Terms explained for those who might not know them:
Dagger board: A vertical foil protruding from the bottom of our sailboat in order to maintain directional stability when sailing against the wind. Without the dagger board instead of the boat moving forward in the direction we are going, it would move sideways. The dagger board is removable and we only have it in when we are sailing into the wind.
Dagger board trunk: A structural box that allows the hole in the bottom of boat, where the dagger board protrudes, to not let in water and supports the dagger board when in use. The trunk has a sealed cap that is water tight.
Wing Dam: A specifically located and manicured pile of rocks protruding into the river in order to direct the flow of current and water as to keep the main channel deep. Usually these are easily seen on the charts and with the naked eye, but in some cases they are under the surface of the water.
I always knew that at some point on this expedition we would be faced with a situation more challenging than anything we had dealt with thus far. But I never knew what it would be or when it would strike. I had no way to know that it would happen in an instant on a sunny beautiful day, so quick, so dramatic. And I never expected it to be so loud, wet, and frightening.
We had been sailing along trouble free as usual all morning, into the wind but enjoying ourselves and the sunshine on our faces. At some points the water was a bit choppy and we got splashed every once in a while, but having fun regardless. Kyle was on the tiller and I was on break, writing and helping to navigate from time to time. “Do you see that tug and barge?” I asked Kyle, observing the smudge in the far distance which due to experience I now know is a push coming up river. “Yep I see it. I’ll tack over once and then we’ll hug the inside of the channel to stay out of his way,” he responded while studying the charts. Because, you see, the U.S. Army Corps has created chart books for the entire river for the tug captains. We bought these charts and after reading the “Rules of the Road” section learned that recreational boats are to stay on the inside of the channel during a bend in the river, and the tugs on the outside because the tugs need the deeper water found there. As usual, we hugged the inside of the channel as the massive tug and barge began to pass us. But then something strange happened, he began to get really close to the inside of the channel, causing Kyle to have to leave the channel completely. At that moment we looked forward to the large wing dam that was getting closer and closer. “Maybe I should lift the dagger board so we don’t run aground,” I said hesitantly. “Yeah, get ready to do that just in case.” So I removed my seat, pulled back the bungees holding down the sealed cap, removed the lid, and grabbed the orange handle of the dagger board prepared to remove it from the trunk at a moments notice.
“Shit..I am losing steerage,” Kyle said with the slightest bit of panic in his voice.
“Kyle! That…” And then it happened. The most awful, grinding, raw sound- wood splintering, fiberglass tearing, and water suddenly rushing- it was the most shocking noise I have ever heard. The wing dam was still 50 feet in front of us, what was happening?! I yanked and tugged on the dagger board trying to pull it up, but the rubble on the river’s floor had taken it, held on to it. But while it held the board still in its harsh grip, Solvi kept moving and that’s when the water really started. “Kyle! I can’t get it up! Where is the water coming…” I trailed off because it became clear that the entire trunk had began to separate from the bottom of the boat creating a gaping hole, angry spitting gallons of water into the boat. Suddenly the entire boat was filling with brown river water. Everything was floating in the murky cool water and I still couldn’t remove the damn dagger board. Kyle had always told me that even if Solvi was full of water she would never sink, but it was truly nothing I ever wished to test. “Come to this side! Get on this side!” Kyle shouted as Solvi began to heel almost all the way over. Kyle had stepped out of the boat, his food finding one of the jagged rocks that had grabbed the dagger board moments before trying to fight against the current.
“Kyle..the whole boat broke! Open!..the whole thing..there’s a big hole..the water.. It’s .. Water filling… Sinking!” I sputtered incomplete sentences, frantic in my words but completely calm in my actions as I tugged in vain at the board.
Kyle grabbed the orange handle to help and I still can’t remember who eventually removed the dagger board, but once it was out of its trunk Solvi began to right herself and sat up right. The current was still pushing us downstream and the water poured into the boat from around the trunk, almost reaching the tops of benches before I found the bailing bucket floating amidst the GPS, radio, charts, journals, and water bottles. The sail was still up and the oars tied off. Kyle got the sail down while untying the oars; I swear he did both things at the same time (I later found out it was I who untied the oars which gives a perspective on how intense the situation was that I forgot my own actions completely). I kept bailing the endless pool of water, each bucketful being dumped overboard and by the time I got the bucket empty, another gallon of water pushed its way through the angry hole in the bottom of our boat. Once Kyle started rowing we looked around, hoping to find a nearby sandbar. Fortunately, there was a perfect, sandy, flat island 200 yards away. Kyle rowed each stroke heavy and difficult due to the water that was up to our knees. I kept bailing, not making progress exactly, but countering the water that was flowing in from the hole. Eventually we made it to shore and were able to get out of the boat and stand in the sand, water up to our ankles. We both sighed, looked up river to the tug boat that did not seem to have any idea what had happened, or didn’t care. We went over what the next steps would be: Step 1. Remove everything from inside the boat, except what is in the sealed tank lockers. Step 2. Pull Solvi up on both rollers and bail water. Step 3. Assess damage and figure out necessary repairs. Step 4. Laugh really hard, then cry really hard (okay maybe that was only me), then hug and laugh again before starting the repair and dry out process.
