Thursday, 27 August 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009 - Bliss Leads to Calamity, Disaster, and Abandonment

12 Mile Bay to Hole-in-the-Wall to Sans Souci to Parry Sound
It is amazing how bliss led to calamity which led to disaster which led to abandonment without any connectivity between the events except the date they occurred on.

We felt pretty good as we threaded our way back out of our anchorage to 12 Mile Bay. We had successfully navigated some pretty tight channels, and now we had found our way into and out of an unmarked anchorage. Heck, the unmarked spot was free of all the hassles we’d had in the marked anchorage, and was way better. We decided to keep an eye open for more chances to leave the tramped out paths of conformity. Damn the red line, let’s have some fun! Our first opportunity to do that was hole in the wall channel.

Hole in the wall is a narrow channel with a tight entrance. To get into it, you leave the main channel and navigate a rock-strewn bay, then make a tight S-turn into Hole in the Wall the channel (unmarked) which runs 20 feet deep, but has steep sides to it. The channel is only about 12 feet wide, but has plenty of water. It is supposed to be nearly mystical to pass through.

We left the main channel and motored through the boulder field to the entrance of the unmarked channel. Chuck was up on the bow and watching for rocks. Cutie was perched beside me tending to the baby. I was looking for the channel and curves up ahead.

Chuck pointed to a rock beside us, and as I told her we needed to know about the rocks ahead, not beside us, calamity struck. We hit. Hard. The boat lurched to a stop, throwing everyone forward. Chuck held on and stayed aboard. The baby rocketed forward on his tether, but landed on his lifejacket. Cutie hit her knee off the bulkhead.

As quickly as we identified that no one had any serious injuries, the boat spun 180 degrees, driving the rudder into the rock that had just stopped the boat. I felt the tiller twist and rise out my hand as the pintles came out of the gudgeons, and instinctively I fought the sidelong push on the rudder. Then the pintles came out of the gudgeons, and the rudder was no longer attached to the boat. I pulled it back aboard, passing it to Cutie, and my mind worked overtime in damage control mode.

No one was hurt. The boat was straddling the rock. The engine had stopped. We were adrift. First priority was to get the boat clear of the rocks. Then I would have to get steerage. Things were not yet so desperate that I would risk hailing a passing boat on the radio, since to bring them closer would risk exposing them to the same troubles. I took a look at the outboard. The throttle cable had come out of the engine, but was still attached. I could get it running, but would have to hand feed gas to it. If I could get it running, I could try to steer with the engine, and get us clear of the rocks.

After half a dozen pulls, the engine started. I put it in reverse and spun off the rock. Once we were well clear, and I couldn’t see any other rocks nearby, I threw out an anchor and rode, letting the chain and rode burn through my hands until I felt it hit bottom. Then I grabbed the rode well ahead of where the line was paying out, and cleated it off. With no idea of how much scope we had out, but fairly confident that we would swing away from the rocks, I ran back to the cockpit and reattached the rudder using the gnarled cotter pin that had just failed, saving the rudder from breaking in half on the rocks.

With the rudder reattached, I got Cutie to drive while I took up the anchor. She held us off other rocks in the boulder field until I had the anchor back up in its place, then I came back to the cockpit and drove while she spotted rocks on the bow. Eventually we made our way back to the channel, and followed the red line to safety. Safety was Sans Souci, specifically the Docks at Henry’s Fish Restaurant. The whole ordeal of running aground and getting back to the channel had taken less than 20 minutes.

We had originally planned on being at Henry’s a day earlier, but our lovely anchorages and slothly pace had set us back by a day. Our exuberance for leaving the well-tramped route would have led us to another marina to recharge the batteries. We had actually removed Henry’s from the agenda altogether, but now we knew it was nearby, and had good docks and lots of traffic, if we needed help, we figured there would be someone there to lend a hand.

We arrived at Henry’s just as the lunch rush was dying off. Cutie took Buddy and went to find swim goggles so I could dive and inspect the keel. I took off the rudder and started patching the corner of it where the rock had done its damage. In retrospect the damage to the rudder wasn’t life-threatening, but the rudders on Catalinas have a history of failing when water gets into the laminations so I wanted to get it out of the water, dried off, and sealed up before the water penetrated any deeper.

