Sunday, January 15, 2012

Remembering Lazarus

This is a poor attempt at trying to remember Lazarus. Lazarus was my first boat, a Hardin 44 Ketch. She was clearly to large for my first boat but she had great "pirate ship" lines and I could afford her. She had previously been named "Mahalus" or something like that and I wanted to resurrect her from a dock-side condo, which she had become under the previous ownership, back to a sailing vessel which she was designed to be. However, I did not know the fury of the sea and wind gods when you rename a boat and they lose track of her.

Lazarus was purchased in March or maybe April of 2001, I can't remember which, and after receiving new rigging, extensive interior floor work, new scroll work on her exterior lines, a new radar, a chart plotter, and a GPS she was planning on spending three months in Ensenada, Mexico to avoid California state tax.

I set sail toward Mexico in early July having previously driven to Ensenada and purchased a three-month slip. The crew included my girlfriend, a male "friend" of mine and his wife. Neither of the women had any previous sailing experience. I had never done an overnighter and I only knew of my friend's daysailing experience. But, I thought, it was a simple one-day trip and nothing could go wrong.

Lazarus was a heavy, slow ketch. We left San Diego around 9am and made our way South under very light winds. It was dark before we got close to Ensenada and my friend wanted to do the navigating, as he was fascinated with all the electronics. Foolishly, I did not double check his work and did not have night-lights on my depth sounder or the other instruments that were already on the boat when I purchased it.

Nearing midnight on Saturday, my friend looked at the Ensenada harbor on the chart, found something similar on the chart plotter and guided us directly into a slough. The first time I knew we were in shallow water was when the keel hit bottom with a solid thud. I tried to back out but we were on a full moon high tide and the waves kept bumping us toward shore. I called a "Mayday" to the US Coast Guard who, after ascertaining we were not in immediate danger, called my towing service, Boat US, for me. I was told Boat US towing would be arriving in about six hours from San Diego. The crew and I put on life-vests and spent the night listening to the boat bump up onto the beach. By daybreak Lazarus was at a severe angle and, upon coming up on deck, I found we were completely on the beach. At low tide you could walk off the boat.

I contacted the Coast Guard, having actually kept in touch with them every hour to confirm our safety. Great bunch of folks, the US Coast Guard. They informed me that Boat US towing had declined to come down to Mexico and that Boat US towing had instructed I find a local towing service. Yes, I was to call channel 16 at 6am Sunday morning in Mexico to find a towing service. Unfortunately, I do not speak Spanish and did not get any reply. Surprise, surprise!

Finally, I convinced my friend, his wife, and my girlfriend to leave the boat and walk into town. We could see the town across the bay. They did so very reluctantly as they did not want to leave me alone. My friend found a telephone and contacted my insurance carrier, who contacted SeaTow in San Diego. SeaTow dispatched a boat and a crew by car toward my location. They arrived on site late Sunday afternoon after Lazarus had spent an entire day on the beach. Fortunately at this point there was only some rudder damage to the boat.

SeaTow brought lines from their boat to Lazarus and attempted to pull her off the beach but it was not to be. After trying for two days and numerous tide changes, the surf started to break into Lazarus' portholes and she began taking on water. I stayed with the boat the entire time as to leave it would be to give up salvage rights. The scariest night for me was the second night on board when Lazarus was partly filled with water, heeling at a severe angle on the beach. I had to untie the lines from Lazarus to the towboat at midnight with surf breaking over the bow. It felt like something from a movie. I stayed on board sleeping in the rear cabin with diesel-filled water lapping at the bunk.

Finally, Lazarus was declared a wreck and the instructions were to destroy her. My son, God bless his sweet soul, had driven down the previous day and some good Samaritans had offered us a bed for the night in their near-by house. The last I saw of Lazarus was when my son and I spent an hour early Tuesday morning looking at her from the beach. We were so exhausted from the events that we didn't even think about any part salvage operation. The only thing I removed was my girlfriend’s clothes from the stateroom.

Slowly, exhausted, we drove back to to the US. We were stopped several times by Mexican police because the car was so filthy and we looked so ragged.

Perhaps I should give up sailing and buy a cabin on top of a mountain. That's the thought that ran through my mind for the first week. Watching Lazarus die was like watching a friend die. It was slow, painful, and horrible. But no, the problem was not in the sailing. Sailing was still a good idea; the problem was in the execution. I had become lackadaisical. I had not delegated responsibilities but had abdicated them. If you are going to be captain of the boat, then you have to be captain. Nothing is abdicated and you check everything.

Why didn't I throw out an anchor? I didn't even think of an anchor until the next day when I was already up on the beach. Maybe I was just too tired and stressed from the trip down. Maybe I just wasn't prepared for such a trip. I don't know but the thought never entered my mind. It is so easy to second-guess yourself after the event.

So now, my motto is: No one gets on this boat unless they know how to navigate or look very good in a bikini. And those are two separate activities. The result is that I check everyone's work that wants to do anything on my boat.

I now have great night-lights, the sonar is always on and visible at night, I don't use a chart plotter but plot everything on a paper chart, and most importantly, never come into an unknown harbor at night. I will stay out all night versus coming into unknown shallow water. And I spend a lot of time trying to think about what I would do if certain emergencies came up. Am I now prepared? Well, yes better than before but I'm sure there is something I haven't thought about. I spend a lot of time listening to other sailors and how they have handled, or mishandled, things in their life.

And, finally, I give credit to the wind and sea gods. They are powerful and full of vengeance. But they are also merciful. I have since been in a couple rough seas and, having given them proper respect, they have led me safely to shore.

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