Monday, August 07, 2006

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Some Sundays are more memorable than other Sundays. Some Sundays you stay at home and catch up on your laundry. You wash the car. You eat too much, too early in the day and then you take a nap.

Now I'm not saying that these are bad Sundays. Nothing bad about a Sunday afternoon nap while the washing machine swishes and the dryer humms and clanks and your belly burbles because you ate too many of the leftovers in the tupperware dishes at one sitting. Meatloaf indeed goes well with white sauce and BBQ chicken. Why question it?

But when a friend asks you if you want to go sailing, and then you go sailing, and you find yourself up the mast going "Woooooaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh !!! Wooooooaaaaaahhhhhh!!!! Back and forth like a bug on a windshield wiper tip, and then find yourself consumed by the frothing bloodfest you are witnessing, it makes the Sunday in question a little extra special.

Perhaps you'll agree?

Here is how this Sunday went...

An older buddy of mine we called Old Paul owns an older, wooden, twenty-seven foot sailboat.

(Now I know I should call it a sloop, and use a host of nauticals terms in my tale to aid in verisimilitude, but the truth is, although I've done quite a bit of sailing over the years in total, I still find myself yelling, at times of stress, "Starboard? Whaddya mean starboard? Right or left, dammit! Right or left!" Even when I'm the coxswain on a skiff and the skipper...)

I said, "yes, please."

My British friend, young Paul, was also invited, and he said, "yes, please."

This was all over beers in Occidental, California on a Saturday night.

Bodega Head has a marina and rows and rows of slips. Situated just west and north of the town of Bodega, Bodega Head has an engineered channel for boats to navigate through and out of to open waters. The channel is laborious to sail through, because it is so narrow, so we, like most of the sailboats, opted to motor our way through it, obeying the slow speed limits, chatting and taking in the children poke-poling and crabbing in the artificially placed rock walls, occasionally catching the playful eye of a coastal sea lion out messin' around.

Old Paul started thinking about his wind vane. His old one had broken, and he had bought a new one. He looked at me and then looked at the top of his mast and then looked at me again.

"You're not afraid of heights?" he asked me.

I shook my head no.

"Could you get up that mast?"

"You gotta chair?"



A "chair" was a butt-sling you attached to a rope that ran through a pulley at the top of the mast. You sat in it and pulled yourself up. Your buds could help pull on the rope and make it easier going, but you basically got yourself to the top of the mast (in this case, maybe 36 feet?) by sitting and pulling, taking weight with your feet where you were able, and I did this without much problem. In my teeth, I held the new wind vane and in my pocket a 12mm wrench.

So far, so good. Young Paul held the tiller while Old Paul barked instructions and encouragement up to me while I tied myself off to free both hands and proceeded to struggle in getting the broken base of the old vane unattached. It was giving me fits.

Meanwhile, I'm swaying back and forth up there, six feet to the left, six feet to the right... to the left again, back to the right...

You feel it in your stomach like light butterflies. It tittillates you like a carnival ride. You know you are tied in and safe, so you enjoy the shifts in motion and gravity like a child might. You think-- "weeeeeeee..." You cuss and curse the stripped nuts that are giving you fits.

Old Paul stopped thinking about the channel. He was with me every step of the way, fighting two rounded over nuts, yelling encouragement and making jokes and Young Paul was not aware that entering open water would change the very nature of how I viewed my present perch and he said nothing as we passed the final breakwall and arrived--ready or not-- into open water.

For those who know the Pacific, I'll just say the swells were particularly large, that day. Not huge. Not scary. Just large. Where we enter open water, there are no waves actually breaking. The water is too deep for that. But there are plenty of waves a-swelling. When you get broadsided by swells when you aren't under sail, a sailboat will rock back and forth like a metronome ticking away the time until everyone on board gets ill and loses their kippers.

Back .....

and forth.....


And forth....

And the tip of the mast now traveling twenty feet each way from an apex that wouldn't sit still.

Of course I said "Whooooooaaaaaahhh!"

