Plan B!

When you see a beautiful, shiny sailboat peacefully bobbing on its mooring, maybe you appreciate the visual composition of the scene.



What I see, in addition to the beauty, is the stuff that’s underwater and behind the scenes. I see the strong, trustworthy ropes attached to the mooring ball, which is holding up the chain and hardware, which are attached to an immense (1000-lb) block of concrete on the bottom of the lake. I see each and every connection point for each of those components. If it is my boat that we’re talking about, I see in my mind the exact condition each of these attachments is in, because I actually know the condition they are in. When any part starts to show some serious wear or deterioration, I replace it.


At the end of each season, when I put my boat on land for the winter, I also remove my mooring ball and put it into storage. It is made of plastic, and I don’t want it sitting out in 8 months of sunlight doing nothing. In order to mark the place of my concrete mooring block, I tie a float to the chain that is attached to it. Then, in the spring, I paddle out to the float and swap it out for my mooring ball. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Sometimes, however, when I arrive in the spring, there is no float. Sometimes the ice breaks its attachment and takes it away. Then I have to figure out how to (1) find where my mooring block is and (2) retrieve the chain before I can attach the mooring ball.

That’s what I found this spring when I first got to the lake. No float; no evidence of where my mooring block was. I paddled my canoe out to the general location, and there was absolutely no hope of finding it. Due to very heavy spring thunderstorms in May, the water was a murky brown color that prevented me from seeing anything below about 10” of water. That was three weeks ago. Two weeks ago I tried again. Still too murky. This weekend as I was driving in I was admiring the other boats on their moorings and hoping that I could add my boat to the fleet.

Friday evening I took a look. The water had cleared up, and, after a bit of paddling around, I was able to locate my mooring block. I saw that my float (a one-gallon plastic bottle) had just sunk and was still down there, attached by its rope to the mooring chain. The next thing was to come up with a plan for how to retrieve the jug and eventually the chain.

In my sailboat I have a 6’ long telescoping pole with a pincher-like hook on the end. I decided to use that to retrieve my chain. It took me five or ten minutes to gather up all the things I would need, and then I was heading for the canoe to go out and get the job done. Then I looked up and saw that in the past 10 minutes the sky had turned the color of charcoal, and we were about to hit by a huge rainstorm. ARGH! The rain lasted until well after dark, making it impossible for me to proceed with my chain-retrieval project.

Saturday morning the conditions were “pretty good” for renewing the project (you need calm waters, some sun), so I got back at it. I was able to find the mooring block (again), even though the light wasn’t really very good. I tried to telescope the pole to make it long enough to reach the bottom, but it wouldn’t open. It was stuck together beyond my ability to twist it open. ARGH! Back to shore for some tools to un-stick the pole. Now a bit of a wind was coming up. With wind the task is impossible, because you can’t keep the canoe in one spot while you mess around with the retrieval.

I was able to un-stick the pole and get it to extend, and then I headed back out to the water. By now it was even cloudier, and the light was getting really poor for seeing things under water. I did manage to find the mooring block again (third time!), and I reached down into the water with my pole.

The pole wanted to float! Because it is a hollow, aluminum pole, it was full of air. Fortunately, once it filled with water I was able to use it to reach the sunken float. But the visibility under the water was so bad that I couldn’t even see the rope and chain to try to hook onto them. The best I could hope for was to get the pole under the rope (by chance) and scoop it up to bring the jug up to the surface. I managed to scoop it and move the jug, but as it came closer to the surface, it slipped loose and sank again.

While I was doing this, I realized that the canoe was moving away from the target. By pushing down on the lake bottom in order to scoop up the float, I was actually pushing my canoe away from where I needed to be. I hadn’t figured that part of the physics into my plan. Every time I tried to scoop up the jug, I pushed myself away. Then I had to paddle myself back into position for another try. I kept encouraging myself by telling myself how close I was to success. All I had to do was to get my hands on that jug, and then I could pull the rope up, get the chain, and attach my mooring ball. Then I would be ready for sailing! Yay! Almost there!

After about 8 or 9 attempts, I finally got my hands on the jug. I was elated! I pulled the rope up, ready to grab the chain and complete the job. The rope held fast. It was stuck to something. As I pulled harder, the canoe began to lean over. The harder I pulled, the more the canoe threatened to overturn. There was nothing I could do. I could not get the chain, which meant that I could not complete the task. I had to give it up, tie the mooring ball to the rope (to keep from having to find the mooring block again), and go back to shore. I realized that I would have to go snorkeling to find out why the rope was stuck and to try to free it up. Today was not a day for snorkeling. (Plus – I really dislike having to go diving to solve a problem like this. My wife hates it even more than I do, because she’s sure that one of these times I won’t come back up when I go down.)

So – is it even possible to express how frustrated I was at this point? All I wanted was to get my sailing season started, and I was flat out stuck.


What do you do when you’re deeply frustrated? I, of course, ask, “Why?” And, since there really isn’t any good answer to such a dumb question, I get busy doing something else. One of the tasks I really dislike doing is cleaning and waxing my boat. So I took advantage of the cool, cloudy day and my inability to go sailing, and I spent the rest of the day doing that.

At the end of the day, I have a nicely-polished boat, and I feel great about what I was able to accomplish. Tomorrow I’ll go diving and get my mooring straightened out. I’m pretty sure I was “supposed to” clean and wax my boat today.

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