Adventurous nuggets that we are, we thought it would be a grand idea to sail to Fire Island. A loooooong wormy wiggle of sand that separates the Atlantic Ocean from a fatty bay that butts up against Long Island. This is not a prodigious endeavor: A simple two-day sail. A bite-sized trip to tuck some more experience into our rope belts. So we snagged friends Ben and Sadie into the plight, and set off early one morning just as dawn began to watercolor the sky.
The day was hot-cha-cha, with whispery winds that hinted we would not reach the inlet by our intended hour. This is muy importante because tides matter enormously with a sailboat! Channels are narrow, and below the surface sandbars shift platforms faster than politicians. Drakka has a 4'8" bottom fin. Anything shallower than that and we're locked in a very unsexy mud wrestling session with the underworld.
Shortly after noon the winds changed their minds and began to push so passionately we had to put a reef in the sail, then two! The ocean swelled up and began to catapult us along at a ripping pace. I turned my characteristic shade of avocado and nodded off into a dramamine stupor. My three comrades graciously took responsibility while I sprawled over half the cockpit (but note - no vomit!!). I came to early evening as we approached the Fire Island Inlet. The inlet is a narrow throat that allows access to the protective waters of the bay, where we planned to anchor. On the chart there is a large expanse labeled "Unsurveyed Territory" which basically means "That Shit Moves Around So Fast We Have No Idea". Bewildered and unable to spot the channel markers, we found ourselves in this very territory, anxiously gripping the tiller and binoculars. We'd taken Drakka's wings down, for safety, and were using Little Penny to maneuver through rolling breakers and pale patches of water - both sure signs of sand traps. Eeeps!
We made it through unscathed, and chose a lovely little curve of shoreline for our anchorage. To my mind, anchoring means you toss a hunk of pointed metal overboard and it locks onto the ocean floor with a rigor mortis death grip. Not so. Anchoring means you gently lower a complex hunk of metal overboard until it settles into the ocean floor, then let out a ratio of chain + line for the advisable circumference of swing, and then watch the shore with a suspicious eye for the rest of the night trying to discern if you have moved. We had accounted for the winds and depth, and, thinking we had it in the bag, proceeded to dive in.
We'd barely wetted our toes before the current whisked our bodies back. It didn't look that strong. Holding a line from the deck C went along Drakka's bod with goggles and a rag cleaning the accumulated scum off her fancy pants. By the time he finished, the scent of Sadie's gumbo was making our tummies randy, and as she ladled it into bowls we glanced at the shore. And then at each other. Hmmm... The discernible detail of that seagull at the waterline was way to crisp. Bitches in a barnacle! The anchor really needed to be pulled up and reset. We barely knew this anchor, had scarcely introduced ourselves. Al was his name, kind of an innocuous fellow, and we were technically on our second date with him. No sooner had we turned on Little Penny and turned into the wind when the current whipped Drakka around, and faster than you can say your favorite expletive, the line caught in the propeller and our engine died.
Expelling a current of curses, C grabbed the goggles and plunged overboard again, this time into chilly dark waters. From above and below we tugged with our collective mights until there was enough slack in the line for him to unwrench the looped prop (both terrifying and dangerous). As soon as he did the current twisted Drakka round again, putting her not only on top of the anchor line, but also into the sand.
Bash me a blowhole!
We were aground, as they say.
After a brief powwow it was pretty clear we had to call for a tow.
An hour later a spotlight cut through the night, and Nick appeared. Retired, lean as a steak and tan as a saddle, wearing naught but swim trunks and a Long Island accent. I mean, Tony Danza may as well have come to our rescue. The current was audibly ripping around us, choppy and black. Everything was radio static communication and blinding spotlights. He handed C heavy lines to loop over the cleats on our bow and pulled us back and forth with his sturdy little tugboat.
Al's line had us pinned in a headlock with the current. We tied an empty jug to the end to float and find after, and let him loose. Zing! We floated free, and Nick let us off in deeper waters while he went off to look for Al. Despite the chug of our engine the current was so doggone relentless it began to drag us off towards a looming bridge.
He returned from out of the blackness, shaking his head. Al was gone, poor fellow. RIP.
Nick looped us up once more and towed us through the churning current to a magical, placid place called a Boat Basin. A horseshoe of protected waters (had we only known!) where we tied up to pilings while he advised us on the treacheries of this particular inlet (bad).
The following morning we checked Drakka for signs of damage (so far so good), and dug out our backup anchor, Hank. Hank is like a rusty alcoholic that you don't trust but sometimes comes through for you when you really need him. He'll have to do for the time being.
Once we'd successfully navigated the vagaries of the channel, the Atlantic Ocean welcomed us with a polite swell and decent winds all the way home. Two final things of note culminated our day-into-night sail:
1. I didn't get sick! 9 hours on the water and I didn't so much as burp green!
2. As we sailed in mellow midnight reverie looking up at the stars, the most astonishing shooting star I've ever seen sliced the indigo canopy from end to end. All four of us were awe putty. Truly a fire scythe welding the dome of outer space.
Nice touch, universe, nice touch.