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Off The Hook

Off The Hook

Off The Hook

We were living on the hook in Santa Barbara's anchorage on board our forty-foot ketch. For a hook we had a five-hundred pound, Danforth anchor with forty feet of one inch chain on the bottom and forty feet of half inch chain coming up to the buoy. The mooring was chained to the bow plate, which was at the water line. That was a bad idea because unshackling the boat during storms was insane. The anchorage had been hit by a lot of bad storms. I had a line tied to one of the buoys, so I could lift the chain out of the water to unshackle it, but the line always got tangled so I cut it off. Strong as the mooring was, I never trusted it, so I set a stern anchor on each side, which was nice, because I could keep the boat pivoted into the swell.

Everything was going good. We were getting free rent living in the anchorage. Our boat was paid for and in pretty good condition. Business was good and I was driving a Mercedes that was paid for. I was caught up on my bills and had money in the bank. My thirteen-year-old son was doing well in school and quarterbacking for a team that was going in to the playoffs. I can't tell you how hard I had to work to get to that point, but I can tell you that it scared me. I had spent the last couple years struggling to make it up to the bottom. Being a couple steps ahead of the game made me nervous. It was November and I knew winter was coming fast. I was trying to make it until the first of December on the mooring. Then we'd take our boat down to Channel Islands Harbor and get a slip for the winter. I couldn't wait. We'd been getting free rent for over six months and I thought we had used up the odds. Thanksgiving was just ahead. I figured we'd make the voyage over that four-day weekend.

In the middle of November we started hearing talk about a meteor storm. The front page of the paper had a picture of a meteor shower back in the sixties and said that was nothing compared to what we were about to experience. Until then I had never seen a meteorite. My son and his dog and I were heading out to the boat in our aluminum dinghy. Cody was driving from the stern. Gringo and I sat in the center of the skiff with my back to the wind. It was cold and clear. There were thousands of stars. As usual the ride home in the dinghy was peaceful and soothing. I cuddled up to Gringo to stay warm. I was looking out to sea when I saw a good size fire ball fly through the sky and land in the ocean. I pointed and shouted, "Look!" but Cody was too slow and didn't believe that I had seen a meteorite.

The following morning I got up early and took pictures of the Sea Angel with the sunrise in the background. I was so proud of her. I could write novels about all we had been through with her but I don't have the time. Her cement hull was big and strong, but some of the beige paint was chipping off because of her adventurous lifestyle. She was equipped with a 453 Detroit diesel and two fifty foot masts. Down in Costa Rica we built a taller mizzenmast, which is the one to the stern, because the Sea Angel was so heavy, and I wanted her to sail up wind better. She was a lot to handle, but not too much for us. We'd been at it for a long time and made a pretty good team. A lot of our experience was in bad circumstances. When the crap hit the fan Cody had proven to be more of a man than most of the men I've known. Getting hit by a linebacker was nothing compared to a fifteen-foot wave. His coaches never understood why he was so tough, but I did. It was the ocean that made him that way.

That night there was a strong Santa Ana type wind coming from the east. Cody had trouble driving slowly, so I was getting wet in the harbor. I yelled for him to slow down, but it didn't matter. I knew I'd be pretty wet once we got into the open ocean. Our dinghy was fast and light, but built for a lake. A twenty knot head wind meant the fast choppy waves would break from the bow, and the wind would blow it all over me. Oh well my black leather jacket had so much salt in it, that it was turning gray. It was probably eight or nine o'clock. I was cold and wet, hunched over, trying not to shiver when Cody shouted, "Dad! A meteor." I turned and looked. Fifty yards ahead of us a meteor raced through the sky and landed right it the middle of the harbor. Luckily it didn't hit anyone's boat. I could tell Cody was afraid. He saw the speed of it. If one were to come after us, there'd be no escaping.

