The scene: Southeast of the Coronado Bridge near Piers 18 and 19
The crew: Diane, Mora and Ken
The event: Bowline flogs loose on staysail’s port clew, turning it into an angry, writhing serpent-like creature poised to strike as the boat heads toward shallow water
The question: Will our heroes emerge unscathed?
Finally we had a sunny, warm, windy day after a series of winter rain storms. Mora, Ken and I decided it was the perfect day to hank on the staysail, rig the running backstays and engage the boom brake for a downwind sail.
Ken eased out of the slip and headed northeast and then southeast, toward town. We passed the moorings where my former boat, an older, smaller version of Celtic Song, now lies, paralleled Harbor Island, turned downwind and sailed smartly under the Coronado Bay Bridge.
It was a perfect day for sailing and practicing with a single-reefed main, staysail and boom brake.
We had lots of opportunity to release and tighten the running backstays as we gybed. After easing under the bay bridge, we gybed and began heading up for our return.
That’s when things began to unwind — literally. The apparent wind picked up to 17 knots, and the staysail’s port clew bowline unravelled. The sail turned into an a loud frenzy of flogging fabric and line.
Ken went forward to drop the staysail. Mora began to haul in a now stubborn genoa to slow the boat and keep it from speeding into the bridge. I was busy at the helm as well as trying to tighten the remaining staysail sheet to halt the sail’s wild gyrations. Ken stood on the foredeck behind the protection of the mast, determining the safest way to drop the staysail.
That’s when the ever-calm Mora said matter of factly, “the depth sounder just fell to 7 feet.”
My response: “Oh sh- -! Need to tack NOW.”
We did, and our small corner of the ocean improved. Depth increased. Ken wrestled the staysail down, keeping all body parts intact. Mora retied her bowline. We raised the staysail and began the long upwind series of tacks back to our slip.
While putting the boat away, we noticed a few fresh chips in the teak handrail, caused by the out-of-control metal grommet on the staysail clew. Better the rail than a crew member. Thanks to quick thinking and experienced crew, we avoided an undesirable outcome.
(Being thoughtful about your sailing habits allows you to make black box deposits)
Diane Berol is an ocean adventurer and the captain of Celtic Song based in San Diego, CA.