Epic sail (epic fail)

It started out calm the way troublesome days sometimes do without a hint or foreboding of danger in the air.

It was a clear, sunny day. It was warm, but not breezy.

We had to motor for the first hour before it was even windy enough to put up our sails.

Our destination: A beautiful resort in Door County.

We had passengers with us. Our pastor surprised his wife with an overnight stay at the resort for their anniversary. Romance. A nice quiet sail there and back, or so we thought.

We were all in for a surprise.

A storm popped up on the bay. We had the foresight to take down our sails before it hit. It wasn’t a strong storm, but it produced 10 minutes of heavy rain. It was our first storm. We huddled below as Paul steered the boat. He barely had enough time to throw on his raincoat. I discovered that I forgot mine.

It wasn’t the storm that created the most difficulties. It was the aftermath. The temperature dropped 20 degrees. The winds picked up to 20 mph. Then we had to fight against 6 foot waves.

At first it was kind of fun like being in a giant wave pool. Every tenth wave was gigantic and would crash against the bow soaking us. We laughed, listened to music, and jokingly talked about dying.

After the first hour, things weren’t fun anymore.

The coast guard came on the emergency radio warning boaters of a 22 ft sinking boat partially submerged in water near but not in our path. We were worried about getting off course. It was starting to get late in the afternoon. We used up a lot of gas motoring against the waves.

If we didn’t make the harbor, we might hit the sinking boat.

Things did get rough when we had to hit the waves sideways. Everything that wasn’t tied down flew everywhere. People bounced around like there wasn’t gravity. Even the carpet didn’t stay. The pastor dry heaved into the garbage while I was knocked to the ground.

Paul was hollering from the deck that his waterproof case on his phone gave out. We no longer had our navigation once his phone died. But Paul knew the rest of the way. We were almost there..

I laid on the floor thinking that I was going to die. It felt hopeless really. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t snap out of the panic. I made it my mission to find all of the life jackets. I had to keep my mind from shutting down.

We never have been in waters like that before although Paul calmly told the pastor’s wife that we do this kind of thing all of the time.

Three hours of rough waters and Paul got us to shore safely. I am so proud of him. It wasn’t easy.

Once we got close to shore and things settled down I noticed that Paul and the pastor’s wife were completely soaked and shivering. Almost everything was wet. I found whatever I could find that was dry to keep them warm. The pastor’s wife huddled in the spider ridden sail cover.

We were all freezing cold in July. We were all feeling sick. We weren’t able to get the bumpers out. I was able to tie a line and had to jump on the dock quickly as the motor died out when we found the nearest empty slip.

The pastor’s wife started throwing up once we got to shore. She was so sick that she wasn’t able to join us for supper.

After 3 hours of intense waves, I felt panicky like I do with turbulence on an airplane. It was an awful feeling. I also felt sad. I thought about death, how things could’ve gone terribly wrong and we could’ve died. I thought a lot about my grandma. It stirred up strange unexpected raw emotions of grief and anxiety within me that I find hard to explain. I felt empty, hollow, alone, and frightened…

For the last two weekends I battled death in the grueling waters of Door County. First under the dangerous swimming conditions for the Half Ironman. Then this weekend, 3 hours of sailing in very rough waters. I want to think that I won’t have to face this again. I didn’t enjoy my brush with death very much. But I already committed to sailing for a whole week next week with Paul and some other sailors to the tip of Door County through Death’s Door.

To be continued…

 

The accidental overnight sail

I originally posted this when I first started blogging two years ago…the mishap we had this week sailing was partially due to our adventures a few years back when we originally weakened the pin to the rudder…Enjoy! We sure did…many years later.

Last summer my husband and I bought an old 25 foot sailboat. After about a month of ownership, we decided to take three of our friends out for a 3 hour tour. The day before I bought brand new water shoes for the trip. But we had one small problem the evening of the cruise, not enough wind.

It was a warm July evening. I wore my capris and a t-shirt. After supper, the wind picked up out of nowhere. We were ready for the quick sunset cruise out to the lighthouse and back five miles from shore. Once we made it to the lighthouse, the wind was really whipping and there were three foot waves. We thought it would be a really great idea to see how fast the boat could go. We did get the boat to go fast, faster than we have seen it go since. The problem was that the boat went fast in the wrong direction. When we got done testing the speed, we were 15 miles north of where we were supposed to be and it was getting dark.

