Sailing: Kraken

In 2005, I went sailing with some folks and nothing happened, but it happened in an interesting way. Other folks thought it was interesting, too. Interesting enough such that I'm not going to mention any names.

We were sailing in San Francisco bay on a sloop. Mister X was at the wheel; he hadn't been sailing before. Ms. Y was looking over his shoulder to make sure everything went OK. We were coming around from the back side of Angel Island, heading into Raccoon Strait. To get through Raccoon Strait, we would need to tack a few times. The more experienced sailors made sure that Mister X knew what to do. And he did know. He said "Hard-a-lee!".

The wind tugged on the jib sail. I waited a few seconds and started to let out that jib sail. But we weren't turning. Something wasn't working quite right. Mister Z had sailed many times with green sailors. He knew what the problem was, mostly. "We need forward momentum to get through the turn. We need more speed."

We sat and thought about that for a few seconds. That was a really strange problem. Because we could hear the breeze blowing through the sails, and Mister X hadn't fumbled the wheel, and it really seemed like we should have tacked just fine.

Someone figured out the root problem: "We're not moving at all." The wind was blowing through our sails, but the boat wasn't moving. Ms. X noticed: "The depth gauge says zero." Oh. We'd run aground. This hardly seemed fair. Ms. X had checked our depth as we'd been getting ready for the turn; then we'd had 60 feet of clearance. An obstruction had arisen from nowhere.

You say we should have studied our charts before setting out. You say we should have noticed shallow areas. No doubt you are correct. If you had said these things to us at that moment, however, we might have thrown you overboard.

We took down the sails; the wind was shoving us forward, further aground. We looked down into the water--could anyone see a sand bar, see what had caught us? Not really. Mister Z pointed out that the water looked kind of sandy; that this might have warned that we were in the shallows. But it wasn't as sandy as you'd expect considering that a big sailboat had recently collided with a hypothetical sandbar.

Mister Z started up the engine, put it into reverse, tried to power us off the bar. It wasn't happening.

I liked the feeling of being aground. Just as in regular sailing, there was a pleasant breeze. Until we had lowered the sails, the sound of the wind passing over the sails had been pleasant. Unlike regular sailing, we didn't have to do so much, but were free to sit back. Mister Z consulted the tide tables. We were at a low tide. It was about 6:30 in the evening. High tide would be at 11:00 at night. In that time, the tide would rise 6 feet. I figured we'd probably win free in a couple of hours. I was happy to wait.

I didn't know the whole story.

Ms. Y said, "I can't wait a couple of hours. I have a date after this." Under other circumstances, I might have said, "Well, that's your problem." But I wanted Ms. Y to make her date. She was threatening to move to Cincinatti in a few months. If that happened, she probably wasn't going to be free for many sailing trips next year. We needed to find more reasons for Ms. Y to stay in the Bay Area. Reasons like dates.

Getting this boat off of the sandbar (or whatever) would be a good start.

Maybe we could twist the boat out of the bar. Mister Z turned the wheel as far as it would go and powered up the engine. The rest of us hung off the port side. Us hangers-on tried some synchronized swaying, hoping to rock the boat; this did not do much, escape-wise. No one quite fell off the boat during this little dance.

Some of us tried waving at passing boats. Those boats did not get close to us. I could not see their passengers; I doubt that they could see us. Ms. A tried yelling to one of those boats. I don't think her voice has ever seemed so quiet as when it was trying to fill the big Raccoon Strait. We could call the coast guard, but that seemed drastic.

Three of us climbed down onto a little ledge on the stern of the boat, down near the water. The other folks stood in the stern of the cockpit. Mister Z powered up the engine again. Now we tried some synchronized jumping. Well, people in the cockpit jumped. Those of us hanging onto the back of the boat didn't jump--we couldn't land safely on the little ledge. Instead, we heaved our torsos up and down while leaving our feet on the ledge. As we did this, I watched a couple of landmarks on the shore, seeing when one of them moved in relation to the other--that would mean that we were moving. But we weren't moving. It was not easy to tell--my head was moving as I lurched around. But I was pretty sure that we weren't moving.

And so we jumped and the motor revved. Did we look like monkeys, hanging onto railing, dangling our bottoms over the water, jumping up and down? I imagine we looked something like monkeys.

Then those landmarks had moved. Which meant that we had moved. But they didn't keep moving. We'd shifted the boat a little, but were stuck again. But then as we kept jumping and revving, the landmarks moved again--and kept moving.

We had freed ourselves from whatever it was. People guessed a sand bar, but since I didn't see much sand, I still think it was Kraken.


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