Getting to the boat was nice. The wind chop didn't do anything but make noise as it broke against the side of the hull. The boat didn't move. She was so big and strong. We'd been through so much hell with her. It didn't matter what the ocean had to offer she could take it. When the other boats would be getting their butts kicked by the ocean, the Sea Angel would be riding smooth. She was built to withstand bad weather and had withstood a lot of it. Shortly after we got to the boat I fell asleep while Cody did his homework. I had been asleep for about an hour when I heard a loud bang. I didn't think anything of it, but it sounded like a stack of plywood falling over.

An hour or so later Cody went outside and shouted, "Oh my God! Dad! The wharf's on fire."

I got up and looked. The restaurant where I got coffee in the mornings was engulfed with flames. There were two fire engines fighting the fire, but the fire had gone below and the pilings were flaming. There were no people or noise. All my neighbors were asleep. I'd only been watching the fire for a few moments when it exploded from the bottom. Flames were roaring from the ocean up fifty feet or more. In the few minutes I'd been watching, the fire did more than quadruple in size. The fire engines didn't stand a chance. I wondered where the Harbor Patrol and Coast Guard were. With their boats they could fight it from the bottom. The fire was furious. I felt sorry for the firemen on the pier and hoped none of my friends were there when the fire in exploded. "That looks like a gas fire. "We'd better get out of here while we can," I said.

"Should I wake the neighbors?"

"The ocean's too rough?"

"Maybe they can hear me if I yell."

"Go ahead. Give it a try." If they didn't hear Cody they'd hear my engine. I was running a dry stack exhaust without a muffler. Believe me; Jimmy was loud. I turned on the fuel, opened the through-hull for the water and took the bucket off the top of the exhaust. I pushed the button and Jimmy fired right up. He was loud and obnoxious. I gave him a little fuel, knowing my neighbors would be wondering what I was doing.

As I warmed up the engine, the Harbor Patrol and Coast Guard showed up and impressively got the fire under control. I got in the dinghy and tied a line to the shackle at the buoy. I then got back on the boat and lifted the chain from the water. As I unshackled the chain, one of my neighbors came up in his dingy and asked, "You're not leaving are you?"

The wind had been blowing the fire away from us, but the wind died down. I could feel the heat on my face. I looked up to see a mushroom cloud of smoke that was saturated with sparks. I looked to Cody and asked, "Ya wanna stay and watch or take off?"

"Let's go."

He didn't trust the situation and I was smart to follow his instincts. We were a hundred twenty yards away from the action. If the wind were to shift we'd be toast. "Untie the stern lines," I yelled.

By the time I had the mooring lose he had the stern lines untied. Many of my neighbors had already gotten up and were pulling out in their boats. As we pulled away I could feel the wind coming from the west. I increased the throttle. The wind began to gust and blew the flames towards us. Luckily the Harbor Patrol boats were fast enough for them to outrun the flames. I looked back and the flames were blowing horizontally. Had we not left when we did, we'd have definitely felt the heat. Worse than that we would of had to breath all the smoke.

We spent that night at the fuel dock because they were rebuilding the docks and didn't have any slips large enough for our boat. The next morning we took our boat out to the mooring before school. The wharf was badly charred and the water was filled with debree. I could see that I no longer lived in paradise and it was time to move on. I looked forward to heading south and wanted to leave then, but Cody had to get to school and I had a business to run. I figured we could make it another week or two, but it wasn't something I took for granted. I had a bad feeling about the anchorage. I knew how bad it could get and I sensed something was coming in.


That Saturday Cody had his first playoff game. His team came down with a bad case of fumbleitous and nearly lost. Cody got a touch down off a QB Sneak and threw a two-point conversion pass to squeak out with an eight to six win.

The fire on the wharf was a big story, but nobody could figure out how it started. I didn't see it happen, but I'm pretty sure a meteor hit it. I thought about offering my opinion, but I was too busy. Thanksgiving was the following week. I wanted to take the boat down to Oxnard on Thanksgiving Day, but decided to kick back and be thankful instead. I cooked a turkey and a bunch of other stuff. We lay around and watched football most of the day and went to a movie that night.

