena at the helm of S/V S.N. Nomad before the knock down...

Ok, I’ll start over…

Dena and I were eating sushi last last night contemplating a Monday morning sail. We’d get up… whenever, ready the boat…at the pace we feel is needed and go sailing. Destination, whatever…

It was incredible, the wind was a fresh 10 knots out of the North leaving the dock, meaning, to our broadsides but we slipped out between the pilings without even getting close and just like that we were out in the upper Middle River. As we rounded in to the confluence of Dark Head and Hopkins Creek we set sail and in less than a minute we were silently clipping away at five knots at a heel of about 15 degrees to starboard. It was perfect! We tacked twice before leaving Frog Mortar Creek aft and with it we payed out the sheets for a beautiful broad reach out towards the open Chesapeake Bay. Once again, Incredible, absolutely perfect sailing!

Before making the mouth of the Bay we rounded up to head back up river so Dena could make it to work on time. We had an out flowing tide on the way down river so we knew with the up wind beat and the ebbing tide we’d be in for a little bit longer trip going back home. On our second tack upwind we luffed up into a gust so as I tightened sail Dena fell off just a touch and at that very moment we got broad-sided by a massive rogue gust from the rivers’ confluence. In the next 8 seconds the boat would be knocked down, the forward lower shroud on the port-side would be ripped out of the deck and the rig would shudder with a terrifying groan. Within that aforementioned span of time I tossed off the sheets and Dena pointed our bow into the wind. In less than ten seconds we were sailing perfectly again and I was hauling in the genny with the roller furling. We were silent with adrenaline for a few long heartbeats afterwards.

I’ve heard it said by so many sailors I’d be hard pressed to find the original quote, that “Sailing is nothing more than a series of contemplative hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror”. Today I am indeed inclined to agree with that statement.

When the water flowed over the leeward bulwarks in the knock down it scooped up one of our fenders, tossing it overboard. Without saying much to each other we both thought it a good time to do an under-sail “MOB” drill and go back and save our fender from certain piracy from the local suburban Reevers of Hog Pen Creek, Maryland. It wasn’t until we had tacked twice and gibed 3 times that we both realized we were just a little too shaken-up to do a maneuver like that, but, according to the U.S.C.G that is the absolute best time to do a “Man-Over-Board” maneuver; when you’re freaked-the-fuck-out…

We saved our beloved fender…

…But as we were settling back in to sailing up-river again I noticed that the forward-lower shroud on the port-side was tossing around the foredeck like a drunk’n sailor. I alerted Dena to the issue and went forward to inspect the damage and strike our main sail. The half inch thick chain-plate that supports the lower part of the mast on the port side of the boat had snapped in half when the spreaders went in the water during the knock down.

…And that was the moment of sheer terror, the moment we realized we really had just barely escaped death.

The fact of the matter is, if we hadn’t rounded-up into the wind and tossed off the sheets at that very moment we would have been dismasted and the entire sailing rig would have come crashing down into the cockpit where we both were at the time.

Wow…

We made it back to the dock without incident and before I got back from the head at the top of the dock Dena was gearing up for her bicycle ride to work. We bantered back and forth a bit but as she took off we both gave in to that look that we give each other every single time we live through another one of our calamitous adventures, and together we said, I love you!

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12 comments

  1. Remember the windy day by San Rafael when you had us heeled over enough to take water over the low side and made me a little nervous (actually I think the term is frightened). Well I guess you’ve surpassed that now.

  2. I do remember that particular sail very well…
    We were on the actual “Maiden Voyage” of S/V Sapien (at the time that was your 1989 Gulf 32 pilothouse sloop) and we were all treating her with more gentleness than any of us knew was gentleness at the time. until we got under that bridge. The wind kicked up to about 20 knots and we didn’t put a reef in the sails because we wanted to “test the rig” to see how she’d handle in a fresh breeze. And of course she handled incredibly and from that day forward we knew that boat could take us ANYWHERE in the world that we would want to go… I’d say that was a pretty good Maiden Voyage but no less humbling than our knock down yesterday.

  3. Great reading, mostly over my head. But once again you have captured my brain for the 10 minutes it took for me to read and understand all those terminology’s that are spoken when you are a sailor. Glad to read that good luck and skillfulness are still following you guy’s. Aloha

  4. You know Tom, so many of my friends are NOT sailors that nomenclature is always a consideration when writing a sailing adventure… In other words, I usually throttle back on the salty-sailor talk, but, in this case I just went ahead and wrote it the way I saw it… I wrote this blog a little over an hour after the actual event so the language is strongly motivated by the adrenaline-to-blood ratio occurring in my body at the time… Dude, I was freaked-the-fuck out and couldn’t explain it any other way!
    I had to go in to work that night and when I told my two co-managers the story I was bouncing from one foot to the other while telling the adventure. Neither one of those guys had EVER seen me in such an agitated state (I’m still new there) so Chris,my boss (who is not a sailor), asked; “Out of all the years and 1000’s of miles that you’ve sailed all over the world how many times has this happened to you?” When I said “NEVER!”, both of those guys gave me a very satisfying gasp in response. I’m telling you, this was a very big deal and once again, Dena and I came out of it with just a few little boat repairs and a-hell-of-a great adventure story. Thanks for reading it!

  5. Getting that phone call from you after it happened was a great peek into the day to day realities of the live aboard life, it freaked me out – you were so intense and intent. As you know I’ve been exploring my fears and feeling around moving onto the ocean and these kind of stories are what I need to feel into. In the end this story only makes me more intent on joining you both on the water sooner than later…
    The way that this life puts one so close to ones maker, so to speak, is very romantic and beautiful to me – terrible and real. Makes me think of something Rilke said – the purpose of life is to become defeated by greater and greater things…

  6. Zen, S/V S.N. Nomad was built REALLY well in 1961 and is a more than adequate Reaper Repellent but nothing is better than having a sharp crew to ward off his grimness…

  7. Jason, so many things have truly humbled me about our life on the water that I’ve never considered any of our many adventures to be defeat but rather an on going school of humility. Thanks for being there…

  8. Ah – lovely, one and all!

    I was absolutely calm and simultaneously so freaked out that I just up’n left as James says. But really, the lovinglivinglook is exactly what I needed at that moment. It got me through a 9-hour day at work, during which I told strange, abbreviated, edited versions of the story to non-sailors. I like this version better!

    And yeah – we have so enjoyed so many adventures. We have even enjoyed telling the stories of our misadventures! But really, what we enjoy, over and over, is being stretched, made larger, made to cope and prevail. If one day I die in a moment when I am stretched past my limits and cannot cope, I will die gloriously, perfectly, characteristically for me, indeed. And I feel confident that I will look at James and that the last look between us will be the one we’ve shared through so many adventures. It will be loving and exhilarated and frightened and overwhelmed.

    But I’m in no hurry to reach that moment. We do keep living, after all!

  9. cope and prevail. If one day I die in a moment when I am stretched past my limits and cannot cope, I will die gloriously, perfectly, characteristically
    These are words wrote by a women , whose picture is on this blog, at the wheel in hand ,mohawk on head , and plenty cool tattoo’s . This is a woman I would trust with ANYTHING !!!!!! Thanks Dena….

  10. Tom – wow. Trust is huge, and more often than not trust in ourselves is what gets us through these things. We’ll keep up the travels, and you’ll have to come take part at some point!

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