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On the beach

Nov 8, 2010
11,385
Beneteau First 36.7 & 260 Minneapolis MN & Bayfield WI
A report from a Dutch friend of mine. A fine read of race report, with an unexpected ending

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In still temperate climes the sailing season has its own rhythm and rituals. In early spring the daffodils and crocuses emerge first, a welcome sign that it is warm enough to thanklessly scrape, patch, sand and antifoul our fine ladies, warmed by thoughts of lazy summer sails, or hoisting silver race trophies. Corona has dismissed and mocked our routines and traditions, and after we finally emerged from lock-down into this brave new world, our traditional season-closing race became our new micro-season opener. Once the event was approved and scheduled we vied for boat cranes and stands, and as the boats emerged from the water they revealed beards of mussels and green algae hair - sympathetically reflecting their owners unkempt lockdown appearances.
A few weeks ago Jeroen, who heads our marina services, deftly hoisted Double Edge up from the water. Old ships were once sheeted in copper plate, smooth for speed but toxic for marine beasties, but today we paint our hulls with complexly formulated, EU approved, semi-toxic and alarmingly expensive anti-fouling paint. I still enjoy the now charmingly antiquated, glossy paper sailing magazines, with their sometimes sensational accounts of disasters and recoveries - and thankfully our significant others do not peruse our sailing rags lest they worry even more about our exploits. These magazines also offer up regular accounts on the efficacy of various antifoulings in different conditions, a somewhat dry subject to compliment the glowing boat reviews and sensational calamity accounts. The good stuff normally works for a season or two, at which point it is no longer lethal and the beasties then congregate to get high and wildy fornicate, and to replicate in situ in their respective mullosk and plant fashions.

As the lovely Corby lifted clear, I was shocked by the variety and extent of the growth. Jeroen noted this was not a particularly bad case of Corona hull, and most boats were similarly plagued. While the humans hunkered in lockdown, much of nature enjoyed a deserved break from man’s dirty and disrupting influence. The harbor stilled, life adapted and thrived. Seagulls, long accustomed to raiding overflowing harbor and beach trashcans, when not swooping to steal a hotdog in a flurry of wings, or snatch an icecream cone from a soon red-faced and screeching child, initially bickered among themselves and fought for scraps, but eventually reverted to instinctive ways. The harbor walls were once again picked clean of mussels at low tide, the gangways littered with the remnants of drawn and quartered crabs.

After the boat was securely ashore and in her stand, Raymond and I went about our erstwhile springtime chores -- over several days sanding off the more pernicious shellfish, and when nearly satisfied with the smoothness of the hull, engaging in the age-old rite of self-poisoning as we applied a layer of the mysterious antifouling chemical potion. Once again sporting a gleaming white bottom, Jeroen gently returned her to the water, where we continued our preparations for our race season opener and ender.

The Bruine Bank Race is one of the oldest and storied Dutch offshore races, dating back 70 years and once the qualification race for longer offshores and for coveted membership in the then more staid North Sea Club. Over a decade ago the course took the fleet around two buoys marking either end of the Brown Bank, a previously rich fishing area half way between England and Holland, but like the Vuurschip Race that usually opens our season, which used lightships as course marks, the historic courses are altered and now use other navigational buoys, and electronic ‘virtual marks’ to avoid wind turbine parks and busy shipping lanes.

In Corona time, the dockside and race procedures have also radically changed. No more jostling pre-race ‘Palaver’ meeting, a chance to catch up, tease and wish the best to the other skippers, but instead e-mails and a WhatsApp group for our mobile phones.
As the Bruine Bank represented the first and only long offshore race this season, the early evening start for the 26-strong doublehanded class reflected both race rustiness and the unchanging characters of some skippers. As most boats converged on the start ship end of the line, one joker came up and traversed the line, with a chain reaction of boats altering course, circling back , and colorfully voicing their displeasure.
We could not avoid the mayhem, and the short one mile sprint to the first mark involved a frustrating series of tacks in the futile search for free air. While Double Edge was in Bristol-tidy and ready to race, we could not get the wind instrument to work and resorted to old school sailing. We suffered a long and frustrating 30 mile shy reach to the first offshore mark -- in modest breezes upwind the old girl still a 38 foot boat among modern 40 footers -- but once around the flashing buoy, blissfully ignorant of the 20+ knot winds that would have normally prompted us to hoist a smaller sail, we set our big A2 spinnaker for a long downwind run. Though already miles behind the leaders we were off to the races, periodically lifting up over the waves and reaching 14-15 knots. Fast boat, trimming by feel and eye, a zillion stars and a quarter moon across that dark, dark offshore sky, we enjoyed the moment while slowly making up lost ground.

