Posts Tagged ‘How to Avoid Huge Ships’

The Thinking Viking was in, shall we say, dire straights. St.Patrick’s day, San Francisco Bay, adrift under the Bay Bridge. The trip home on board the 39′ sailboat was..not going to plan. The plan did not include sails.  Thing has a diesel engine that is called by many “bulletproof”.  But…the silver bullet – the engine was over heated, fan belt broke, radiator boiling, the main sail was completely stowed for long term berthing, and we were adrift, under the Bay Bridge, in the path of the various SF Bay Ferrys and the big freighters heading for Oakland.

The internet meme joke about “How to Avoid Large Ships” suddenly has meaning. (ed: The correct meme is ”

How to Avoid Huge Ships”) wow – font copied, too.


I try to keep us pointed towards home, but with no power, it’s barely possible.  Captain breaks out a knife and the cursing begins.  Zip tie after zip tie is cut to free the main sail.  Cursing continues.

More cursing.  Coast Guard almost runs us down.

That motherfucking sail has to be lined up like a 60 foot zipper to get started.  Frustrated Captain can’t get it in place.  I take over because I see the stress is getting to him, he’s rushing in a mild – and well deserved – panic.

The sail starts to raise. Damn this thing is heavy, it’sjust not going up more than an inch or so at a time. Fuck the winch. I grap the ropes coming from the mast and basically lean my full weight on them. Sail raises a foot. Again. and Again. And again. My hands are chafing.

But at half sail, the boat starts to aim and drive.  The dry stiff rope are loosened and the winches start to work and the two of us get that damn thing up.

At this point, we return to the cut version of “Adrift” Adrift.  And there was much rejoicing.

Thank Neptune the tide was coming IN.

And we had a goram SPARE FAN BELT -that the Captain installed while I was sailing us slowly home.

Thinking, still better than being eaten by zombies, eh?


The Thinking Viking learned to sail as a child, at a smallish “yacht club” on a lake in central Michigan. Yacht Club in central Michigan means “place for dudes to go and drink beer and store their boats that they almost never use”.  But my dad was different – whenever he took me, we always set sail for at least a trip across the lake. After a while, he let me drive sometimes. Later, he let me take the boat out solo. It was a 14′ Laser, which Wiki now informs me is a racing boat.  I had no idea.  But I could handle the thing pretty well.  Anyhow, thanks dad, I miss ya.

This is a 14′ Laser  landfallnav_2250_110400305

Fast forward 25 years.  My landlord and friend says “Hey call my brother, he wants to take the boat out on Saturday.”  This is because I mentioned my dad teaching me to sail during random conversation. I figure it was his 22 foot something or other.  I was wrong. The next picture is referred to as “foreshadowing”.  



The boat in question turned out to be a Contessa-39, “a one-ton class” thirty-nine foot racing yacht, seaworthy and tall, and he didn’t want to show it off, he needed me to drive it, needed to burn off some old fuel and get working on some aging electronics and other bits the ship needed. A fifteen thousand pound up to 11-man crew sailboat with a 50 horse diesel and freaking RADAR.  Um. This Is Not My Father’s Sailboat.


But you know what?

It drives the same, it has a tiller, just like that tiny boat I used to zip around on.  That day we just pottered from Alameda Marina to up around Jack London Square, boat ran fine, I got my feet wet so to speak.  I was offered the position of First Mate, which I accepted.

Couple days later, word comes down that the Captain is taking the boat to San Francisco Friday night.  I take some PTO and leave work at lunch, head to the marina, sleeping bag, backpack, camera, etc load up, and off we go, me the Captain, and his brother.  I then learned we are going to Pier-39. Um.  The one with all the tourists, lining the docks next to the sea lions hanging out. And we’ll be going to a St. Patrick’s Day block party downtown. I brought beer.

Trip out went fine, I got to pilot it under the Bay Bridge, got to watch all those tourists watching us pulling in a taking berth #2A.  Me jumping from the prow to grab dock lines, all of us tying the ship down.  We had arrived.

Fast forward to next morning. I slept great – the swaying and noises of surf have always been good for that.

And we head out, just me and the Captain because of work conflict, no worries, only need two for this kind of trip – I mean, we weren’t even hoisting sail, right? No problem.

And then as I am deiseling us past the Bay Bridge – homeward bound this time….Some Is Wrong With The Engine, it overheating. Shut it down. And we come to the title of this piece.

Technically, I was adrift in the Pacific on a racing yacht with a dead engine.  And it has all it’s SAILS. In San Francisco “usually windy” Bay.

We hastily raise the main sail, capt. frantically uncovering it and prepping – task normally done before you head out, while I keep us in position, just  following the tide at this point.  The sails haven’t been up this season, and it takes some serious muscle to hoist, but next thing I know the wind catches…and it comes back just like riding a bike.  Under a mild to middling wind this thing is faster than possible under diesel, it leans over and slides toward home berth. Capt. goes below to see what’s up.

Just a fan belt, and he has a spare.  Smart man, but I knew that.  But he can’t find it.

By the time he found it we were almost at the marina entrance and he took over to guide it through the sea wall into calm water, and …we just let it drift.  Fifteen minutes after he had found the spare belt, we are fixed, post-haste, and we headed to the berth under power. (hey AT&T and or WordPress, what’s with the lag? I edited out most of these typos already, but looks like a bunch failed to save. Ah, the life of a blog)

So, 1. it’s a good idea to learn to sail. 2. Be prepared, never know when you might need a $12 fan belt.

Think about it.


PS Cut scenes are here: (AKA what really happened) Adrift – The Cut Scene AKA What Really Happened