The Potomac Opens Its Mouth

We have this bell on the starboard (right) side in the lower helm station that came with the boat. It looks nice and all, but it seems not to serve a real purpose. It’s nowhere near the galley so can’t be a legitimate dinner bell. (As a side note, in my childhood I always thought I’d have a bell to call my family to dinner. It never happened and I’m kinda bummed about it.) This boat bell would be worthless to warn other boats we’re in the area as it’s on the inside. Besides, I always doubted it made any noise. Through thousands of miles, evasive action towards sport fisher boats, and running aground, it has never made a sound.

I learned its use on Monday when I heard it ring for the very first time. It’s a wave warner. As in “CLANG! Holy moly these waves are close together! CLANG!! Yeah, that’s gonna hurt!” In fact, for what seemed like a lifetime, but was actually slightly shorter, we had a whole symphony of warnings. The banging of the medicine cabinet, like the constant tap of a snare drum, as the clasped door flew open and smacked against the head door. It in turn, would have slammed closed if the edge of the cabinet hadn’t gotten in the way. The thump of the books, one by one falling onto the breakfast bar. (Okay, I exaggerate here. There was one. One book fell. But it SEEMED like many more and mane toppled on their sides creating their own thump.) And all the other sounds as things tumbled around the various parts of the boat. I heard tinkling as glasses fell in cabinets designed to make sure they don’t fall. Vitamin bottles flipping from one shelf to another, their contents making a rattling noise like that wooden fish in grade school music class I always got stuck playing when I really just wanted the tambourine. Most nerve-wracking was the free-standing air conditioner that kept sliding between the wall and the couch. Each time it smack the wall with a loud BAM, the dog would squat lower on the floor.

I stood to get to him, but was knocked back off my feet. Rick’s captain chair rocked forward forcing him to his feet, then flipped backwards hitting the floor with a loud SMACK. He grabbed his travel bottle just before it went flying.

I slid to the floor then crawled to the pup. He climbed into my lap. We sat that way, listening to the cacophony, wishing we were somewhere else.

After hours, okay maybe ten minutes, I realized I needed to stop the noise in order to calm the pup. Using the ladder up to the fly bridge to steady myself, I made my way to the air conditioner. I grabbed virtually everything we were hiding behind the couch to lodge against it. (I just realized I told our dirty little secret—we stash a lot behind and under everything. Dang it!)

I lurched my way to the aft head, slammed the cabinet doors shut then did the same to the head doors. I secured a few things that were rolling around and double checked the things we usually secure.

Once I was back on the couch, Banjo refused to leave my lap. That is until he suddenly jumped down and literally crawled away from me. Once he was removed from both of us, he tossed his cookies. Twice. That lurch lurch puke that pets seem to all do when they get sick. I crawled over to comfort him while grabbing for Kleenex to clean up. I thought he had already lost his entire breakfast, but we repeated this three more times. My poor sweetie. We sat on the floor FOREVER, waiting for it to stop. Being down low actually made things worse. Seeing the horizon helps with sea sickness, so Rick scooped up the mutt and held him to give him a view. It seemed he was doing better. I, on the other hand, was sick to my stomach, not out of sea sickness, but from nerves. I stayed where I was on the floor, breathing deeply, since looking out at the water heightened my worry.

Getting closer to land, things calmed down. The balance was a fairly pleasant trip with sunshine leading the way. As we passed marker 24, Rick called the marina for instructions. Just as we got our dock in site, the marina called to say we were on our own with docking. They were floating docks and I saw pilings. That meant I could snag a piling from the dock and we could adjust once we landed. Then we got closer and I realized the pilings were on the opposite side. There was no way to cleat the boat without jumping off. Rick said he’d get close, then jump to tie. He’d done this a few times before and I always envisioned him missing the line and me floating away. But every time I do the jumping I injure myself. (I’m truly a liability in this life we’ve chosen.)

I looked stern where he would need to jump, to give him an indication of the point where he could safely do it. I glanced forward and realized the bow was headed straight for the electrical box. We were at an angle to the dock. The box was too low for Rick to see.

“You’re gonna hit in front!”

“That’s why I asked you how far away I was,” he replied.

Almost at the dock, I looked up to see two boaters heading to us to help. If they got there fast enough, they could stop the forward motion to keep us from the electrical box. Rick adjusted to try to miss it. I handed the forward line to the first guy to arrive and we simultaneously clip the top of the box.

At this point, multiple things happened. Rick was out the door but the stern was too far for him to jump off. The second guy arrived and Rick grabbed a line to hand him. The midship fender got wedged between the side of the boat and the electrical box. As the boat continued its forward motion, the fender had nowhere to go but into the box. As if in slow motion, I watched the fender slowly push the box further and further to its side until it was completely on the ground exposing its innerds, a large jumble of wire, nuts, and bolts.

The beast finally came to a halt and was easily tied off. The fenders should have been pulled in when we headed out. Dangling over the rail to untie them with the rough ride would have been a disaster waiting to happen, however. So we left them and had to pay the price. (Actually, when we checked in and fessed up, they didn’t charge us anything.)

One of the guys that grabbed our lines was a native Chesapeake Bay cruiser. We told our tale and were wondering about those waves we encountered. We check multiple marine forecasts prior to setting out each day, so it was a bit perplexing. It happened at the mouth of the Potomac. He explained that the receding waters coming down the Potomac meet the rising tide in the Bay, causing those violent waves. We’d heard nothing of this phenomenon. Add to it higher water levels due to rain. He said it’s the worst area on the Bay and it was exceptionally bad this year. I believe that was for my benefit since I was none too happy about our day.

We were invited for “dock-tails,” as boaters call them, to smooth over our day. Rick went, but I slept.  I’m not a napper, but I napped until it was time for bed. I needed my rest. This lifestyle was supposed to keep us young, but my gray hair has something to say about that.

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