At 2am we came up slightly as we rounded the next mark, and took off like a scalded virtual cat, and after a bit of tiller-tussle and a gentle round up Raymond calmly noted “I think she’s telling us it’s time to put the big sail away”. We fell off and dropped the big kite, and on white sails chased after a handful of white mast lights, gently swaying far ahead.
We finally caught a few, time to play and once again enjoying tests and games with individual boats and skippers. One boat pinched higher and higher to avoid us passing to windward, and as we settled behind their transom Raymond and I shared a long-standing exchange - “Get ready to ease off, we're going to blow by him”. We quietly and gently eased the sheets as we fell off a few degrees, caught the other skipper unawares as we swooped below and past him, and soon set sights on the next closest mast-top light.

We managed to pass a few more boats, but not the last three ahead. The final legs traversed the Scheveningen anchorage, passing some of the mothballed cruise liners - rows of empty cabins lit up, silent and still. At daybreak we eased off on the final short leg to the finish, recently passed Batfish nipping at our heels, and as the wind piped up we surfed at 12 knots and looked forward to making fast in our slip and a well-deserved sleep. Disappointed by the hole we dug early, but inspired by lovely conditions and with solace with the gains under the big kite in big wind, we tidied deck lines and readied to cross the line.
The finish line lay between the north harbor wall, and a ‘Keep West’ buoy just north of the breakwater end. As we approached I remembered the trepidation I felt when I saw it in the sailing instructions - it is a short, shallow area edging the beach where we never venture with our deep keel, but also where 5 of Scheveningen’s close surfer community drowned last May in freak seas and sea foam - it is now called the small dark corner, with a memorial painted on the breakwater.

The wind remained stiff and we were slightly overpowered - but fast - and decide not to gybe past the buoy but instead tack back. We would then drop the jib and keep the main up as we always do when entering or leaving a harbor, to ensure a sail up in the event of motor issues. Spinnaker sheets lay inboard and coiled, genoa sheets on the winches, we crossed the line, came up to the wind, dropped the jib and started the motor.
Engaging in gear the motor suddenly cut out - probably something wrapped on the prop. We could either fall off toward the beach and shallower water, or try to come up and catch the breeze on the port side. For the latter Raymond went forward to unclip and hoist the jib. With the jib up we slowly made way but had little steerage, each wave knocking the bow back, until we felt the unmistakable, heart-dropping thud of keel touching sand. Soon anther bump, stronger, and then several more jolts, still not enough drive from the sails to pull ahead and each wave set pushing us further toward the beach.
We elected to drop sails to lessen the load -- Raymond went forward to pull down the jib and I began to drop the main. A big wave rolled us flat and I saw Raymond tossed overboard, but more alarmingly, the bow swung over where he had fallen in. Looking over the low side rail I spotted him in the water, lifevest inflated, and grabbed the cockpit VHF (ship radio) and called in my first and hopefully last Mayday. It was not exactly the practiced call we rehearse during our training sessions - the first part interrupted as we rolled over again and I tumbled back to the low side, followed by a somewhat more breathless second part. While recovering my footing and handholds I saw Raymond laying on his back, gracefully sculling with his arms as if on a holiday dip, but also several surfers -- who only a few months earlier suffered the tragic loss of five friends in this same spot, swiftly paddling to his rescue..
My mayday call was taken by the central lifeboat service, the KNRM, in Den Helder. I noted that surfers were taking care of the man overboard, and that I was onboard and the only other person (the established nautical nomenclature is ‘soul’, but I find it ghoulish). Within minutes I heard sirens, and soon multiple police, fire department and KNRM services arrived on the beach. As Raymond stood safely ashore I sat on the high side, riding a bucking bronco and feeling embarrassed, disappointed, angry, but also very safe. We live on the harbor and regularly see the lifeboats responding to calls from their berths opposite us, an incredibly professional and much admired service.