In the meantime, my friend and I needed to use the bathroom. We had a toilet on board, but we didn’t know how to use it. After using the facilities, we were supposed to pull a lever to empty the contents into a lower compartment. We didn’t do that. As a gracious host, I had my friend use the bathroom first. When it was my turn, I opened the lid as we hit a wave and spilled the contents down my legs onto my new water shoes.

Great, now I am soaked in my friend’s urine. No problem, I had extra clothes on board, right?! Well, no.

Now it was dusk and we were lost.

The depth finder was not working, the GPS coordinates did not take into account that there was land between point A and point B, we had no maps, and our cell phones all died.

To make matters worse, we were almost out of gas. We were in deep water! Every time we tried getting close to shore we would ground out, using what little gas we had left to get ourselves out.

When we went out to deep water we hit some big waves spraying us with water. I was freezing after being soaked with urine and water not to mention the drop in temperature after dark. I used the spider filled sail cover to stay warm.

One of our thrill seeker friends thought it would be a good idea to dance around on the wet bow much to his wife’s dismay. They ended up falling asleep at midnight.

My husband spent the night steering the boat while his other buddy and I worked the jib sheet. Our minds started playing tricks on us and we were afraid of hitting dark objects in the water. At 5 AM I couldn’t take it anymore and had to go to sleep. Geez, all that and I missed the sunrise!!

In daylight we were able to get back to shore. We almost made it to the harbor when we ran out of gas. My husband jumped into the water and had to swim the boat to shore.

We made it home at 7 AM the day after our three hour cruise. My body was swaying back and forth for the next couple of days. The day after we got back I decided to go for a 6 mile run even though I was still swaying and felt like crap. It was the hardest run ever because I ended up coming down with pneumonia that day.

What did we learn from our (in)experience? I am now toilet trained, we carry extra gas, extra water, food, and bought an additional battery charger. I have extra blankets, sweaters, sleeping bags, shorts, pants, coat, robe, and rain gear that stays on the boat just in case we are foolish enough to have another accidental, overnight sail.

We probably should’ve just thrown out an anchor for the night. But what fun would there be in that??

Race-A-Peril

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After we got back from the triathlon, we were planning on sailing a full moon race. I was rather excited to check two races in one day off of my bucket list.

But the strong winds from the morning of the triathlon increased throughout the day making sailing conditions very treacherous. We thought the race would be cancelled but never found out for sure since we spent the evening in the ER instead.

But that will be a story for another day..

I typically compete in triathlons or running. My husband races our sailboat. Sometimes our race paths intersect and I can be found on the water and he on land.

Last night I was part of my husband’s sail race crew along with our friend Jerry. It was a lot cooler and windier than we thought it would be. We were sailing in rough conditions with 3 to 4 foot waves.

For a time, we were slightly ahead of a boat that always wins. They were alongside of us and fell back after we turned.

We were headed on a straight course to the first buoy in the race when disaster struck.

I knew something was wrong when, just like that, we were hurled off course.

A pin snapped. The rudder broke. We spun in violent circles while being struck by waves that rocked our boat and crashed upon the bow. The boom swung and the wind whipped our sails. A line from the main sail broke free and was swirling around overhead like a lasso.

Paul started the outboard motor. The rudder smacked back and forth into the motor’s propeller. Jerry and I worked on getting the jib sheet in as we spun in circles. Then Paul struggled to get the boat in irons to take down the main sail. Then the guys lifted the heavy rudder out of water while trying to maneuver the boat.

After taking the main sail down, the situation became less perilous. But we weren’t out of the woods(?) yet. Paul had to steer the boat back in to the harbor without a rudder. He had to rely on the small outboard motor. His arm was sore from the waves and strong winds that he had to arm wrestle his motor against.

To get back we had to go against the flow. The boats that were racing behind us were coming towards us to get to the racing buoy.

Finally we were able to limp back to shore. Paul had to steer the boat into our slip and it wasn’t going to be easy. There were rugged rocks and a cement wall to navigate around in the strong wind. He hollered to shore for help…but he was able to get us into our slip like a pro.

There were other boats with problems last night.

Another boat had issues and started to come into the slip sideways almost colliding with nearby boats.

The wind ripped another sailboat’s spinnaker in half.

It was the most exciting race ever!

