Jose fails to do in Good News
The nightmare started just as I was about to leave the house for the office. I just wish I had been dreaming.
It was blowing. Whitecaps were cresting and foam was being thrown over the seawall. This was Jose’s doing, and he was extending his visit far longer than most nor’easters. The last time I remember a storm of this duration was 1991 that came on the heels of Hurricane Bob. Now Jose was doing it again and with the same outcome.
Three times Thursday night and into the early morning hours, I checked on the two boats moored well offshore in front of the house. One is a powerboat belonging to my neighbor, Lenny Belisle. It’s white and even in the dark of night it was easy to spot with the binoculars. The second is my dark blue sailboat, “Good News.” It’s not so easily seen at night, and as I scanned the cresting waves I got that queasy feeling it had broken free. What could I do at three in the morning? Where might it end up? Then I’d see the white water over the bow and know she was alright. I could go back to sleep.
The positive sighting was confirmed by the day’s first light. She was going to ride out Jose. That was until I was about to walk out the door.
There was no mistaking what I was seeing from between the downed limb spread across the yard. Good News had broken free, the lines holding her having chaffed through by the seesawing of the surf. She was headed for my neighbor’s rocky seawall hardly 200 feet from where her predecessor was smashed in by the Perfect Storm in 1991.
The nightmare was replaying after all these years with a sister ship…or was it?
The tide was coming in; time could not be wasted. I stripped down and put on the shorty wetsuit I had found at Job Lob as well as water shoes.
If only I could get to the boat before it was swept any further in. Then there was a chance I could set an anchor, holding it off the rocks. But how? There was no way I could launch the dinghy. If I walked as far out as I could and then swam, there was no way I could climb aboard.
I needed help, and the help came. Lonnie Barham was on his way over even before I put in calls to Jody King and my son, Ted. Ed Ladouceur, who I had planned to meet at 7:30, showed up in his business attire. He was soaked in the first five minutes.
My first thought was that Lenny could motor me out in his skiff and then set the anchor enough to stop the boat before it reached the seawall. The strategy was to let the tide lift the boat to the point where I could motor it out to another mooring.
The skiff plan was abandoned after a wave slammed the aluminum craft, nearly knocking the engine into the rocks. We weren’t going to get to the boat by boat.
By the time I got back to my house, the gap between the boat and the wall had closed. I decided it was the time to make a go for it. Lonnie went with me into the waves, giving me a boost so I could slither aboard. I threw the anchor over; Lonnie walked it out as far as he dared, but it didn’t stop our progress to the rocks. Lenny was in the water, too. I threw him a line that he passed to Ed on the seawall. They tied the line to a tree and began tugging.
With each wave they moved the boat another six inches from the rocks. In a valiant effort that I feared could be disastrous had he been caught between the rocks and the thrashing boat – 7,000 pounds of fiberglass and steel. Lonnie held off the bow until free of the rocks and at my seawall, which is free of rocks. Then it was a matter of protecting the boat as best we could from being crushed on the seawall. Fenders appeared. Lonnie had some. Lenny had more. Tom Flanders appeared with even more. Ed got some from Harborlight Marina. Jody hit the mother lode when he appeared with giant truck tires that we hung off the lifelines. John Cavanaugh drove over from East Bay, lending yet another hand to the effort. There wasn’t much more we could do but wait out the tide.
We reassembled at low tide, stripping the boat of sails and removing the rudder. Merrick Leach showed up with additional line. Neighbor Roger O’Keefe was there to help remove gear. Jody arrived in his dive suit, walking anchors from the bow and stern more than 300 feet. That was at 5 p.m. The next high tide was at 10:50 p.m.
Wisely, we called it a night, deciding to wait to the Saturday morning tide to try freeing her from the wall.
The wind subsided Saturday to a manageable 20 mph, yet the waves still pounded the boat toward the seawall. The tires were doing their job, keeping the boat from being crushed. With so much rocking, the keel dug into the bottom, water was seeping into the bilge. With each lifting wave, Lenny took a few turns on the winch, inching the bow forward and out into the bay on the anchor Jody had set at low tide. With every minute of the rising tide, we took a few more cranks on the winch. We did the same using the anchor from the stern. If the bowline snapped all would be lost.
The plan was to break the suction holding the keel and let the sand and mud fill the void. Slowly, the boat came off the wall. She was standing straight. More pressure was applied to the anchor line and then the boats started banging on the bottom. We knew the keel was free. It was time to see if we could kedge her off.
John and I reinstalled the rudder. Between pumping the bilge, we got the engine going. Another regular member of the Good News crew, Richard Jaffe, joined us. John and Richard worked the winches. I powered up. With each wave we gained another foot. Then three feet and, suddenly, we were free.
A cheer went up from those assembled on the seawall. At the bow, John hauled frantically to bring in the anchor line. We powered up, heading for Warwick Cove and Pleasure Marina, where Joe DeCenzo was ready to haul her out. Jody came out in his quahogging boat, Black Gold, to escort us. Had the engine failed or we couldn’t keep up with pumping, he was there.
It had turned into a beautiful day – a perfect sailing day. In another hour Good News was in the sling of the traveling lift, her scarred and de-laminated heel revealing the effects of Jose’s hammering. It could have been so much worse.
As John said, it was an “epic rescue.” Indeed, it was thanks to the efforts of so many.