Monday, August 23, 2010

Weekend Jaunt to the Turning Basin

I promised myself when I bought my boat that I would get underway at least once every month whenever I'm in California. Even if it's just a trip to the other side of the marina to pump out the onboard sewage holding tank, I feel compelled to leave the dock to verify that I still can.

So the other weekend my sister and her husband came into town to retrieve their kids from the grandparents' house. Taking advantage of this rare occasion where all three siblings were in the same town, I decided to shift the S/V Heart of Gold to a berth in the turning basin in the heart of downtown Petaluma so we could go out and have a convenient place to crash at the end of a night of drinking.

I got underway early on Saturday afternoon. I'd called ahead and found that there was a drawbridge opening scheduled for 1330 and another at 1600. I planned to make the 1330 one, keeping the later opening as a fallback plan.

The plan stopped being a plan and started being a scramble right away.  I shanghaied my sister into getting underway with me when I moved the boat and she stowed her kids away below decks while we left the marina.  As we were rolling out, someone ashore snapped a pic of us leaving:
PIC: underway in Petaluma River
Sadly, the pic was taken before we'd pulled in the fenders.  So we look like amateurs.

I'm not sure what the problem was, but for some reason I was unable to throttle the engine up much past idle speed.  Looking at my watch it was pretty clear that this speed restriction was going to make us late for the 1330 bridge opening, so I called the bridgetender to ask them to wait for us.

Luckily, the bridgetender himself was running late and would get there about the same time as we did.  Unluckily, there was a barge moored next to the bridge and the approach was very narrow.  Rather than wait there and run the risk of the wind catching us and sliding my boat into the steel barge, I turned around to keep station just downriver.

At some point while I was making this turn I decided to bump the engine into reverse to slow us down a little.  Once we'd come to a stop I bumped it ahead again, but we weren't moving anymore.  Like an idiot, I'd run aground in the mud near the riverbank. 

Just then I heard the horns and alarms that indicated the bridge was opening.
I called the bridgetender on the VHF radio, knowing full well that the entire boating community was able to listen in, and told him that there'd be a bit of a delay while I unstuck myself from the mud.  The entire delay was only about three or four minutes.  With my throttle problem I wasn't able to get enough power out of the engine to drive off of the mud.  Instead, I had to backwind the jib to pull the bow around.  That was just enough to twist the stern free and get us back on our way.

Less than five minutes later we moored in the turning basin downtown:
HofG at Turning Basin

Safely ashore, we caught up with Rose and the rest of Sheryl's family for lunch.  Then they all headed off to go shopping or something while I went back to the turning basin and got to work cleaning up the boat in order to entertain guests.

While I was doing this, I decided to mount my stainless steel Magma grill to the railing on the port quarter.  I was holding it up by it's handle and fumbling with the clamp when the handle popped off and the whole assembly splashed into the river below.  A quick check online revealed that this was about a $250 oops.  Dammit.

Otherwise, the afternoon passed without incident until people started showing up:
Matt & Jen

Then more people showed up (bringing liquor):
Drinking Aboard HofG

Then folks started trying on my hats:
Corry Tophat

And drinking continued:
Bud Drinking

The last of the guests to arrive were my cousins Amanda and Tiffany (who was turning 21 that night) and Amanda's boyfriend AJ.  Our first stop, Kodiak Jack's, aka KJ's, aka 365 North, aka whatever they're calling it this week.

By then there had already been a bit much drinking:
Sheryl Drinking

And hilarity had ensued:
Sheryl & Corry

Somewhere along the way, I spotted a cougar staring at me from across the bar:
Cougar at the Bar

This was the first of three stops, but I wasn't taking all that many pictures.  I was too busy making sure that Tiffany was getting properly inebriated for her 21st birthday.  I did such a good job that, after a brief stop for junkfood and returning to the boat, Tiffany spent much of the rest of the night regurgitating her intake off the dock before her friends bundled her up and carried her home.

I didn't have any sorts of problems until the morning after:
Morning After

I planned to spend the next day ambling around and trying to take it easy.  This didn't really work out.  Instead, I had to pull my scuba gear out of storage and go on a rescue dive to recover my sunken grill.

The plan was simple: the grill sank, so all I had to do was sink in the same place and I would probably find the grill on the bottom of the river.  Since the muddy water of the Petaluma River affords zero visibility, the only way I was going to find anything was with my bare hands groping along in the mud.  Visibility was so bad that I couldn't read my compass even if I held it directly to my facemask.  Instead, I had to drop down to the bottom, lay face down in the mud, feel around for the grill, and then move a little further over and repeat. 

After a few minutes of fumbling around like this I surfaced to regain my bearings.  It turns out that I'd inadvertently crawled halfway across the river.  There was no way that the grill would've drifted that far away from where it'd dropped.  It took two more attempts before, while sliding through the muck, I bumped into the grill with my head.  Then I grabbed it off the bottom, hugged it close to my chest, and inflated my buoyancy control vest all the way to carry me back to the surface.

When I thrashed my way back to the dock, muddy and hugging a large chunk of stainless steel, I heard a small child exclaim from the restaurant on the opposite bank, "Look, mommy, he came back!"

It's nice to know that someone was looking out for me.

Later that night I took my niece Skylar to dinner with some of my friends.  When we'd finished eating, I asked her to help me touch up some of the brightwork and we spent about an hour brushing a coat of varnish on the port gunwale.  Then it was getting dark and I had to take her home, pick up the dogs, drop off my car at the marina, and then walk over to the boat and crash out.

Bright and early Monday morning I was underway again.  I was still having my throttle problem, but otherwise everything was working fine.

As I motored back downriver, I snapped a picture of the spot where I'd grounded out.  I don't think it has a specific name, but if it doesn't I've got at least one proposition:
Thorsson's Bank

As it turns out, this was the first time I'd ever been underway with the dogs aboard.  They seemed okay with everything:

About halfway back to the marina, I was intercepted by my father on his way to pulling the scouts' ski boat out of the water:
Scout Ski Boat
He said he just wanted to come and watch when I got stuck.  Jerk.

All jokes aside, I managed to return to my home berth without incident.  In the end a good time was had by all and I was able to say that yes, I got underway this month.

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