The Dove Goes Down
03 August 2011 | Potomac River, St. Georges Island
Michael Pratt, Clear, Blowing 12- 35 knots
Obviuosly, I am not The owner of the DOVE. The Dove did come to own me though, heart and soul. Thus follows stories of a season spent as first mate. A season no one who was a part of it will ever forget.
The Dove needed maintenance in the worst way. It had not been hauled out for nearly three years making it two years past due. The damage below the waterline was there but hidden. The keel was riddled with wood worms the size of your little finger. The bottom of the main mast was full of wood worms. The planking was full of wood worms. No one knew they were there. They entered through a crack then traveled willy nilly through the tunnels they bored, always staying just below the surface. The president of the St. Marie's City gang or whatever it is called was the captain of the Dove at the time. He made all the decisions since he had fired the real captain. He now decided to take The Dove around to Solomon's Island to be hauled and have the bottom painted, as I said no one knew of the labyrinth of holes throughout the entire bottom of the poor pitiful Dove.
We had trained a crew of volunteers by taking them away from the dock and back. In all a voyage of some ¼ miles or in nautical terms, jack shit. We were going to be towed by the worn out tow boat known as "THE PILE OF JUNK". You must understand that the Dove could not be sailed due to the deteriorated condition of the sails and rigging. The "captain" decided that we need not train the crew to sail since we were to be towed the entire trip around Point Lookout and up to the island. We could very easily see that the rigging was coming apart due to rotted lines everywhere. This would all be taken care of while in dry dock. This was to be just a quick jaunt around the Point and a leisurely tow up the Chesapeake and a cold beer before dark. This was to be a "captains" worst nightmare. I feared for my own life, for the lives of all the crew, I even feared for the life of the "captain", but I felt no responsibility for the Dove. That fell squarely in the hands of the "captain". He was in charge and my hands were full trying to watch out for the crew.
We were to leave at 8 o'clock, by the crack of noon we left. The water was calm inside the St. Mary's River. Our departure was smooth and uneventful. Everyone but the helmsman lounged on the rail and laughed about anything, such was the sheer pleasure of the warm sun and a slight breeze on your face. Under your feet was a fine vessel, hand built by the best boat builder alive. In front of us was a 30 or 40 mile trip that should prove to be glorious. We were about to find out that lounging on the rail would soon seem to be a memory from some other decade. Reality was about to slam us all against the closest hard object.
The trip from the dock inside the St. Mary's River to the entrance into the Potomac River took about 45 minutes. The Potomac looked a little choppy but it was always a little choppy. What no one took note of was the rise in wind, from zero to about 20 to 25 knots. The rise had been gradual until we cleared the shores of the St. Mary's. Suddenly we were running right into a head wind and a chop made up of mixed up waves that slammed into our bow so hard that a shudder would pass from bow to stern. Soon the bow was lifting clear out of the water and meeting oncoming waves like a pile driver. Things began to go wrong about now and it would be nearly twenty four straight hours of panic and work.
The"captain" knew we were in trouble and did make an effort to ease the strain on the Dove. He tries slowing the towboat, this only made the agony longer and we pretty much came to a dead stand still. His next effort was exactly as it should have been; he tried to change direction slightly. This would have helped only now the main mast began to fall apart. This a large structure, 85' tall made of two pine logs stacked one on top of the other with an overlap of about four feet. It supports three cross members and their sails and one crows nest. Normally this mast is solid as a rock, not today it begins to slam forward and aft. The forward stay has come loose and fallen to the deck. We now have a mast that resembles two telephone poles that are whipping back and forth with each new wave. The "captain" and I had a short, out of the way meeting. He needed help. If the mast were to come down, there would be much damage and worst yet was the threat to the crew directly below thousands of pounds of wood, rope and sail. He did not know what to do. The slamming was getting worst by the minute. He asked if we should turn and run for shelter. I advised against it since it would expose our broadside to the waves beating us to pieces. This would only worsen the strain on the mast as the ship would sway from side to side in a violent manner. No, the only thing to do was fix the mast and soon.
The plan was set. We were to put the bow directly into the wind, reduce the speed of the tow boat until the Dove began to gently drift backwards. At this point, I and two volunteers would climb up to the crows nest, a small, flat, round, platform with no side or rails; we would drop one end of a small line down to the deck. This line in turn would be attached to a larger line. Then we would haul up the small line until we reached the medium line. The medium line would be attached to the stay. The Fore Stay on the Dove was about 4 or 5 inches across and with a length of about 45 Feet. Lifting one end was going to take all three of us, we tried it on deck, it was going to be heavy and we had no idea how we were going to attach this line back onto the mast. Before it fell apart, it had been wrapped once around the mast and the end had been married to the line to form a loop. The problem was that all of this happened under the crows nest in an area already crowded with many a line. We decided to not to decide. We would have to wing it.
The three of us jumped into the ratlines full of heart and courage. We were ready to save the crew and the boat on adrenaline alone, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. One step up the rigging and it hit us all at the same time- this was going to be nearly impossible. The mast was swaying fore and aft at the top by about 10 to 15 feet, and then it would slam with a jolt and whip in the other direction. The higher we went, the more violent the motion, soon we would be at the height where just holding on to the ratlines would take every bit of strength and concentration we could muster. All of this and we were only 10 foot of the deck. I gave them a "We can do it"; they went up another ratline only to spew forth their breakfast, lunch and last nights dinner. Both at the same time and both with such force that I worried that they might have matching concussions thus causing projectile vomiting by them both. They were done. Next.