I was happy that the rudder didn’t give out when we were alongside the other boat…we might’ve crashed. Also, the ER visit prevented us from racing this last weekend if the strong winds wouldn’t have. If the rudder broke at dusk 5 miles from shore in strong winds and waves who knows what could’ve happened!

I had a great time. There was no lasting damage. The problem is relatively inexpensive to fix. No one panicked, got hurt, or died last night.

After it was all over, we had a drink and reminisced about our previous perilous sail when we were beginner sailors…the accidental overnight sail…(maybe I will share the story with you all again). Jerry said it was one of the top ten memorable stories of his life. It was one of mine too.

I will not forget last night either.

I love adventure, but I am not a big risk taker.

I have to say that there is something totally exhilarating about challenges that push my mind, body, and stamina to its limits to get through…A sense of danger…Flirtation with failure.

Racing…competing…how I love the thrill of it!

I’ve learned to expect the unexpected.

No race is ever the same…even if it is the same race.

We didn’t finish the race, but we survived the night.

I will count that as a win.

 

Running away

I thought that after how hectic last week was that this week would be a breeze. Boy was I wrong! This week has been just as stressful if not more so. I left off with recent events telling about my brother’s wedding, coming back home and getting a cold, and ended Monday with the news that a best friend of my son’s ran away from home. Things would’ve probably ended up fine if he would have came home later the night he left, but he did not. 

My son and his friend Logan were the last ones to see Jake. Jake bragged on the bus ride home Monday night that he was going to run away from home. His friends didn’t believe him because he said that before several times and never did until Monday. Monday night our summer days reached an end. A cold front brought the wind and rain. Logan saw Jake walking down the road in the pouring rain with a backpack on. Logan called my son and they attempted to stop Jake from running away. He had a backpack full of clothing, water, food, and a couple knives. He told the boys he was going to catch a train out of town. The boys tried to stop him, but he ran off into a corn field. 

At this point, the boys went over to Jake’s house to alert his mother. Jake was born to teen parents who ended up marrying other people and having other children. He was having a lot of conflict with his stepdad. His father lives out of the state. I thought Jake would come home that night. 

Tuesday morning arrived, but Jake had not. His dad flew in to help try to find him. The neighborhood was scoured. Abandoned buildings, deer stands, unlocked sheds, farms, the railroad tracks, the park, fields, and woods were searched with no signs of Jake’s whereabouts. After school, my son and a group of boys looked for him in their secret hiding spots. I offered to search the corn field where he was last seen. All I found was a battery and an empty sleeping pill wrapper on the ground. The corn was over my head and I was searching after dusk. I heard noises out in the field and was convinced there was a bear coming for me. It was scary. When it got dark, we all met back by the road. A night bird cried out. Jake’s mother mournfully responded by shouting out Jake’s name. He was not there. 

We went back to Jake’s house where the boys were questioned some more. Jake’s stepdad was pouring over Google maps and also was looking over the railroad track locations. Jake’s grandmother cried. No one had slept the night before, no one had eaten. There were tears, anxiety, and anger. It was heart wrenching to see the family’s pain. They were so desperate trying everything with no answers. We decided to search outside of a trailer of a friend of the boys that recently moved out that had a broken window. Jake’s dad cried out his name in anguish receiving nothing but empty silence. After this, I took the boys home. It was going to be a cold night, near the freezing point with a boy who ran away a day ago into the pouring rain. We feared hypothermia. We feared death. 

Last night Facebook got flooded with missing person posters. Jake was spotted near a highway about 30 miles away. This morning brought relief that up until last night, Jake was alive! A couple of hours later, Jake was found. 

All of this brought back memories of the times that my autistic brother Matt ran away from home as a child. Multiple times he ran away. At times we had a search for him in the woods near our house. We feared for his safety. He couldn’t take care of himself. It brought back brief moments of the terror we went through searching for a lost child. 

Lately I have seen a lot of banter going back and forth about who has the hardest job as a parent. I want to offer my opinion. Parenting is hard! It doesn’t matter if you are a biological parent, a step parent, a foster parent, a parent of one or ten, or a parent of the disabled. If you want to be a good parent, it is difficult. It takes everything that you have. I think that parents who have both disabled and “normal” kids probably have one of the toughest roads to walk. We need to work together to bring our lost children back home. I am not sure what will happen with Jake now, but I feel a lot of relief that he made it home safe.