Within 30 minutes of arriving at what will be our home for a few days, one section of the beach was awash in a variety of colors. Clothes, our sleeping bag, the sail, our chairs, water jugs, tent, rainfly, and other various objects were strewn about drying, once again, in the sunshine filled breeze. Kyle was rigging some stakes deep in the sand in order to use lines from Solvi’s mast to tilt her on the side, giving him access to the bottom of the boat. I was running all about organizing and fiddling to make this island a comfortable home for a few days. For a moment I noticed that Kyle and I both had stopped what we were doing to just breathe and observe our surroundings. I noticed the iPod and speaker next to me and smiled deep from within as I excitedly browsed the iPod for the song I had in mind. Moments later the opening lines to a sea shanty came blaring from the speaker, they sang… “Shipwrecked on a stormy island! Shipwrecked on a stormy island!” And that was it, the tip of the ice burg came crumbling down as we roared with laughter, hollered, and fully let go of any tension that was being held about the entire situation.
Part of the reason Kyle and I feel capable of taking on excursions such as the journey we are on, is because together we are incredibly prepared. What is required to fix damage as intense as the one we have suffered? Well, fiberglass, epoxy, resin, wood glue, sand paper, screws, a screw driver, spare cedar, a hatchet, fumed silica, hack saw blades, and one patient and experienced boat-repair man. And lucky for us, we carry all the above in our small little boat. Therefore, we will spend the next few days on this island, preparing Solvi to what will hopefully be stronger and even better than before.
What a beautiful night we had last night! After we had Solvi pulled up and safe, Kyle began assessing the damage further and started in on the sanding, sawing, and prepping that would need to take place before the major repairs could happen. While he did this I collected firewood, got stuff ready for dinner, and made sure our camp was safe and comfortable from the relentless wind. Usually we choose our camping spots based on the wind direction when the wind is as high as its been, but considering our circumstances yesterday, we didn’t have time to be picky. Therefore we are on a wonderful sandy island, but it is completely exposed to the 15mph southerly breeze that has been blowing consistently since yesterday afternoon. To deal with this we have various barriers around our tent and cooking area to prevent the sand that the wind blows everywhere… And I mean everywhere! Anyway, once Kyle was done fiddling and the sun started setting, we decided it was time to celebrate. I know it might sound odd to celebrate an occasion such as the one we were in, but come on, how many times in your life do you find yourself shipwrecked on a deserted island?! We are 30 miles from any town in both directions and our boat has a big hole in it; but we have two weeks worth of food and water and all the supplies necessary to fix the boat so neither of us were feeling any sort of worry or stress, in fact we were feeling exhilarated! Alive! Free! We drank boxed wine while cooking veggie brats, baked potatoes, and green beans over the fire. Hours passed and we found ourselves giggling, reflecting, and re-living the event while also discussing what we will do from now on to avoid such situations. Our reflection of the event brought us all the way back to the build of the boat; how arduous, ridiculous, and actually how miraculous the entire build and journey process has been. Our hands met in a high-five over the fire about how we had everything we need to fix the boat and how thankful we are to be prepared. While we were engrossed in conversation the trees across the river came to life, they were on fire with an orange glow. After staring for a few moments in confusion, the reason for the trees seeming to be on fire became evident. The moon, monstrous, orange, glowing, and completely full came rising from the behind the now dark trees. Suddenly our dark beach became aglow in moonlight. Kyle jumped out of his seat and grabbed the frisbee. We spent an hour running around the beach in the moonlight, throwing the frisbee, laughing, and taking breaks to chat and sip on our wine, sharing with each other that there is no one else in the world we would rather be shipwrecked on an island with.
This morning I awoke to sunshine and strong winds. My head ached a bit from lingering red wine. Knowing that we had a lot of work to do, we took our time to enjoy our morning before delving into the gritty work of repairing the boat. I made delicious omelettes with cheese, basil, onion and garlic, which we put in a tortilla with hummus and cabbage. Sipping on hot coffee my head quickly found relief and I was ready for the day. The majority of the day was spent sanding (so fun!) and prepping the boat for epoxy and fiberglass. It was time consuming, exhausting, and dusty, but we were both just feeling so grateful we could even make the repairs in the first place that it didn’t really matter. I took breaks to do laundry, make lunch, and re-arrange camp based on the wind changing directions. It is now 5:30pm and we are proud to say that we have a working boat, without a gaping hole, and are no longer shipwrecked. The repair went extremely well and tomorrow will only make it better. Tomorrow we will add fiberglass tabs, finish the bulkhead repair, and add a cedar board which didn’t exist before and will make the boat stronger (I should mention that we found the extra cedar in a pile of driftwood..thanks River!) Last we will varnish in order to make her look pretty again and by the following day we will be ready to continue on with our journey as planned!