Soon a lifeboat roared around the breakwater but stopped, I then saw two KNRM men approaching from the seaward side on surfplanks. They asked if I was OK - “Yes, I’m fine - what do you want me to do”. One of them drew nearer and helped relax the old skipper by asking “I know it is hard to leave your own ship, but I think you’ll have to get off now”. We both smiled and I crabbed over to the lower aft quadrant, away from flapping sails and a swinging boom. “We have a set of three coming, hang on”. The boat rolled with each wave, and then he said “OK, you can get off now”. I leapt (or more accurately, plopped) away from the transom toward his board, and after my lifevest inflated he took my arm and we floated free.
A few meters later I could stand, and with a steadying arm from the rescue surfer, I lurched slowly out the water and up the beach like a creature from the abyss. Raymond stood with a small group of police and rescue squad staff, looking quite happy and no doubt humoring them. A police duo approached, asked for and noted a few details, and we were shown the back of a rescue squad wagon to be taken to their boathouse.
One of the staff laid out a yellow and red KNRM jump suit for me, and not finding one in XXL for the big fella, finally found an oil-stained and threadbare blue mechanics jumpsuit for him. We laughed at the illusion - the slordig (messy) Dutch-American in the spanking new outfit, and Mr. Fastidious looking like he just emerged from changing your oil.

They led us to their main workroom - a clutter of cool memorabilia and awards, screens and LED message boards, a big table with old comfy chairs, and hot coffee, chocolate (Easter eggs but they do rely on public contributions), and a moment to relax. We chatted with these amazing people, they kept us updated on progress in pulling the boat off the sand, and we called home to pre-empt our spouses hearing about it on the news or seeing a post on FB. I half-joked that I expected our ubiquitous Scheveningen news photographer Dick Teske had probably already posted photos online - not yet knowing a lot of his and others photos were posted and reposted on FB, news sites and other media. It was also becoming lively topic online sailing threads -- the typical odd combination of armchair analyses, curmudgeonly judgements, wise counsel, and kind words of support.
For sailing, and especially offshore sailing, safety and training are paramount. Age-old maritime practices are complimented by new electronic devices and safety gear. We engage in periodic training, and have our own good practices to ensure safe and enjoyable sailing and races. A key part of the process is self evaluation and lessons learned. We have experienced other failures and near-misses over the years, each an opportunity to learn and improve. A line wrap on a prop, a decade ago in a marina, has helped ensure we always check lines before turning the key, but we missed a loop of one line this time and will evaluate why. We will do things differently in similar circumstances, but also expect this finish line will not be used again at the end of a long offshore, in a big breeze and close-in lee shore.

A zoom call served as the Corona-time prize giving ceremony, with trophies held up for the host camera. Though fourth over the line it was only fitting that we ended up lucky 13th of 26 on corrected time, but more importantly both sailors bruised but unbowed, and Double Edge battered but unbroken.
Finally, I would pay for a tour of the KNRM boathouse and this morning did so by setting up a regular contribution. We urge all of you to do likewise for your own incalculably valuable lifeboat services. These people are indeed heroes.
 
Jun 21, 2004
1,810
Beneteau 343 Slidell, LA
Great story! Stuff happens; it can happen to anyone....even this experienced crew.
 
Jan 1, 2006
5,950
Slickcraft 26 Greenport, NY
We did pretty close to that going into Absecon Inlet in the days before Loran and in thick fog. We weren't sure if we would go in the inlet or onto the beach. As the steepness of the waves increased I was mentally preparing for a swim resembling that. I was so glad to hear the voices of fisherman on the jetty telling us we were in.
 
Oct 22, 2014
15,692
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
Great read Clay. Difficult to think about. Sobering. Thank the life savers... Sure sound like they really know their stuff.