I figured I'd wait until Sunday to make the trip. My son's next football was real important. If they were to win, they'd go to the Super Bowl. He had practice that Friday and I went off to make a few dollars.

That night I could feel the winds picking up as we did laundry. The anchorage was wide open to southeasterlies and I was getting nervous. By the time we finished the laundry the wind was blowing around twenty knots and the swell was up to about ten feet. Cody did good driving the skiff under such rough conditions. As we got around the wharf I could see that two boats were on the beach. Ours was riding smooth and I looked forward to getting out there where it would be safe.

I didn't trust leaving the skiff tied behind the boat. Right away I could see it was going to take a beating. I knew there was a good chance of losing it. It was already too dangerous to unshackle the boat. The skiff would get destroyed by the bowsprit, if I were to use it to get a line on the buoy's shackle. Climbing down the chain that connects the bowsprit to the bow plate and unshackling the leash at the bow plate was also too dangerous.

The boat was riding smooth. We went inside and I radioed the Harbor Patrol. They had a slip available but I wasn't up for unshackling it at the bow plate. I figured we'd try to ride it out.

It got bad after Cody and Gringo went to bed. The wind was blowing around forty and the swell was at least fifteen, maybe bigger. It was coming from the southeast so I tied the port stern anchor to the Samson post up front, and the starboard stern anchor to the port stern cleat. That held the boat straight into the incoming weather.

Things were going pretty smooth until a couple of the turnbuckles broke on the mizzenmast. The mast was tall and heavy, and swinging forward to stern. I knew it would cause a lot of damage if it fell. I tied the stays down with some line and hoped they would hold. Afterwards I wanted to be sure the engine was ready to go. I went inside and yelled, "Hey Cody. I'm gonna run Jimmy for a while."

He was safe and warm in his bed. Still sleeping he replied, "Okay."

I opened the fuel line and through-hull, stepped out to the helm and pushed the button. Jimmy let out a loud roar as he fired up. I gave him a little more juice and he got louder. I went back to bed and let him run for about and hour. I felt safe because the boat was riding so smooth. I could feel the force of the storm getting stronger. I wondered how big the swell was going to get and how hard the wind was going to blow.

Around eleven I shut down Jimmy and tried to get some rest. I figured I'd try to ride it out until daybreak and go with the flow then.

I might have been asleep for an hour or so when the boat seemed to spin around and started getting hit hard on the starboard side with the stern pointing out. The force of the ocean made it hard to untie the stern line and nearly knocked me into the ocean. It took a lot of effort, but I was eventually able to get it untied and threw the buoy overboard. The boat straightened right out so I went back to bed.

A short while later I came out to check on things and noticed Dominique’s try-murrain was ahead of me. I looked off to the port and noticed Mark's boat was also ahead of me. I went forward to check out the mooring and saw the buoys floating along the starboard side. Something had broke. The anchor was holding the boat and the line wouldn't last long.

Jimmy fired right up. I gave him some fuel and he began to push the boat forward. I went up to the bow and began to pull up the anchor line as the boat powered into the storm. I was afraid of falling in. There were no scansions or lifelines so I had to rely on my balance. I figured the chain would tear up my boat pretty bad, so I cut the line at the chain and dropped the buoy in the water before working my way back to the helm and giving Jimmy some more fuel. I was worried about not being able to make headway and getting blown into the wharf, so I cranked Jimmy up to about twenty-five hundred r.p.m.'s.

The Sea Angel was pulling about four knots straight into the storm. After going through the troft of the wave, the bow would submerge about five feet under water before working its way up the wave. The mizzenmast was whipping forward to stern at the top, and the outboard was hanging on a forty-five degree angle, about to fall off the skiff.

