It’s a weird feeling to fear water recession. With the huge influx of water that surges in during a hurricane, often the boats simply float, to the extent they are unencumbered. However, when the water starts to recede, often the boats have moved and they are now liable to sink down on any number of precarious surfaces: pilings, land, docks, other boats, etc. that could damage, if not impale, them. After Sally startled and shell-shocked Pensacola and the storm surge receded, Plaintiff’s Rest was left, mercifully, clinging to a broken-up dock with a 34-foot power boat sunk beneath her that had likely damaged her rudder. All we knew at the time was: we were not currently taking on water (thank god!), we believed the rudder was still in place and intact, albeit damaged, and we needed to get Plaintiff’s Rest out of that boat-strewn battleground and hauled as soon as possible. Captain Annie, and her full bladder, to the rescue!
Monday, September 21, 2020:
It was my job to be Captain that day. While I do have the official license and title (I received my USCG Captain’s license in 2017), that slip of paper doesn’t always make me feel 100% capable of handling the boat on my own every time, at least not without issue. Although, deep down I know I can. It may be scary and we may bump a thing or two, but I know I can, and I know she can handle it. There is a great benefit to having a two-member crew where each person is fully capable of handling the boat independently. Particularly on this day, when we got word from the marina they were planning to move Plaintiff’s Rest from her battered and barely-hanging on “slip.” With the other finger pier to the south of her tattered and devoured, I’m not sure you can call the sliver of wood she was holding onto a “slip,” but it was the best reference at the time.
Phillip was covered up that day with a number of other hurricane-related emergencies that would not allow him to work idly at the boat while awaiting our move time—which was in no way defined—so it was on me. I didn’t know where they would be moving our boat to or whether they would want us to move out of the ravaged marina entirely. They don’t really give you a manual for this kind of situation, and so many factors are at play: safety, preservation of boats or docks where possible, insurance, liability matters, weather conditions, alternative slip availability, etc. After the storm, Phillip and I had simply been walking down to check on the boat every day to make sure she was not taking on any water and trying, when possible, to gather intel from the dockmaster and other laborers who were occasionally motoring about in their workboat—removing broken docks and boats in no particular order—when they might be moving ours. It was pure luck we heard from a friend that morning who was at the marina who heard the dock crew say they were planning to move our boat that day. We did not know when, but I darn sure wanted to be there when they did move her to make sure, to the extent I could, that she stayed safe and afloat. This was her situation at the time:
“I don’t want to turn the rudder,” I told Phillip over the phone after I texted him the news they would be moving our boat that day. I couldn’t really explain the impulse, but I just felt, deep down, that if whatever was going on with her rudder and within the rudder post was holding now, meaning no water intake, I certainly didn’t want to be the one to un-do that currently-working situation. Not without back-up. If you find a friend impaled in the abdomen by a rather large stick, but he’s not currently bleeding, do you want to be the one who pulls the stick out without anyone else around? What if he starts gushing? For whatever reason, and whether it’s accurate or insane, that’s how I viewed our rudder at the time. If anything was going to change with our precarious but currently water-tight situation, I didn’t want it to happen when I was aboard alone.
“Then don’t,” Phillip said. “Don’t let them make you do anything you don’t want to do,” he added firmly. And, I say “firmly” because Phillip knew that’s how he had to give it, otherwise I would cave. While there are many things I am good at—creating, working, fixing, learning, following orders—there are also many other things I am terrible at, like standing up to people, talking over others, negotiating, taking charge, and telling others what to do. I’m just not good at being forceful, short, or dominant with people. My people-pleasing desire sometimes makes me a pushover. Phillip knows that. That’s why he is always solidly our leader, and I make one hell of a loyal and obedient soldier. But, not today. Today I (a young female, sorry, but you just can’t, as a young female in an older male-dominated environment, unsense that) was going to be telling these old salts, long-time sailors and deck-hands, as well as the marina owner, what I would not be told to do.
But, I squared my shoulders and prepared for it. It was on me. And, of course, it was the first biting-cold, spitting-rain day of the winter season. Immediately after the day of the hurricane the weather had turned infuriatingly beautiful. Sunny, warm, a light breeze. Brilliant gold sunshine blanketed our debris-strewn streets like Sally had never even happened. But, on this day, move-the-boat day, it was nasty and cold out. Of course! I donned my full foul weather jacket over a pair of sail pants for the day with many layers under including hat, gloves, and my rubber rain boots. It was annoyingly frigid out and blowing enough to matter, 10-15 knots. Just enough to make moving the boat while not under engine or sail more difficult. But, the sight of my boat warmed my heart when I got to the marina. There she was. Still floating. Still holding on for us. The gravity of what Plaintiff’s Rest had done—held on in the horrific nightmare that had played out around her—steeled my nerves. If she could do that surely I could be brave, tell the dock guys how I wanted things handled, and get ‘er done.
Here we go, I told myself as the workboat came around to Plaintiff’s Rest to begin the process. When I saw him approaching I felt my hopes immediately buoy. A familiar face!
