I didn’t even think I was going to get to launch.

The forecasts were for winds gusting to 25kts out of the west, and I figured the marina was going to call it off. I was expecting a telephone call the day before that never came and couldn’t reach them that morning. When faced with the decision to go or not go in a coffee-deficient state, I somehow arrived at…going late? This was the first in a string of nonsensical errors.

I technically wasn’t late, just later than I wanted to be. My intention was to get there about an hour before I was supposed to launch so that I could clean the prop and take care of some odds and ends. Instead, I arrived approximately on time, although I somehow managed to forget this when I asked the marina guys if I could borrow an extension cord. I had an extension cord in my hand as I was leaving the house, but thought, “wait, why bring this, when I have an extension cord on the boat?” By the time I got there, Fortuitous was already on a trailer by the travelift and I couldn’t climb up there to get it. I borrowed one from the marina and asked if we were still on for the scheduled launch time, and was reminded that it was only seven minutes away.

They didn’t rush me, nor did it take that long to clean the prop. Fortuitous spends the winter on a cradle, which is like a stand made of metal tubing. When it’s time to launch, they pick up the cradle (with the boat still on it), put it on a special trailer, and tow it from her spot in the yard to the lift with a tractor. Then they drive the travelift over (around?) it, consuming the boat/cradle/trailer combo like great industrial amoeba. When it’s in position, they put straps under the boat and lift it enough so that the trailer and cradle can be pulled out from beneath it.

Boat (and cradle, and trailer) under the travelift

As they began to slip the trailer out from beneath the boat, something on the cradle caught, which knocked the cradle off of the trailer with an impressive “KA-RANG.” I don’t think that this was actually a big deal—it only fell about three inches—but loud, aberrant metal clanging noises when 7,000 pounds of boat are floating a few feet off the ground are inherently disconcerting. Once it was clear that nothing bad was happening, they put the cradle back on correctly and pulled the trailer the rest of the way out. They were then able to paint the spots under the pads and below the keel, and continue with the launch.

Once they were ready to put the boat in the water, they drove the travelift out onto its two skinny piers with the boat dangling over the water between them and began to lower it. I consider myself to be reasonably mechanically inclined, but I have no idea how a travelift works. I mean, big picture, I understand what it does, but as far as how to operate one, I think I’d have an easier time guessing how to land a commercial airliner. While lowering Fortuitous, something was happening where the boat wasn’t really moving in a downward direction, but was rolling to port. I’m not sure why this is even something that a travelift can do, but it definitely was. Slowly. I sometimes have a hard time judging my actual angle of heel when I’m on the boat (at least beyond “this seems like too much”), and this perception is apparently not improved when the boat is floating off the ground in a stiff breeze. From my vantage point, I couldn’t really take a guess at how far it was heeled in degrees, but as the rig approached the upper parts of the lift, I would say that “it seemed like too much.” For all I know, this is totally normal, and they quickly got it sorted and safely lowered the boat into the water, but however misguided, it was yet another source of anxiety in a day of mounting anxiety.

When the boat was fully lowered, I was able to step aboard. The entire reason for me being there was to drive the boat back to my slip. The engine fired right up, and I let it warm up while I attached dock lines and got the boat hook out. I took the tiller and did a quick assessment of the situation. Sailboats don’t like to go backwards, and I knew that if I just put it in reverse without revving it, the prop would act more as a paddle wheel than a propeller and slide the stern to the side instead of actually making the boat back up. Additionally, the wind was pretty strong and directly on the beam, so I didn’t want to dawdle in there and let myself get blown into the side. When we agreed that it was time, they lowered one side of the sling, gave me the signal, and I applied a healthy amount of reverse thrust.

The boat moved back a bit, then stopped, abruptly yawed to starboard, and the bow started bouncing off of the dock. People yelled instructions at me, but nothing I did resulted in anyone’s expected outcome. I was confused and embarrassed and perhaps a little frantic. When I was told to put it in reverse again, I saw that the other side of the sling was getting drawn taut, and realized that it must have been caught on my keel. They assured me that the sling was on the bottom, but sustained west winds have a way of lowering the water levels in the creek, so it seemed that my keel was also on the bottom, snagging the sling (and probably rubbing off the recently applied paint). They pulled the sling through completely, and I was finally able to get out of the slip.

Boat being launched

I was not in a great mood. Although nothing that had happened so far was technically my fault, I am capable of a debilitating amount of self-assessment. And then I rammed the boat into a piling?

I was headed straight into the wind coming up the fairway, and knew that as soon as I turned to go into the slip, the boat would start getting blown to the side. I tried to overshoot the approach a little, thinking I’d get blown back, and I came in fairly hot, since more time spent with the wind on the beam is more time getting pushed in an unhelpful direction. I’ve done this before. But everything was slightly wrong, and I just ran the boat directly into the piling on the outside of my slip, I don’t think more than an inch off of center. I couldn’t have been much more precise if I was trying.

The pulpit bent impressively during impact, like one of those slow-motion shots of a tennis ball being flattened as it’s hit with a racket. It bent the bow light back and put a crease in the stainless, but it mostly survived. I pulled in and tied up.

Dented pulpit

None of this helped my mood. I spent some time sitting in the cabin, pricing new pulpits from my telephone. I feel like there should be an odd Latin plural of “pulpit,” like pulpitae or something, but I guess there isn’t. It’s not clear that I actually need a new one, but it was already bent from previous incidents, and if I could find one in a bone yard, it probably wouldn’t be the worst job in the world to replace it. I’m mostly worried that the impact tweaked the seals where it bolts to the deck and will start leaking.

I wanted a small victory to balance things out and decided to do some small maintenance jobs. One of the other things I wanted to do while the boat was on the hard was put on my new registration stickers, but that didn’t happen since I was late(ish). It was still quite windy and the things that hold my glasses on my face when I’m leaning over the side somehow got all dry-rotted, so I was pretty sure I’d lose either my glasses or the stickers if I tried that without a helper. I had my new impeller with me, and replacing that is an easy job, so I addressed that instead, as part of standard spring maintenance. When I started the engine to make sure it was working, it was definitely pumping water out of the back of the boat, but was also pumping a lot of water into the engine compartment. I was on a roll. It wasn’t coming out of the plate on the water pump that is removed to access the impeller. The housing looked intact, so I guess the seal on the shaft is blown (or something).

With that, I thought it was best to quit while I was behind, and abandoned ship. At least the boat is in the water, and I look forward to new and exciting maintenance tasks in the near future.

"Prepare to fend off the bridge abutment."