Trying to sail through life’s storms

We made it back home safe about 2 hours ago. I thought I would let everyone know since I left everyone hanging yesterday with some hard decisions to make about whether to weather the storms. After we last spoke, things did get a little dicey.  The first round of thunderstorms came through after blogging. We holed up on the sailboat. After the storm went through, we headed to the pool. We didn’t want to spend our whole anniversary huddled over our iPads scouring weather reports. We decided at that point to possibly wait until the next storm went past to head home. It was going to take some schedule juggling to stay another day. 

At the pool, we received reports of the big storm that was to come. Strong thunderstorms, 50 to 60 mph winds, large hail, possible tornadoes. It was one big blob of reds and purples over the whole Midwest. We met a man at the pool with his daughter, son-in-law, and two young granddaughters. They made a point of teaching the children how to be respectful of adults in the pool which was greatly appreciated. They had a small motorboat and were determined to beat the storm because plans couldn’t be changed. 

The large cold front came in. The clouds rolled, the sky eerie, lightening flashed, and thunder boomed. The man left with his family about 5 minutes before the torrential downpours with a bit of trepidation. I ran into the boat to grab some clothes while Paul closed things up for the storm. I ran bikini clad through the strange silence of electrically charged air into the shelter of the bar. Inside, Paul saw an old college roommate. Always nice to meet a group of people for the first time in a bikini when others are fully clothed. Priceless. The lights flicker. The winds blow, it starts to hail. An elderly couple at the gambling machines momentarily express worry because windows were left open at home but head right back to the machines. The band is set up to play next to the window. They abandon equipment to play their instruments closer to the bar. The music is quiet while the thunder cracks loud.  When the storm finally ends, it is late afternoon. Now we face the prospect of sailing through small bands of storms in the dark. We decide to stay. 

When we get back to the boat we find that the wind blew our hatch open. All of the clothes, pillows, and my sleeping bag is soaking wet. We try with some success to dry everything. If we saw the storms on Saturday morning, we probably would have stayed home. We faced cooler weather conditions, strong winds, and 3 foot waves most of the way home today. But we made it home safe, which might not have been the case the day before. Another adventurous anniversary in the books. 

The goodbye rescue kind of sail

Paul may have saved a man’s life last night. 

Last night we went sailing with Tom and Lisa (my running partner and bff) to say our final goodbyes before they move from Wisconsin to Florida. We keep our boat on a relatively large body of water. I am not giving anything away as our state is practically surrounded by large bodies of water and contains large and numerous lakes and rivers. It is rumored that we have more lakes than our neighboring state of Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes. But I do not want to start a debate. Let me tell you that sailing on a large body of water isn’t always a breeze. Ha ha. Last night was no exception. 

The night started off breezy even though the forecasters said that there wasn’t going to be much of a wind. We were sailing with the same friends that we went on the accidental overnight sail with that I blogged about earlier. We have had so many crazy wild adventures with them that I thought I would give them names which means future crazy wild stories. Anyway, we decided to take a sail out to a landmark for some awesome goodbye photos. Lisa and I share the love of running and photography. The sunset pictures were going to be divine. The wind took us to our destination in no time. It was so windy that there were whitecaps with two to three foot waves. We had our pants and sweaters on as it was a chilly July night. The water splashing up on us was not much warmer. Lisa and I went out on the bow and started posing for the camera when we saw a little guy in the distance out on the water struggling. We asked him if he needed help and he said he would be okay. We looped around taking more pictures. 

When we made it back to the man a second time he was clearly in trouble. He was in a small boat, about the size of a canoe with a small sail on it. He had tipped the boat over several times struggling with the waves and the wind. The water was cold, it was getting dark, he was 5 miles from shore, and we were the only boat around. It was going to take us an hour to get back to shore at dusk under motor. His situation was getting dire. I was picturing in my mind the morning news story of a man lost at sea drowning. A man in the background of our smiling pictures. My husband Paul did what any great captain would do, he threw out a line and kept us all from panicking. After the man swam to our boat, I did what any good captain’s wife would do. I wrapped him up in my warm, fuzzy purple robe and handed the guy a beer. Apparently, he headed out for a short sail about four hours before. The wind took him out and he couldn’t get back to shore. He was clothed in a swimming suit, life jacket, and inexperience. He had nothing on the boat to eat or drink and left his cell phone at home. He was in big trouble. 

Paul may have saved a man’s life last night.