There were several boats I had to maneuver around and there was a floating barrier around the wharf to catch the debree from the fire. I went about mile out. Though I knew our lives were in danger, I was proud of how well our boat handled. It was a gnarly storm and the Sea Angel was kicking its butt.

I circled around and worked my way towards the entrance of the harbor. With the wind to my back I pulled off on the throttle which turned out to be a bad idea. The dredge was taking up a good size piece of the channel and I couldn't see the green buoy. The water was shallow near it anyway. I didn't know it was low tide and the entrance to the harbor had shoaled out. I saw the red buoy and went between it and the dredge. I turned the corner and was almost safe when the keel ran a ground. I gave it some more fuel but couldn't get off the sand. I put it

in reverse and gave it more fuel. No luck. I worked it in forward and reverse, but couldn't get off. Meanwhile the wind and the swell were hitting us in the port side, driving us into shallower water. Then the steering broke. Before I figured out what to do the boat tipped over and the engine picked up r.p.m.'s. I tried to kill the engine but it wouldn't die. I yelled for Cody to get out of bed.

Gringo had fallen out of bed and got his leg stuck in a cabinet. Cody was able to free his leg, but Gringo had gone into a frantic panic. "What happened," Cody yelled.

"We ran a ground. Get Gringo and get in the skiff," I hollered.

The boat was leaning at a forty-five degree angle on her starboard side and the waves were breaking over the port.

Cody managed to get Gringo's leg freed from the cabinet, but Gringo was confused. Cody had trouble getting him into the skiff. Even though waves were exploding over our heads things seemed stable for the moment. Cody and Gringo waited in the dinghy, while I looked for my car keys and money. I couldn't find the keys and it started to get rough, so I grabbed the cash and hopped in the dingy.

"Push the engine down straight," I said, picking up a paddle. He straightened it out as I paddled. "Fire it up."

The engine started in two pulls and Cody put in forward. The waves were breaking hard over the Sea Angel. Soon as we crossed her bow a wave broke into the skiff and immediately sunk it. I climbed out and was standing in about five feet of water. I pulled Cody out and reached for a life jacket, but it was snagged.

The Harbor Patrol was in their boat telling us to go to the beach. They were also in their truck on the beach, shining the headlights on us. We walked a shore, but Gringo swam off in the wrong direction. The Harbor Patrol had us wait in their heated truck as they went after Gringo. They were able to call him ashore and gave us a ride back to their office where they gave us some warm, dry clothes.

We stayed that night with a friend and the storm got a lot worse. I tried to sleep, but couldn't knowing my Sea Angel was getting pounded by twenty-foot surf and there was nothing I could do.

In the morning I went down to the harbor to check on my Sea Angel. The tide was high. She was lying on her port side and most of her hull was in the water. She was pointing stern out and I was able to climb up the bowsprit without getting wet. I worked my way down to the cockpit and looked through the companionway. The engine room was full of water. Jimmy was totally submerged. The inside had taken a beating. The galley table that stood on a post was knocked over. Cabinet doors were open. Clothes, books, silverware and tools were strewed everywhere. Our computers, the TV and some radios were on the floor in a foot or two of water.

Luckily there wasn't much sand inside. I went to rent a gas powered pump. By the time I got back the tide had dropped quite a bit and a lot of water had drained. Jimmy was no longer submerged. I had a feeling there was a pretty good size whole in the hull for the water to have drained.

Priming the pump I got the spark plug wet. It took about an hour to get it running. By that time the boat managed to drain out on her own.

I was pumping the last bit of water out when a friend from the harbor came down. He knew there was an even bigger storm coming in with a seven foot high tide and offered to go get enough supplies to get her boarded up well enough to ride out the storm.

By the time he got back with the supplies I had taken the steering and controls out of the cockpit.

We carried down a generator, power tools and some plywood.

He said, "The tides coming up. We gotta work fast."