Whew. What a crazy experience this has all been. Now that I have really had some time to reflect on the situation, I must say it was scary, exciting, and quite the learning experience. There is something about it that I can’t seem to shake. I will do my best to articulate what I mean, but words escape me as I attempt to explain. When it all happened, Solvi running aground and her dagger board braking the bottom of the boat open, when the water began flowing in and I realized we were very quickly filling with water from the bottom up, I was more alive than I have ever been in my life. My senses were so incredibly heightened and my mind more present than I even knew was possible. Everything was happening so quickly and if Kyle and I didn’t work together and approach the situation correctly, things could have gone much worse. And somehow, without even conversing, we both knew exactly what to do. It was as though the rest of the world ceased to exist. For a couple minutes, there was nothing else in the universe but Solvi filling with water and Kyle and I working to save her from any further damage. Each splintering noise as the fiberglass cracked was sharp, loud, and it was as though I could hear each individual strand of fiberglass splitting. The grinding noise the rocks created on her dagger board was crisp, clear, and raw. River water that I have become so accustomed to was now much more intimate as its cool, brown consistency began flowing over my legs. Kyle’s voice, his words and actions, more important than ever before. My conscious mind didn’t have time to process all of the chaos so instead my subconscious worked on its own- untying the oars and getting them ready for Kyle to row was an action I completed without having any idea I did it. Each movement, sound, and splash of water became so vivid and real that I was completely mindful of the present moment. My past and future self ceased to exist while my present self lived fully in the moment. And that right there, the mindfulness I experienced during the situation, is why we adventure! It’s why we do things and go on journeys that may seem odd to others. The reason why we push ourselves to our very limits and put ourselves in vulnerable situations. We choose to live in a way that induces suffering, challenge, difficulty, and discomfort. We do this because it causes us to feel more alive than we do when living in a secure routine. My limits were tested, my ability to deal with what could have been a crisis was challenged- and I succeeded! We took an uncomfortable and frightening event and celebrated! We pushed through and are now stronger, braver, and a better team because of it. That is why we take these adventures, these journeys- to live fully in the present moment.
P.R. (Post Repair)
We spent 3 days on our exposed beautiful sandbar doing repairs and getting Solvi back to her non-holed self. The repairs required a lot of sanding and because we were using fast epoxy we had to move very quickly when applying the fiberglass tabs. Due to being on a sandbar, in the sun, with wind blowing 15mph it proved to be an interesting repair. We set up a wind blocker and sun shade using Solvi’s sail; this is where I set up my epoxy mixing and fiberglass wetting area. Using a milk crate that we found buried in the sand and some random plastic I was able to create a nice little mixing station protected from the sun and wind. The hour that we spent using wet epoxy and applying fiberglass to the boat was intense and entertaining. Kyle would take a wetted piece of fiberglass from me and then run, full speed, over to the boat. He would then quickly apply the fiberglass before the epoxy started kicking while I was yelling at him to hurry back over before the batch of epoxy I was using kicked. Sand was blowing everywhere and I giggled about how different a field repair is to using a calm, dry, controlled environment like a garage. It was actually fun and similar to the original incident during the entire repair process nothing else was going through my mind. Focused. Anyway, we added an extra cedar board which should, in theory, make it so that if we ever find ourselves in a similar situation the dagger board itself, not the trunk and bottom of the boat, will break (which is what was supposed to happen before but the dagger board was too strong). Overall the repair went incredibly well. Kyle was giddy about how well it went considering our circumstances; I loved seeing him so proud and excited. I was also quite impressed and just feeling so thankful we were able to do such a good job while being on an island far from any development. Besides it not looking quite as cosmetically appealing, Solvi is stronger than before and ready to go!
After applying a coat of varnish for epoxy protection and to bring the whole repair together, we left yesterday afternoon around 2pm. Once Solvi was back in the water Kyle and I stood together in the shallow water of the beach, looking toward where our elaborate camp was set up just hours before. We smiled and felt proud that the only thing we left behind were footprints and designs in the sand that would soon be washed away with wind and rain, leaving no trace of us. Due to the conditions and wind direction we rowed about 17 miles before the sun started to set. Knowing that there was a thunderstorm or two scheduled for last night and today, we planned our camping spot accordingly. It felt really good to be back out on the river, especially since no water came pouring in through the bottom of the boat. “Success!” we yelled while high-fiving after traveling all afternoon in Solvi for the first time since the incident. Feeling confidant and ready to continue on, we are looking forward to what adventures and challenges we have in our future.