Thursday, August 13, 2009

Another day of firsts

This evening John had his first mussels in France. That may not be very exciting, but his other first today was. He finally had to go into the water to clear a snagged line from the prop. At sea.

In the three and a half years we’ve been sailing on Solstice, one of the big fears has always been that we’d snag a line—from a crab pot, a long line, a net, or whatever. We’ve been cautious and we’ve been lucky (especially at night), but we’ve also been prepared with wetsuits, flippers, masks, and knives, just in case.

Today it happened. It was a derelict line, and the float was below the surface so that we couldn’t see it until we started dragging it. John pulled yards and yards of the line into the boat, hoping to find the end, but finally he accepted my offer of a knife to cut the thing. As someone who had done commercial fishing himself, he didn’t want to mess up someone else’s livelihood, but from the frayed and spliced lines that he hauled in, it was clear that this was something someone had lost long ago and had given up on finding.

The fishing boats generally tend their lines—here they’re for nets—so we see them sitting like spiders on a web, and we look for their floats nearby. In the Baltic and North Seas, the floats usually had flags as well. Here in the English Channel, we’d noticed that there were no flags (although near Dieppe where we are now, the flags are back), so we were paying even more attention than usual since floats without flags are much less visible. But it happened anyway.

After we killed our engine and hove to, I noticed a sailboat heading our way. It was a Dutch boat that had noticed our erratic behavior and came to see if we were OK. They apologized that they couldn’t tow us and offered to call someone to help. We waved them off with thanks.

And then John tied a rope around his middle, donned fins and mask, and cut the line from the prop. We were lucky that it wasn’t a snarly mess; John only had to go under once, cut and surface. John wasn’t so lucky that it happened in the English Channel instead of some beautiful, warm tropical sea. It was lucky that it wasn’t in the North Sea or Baltic. The Baltic has very nice, clear water, but it’s really cold. The North Sea is also cold, and not much clearer than the English Channel. And it wasn’t windy with rough seas.

All in all, it probably only took 15 minutes from first encounter to getting under way again, but it seemed like slow motion, of course. When we got to Dieppe, we found the Dutch boat, let them know we were OK, and thanked them again for their offer of assistance.

I’ll have to backtrack to fill in the gaps about Boulogne (our stop after Calais), but this first was worth posting out of order.

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