I want to apologize in advance – this is going to be a fairly lengthy post, with a lot of back-story and catching up in the first half. If you just want the exciting bit, skip down about half way!
As I posted at the beginning of the year, we recently upgraded to our “THE Boat” boat – S/V Alcidae III, a 39′ Folkes. The boat was located in Victoria, BC and we decided to leave it there for a few months until we were closer to the sailing season.
Three weeks ago, it was finally time to go across and bring her home. We were both excited at the prospect, and I even took three days off work so that we could go on the mission together. It was a challenging few days: we had to kennel Lenny for the first time ever, missed our ferry by 6 minutes, and ended up having to delay the crossing by a day. The extra day gave us time to be a bit less rushed when we arrived, and we were able to start to take in just how amazing (and large) our new boat was:
When we left the following afternoon, we only had to make it up to Active Pass, where we would anchor for the night before crossing the strait the following morning:
The next morning we were up early to cross – unfortunately, the morning held a migraine in store for me. The first trip across the strait, and I spent it in bed thinking that I should have stayed home.
I didn’t start to recover until we were almost home, and then we had a few hours of errands to do, as Alex was headed out of town the following morning.
Being excited to have our new home, and hoping that we might have the opportunity to sell the Monk, I did most of the move alone Friday after work. The plus side of Alex being out of town? I was able to organize things exactly as I wanted them, and it was too late for him to have an opinion by the time he got home two weeks later!
We went away to Whistler and Pemberton the weekend Alex got home, to celebrate his birthday. By the following weekend though, we were itching to get back on the water. We got everything ready, the tides were coming in, I snuck out of work a bit early, and we set off! Our plan was just to head up the Indian Arm (the favourite spot), and we figured we didn’t even care at this point if we just motored in, and then had the weekend to play around and sail.
Now for those of you who wanted to skip ahead – here’s where things start to get a bit more exciting (though I’ll warn you – not entirely happy exciting).
On the way inland from our marina, we have to pass under two bridges at Second Narrows. The first one is part of the TransCanada Highway, and is built to accommodate freighters passing under it. The second is the CN Railway Bridge – it’s significantly lower, but has a section that can be raised or lowered as needed.
We’ve passed under these bridges countless times, with no issues. Friday, however? We learned the hard way that our new boat was significantly taller than our old boat. Combine that with extremely high tides, and we had a recipe for disaster.
As we were getting close to the bridge, we started to second guess the clearance. The thing is, and any sailor will know what I’m talking about, you ALWAYS have a moment of doubt with clearance. When we approach the first, freighter-height bridge, it still looks like it’s far too low. Because of this optical illusion, it took us a fraction of a second too long to trust our instinct, and we ended up caught in the rapids, headed towards a collision.
This is where things get fuzzy, although there are certain moments of absolute clarity. The boat being pinned over so far that fear of tipping overrode the logic of knowing that it wasn’t possible. The sound of breaking glass from inside the cabin. Seeing Leonard cowering on the starboard seat, which was the one closest to the waters. Watching the top of the mast drag along the beam of the bridge, then pop under and bounce off the next one. Alex and I both trying to stay low, knowing that the mast might snap. Him doing his best to steer us through, me grabbing the handle on Lenny’s lifejacket and pulling him to my side of the boat.
At the same time, I couldn’t tell you the moment that the mast broke. I don’t remember seeing it come towards us, but luckily off to one side. I didn’t hear any of the wires stays break. All I knew was that we were suddenly upright. Everyone was unharmed, but our mast was broken and we were still in the middle of the rapids.
At this point, we were both able to jump into action. Our dingy had gotten caught up in the mast and all the lines and wires that were in the water with it, plus there was the fear that any one of them could get caught in the propellor and render us completely helpless. I took over the wheel, and Alex carefully worked to make as much sense as possible of the mess. Once that was semi-safely contained, I went down to survey the damage in the cabin. Somehow, although all of our glassware had been knocked over and strewn around the cabin, none of it was broken. The only casualty below was my poor kombucha, which had shattered when it fell over on the steel wood stove.
We managed to make it safely to the shore of Belcarra Park, where we were able to drop the anchor and take stock of the situation. We got C-Tow (like CAA but for boats) to come and help us secure the mast, but we were still left with several feet of it dragging in the water:
Once that was done, we had two choices: we could sit and feel sorry for ourselves for breaking our new boat, or we could pull out the oysters and Prosecco that were meant to celebrate the start of the sailing season, and instead celebrate that we came through the a dangerous incident unscathed (Leonard included). Even though we knew we had thousands of dollars of damage to the boat, we chose to focus on the positive and toast to being alive.
The next day included many phone calls, as we tried to figure out both what our options were (could the mast be repaired, or would we have to replace it), where we could get that done, and how we were going to get there. Luckily, right beside the bridges was a boat yard where the mast guy in the city has his shop (coincidence? I think not…). We managed to get a hold of someone from the boat yard, who confirmed that we could come in over the weekend and then deal with the situation when everyone opened up Monday morning.
Once that was settled, we did what we had set out to do: sit on the boat for the afternoon, have a glass of wine, and enjoy the sun and the peacefulness of the nature around us.
Sunday morning we set off early to make the most of the tides, and got back to our home-for-the-next-few-weeks uneventfully. We have settled in, and surveyed the damages:
Now comes a few more weeks of hard work, but also the opportunity to learn more about our boat, as well as masts and rigging in general. We’ve also met a whole new community at our temporary home – once again, a community that rallies around its members, offering support and advice that are hard to come by in other social spheres. For that, and for coming through this as fortunately as we did… the gratitude far outweighs the heartbreak.