Caught In the Knick of Time
Beside a few tossed bow and stern dock lines, sailors catch sundry things such as favorable breezes, tidal currents, stern quarter waves, weather forecasts, sumptuous sunsets, and of course, an occasional edible fish or two. Any sailor worth his salt may also have caught some unexpected challenges - a rigging-rattling lightning storm, a bone-chilling cold front, a wind and sun-burning facial, a fishnet wrap-around his prop or rudder or a stubborn bottom-lodged anchor. And fortunate enough to avoid catching needless land news' headlines, a secret sandbar, an uncharted reef, a stiff head wind, dysentery, some useless barroom gadfly advice or a sand-bottom-dragging anchor.
If you have ever had a toothache, a hangnail, a paper cut or a splinter, (and who hasn't?), you know how uncomfortable and painful these small annoyances can be. Left untreated, any of these could become an infection. Small can lead to big. A bolt ready to snap, a jib tear ready to rip, a fan belt nearly parting ways, a close-to-bursting hot water line dripping precariously close to some electronics, some stubborn mildew, a missing snap shackle pin, an open-valved toilet, a worn-out engine water pump tube, a disconnected oven battery wire, an uncharted coral head, an unlit channel marker dead ahead, a loose mast fitting, a frayed dinghy painter or an anchor about to drag. All these seemingly minor events happened at sea with me and all within one month, far away from the shores of any mechanic, electrician or marine surplus store. I caught all of these before potentially greater damage occurred. But what also occurred was I discovered a delight a world away. Considering the multitude of catches possible for captain or crew at sea, the most significant is always when someone catches a break before it happens. or catching "the break" before it's broken...before it is too late. If someone notices, announces, snags, grabs or saves something significant just in the nick of time.
Even better than a solution, fix, replacement or spare was the finding of the potential problem in the first place. Then, of course, having and finding the proper onboard implement to remedy the situation….then the reassurance that a repeat occurrence was thwarted at least for the immediate future and then the realization quick reflexes and creative problem-solving skills came in handy. What is truly amazing without the eyes, ears and imaginations of those onboard at the time, the solutions or consequences may have been very different. As I prepared to take possession of Mystique 18 months prior, I remember speaking with one of Moorings' mechanics and asked him about the life expectancy of various onboard equipment. His immediate response was "You know why 5 years is the length of time Moorings keeps the new owner's boats in their charter program, don't you?”
We all know if one isn't present, one can't come to the rescue. But rescue is more than simply showing up, it is recognizing the urgency of a situation and knowing what to do in a timely manner. Of course, heroic acts change the course of events by creating positive outcomes that otherwise left unattended or unnoticed might have lead to either discomfort, damage or disaster. Basically, if one doesn't act quickly enough, one can't save the day. It is all about being in the right place at the right time and knowing what to do. An unusual Yanmar engine pin (at right)...always helps to have a spare part.
For some reason Mystique's arrival in the Exumas seemed to attract an inordinate number of these dicey situations. Thankfully, I had the eye, ears and awareness to catch a number of these in the nick of time. Not only was my catch a time-saver, it was hassle-stopper and ultimately a money-saver.
Of course, everything has a breaking point. All we ever want is for whatever not to break at the most crucial times. But, of course, things break when they have reached their end. And that end, like most, isn't announced....it is only anticipated. We think if we are aware of the subtle signs, sounds and sightings, most of these can be averted, but some are beyond our knowing, our awareness, our view. While fixing some boat parts a challenge; sometimes the greater catch may be any miscommunications and misunderstandings.
When I was recently in Key West I had a tentative plan to return to the Bahamas, but life had another design for me. Out of the blue I reconnected with an ex-elementary school classmate and discovered her waiting for me a world away on a Saint Tropez beach. An amazing mate to share my voyages. I was caught by a dream come true.