And then I said "Whoooooooaaaaaahhhhh!"

And then I called out "Whooooooaaaaaaahhhhh!"

I just hadda... I mean, what else is a guy tied to the tip of this inverted pendulum supposed to do? Not say anything?

Old Paul enjooyed watching me fly back and forth across the blue sky above him. Young Paul enjoyed the look on my face as I traveled from cloud to cloud. I actually thought the ride was a thrilling one. I was tied in, I was dipping toward those darks waters... and then those dark waters on the other side...


When we'd all had enough and I had convinced the two Pauls that I was really, really about to get sick and would vomit from above them like a demonic seagull, Old Paul took the tiller and pointed the sloop into the swells. The side to side motion dampened down to a wiggle, but now I was dipping fore and aft, though much less than what I had just gone through.

"Untie yourself and let yourself down," Old Paul yelled.

"Yeah ok, don't ask me again, here I come."

I felt a bit like a can of coke someone had just shaken and dropped, and I wasn't sure what kind of fountain I was going to get if I opened up my mouth too wide.

"There's beer down below." said Old Paul.


We actually got under sail and spent three or four leisurely hours coming about and tacking, and sailing through breaking waves that young male sea lions were playing in like surfers in their own paradise. This was Seal Rock, though technically, it should have been called Sea Lion rock. Young males hung out on the rock and goofed off until they were big enough to go fight for a bit of fornication. The rock was strewn with good looking and unscarred hides and the waters teeming with them.

This seemed like a great place for sharks to hang out, and we talked about this very thing.

No sharks though. Just the sea lions.

A few beers and some lunch and a host of stories later, it was time to head back into the channel and back to the slip. We sailed into the channel, and now, in calmer water, pulled our sails and put them away. I had a hold of the tiller and I noticed a commotion up ahead but couldn't see real well, because the two Pauls had the sail down and were trying to bag it.

"Hey. What's that ahead?"

Paul looked. Paul also looked. The water ahead was boiling like a pot of spaghetti and turning red before our eyes. Children and their parents on the breakwater and the other bank were running and pointing. Something big and unusual was happening, and we were motoring right toward it.

"Uh, hey fellas?"

Old Paul stuffed the sail in its bag in a quick couple of sloppy motions and he ordered me to slow the crap down. We motored up and to the side of an event I'll never forget. An enormous shark was hitting and feeding off of a very large sea lion that was spilling chunks of flesh and blood into the narrow channel. Kids from both banks could watch this as well as we could see it. Two smaller sharks, maybe four or five feet, were also taking pot shots at this carcass. The channel was reddening up quickly. The large shark must have been about twelve feet, though we all called it a fourteen footer at the time. We saw it in fits and starts. It was there, hitting the carcass. It was gone. It was back, lifting the carcass out of the water some, and then it was gone. The two smaller sharks came in and thrashed their smallish heads around violently, as if trying to make up for a lack of size with a show of voracity.

This went on for a good ten minutes. Old Paul (who really is a good sailor), had tossed an anchor and let us watch in peace and awe. Young Paul fetched beers. We gave a play by play to those who couldn't quite see well enough from the banks where they stood on the highest rocks available.

And then it was all over and all gone.

The carcass sank. The blood drifted away. The sharks disappeared.

Bits of dead sea lion-- and I mean bits-- were washing up to "eww"ing children.

And that was all.

We motored our way in and was greeted by a large sea lion at Old Paul's slip. He was OK. He was a friend of ours.


Tai said...

Wow. What an amazing set of stories within a single occasion.

WOW! I wish I had something more profound to say, but alas...WOW! will have to do.

Scott from Oregon said...

Wow is OK.

Kris, Seattle said...

Great shark story.

BTW, its lines ! not ropes.

That's akin to Lynnette saying she might like Guinness if it were cold with a couple of ice cubes in it.

kris, seattle said...

To be a bit more accurate, on the mast, its the main sheet, not a line or a rope.

DaisyJo said...

Scott, I enjoy your style of writing very much. You are a great story-teller.

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