Friday, July 30, 2010

Crunch Time

We woke on Friday excited to tackle the locks in the Champlain Canal. We untied from the wall in Waterford and checked the sign on the shore to make sure we were headed for the correct canal.

We plowed through locks 1, 2, and 3 before noon. They were pretty close together, and each one raised us another 15-20 feet above sea level. Krystian pointed out that we were at this point more than 100 feet over sea level.

We got pretty good at navigating the locks. The way it works is that there is a waterfall on the outside of the lock that alleviates the pressure of the water north of the lock while the doors to the lock are closed. As we approach the lock we watch for the tell-tale green light that will inform us that the lock master is ready for us to enter the lock. Sometimes the light is red, so we slow down and maintain our course slowly until it turns green.

The cross currents are strong just south of the lock as the water that just came down the water fall rushes back to rejoin the canal. The channel leading to the lock sometimes grows narrow, and we learned just south of lock 4 that the channel markers are not mere suggestions of where we should be. They clearly delineate the safe part of the water from the dangerous.

We watched for the green light as we hovered just south of the lock. The light turned green, Todd, behind the wheel, increased the throttle slightly, and then it happened. The loud scraping crunching sound escaped from below the keel. The boat elevated out of the water and pitched to the right. Items below decks crashed onto the floors from all surfaces. I was sitting on the low side of the boat and braced my feet against the lifelines to keep myself from falling overboard, “Honey!” I howled in fright.

It took me a few seconds to realize what had happened. I looked forward and saw the red navigational marker was just to the left of our boat. It’s supposed to be on the right. We were out of bounds and aground hard.

We surveyed the situation, as the diesel engine vibrated below us, “What about the engine intake? Is that still below the waterline?” I asked Todd. The diesel is cooled with freshwater. If the intake is not below the waterline, then the engine will not stay cool. If the engine gets too hot it will melt and seize.

“It’s OK,” Todd scratched his head. He gunned Sabine’s diesel into reverse. She tried to back off but wasn’t strong enough.

“I wonder if SeaTow works out here?” I asked, thankful that I’d renewed our membership.

“OK, here’s what we’re gonna do. Let’s try to tow her off with the dinghy,” Todd leapt into the dinghy and fired up the outboard. “Maggie, Krys, relay the message to Aunt Beej for me. This might get loud. Beej, gun it in reverse when I say so.”

“Reverse, Aunt Beej, turn it hard to starboard,” Maggie relayed from Uncle Todd in the dinghy. I felt the dinghy’s rope grow taut on Sabine’s stern.

“Gun it! Reverse!” Krys chimed in. 

"Come on!!!" Hali clenched her teeth.

With the same grinding noise, the rock released Sabine's keel  She pulled off the rock, and once again we were upright. We cheered as I forced the throttle handle back into neutral. The adrenaline made my hands tingle; my heart rate remained elevated for the rest of the day. We pulled into lock 4 where the dock master asked if we were OK. I searched for navigational buoys for the rest of the day and diligently pointed them out to Todd until we eventually went through lock 5 and 6 and then tied to the wall for the night in Fort Edward.

“Hey guys,” Hali pointed to the incline meter, “did you know that we were tipped at 20 degrees when we were on the rock? I checked.” I had shown Hali the day before that we had tipped to 35 degrees when the tide went out and left us grounded a few nights earlier. I was, and still am, surprised that she’d remembered to check. This was Hali’s second time aboard, and this time she was more aware of how things work on a boat.

I looked down to see my fingernails, my version of an incline meter, were once again chewed down to stumps.

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