While I worked, another sailor stopped by with an Australian Shepherd to chat. Chuck played with the dog and offered to take it for a walk. Its owner thought that sounded fun and off went the dog and girl on a path in the woods. About 20 minutes later they returned walking down the path. I saw them coming and turned back to my work, then heard Chuck call out – “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

She sounded excited, like she had found a frog or cool rock or something, then she became more intense. “DADDY! Ouch! I heard it POP!” I ran to her as I realized there was something wrong.

I did not see Chuck’s fall. I saw her walking back on the trail, and then saw the dog come into the clearing and heard her call out. From what I understand, she had lurched forward, missed her step, and twisted her leg as she stepped into nothing where a ditch ran across the trail. There was no mark, no blood, and no hint that anything was wrong, but as I talked to her and cradled her leg a lump formed and grew about halfway down her shin.

Cutie knelt beside me, and a lady from another boat ran over. The dog’s owner held buddy, and the restaurant owner offered ice water and blankets. The lady turned out to be a nurse, and using supplies from a third boat, she splinted the leg, and identified the break as a green-stick fracture. The owner of the restaurant called in an emergency water taxi. With the leg splinted we made Chuck as comfortable as we could, and said soothing words. She tried to be brave, but shock set in, and worry was all over her face. Likely it was all over mine as well. Suddenly the damage to the boat wasn’t so important.

As we were loaded onto the water taxi, we were told by a number of people that the emergency room at the Parry Sound Hospital was very slow. We should tell the nurses that Chuck was in “Extreme Pain” and then we’d get treated more quickly. This was told to us by the staff at Henry’s, the Water Taxi driver, the cabbie who took us from the water taxi to the hospital, and other people in the waiting room. With that many folks all using the same trick, I figured the staff in the ER must have heard the same, and opted for what I think was a better plan. We told the truth.

Within 20 minutes of walking into the emergency room, Chuck was in a bed. I told the triage nurse that the splint was administered by nurse who was at Henry’s. Since the splint was put on by a professional, they didn’t want to remove it, figuring it had been done right, and that Chuck was properly attended to. I think they made the right choice. Chuck disagreed.

She was in obvious discomfort, and kept telling me that the splint was tight on her leg, giving her pins and needles that hurt more than the break. Every nurse who came through saw tears and thrashing fists and short breaths. A few took me aside, and I just told them that I thought it made sense to be in pain with her leg being broken. I also hoped that the doctor would be able to look at it soon since her discomfort was awful. I avoided the words extreme pain.

Over the hospital intercom, I started hearing pages for 2 doctor’s names to the ER. One of them showed up, looked in our spot and said he’d have a treatment room cleared out right away. The other was the orthopaedic specialist. She unwrapped the splint and sent us for x-rays in the space of about 5 minutes. As soon as the splint was unwrapped, Chuck settled down. As she settled, our case lost its urgency.

The x-rays revealed a green-stick fracture just as the nurse at Henry’s had predicted. Chuck got a cast, and we had to figure out what to do next. Rule 1 with the cast was to keep it dry. Nothing on a boat stays dry for long. We found a hotel room, and thought up action plans on the way across town in another taxi.

Chuck needed to go someplace without stairs, with a quiet environment, with someone who could come and get her today or tomorrow. If we couldn’t find a spot, Cutie, Chuck, and Buddy could get a cab to Barrie, and then take Cutie’s van home. If we could find a spot, Cutie and I could take the boat home, and then go get Chuck. We budgeted 4 days to get home, so whoever got Chuck would have to have a week free.

Since Cutie’s parents are retired, and their house has a main floor bathroom, with space for a bed in their front room, and because they are closest to Parry Sound of anyone we thought of, they were our first choice. When we called and explained everything, their only question was, “Should we get her tonight, or in the morning?”

We spent the night at the hotel in Parry Sound, and had McDonalds and Swiss Chalet for dinner. The girl at the front desk had much compassion, and plied us with 4 of all the free stuff (shampoo, combs, razors, etc.), spare bedding for Chuck, and offers to get or do anything we needed. She was a very kind person.

In the night, Chuck moaned and cried a few times, and thought she was falling out of bed. Cutie and I slept as much as we could, but mostly we wished we had just spent another night on 12 mile bay, and not ever left the perfect anchorage.

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