It began to rain while we boarded up the cockpit and windows. By the time we finished the tide was up to the stern. We loaded the gear into his truck and he wished me luck.

Cody didn't get much sleep the night before but had a good football game. He got his team going with a thirty-five yard touch down pass and they won the game fourteen zip. His team was on its way to the Super Bowl. That's all that mattered to him. Our boat being on the beach bothered him, but not nearly as bad as if they'd have lost their football game. I was happy for him. I knew how important it was to him. I was glad our dilemma didn't cause them to lose.

On Monday I went down to the boat and started digging out the keel with a shovel. I was getting blisters on my hands when the dredging guys came by and offered to help.

They had their guy dig the boat out with a bulldozer and drug her down to the tide line. By the time they got their boat over there, the Sea Angel had filled with a lot of water. Their boat had two 671's. It pulled her out there a little further but the water was shallow and our boat was taking in too much. We had two gas powered pumps pumping away, but we were losing ground. We tried until she was too full. It was cold and dark and there was nothing else we could, so we shut down for the night, knowing she would be totally submerged in a couple hours.

I spent the next day cleaning up the mess at low tide and pumping out the water. When the tide came in I kept the pump running and the boat floated. A fisherman and his wife offered to pull her out, but she was taking in more water than the pump could handle. Later the fisherman and his wife brought some fifty-gallon barrels in their dinghy. We set them on the starboard cat rail and filled them with water, hoping the boat would land on her starboard side when the tide dropped.

We hung out for a couple hours. Around midnight we were confident she would settle on her starboard side so we turned off the pump and loaded it into the dinghy.

The next morning she was lying on her starboard side, but only the masts were sticking out of the water. While she was submerged I hooked up with a friend who had some Splash Zone putty to repair the damages. When the tide dropped we took his Whaler over there. We were fifty yards away when we spotted the cracks that were shaped like a four-foot oval with a bullseye in the center. The cracks were about two inches thick and several of them ran from the center to the circumference.

It took about an hour to fill the cracks with the putty. By that time the beach was at the stern of the boat so my friend took off in his skiff. I spent the next few hours pumping out the water and cleaning the inside.

That night the high tide was after dark and was only around four feet. The Sea Angel floated nice, but I had decided to wait until the next morning to pull her off because there would be a seven-foot high tide. I hoped everything would hold up when the tide dropped. I went to sleep early and went down to the harbor first thing the next morning.

The Sea Angel was floating proudly. The sun was rising behind the charred wharf. I got some coffee and went to the loading dock where the fishermen were unloading their fish. Around eight the Harbor Patrol called me up to their office. A light offshore breeze had blown our boat into the middle of the channel and they were worried she might hit the wharf or sink. The fisherman and his wife gave me a ride over there and we unloaded the pump. It was like nothing had happened as I climbed aboard. She felt strong and sturdy. I walked towards the cockpit and then pried open the boards I had nailed down and looked inside. There was a lot of water in there, but it didn't bother me. She was overdue for a haulout and I had several gallons of blue and gray epoxy paint. I looked forward to painting her. There was a lot of repair work to be done first. I knew it would cost a few thousand dollars to fix her up, but that was okay. I was no longer afraid something bad was about to happen

Instead I looked forward to spending some time in dry-dock. I felt comfortable realizing all the cash I had saved would soon be gone. I could make more money and I was willing to do whatever it would take to make our boat sweet.

The fisherman was towing her in when the Harbor Patrol came along and took over. Meanwhile the owner of the boatyard brought over the travel lift. The Harbor Patrol helped guide her into the travel lift. There were several people standing around watching as the owner of the boatyard lifted her out of the water. Many of them shook my hand and congratulated me as the travel lift carried her to the boat yard.

The storm was over. It was a beautiful sunny morning in Santa Barbara and I was stoked. Cody and I had been through a lot with our Sea Angel. She was wounded pretty badly, but still alive.

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