We were taking our dinghy into the marina at Friday Harbor with a load of laundry when swirls of black dots swept across the sky. It took me a minute to realize the dots weren't in the sky or even on my glasses but in my eyes. In seconds, the swirls broke up and disappeared but if I focused right I could see that I now had hundreds, maybe thousands of tiny dots floating in my right eye. Floaters. I'd read a pamphlet about them in the ophthalmologist's office once and remembered that they were common and not usually serious, but their sudden explosion in my eye scared me.
Once ashore, I got out my cell phone and called the Group Health Consulting Nurse in Seattle. The nurse told me there was a danger that part of my retina might have detached. But because I wasn't seeing flashing lights and gray curtains weren't coming across my vision, she thought I was okay. But she wanted me to talk to the ophthalmologist's office.
It wasn't until 5:30 that afternoon, as we were raising anchor to leave Friday Harbor, that the ophthalmologist's assistant finally called me back. Like the nurse, she thought I was okay, but I still needed to come in for an exam. That week, not next Monday when we were back in Seattle. If there was a problem, I only had a few days to get it treated. I made an appointment for two days away. We would be in Port Townsend by then and I had already arranged a ride to Seattle that day for a meeting of the Washington State Pilotage Commission. I could stay after the meeting for the appointment and come back by bus.
We motored out of Friday Harbor to the south end of Griffin Bay where we planned to anchor for the night so we could catch the tide out San Juan Channel to the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the morning. As I stood on the bow waiting for Steve to tell me to drop the anchor, I wasn't thinking about the boat or the anchor; I was worrying about my eye. Should I have flown to Seattle from Friday Harbor? What if something really was wrong? I could lose part of my vision. And what about the two talks I had scheduled at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival that weekend? What if I had to cancel them?
I broke from my reverie as Steve called out to drop the anchor. I let the anchor out and watched the chain rumble through the windlass. Suddenly, I heard the engine stop before we'd set the anchor. I looked back at Steve in surprise. He was swearing at the dinghy. Neither of us had remembered to bring the dinghy in and when Steve put the engine in reverse to let out the anchor, the dinghy's painter had wound around the propeller hard enough to stop the engine. If I'd been paying attention, I might have noticed the dinghy still on its long line.
"It's getting dark," said Steve. "I need to get my wetsuit on fast and get down there to free the line before I can't see."
I ran to the forepeak and hauled out the duffel with the wetsuit, searching in the lockers for fins and mask. Steve started pulling on the suit and I helped him tug booties and gloves on, then carried the weights up to the deck. I just barely had time to gaze out around us at our anchorage in Griffin Bay. The sea was absolutely calm, broken only by a few fishing boats unloading fish to a fish packer near by.
Steve jumped in the water and dove down to the propeller. He was back in a few seconds to report the rope was wound so tight he would have to cut it off with a knife. He made several dives with our rope-cutting knife, but we didn't have SCUBA gear so Steve couldn't stay down long and the cutting went slowly.
"I can't see what I'm doing anymore," said Steve, as the sky was turning pink in the sunset. "We'll have to get up early and finish it in the morning."
I knew we would have to work fast in the morning. Slack-before-the-flood was at 8:30. If we left too late, we would have trouble getting out the pass and trouble later entering Admiralty Inlet if we missed the flood going into Puget Sound.
The next morning at 7:30 Steve struggled into his damp wetsuit and went overboard again, holding the rope-cutting knife in his hand. It was a beautiful morning, sunny and calm. I was glad we didn't have to contend with winds and waves on top of everything else. Then, on one of his stops for air, he looked down at his hand and swore. He had dropped the knife which he hadn't been able to feel through his wetsuit gloves
"Get me a steak knife," he said. "It's the only other knife we've got with serrated edges."
I ran down to the galley and grabbed two steak knives and handed one to Steve. It was a good thing we weren't vegetarians.
"This is going to take awhile," Steve said the next time he surfaced. "The steak knife doesn't cut as well."
I pictured our chance to get out the channel dwindling away along with any chance to make my ophthalmology appointment the next day.
Just then I looked up and noticed a small sailboat with the name The Cookie Monster
written on its hull pulling up its anchor next to us. I waved it over. Two men were in the cockpit.
"Do you have a knife for cutting rope?" I asked. "We dropped ours."
The older of the two men went below and came back with a big heavy knife with serrated edges.
"It's my diver's knife," he told me. "It will cut anything. I know what you're going through. I've done it too."
The Cookie Monster
came over and tied up alongside Ospre
y while Steve used the knife. Steve was getting very tired and I was glad to have help nearby.
"Take all the time you need," one of the men told us. "We're not in any rush; we're on vacation."
"We're almost there," Steve announced as he surfaced. A few more dives and the rope was free.
The two men came on Osprey and helped Steve get back on board.
As I watched The Cookie Monster
motor away, I focused for the first time on the fact that it was a green boat. I remembered my first blog of the season and how I had written about the superstition that green boats were unlucky (Leaving on Friday the 13th)...
. I had just seen dramatic proof that the superstition was false. A green boat had just brought us a lot of luck.
The current had turned against us by the time we left, but not strong enough to stop our progress. We crossed the Strait in cloudless calm weather and arrived at Port Townsend that afternoon, in time to catch my ride to Port Townsend the next day. That afternoon the ophthalmologist examined my eyes and found no damage to the retina. He explained that as we age, the vitreous gel begins to liquefy. The liquefying can cause the gel to pull against the retina, occasionally causing a sudden shower of new floaters, or in extreme cases, detaching the retina. For more information, see the all about vision .
website. It's sobering to think that if this happened to a cruising sailor in the middle of the ocean and their retina did detach, there would be nothing they could do about it.
After three buses in three different county transit systems and a ferry ride I finally got back to Port Townsend at 8 pm, ready to give my talk at 11:30 the next morning. And ready to go home.
Port Townsend's Wooden Boat Festival