Sail fast, live slow

Or, how I almost sank in Richardson Bay (and missed Thanksgiving)

“Now that I’ve suffered shipwreck, I’m on a good journey.” — Zeno of Citium

Tying off the mooring ball at Angel Island on the night before Thanksgiving felt like a coup. My dingy was still inflated on TARA’s foredeck, ready to be deployed the next morning as transport from the anchorage in Ayala Cove to Sausalito — a short journey, just a fraction of the distnace I’d already come from Berkeley.

I had test-driven the used inflatable once, but not since stripping and re-gluing the floor to the pontoons.

The glue instructions recommended 48 hours of curing before, but I left the job to the last minute. Just 24 hours had passed when I threw the dingy from the deck into the cove, clamped on a 5hp outboard, and sped off.

My destination, Clipper Yacht Harbor, was just two miles away — a 15-minute ride, assuming my trusty motor didn’t sputter out. I had my paddle in case of some unexpected failure.

The plan was to arrive just in time to catch a ride up north with my sister to Novato (she was crossing the bridge from San Francisco). I could see my destination as soon as I rounded the bend out of the cove. Uncomfortably crouching, and facing the stern, I monitored my wake with the freedom of being the lone boat on the water.

I don’t remember whether I first noticed the small pool of water in the back of the boat (which seemed to be getting bigger at an alarming rate) or the slight downshifting of the motor’s rev.

Soon it was clear that there was a leak — and not just a puncture in the hard-to-glue corner regions. It was a gaping breach in the floor, where the force of water against the exposed edge of the seam began ripping a larger and larger hole, until I was standing in several inches of water. The floor boards started to come apart, and without much notice, the motor went from puttering along to a dead stop.

A sea lion — very commonly seen in these parts — came to comfort me in my humiliation.

Although I was less than 200 yards from my destination, it was too far to paddle with the extra weight of water in the boat. Fortunately, the pontoons stayed fully inflated, and I was brought back safely to the Mother Ship at Ayala Cove by a friendly Coast Guard unit, with all of my gear intact.

With catastrophe averted, it was time to start thinking harder about what I need to correct in my life. Perhaps my tendency to take shortcuts and seek out Craigslist bargains (at twice the price). Or perhaps it’s just faulty hardware.

The alternative is paying full price for stuff that always works; not stuff that works most of the time, or when everything else is lined up just right.

I didn’t make it back to land in time for Thanksgiving with my family. Instead, I pulled anchor in my sailboat (raft safely on deck) and drifted with a gentle tide to another peaceful anchorage just off Paradise Beach in Tiburon. I threw down the anchor, took a quick dip, and then prepared a Thanksgiving feast of squash boiled in corn grits. The next morning I had enough wind to make it to Sausalito in time for my 10-year high school reunion.

Lessons learned. I hope to never need to call the Coast Guard, and I’m abandoning my old slogan — borrowed from the notorious Washed Up Yacht Club — Safety second… at least.

As I left Sausalito on the Saturday after a long weekend, my eye caught on the words written on a woman’s shirt, standing on the dock. I think I will adopt these words as my new slogan:

Sail fast, live slow.

Seastead solutions.

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