You know, it was just one wonderfully warm evening last Tuesday when I stepped aboard Lifeline and prepped her to motor to the ramps. The prediction for weather was some increasingly heavy rain and I knew I was pressed for time. There was a temptation to raise a sail one last time, but I would have to bend the foresail back on. I didn’t want to take the time.
I snapped some pictures of the docks as I walked out and again as I motored away. Mostly empty, they seemed lonesome and the quiet about them unnatural. It was a good year. I was absent more than in the past yet those times when I came down there were always many others enjoying the marina and the boats. I sighed and turned back to the task at hand, motoring out across the lake to New Galena ramp on the east side of the lake. Lights hadn’t been installed in the new parking lot at the Hollenbeck ramp where the State’s marina is, and I was most definitely out ‘after dark’.
Half way across the lake, I decided I’d raise my keel board. I didn’t want to run aground in the dark only a few feet from a dock. It’s shallow on the east side, too shallow for my counterbalance of lead to be sticking down. Besides, I was motoring and didn’t need the counterbalance to begin with.
It’s fifty cranks of the winch handle to raise or lower the keel board. The handle rotates close to the wood edge of the companion way and I knocked my fingers a few times. I was alone on the lake, so being below wasn’t too big a deal. I had the tiller tender set to hold the rudder for a steady course for a few minutes while I worked the wire and wheel. That’s why the ‘bump’ was such a surprise when I lost my balance.
What made the boat heave over was the wind! The weather front hadn’t arrived with rain yet, but the wind ahead of it was stirring. I took another fifteen-degree push from starboard and lost my balance again. Holy cow! What’s going on?!
Back at the tiller, I could feel the wind blowing across my face, and Lifeline blowing sideways across the lake. I adjusted course to starboard, bringing the bow toward the New Galena channel, yet I was still moving sideways. I increased the motor speed and turn right again. I was still slipping sideways in this wind, and I couldn’t see any signs of it on the water in the dark. Another large gust caught the boat and heaved me over again.
Mindy was watching from the ramp and couldn’t understand why she could see the mast light seeming to drift toward the shoreline instead of the docks. She said later she was just amazed; right up until the wind hit her at the shoreline. Then she understood. She went to the truck and pulled the trailer down to the ramps. She was backing it down when I finally turned Lifeline into the docks.
Except that Mindy was on one ramp and I was coming in to the one beside it. There was no chance I was going to get into where she was and ‘drive’ right onto the trailer. Not tonight. Not in this blow. I jumped up from the tiller and grabbed the lines I had on the port side, bringing them onto the starboard. I tied off as securely as I could while Mindy brought the trailer over one lane. The wind was whipping up whitecaps on the open water and the exposed dock was being beaten about handily. I was grateful the wind didn’t let me pull in there. That dock might have gotten on the trailer before I could get the boat on it.
Now, the trailer down in the water put the winch out in knee-deep black and COLD water. I knew I wanted dry clothes in this wind since it was going to take two hours to get the mast down and everything rigged for the road. Mindy hadn’t even thought about being in the water so she was rather surprised when she turned and saw me dropping my trousers and kicking off shoes. She had grabbed the boat hook to push Lifeline out far enough to get onto the trailer while I snapped the winch strap to the bow. It was so COLD my ankles HURT!
I had Lifeline snapped to and hauled to the winch but she was still floating and beating herself on the dock. I jumped up onto the dock and took the boat hook from Mindy. She went to the truck and started inching the trailer up the ramp. It’s really difficult to push on a Catalina 22 with only the point of and/or the hook on the end of a five-foot aluminum pole, against a 25-knot wind! Little-by-little we made it, though, and Lifelike has but a couple degrees ‘heel’ she’ll sit with on the trailer this winter.
The rest of the night went smoothly. The rain didn’t come in ‘til we were near finished. The trees on the shoreline broke the wind once we pulled away from the ramps. The lights at New Galena gave us plenty to work under, and they were almost WARM with their halogen glow. The turnbuckles came loose, the gin-pole snugged tight, and the mast came down slow and controlled (thanks again, Kevin). We pulled away in under an hour-and-a-half, towing my mistress behind me with the help of my wife.
My trousers? Oh, no, I didn’t forget. Those I retrieved as soon as she hauled the boat out. Those overhead lights weren’t really warm…
(It’s really nice to ‘blow’ through a thousand words for fun. The other three thousand tonight went toward school)