How She Tried to Kill Me (The First Time)

I don’t believe anything I did, or didn’t do, had anything to do with it. I’m telling ya, the boat tried to kill me!

There are a number of reasons why people often use the word “magic” in connection with sailboats, and if you’re the kind of person who has ever looked at an old boat up on the hard and in your mind’s eye seen her sliding through the water, sparkling spray coming off her bow, her crew all grinning like dogs . . . well, then you know that a boat surely can cast a spell. That’s my excuse, any way, for rebuilding an old boat. It took a little longer than I had expected (gee, I think I’ve heard that before, in the boatyard . . .), but it has brought me great satisfaction. I did, however, begin to wonder about the boat’s personality when she tried to kill me.

It was when she was still in the boatyard, on jack stands way back in the corner, on the edge of the bordering woods. To prepare for painting everything from the waterline up, first I had to prepare to sand everything from the waterline up, so I removed all the hardware from the deck. The winches, the cleats, the padeyes: pretty much everything that could be removed with wrenches and screwdrivers and not saw blades. The last parts I removed were the cockpit locker lids and their stainless steel hinges. Doing that left 3 big holes in the cockpit, so I put the lids back into their places but with the hinges unfastened.

The next morning, I was having my first cup of coffee, walking around the deck deciding which of a thousand places on the bare boat to start work, when I stepped from the side deck into the cockpit and carelessly placed my foot on the locker lid. Under my full weight it gave way, slipped right out and went flying, and my right foot dropped in to the completely empty port side lazarette.
(This is the deep cockpit locker I fell into.)

It always amazes me how quickly the human brain works when injected with adrenalin: in the literal fraction of a second it took for my right leg to plunge into the deep locker, I foresaw – in detail – landing with one leg in the locker and one leg out, and was conscious of thinking, “This will not turn out good.” Somehow – in that fraction of a second it took for gravity to do its job – I thought of and enacted a plan to twist my torso inboard. Outboard may have taken me over the side, and I wanted neither to fall to the ground seven feet down nor to fall only partway to the ground because my leg was snagged in the locker and badly wrenched or broken. Three scenarios and a plan, all in the literal fraction of a second! Adrenalin is wonderful, and very useful!

So, somehow, with no footing or handholds, somehow I twisted inboard and directed my fall across the cockpit, where I was able to use my right hand to catch myself on the starboard locker. HOWEVER, it, too, was unfastened and went flying, allowing me to thrust my right hand into the empty air of that deep locker. So I continued to fall, but I stopped myself handily, cleverly, on the edge of the locker opening WITH MY FACE.

It hurt. Blood squirted. I swore. I laid myself on my back in the cockpit and held a dirty rag around and against my nose until the bleeding stopped. (By the way, y’know, in all seriousness, in the bright morning sunlight, the color of fresh blood is really quite amazing. It’s a bright, vivid, vibrant, rich red; in color alone, truly gorgeous, enough so that it distracted me from my attention-grabbing pain. I hardly recommend seeking it out, though.) Incidentally, you know those chirping blue birds that fly in a tight circle around your head in all the cartoons? They did not make even a brief appearance.
(A self-portrait of myself, in absence of a mirror, to check if my nose was crooked. You can see a little of the blood in my mustache. I look happy, don’t I?)

Still lying on the cockpit deck, I realized how lucky I was, actually. Not only could I have busted a few teeth, poked an eye out, or broken a leg or arm, I could have severely hurt my neck or back. I could have fallen the other way, tumbled out of the cockpit and to the ground, 8 or 9 feet below, and maybe broken my back. And, since the boat was in the back corner of the storage lot, it could have been hours before anybody came by. So, yes, all in all, I was pretty lucky, though I must admit that “luck” was NOT the first four-letter word that came out of my mouth.

See? “Boating” is such great fun!