As we came down, I was already eyeing two brothers whom I had known for many years. They were trying to blend in with the crowd. They were not the kind of people that volunteered for anything and as I approached them, they backed up and were looking for a weapon. In a situation like this, I can become very soft spoken yet convincing and authoritative. It comes naturally and always works, they knew better than to resist once I began my appeal for help. I had the help I needed the ship would be saved yet. A few more lines had come loose in the rigging but nothing important - but time was running out. Once again, the three of us told ourselves lies of saving hundreds of lives and receiving many medals and parades, anything to jack up the courage for another adventure at 45 feet.
But first- the "captain" needs to talk again. Can't it wait? We are filling up with water, no it can not wait. I looked below and sure enough we had taken on a couple of feet of water. It wasn't time for life jackets but friendly chats with the "captain" could wait.
Now was the time for action, I was still needed in the crows nest right away and yet we were sinking. At this point I truly surprised myself by being so decisive and effective. I set up a rotation on the manual pumps. These were hand cranked pumps just as it had been done in the sixteenth century. They were efficient and moved a lot of water but not enough to keep up with the flow coming in. The leaks were hidden under iron ballast; the only thing that was going to keep this ship off the bottom was large gasoline powered pumps. Fortunately there was a Coast Guard station only 4 miles away. Without any hesitation or consultation, I hailed the operator of the tow boat; we had no radio on board, and instructed him to notify the coast guard of our situation and ask for their assistance, stressing the need for more then one large pump, they brought three, they needed all three.
With the sinking problem taken care of for the moment, I hoped, I went back to the emergency at hand; the mast that was flopping around more and more. The gyrations were getting worse and more gear was coming loose and swinging in the wind. The situation above us was quickly becoming a disaster in the making. As I gathered up the two brothers to go aloft again, I could actually see fear in their eyes, fortunately I had somehow slipped into auto mode and climbing in the rigging seemed like an adventure, I know better deep down but I had to put on a happy face that even I could believe, otherwise the two Kamenev Brothers were going to bail. I ORDERED them to the crows nest, and then jumped up on the ratlines myself before they even had a chance to move. That did the trick; they followed as if they did this sort of thing every day.
Before we really knew what we were doing, we were well on our way to the crows nest. The going was tough but once you found the rhythm of the sway, we were able to scurry up like little rats. Everything was going just dandy until we actually reached the crows nest for here was an obstacle that none of had thought of - the crows nest. To mount this took a maneuver that we had done dozens of times with no hesitation, now it looked impossible. The ratlines joined the mast right under the crows nest, the crows nest stuck out about 2 ½ to 3 feet from our position on the ratlines. To mount the crows nest, you had to grab hold of a line that was attached to the out side top of the crows nest, swing one leg up and over and drag the other leg over. This took timing, strength and momentum, all in short supply when you were scarred, tired and being thrown around like a rag doll. We had a traffic jam at the crows nest but not for long, I knew that the brother would start back down if I hesitated for more then 4 seconds. I waited for what I hoped was the right timing, I swung over like a pro, and you would be surprised what adrenaline will do. Tom followed immediately but without the knack for timing I had used, without me scrambling to grab him, he would not have made it. One of the big jarring jolts came along just as he swung his fist leg; suddenly he was in mid-air with only one hand holding on. I had practically nothing to grab onto myself yet somehow we were able to hold onto each other until the big from the other direction actually threw him onto the platform. His brother was not in a position to see all this and proceeded to make the same mistake. This time we had two of us to grab him and yank him over the edge,
Now that we had performed miraculous feats of daring and courage, we found ourselves on a small platform with little to grasp and a motion worse than anything I had ever felt. Survival was our only thought for the first few moments in a place we were expecting relative safety. After a few moments the three of were settling in positions that would keep us from flying off like a bird. We had to grip what rigging there was and then hook our feet and toes around the lip of the platform. We took a few deep breaths and then began to laugh from relief. Without warning, both brothers began to barf and puke and laugh and puke and laugh and barf. As we watched the chunks cascade down the 45 feet to the main deck, we realized that no one was watching us, they where all standing by the tiller staring out at something on the horizon. No one was tracking the three crew members that had gone aloft to save their ship. This lead to another round of puking and laughing and puking and laughing. It seems the wind was perfect for the puke to spread and drift right on top of the rest of the crew and none of them realized that they were getting spewed upon. The day had brought a steady spay from the bow all day and this new "spray" was thought to be more bow spray. The brothers had been out the night before downing a few beers and apparently they still had plenty of beer and dinner and breakfast in their stomachs. The perfect landing of the puke just brought on more puking and laughing and puking and laughing.
We couldn't take much more, even my stomach was hurting from the laughter, and the poor Kamenev brothers were dying. Between the puking, the dry heaves and the laughing, they were beginning to loose their strength and their rather tenuous hold. Something had to give or someone was going to get thrown of this little piece of junk crows nest. About now, one of the crew noticed a piece of green pineapple on his shoulder. We had an excellent bird's eye view of the drama as it unfolded from here. First a strange look on his face and a crook of the head, finally he looked up to see three faces laughing up a storm. He looked back down at the pineapple then scanned his follow crew members only to realize that all of them were spotted with pieces of egg, chunks of celery and many pieces of half digested whatever. Finally it dawned on him what had happened and why we were laughing. We actually heard him moan. He ran for clear deck then yelled back to the others to inform them of the danger they were in. At first they didn't understand the gravity of the situation. Not until they began to look at each other and finally at themselves did it hit them like a ton of puke. They had been barfed on repeatedly and the three of us had been lying up in the crows nest and laughing our heads off. They scattered like city folk catching a skunk.
This did calm us down so we could get to task at hand, stopping this damn mast and rigging from whipping around like crazy. Each jolt threatened to throw any one of the three of us of our perch. Our only salvation was that we at least had a chance of being tossed into water rather than the deck; such was the violent motion we had to deal with.
END OF PART ONE