“Peewee!” I shouted. Yes, that is in fact his name. Or at least the name I’ve always known him to go by in sailing circles. Peewee is one of those salty jack-of-all-trade types that you’ll find working on sails one year, doing rigging and making boat deliveries the next, helping clean up after a hurricane the following. He’s been doing boat stuff in Pensacola for years and was someone I felt I could call a friendly acquaintance. He was also a person I knew would care about my boat while moving her. I was also hopeful he would honor my request not to crank the engine or turn the rudder. When I spoke with Peewee, he confirmed mine and Phillip’s suspicion that the owner of the marina was trying to get all operational boats out and moved to a different location, which was understandable. I just didn’t consider my boat in its current condition safely “operational.”
Mustering all of my available “tell them no” bravery I explained to Peewee that the first time I wanted to move our rudder would be on the way to the shipyard to haul in case we started taking on water, perhaps a lot of water. With a little pushing and a very clear indication that I was not going to turn my wheel, Peewee agreed, and I was so relieved! The plan then was to push and maneuver Plaintiff’s Rest to the extent we could, manually (using our hands and boat poles), to a point where she could then be pushed or pulled out into the open marina by the workboat, then maneuvered over to the seawall on the other side to sit until it was time for her to haul-out. Phillip and I had no clue when that would be. All we knew was we had been put on the list the day of the storm.
This is roughly what we were dealing with as far as surrounding boats, docks, and debris:
Peewee and his crew first tried to pull the piling that was once at the end of what remained of the finger pier to the south of us, but they only managed to tilt it a good thirty degrees. It would not budge after that. But, they did get it heeled over enough to allow Peewee to saw off the damaged finger pier. It was a mangled mess.
Almost impossible to walk on. Thankfully, Peewee was surprisingly good at this awkward crawl maneuver that allowed him to free the finger pier and the crew then dragged it out with the workboat.
That left this space, roughly, to try and work Plaintiff’s Rest safely out.
The view from PR’s cockpit to starboard.
It was cold and spitting rain; we were all pretty much soaked on the outer layers. But, the crew was diligent, calmly voicing orders over the weather. I was staged initially on the dock by Plaintiff’s Rest’s bow, my hands and knees shaking knowing she was now finally untied. I was afraid I might be the leader the day we did something that sunk her, after all she had been through and survived. But, my hope was that Plaintiff’s Rest was taking her first step to safety, albeit with a path of carnage to navigate before she could get there with no propulsion. This was it.
Peewee first thought he would be able to push and pull her to execute a full 180-degree turn in the “slip” so her bow would then be pointed out toward the exit. As we began this process, I had to fight the urge to repeatedly tell Peewee, who was at the stern, “watch the rudder on that sunk boat, watch the rudder, look out for the rudder” over and over again. As if he didn’t know. But, it’s like handing something expensive and delicate to a friend. You can’t help fight the urge to say “don’t drop it.” But, I could see he was watching our rudder closely as we all nudged and scooched Plaintiff’s Rest’s bow over to the southeast corner of the “slip.” However, when we started to spin her, it soon became clear we would not be able to get her turned all the way around. A large sport fisher was just sticking out too far to allow her bow to clear it.
“Change of plans,” Peewee shouted just as the cold north wind started to fight us and push her stern over toward the sport fisher. “We’re backing her out!” Another worker started crawling up on the sportfisher to fend Plaintiff’s Rest off at her bow. The marina owner shouted “Annie, board!” Everyone was scrambling to change course.
That’s when I lost it.
Not my temper. The contents of my bladder.
Unfortunately, the only point at which to board my boat at that time was the bow. Have you ever boarded your boat from the bow? In a hurry? It’s not easy. Or pretty.
In a three-second maneuver, I hiked one leg up and stuck it through the pulpit onto the deck, then sandwiched my torso to that leg while dragging my hind leg through the pulpit and flopping onto the foredeck like a slippery fish. And, what can I say? I was nervous, worried, shaking. The pressure that the situation and the maneuver put on my bladder just gushed it out. I heard Peewee laugh and thought in a flash of panic that maybe the guys could see a huge spot on my pants. I looked down in fear but felt a wave of gratitude flood over me as I remembered both my long johns underneath and my pants were black. The perfect color to hide pee. We were all wet rats out there, anyhow, and with the wind keeping things fresh and breezy, it seemed no one was the wiser. Peewee said “Well, I’ve never seen it done that way before.” I smiled and laughed. “He said board,” I replied with a shrug.
Thankfully that had everyone smiling and in a good mood for the move. We then carefully picked Plaintiff’s Rest’s way between the sportfisher, the sunk boat (Peewee actually boarded Plaintiff’s Rest midship from that boat), and the wayward piling to get her out in the center of the marina.
Although the wind had a good bit of force on her once we were out in the open, with the workboat we were able to nudge and move her fairly easily using the workboat’s engine power and fenders. Peewee and I worked her gingerly up to the sea wall on the other side and secured her to pilings.
The view from her new location back over to the demolished “slip” she had fought her battle in, and from that “slip” over to her new spot on the sea wall told quite the tale.
This was a huge, satisfying Step One toward our recovery. For the moment, Plaintiff’s Rest was safely secured, not taking on water, and on a list to haul at the shipyard to be repaired.
And, I had done it! Saved the day! Captain Annie … Wet Panty!