Ever wish you had just stayed home instead?
When we launched our skiff from the Homer boat harbor, we knew exactly where we were going and how to get there. We’d been across Kachemak Bay dozens of times over the last two decades, but not lately. The busyness of raising kids and working long hours had left us too time-crunched to enjoy the Bay like we had so often in the past.
We launched our 17-foot wooden skiff, a dependable flat-bottomed boat Andy had rebuilt in his 20s while living in Kodiak, out of the harbor. Andy navigated while our daughter and young dog surrounded me, taking in the views. That old skiff had seen us safely on many adventures out of Homer, Whittier and Valdez, but lately it had languished, partially covered by a tarp in our back yard, collecting leaves in the transom.
We traveled with friends – Liz and Sam were in their Zodiac, along with their kids and dog – for a weekend at a public-use cabin in Halibut Cove. Despite a brisk wind, the seas seemed calm enough, but we knew they would grow at the short crossing where the vastness of Kachemak Bay collides with the protected waters surrounding Halibut Cove.
Reilly leaned over the gunwales dragging her little hands in the water. At 6 years old, she squealed with delight over any little sight – a piece of bull kelp floating to the surface or a curious otter bobbing on the water. Benny, too, lifted his canine nose in the air, taking in the buffet of scents like the bird dog he is. I should have taken a photo. It was postcard perfect.
Then we hit the big water.
Andy, in a calm voice at first, told me to start bailing. We were taking on too much water, he said. I watched as water squirted through the dry gaps between the horizontal planks of the skiff. With each toss of water overboard, about three times as much rushed back in.
Then the seas got slightly higher, and while I continued to bail, I did not register the urgency with which Andy wanted me to work. By now, Reilly no longer liked the buck and bang ride, and clung to one of my shoulders. Benny, more timid than tough, also seemed nervous and huddled against my side like a soggy, wet magnet. I was having trouble doing my job.
“You have to go faster,” Andy said, as he fiddled with the outboard and simultaneously tried to keep the bow pointed in the right direction. I looked back at him and noticed waves splashing in over the stern and he didn’t have to tell me again. I went into overdrive.
Meanwhile, Liz and Sam, whose inflatable Zodiak skirted over the worst of the waves, stayed close, just in case. We knew this wasn’t a life or death situation, but it surely wouldn’t end on a good note if we swamped.
Finally, we had about 40 meters to go, and I could see a clear delineation in the water ahead, where the murky swirl of the bay met with the calmer, protected water of the cove. All of a sudden, the skiff seemed to pick up steam, ride higher on the water, and launch us forward anew. I looked back at Andy, water swishing around my calves, and the etched straight line that had been his frown looked more relaxed.
We made it.
Once at Halibut Cove, our weekend continued, but we had quite the story to tell, and Reilly announced she would never ride in that skiff again. I think Andy, too, had decided that it was time to retire our old reliable boat.
That was about eight years ago, and that skiff is still around. Reilly even drives it. After all, we decided, it was not the skiff’s fault – it was ours. In our complacency, we’d failed to properly plan by putting the boat in the water well before that trip so the wooden planks had time to swell and seal shut. We also should have checked the outboard first, which was cantilevered for more calm waters, and thus not riding properly in the bigger waves. Easy fixes, they are, and we had been too eager to have fun to pay attention.
This month’s issue focuses on stories like these. We have asked our columnists to write about their misadventures – those trips that you might, in hindsight, say, “I should have stayed home.”
Read these cautionary tales and take note: We have a season of adventure ahead and small mistakes can lead to big trouble. But no matter what, don’t let the fear of the unknown keep you from trying, and trying again.
Welcome to spring, Coast readers. Let the fun begin.