My upcoming “Tag” test, where we take a boat out the Golden Gate without an instructor for the weekend, but “tag” along with a boat that does have an instructor, was coming up in just about a month, and I was itching to get some practice in, especially on the moves that I knew would be expected of me: maneuvering in close quarters, backing into a slip, backing into side-ties, and springing off a side tie, amongst other things like flawless anchoring technique, sailing off an anchor, etc. Our entire focus since September, 2012, when we decided not to sell Cool Change, was concentrated on getting Cool Change in shape to qualify as our “tag” boat. Most of the time, students charter a Club Nautique boat for their tag, but Club Nautique’s Sailing School Director had suggested that it would be okay to take Cool Change for my tag instead. That would save us the cost of a weekend charter, which is considerable (about $1,000), but it would also allow us to use the boat we intend to use for our sailing adventures, so it would most simulate what our real experience would be like. We were really looking forward to it. But we had spent so much time working on getting Cool Change ready (like with the windlass install), that we hadn’t gotten her out much. It was time.
So, after what was probably a long day of working on Cool Change, we finally got her out at about 4:40 p.m. for a 10 nm cruise across the slot and back, and to practice a few Crew Overboard (COB) maneuvers. That place on the track where there are a bunch of squiggly lines is where we were practicing the COBs. The wind had picked up; we were sailing 7 knots and probably had about 18 knots of wind. But something went wrong. I was behind the wheel, and all of a sudden, the wheel wasn’t turning. It felt like a true “loss of steering” emergency, just like we had drilled in our classes. I could turn the wheel one way, but not the other. Our first thought was to turn the boat around and head home, so at least we would be on a safe course. At the time the steering failure occurred, we were headed right back into the shipping lane; not a good place to be with loss of steering! Once we were on a stable course, we assessed the situation. We knew that one prompt response was to use the autopilot to override the steering. We tried that; it still wouldn’t turn in one direction. I considered grabbing the emergency tiller, but that wasn’t the problem. Something was obstructing the steering. Then, it dawned on us: in our desire to get out on the water after a long day of working on the boat, we had neglected to remove the horseshoe life ring and the life sling from the aft lazarette and hang them on the pulpit. OMG! The autopilot mechanism was in the aft lazarette and was being prevented from operating due to the obstruction of these two items! We opened the lazarette and sure enough, the lifesling was squished behind the autopilot mechanism. Once removed, the steering operated smoothly again. We were even able to turn around and go back and recover our “COB”, which is a half-empty orange juice plastic bottle with a line on it.
It was just about dark by the time we got back to Richardson Bay to anchor out. Another lovely night on the hook. By this time, Rick and I had pretty much gotten the hang of anchoring together, and were so excited to use our new windlass. We have little walky-talkies that help us to communicate while he is at the bow and I am at the wheel; we ease on up into the wind, and when the boat stops, Rick lets out the anchor and enough chain to hit bottom plus some; then I set my anchor alarm on my i-phone and then start backing off with the engine as he lets out more and more chain. When sufficient chain is out, I back off hard, setting the anchor, and we both observe for vibration or dragging. Seeing none, we settle in for the night. Knock on wood, we haven’t dragged anchor yet.
The next morning, we tried to pull up anchor, and thank goodness we had the windlass, because up with the anchor came an attached cable! Somehow, Rick was able to shake the cable off the anchor without loosing the boat hook: quite the feat. We made a note not to anchor in that exact spot again.
The next morning, we “ran the mile” to measure the accuracy of Cool Change’s knotmeter, we “swung ship” to measure the accuracy of Cool Change’s compass, we practiced a few docking-in backwards, and we filled our fuel tank. The whole thing took us about three hours. She was ready!