A Father’s Day Sail

Davey sailing Black Cat in calmer waters | photo and post by Davey Jones

Renaissance man Davey Jones of Main Dock is the proud owner of the Black Cat, a 16’ gaff rigged catboat built at Spaulding Wooden Boat Works. Having lovingly restored her, he wanted to take her to the Master Mariners wooden boat show at the Corinthian Yacht Club last Father’s Day, June 18. The only problem was transport.

Despite 30 knot winds, he decided to sail her through Racoon Straits to the show after work at his popular sandwich shop. That decision almost cost him the boat—and his life. Here’s his lightly edited account of his (mis)adventure:

When I came home around from the deli around 5:00 p.m. I told my wife, “I really want to go for a sail.” I figured the wind was laying down and I could have a test run to Tiburon in extreme conditions. She said, “Yeah, you look a little defeated right now.  Go for a sail and wash it off baby.”

I sail on and off the dock. I only sail in a flood tide so if anything goes wrong I’ll wash home instead of out the gate. No motor, no oars. I tucked a reef in. I had to wait. There was a lot of boat traffic in and out of the marina. A lot of people saw me set sail. A lot of raised eyebrows. I was showing off. I danced her right off the dock and tacked around some incoming traffic. I set off on a starboard run and absolutely hauled off towards Corinthian. It was exhilarating. In 10 minutes I was in the middle of Richardson Bay straight out from Clipper. I made a mistake. I let the sheet all the way out on a dead run. The leach of the sail went forward of the mast. That causes the center of gravity to wobble like a scared animal. It’s called a “death roll”. It took about two seconds for the water to rush over the lee rails and she was down. There is no righting the Black Cat.

My first thought was that I had just doomed my boat. I would have to swim home and she would wash up on Strawberry rocks and be beaten to death there. “Shame,” I thought, “But, I can barely afford her anyway…” My anchor was not attached and it went down, otherwise I would’ve tried to anchor her. Lesson learned. I kissed her on the bow and started swimming. I kept my boat shoes on because I didn’t know where I would wash up. I didn’t want to also be bloodied by mussels or barnacles.

I had no life jacket but at the last moment I had tossed a floating cushion into the boat. Just for my knees, I figured I’d be spending time on my knees ducking the boom. The first 30 seconds I doggy paddled into incoming breaking waves. I swallowed a lot of brine. I was panting and stressed out. I told myself to calm down. Flipped onto my back and focused on controlling my breathing. Slowed my heart. I set into an easy side stroke towards Clipper with the floaty cushion under my armpit.

I don’t know how long I swam. I didn’t feel cold, but I was concentrating to keep breaking waves out of my lungs and keeping my breath steady and calm. When I swam to Clipper I decided not to crawl out. They would have locked gates. The barnacles on the docks would likely make me bleed. It would be a long walk home. I decided I had enough strength to swim to at least South Forty and crawl out there. There is a rope between the pilings on the south side of the harbor. It was tempting to grab it and pull myself in, but again, I would be bleeding from the barnacles. I was almost home. A helicopter approached and I bonked my fist on my forehead to let them know I was OK. As I approached the houseboats I heard, “How you doing?” from behind me. “Amazing!” I said. “Thank you for coming.” My neighbor Christopher had seen me set sail. Ten minutes later he couldn’t see me he knew I went down. He sailed in, found a dinghy, came back out to fetch me. He had commandeered a tiny 8’ plywood affair with a 2 horse. “Davey, I don’t think you can get into this boat without capsizing us, too” he mused. I swam around to the bow. I did a pull up, then a push up, and then flopped in. He raised his eyebrows in approval. “Let’s go save your boat.”

Since I was already wet (and grateful) I tried to shield him from the spray of breaking waves. “Wohoo! So refreshing!” I screamed as I took soaking spray over the bow again and again. I started to shiver. We found her. It was too windy to tow her. The sheriffs came by to see if all souls were safe. But they couldn’t help with a tow (no harm no foul, it would be a liability issue). So, we set a drift course to an anchor out boat, made her fast, and left her there for the night.

When I walked in the door at dusk Kristine smiled at me and said, “I knew you were coming home wet.”

In the morning Gene Haley took me out in his Whaler but it was still too windy to tow. I took off her rig and dragged that home. Went back for the hull. Decided we’d never get her into the marina without heavy damage to her and others. So, I said, let’s just leave her at Jordan’s on Issaquah. When the tide goes minus, she’ll sit in mud and I can pump her out and refloat her. Next day, after I got a new phone, I called Jordan and he said, “oh yeah man! Zander and I found her, pumped her out and took her back to your slip.”  Wow! What great neighbors. What a great backyard!

Lessons learned in 2 seconds: Don’t sail beyond you or your boat’s ability. I’ve been looking for her limits and I found them. Keep your anchor fast, if you go down, anchor the boat. (Some people say stay with the boat and wait for help, but I think that’s for when your way out at sea. Never sheet all the way out on a dead run (death roll). Keep calm. Help is on the way.

I’ve been in enough rough weather to not want more. I’ve said the prayer, “please God, I’ll never get in a boat again!”. I knew better than to try to sail to the Corinthian in 30 knots. I did it anyway.

With so many sailors of small boats in our community we offer the foregoing as a cautionary tale. It’s always wise to wear a personal floatation device and to respect the limits of your skills and your craft.