Friday, 23 May 2014

Tortus: The Story of a Sailboat

When I was ten years old, my parents purchased their first sailboat. It was a 23-foot Olympic Dolphin with a turquoise-blue hull.  A maintenance check by a well-known local boatbuilder showed that it was in excellent condition, and my family promptly became members of the community yacht club.

We frequently spent our summer vacations at my maternal grandfather's home in Fredericton, New Brunswick.  Determined to enjoy the boat to the fullest, my father came up with a plan to put the boat on its trailer and haul it behind his large car down to Fredericton.  However, executing that plan turned out to be quite an adventure in itself.

The day before we were due to leave, we arrived at the yacht club early to take down the boat's mast and rigging, and secure it to the boat with special wooden holders.  That done, the boat was motored over to the launch ramp where the trailer was waiting, already hitched on to the back of my father's car.  Dad reversed the car down the ramp to lower the trailer into the water enough so that the boat could be floated onto the trailer supports and then tied down.

Now was the moment of truth: Dad put the car in forward gear and started to pull the trailer and boat out of the water.  Nothing moved.  Mom and I visually checked around to make sure that there was nothing that could possibly impede the trailer's progress, but we couldn't see anything.  Dad tried again, gunning the car's engine, but the trailer stayed put.

We couldn't believe it.  Was the boat too heavy?  The boat's previous owner had said that he'd hauled it on the trailer many times without incident.  Was the car not strong enough?  It was a large Oldsmobile station wagon with an 8-cylinder engine.  Dad was certain that the car should have been able to do it.  What was wrong?

At that point the Bosun (the man in charge of the club's maintenance and supply) showed up with his 4x4 and offered to help.  He got out a chain with a hook on the end, which he used to connect his vehicle to the front end of Dad's car.  With such combined power, they should theoretically be able to pull up almost any boat in the club.

Engines rumbled.  Metal screeched.  Then Mom screamed for them to stop.  When the two men secured their vehicles and came to investigate, the reason for Mom's panic became obvious.  The trailer hitch assembly on the back of Dad's car was bent out of shape, warped from the force of the two engines pulling on it.  The hook that the Bosun had used was damaged as well.  What was going on here?  What kind of trailer could resist being hauled like this?

The club manager came around to take a look and confer with Dad and the Bosun.  Then I saw the Bosun clap one hand on his face and begin to laugh.  Apparently what had happened was this: when the trailer was initially lowered into the water it had slipped off the edge of the launch ramp and become stuck on the bottom.  Due to the murky water in the harbour nobody saw this.  So at the moment the only way to move that trailer was to remove the boat and use the club's floating hoist to crank the trailer back up.

Dad grumbled angrily at this delay but there was no other option.  He unhooked his car and drove it away to have the hitch assembly repaired. In the meantime the club crew freed the trailer, and then they positioned the trailer underneath the club's crane.  The boat was towed over to the crane, lifted out of the water, placed neatly onto the trailer, and secured.  All we needed now was for Dad to return with the car and all would be well.  Maybe.

Once Dad had arrived with a newly-repaired trailer hitch on the car (and a big bill in his pocket) it was a simple thing to connect the trailer to the car and make sure that everything was good to go.  At this point Mom realized that she needed her purse, which had been left on the docks while the boat was being dealt with.  I grabbed it and passed it to her, but in my haste I let go before she had a proper hold on it.  The purse fell onto the dock, and since Mom had carelessly left it open, half its contents spilled into the water. Immediately I knelt down and grabbed what I could, but Mom's sunglasses and car keys sank to the bottom of the harbour.

After Mom berated me for a few minutes, she resolved to find her missing items.  We all piled into the car and towed the boat home with no problems, thankfully.  Then Mom changed into her swimsuit, borrowed my goggles and a towel, and we headed back to the club.

The Bosun helpfully tied a bright yellow rope onto a weight and dropped it beside the spot where the items had fallen, in order to mark the place.  We knew that the water was only about four feet deep at that spot, but it was so murky that we could see nothing from the surface.  Mom sat on the edge of the dock and slipped into the water - or rather, she tried.  There was a nail protruding from the side of the dock that nobody had noticed.  It caught the bottom of Mom's swimsuit and ripped a large hole in it.  Mortified, Mom pulled herself up and quickly wrapped the towel around herself, then scurried into the club's washroom.  Dad and I made another trip home to fetch her spare swimsuit for her to change into.

For her second attempt Mom walked down the nearby ramp into the water, put the swim goggles on, and made her way out to where the items should have been.  Even with the goggles and the yellow rope guiding the way, she couldn't see anything; the water was just too cloudy.  After a few moments of scrounging blindly through the mud on the bottom, she came up and admitted defeat.  Her sunglasses and keys (not to mention her other now-useless swimsuit) would all have to be replaced.

As for the boat, we did get it safely down to Fredericton for our summer vacation... but that is another story entirely.

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