Tales from Geezer Boatworks


Ahoy there Shipmates,

I got my lesson about ship wakes a while back. I was out on the bay with my buddy Thad the Fish Killer, and we were anchored fifty yards off the ship channel. The tide had just started to run in and we were catching fish for the first time all day. Truth be told, for the first time in a couple of outings. Actually Thad’s catching fish. I’m fiddling around in the cabin, standing close to the fan, making us some egg salad sandwiches for lunch. It was a pretty hot day. So Thad’s baiting his hook and he spies a freighter coming from the north.

“Maybe we oughta pull anchor Paul,” Thad suggested thoughtfully. I took a look at the freighter. Now the channel at that point takes a dogleg to run northwest to southeast. What wind there was was from the south. So was the tide, so I/B Danielle’s stern pointed towards the channel at an angle that would be pretty well perpendicular to the freighter’s wake. We’d pulled anchor too many times already, and I was tired of it – cruddy, soggy, heavy thing that it was. Thad had his fish killin’ spot working. “Should be all right. We’ll just take it on the stern,” I pronounced in my most captainly manner. “Ohhhkey-dohhhkey,” agreed Thad good-naturedly, but I noticed he proceeded to close up his tackle box and wedge his poles, all six of them, up against the cathead. Can you see it coming here, Shipmates?

I started the engine, just on the odd chance that we might need it, and headed to the poop deck for a better look. That little harmless freighter kept getting bigger and closer, and closer and bigger, until before I realized it, it was a solid wall of steel that reached half way to the sky! A behemoth intent on swamping us with a wake that…I can’t go on here Shipmates, the memory is too painful. I was like a deer, caught in the headlights. Give me a few minutes.

There, I’m better now. I staggered white-faced through the cabin. Got to lock the cupboards. No no, not enough time. Maybe pull the anchor? Too late for that. Cut it loose? No way, not my antique bronze plow. Maybe swing around somehow to face the beast? Yeah, that’s it, and I jumped for the wheel. I shoved the gear knob forward and opened the throttle. Once again Danielle’s mighty diesel engine sucked great gasps of air into her two metallic lungs, squeezing it mercilessly until open injectors drove her pistons back downward with hellfire itself.

Meanwhile Thad the Fish Killer had taken further precautions. He stood right up for’d, facing aft towards me. He was sort of bent at the waist, what with his ample butt jammed up against his fishing poles to hold them in place. He had his tackle box between his feet and a hand on each rail, but just before the tidal wave, he saluted me. Good old Thad, faithful to the bitter end. Then his eyes opened as wide as saucers. I noticed the life jacket he had between his teeth muffled the scream.

I got her about 45 degrees around before the first wave hit. Danielle dug in her shoulder and lurched crazily to starboard. The cupboard doors clanked open and then closed again. It was just the set-up punch. The next one was an uppercut. Almost beam to. I figure we rolled 60 degrees. Thad says it was more like 30, but he’s a master at understatement. Whatever the angle, the contents of the cupboards jumped gleefully out and clattered to the cabin sole. The slices of bread with egg salad slathered on them did half gainers, joyfully targeting the fan. Fortunately I had the wheel to clutch onto. There were a couple of other waves of course, but since most of the stuff in the boat was already on the sole, they only had the effect of mixing the ingredients thoroughly. Ooo, what a mess!

So there’s the lesson of the day for all you fair weather sailors, like myself. Stay clear of those freighters, and keep your bows to their wakes. And those egg salad sandwiches, you ask? Did they hit the fan? And if so, what side did they present to the fan guard, egg or bread first? These are the questions that burn in mens’ minds. But I’ll leave that part up to you, Shipmates. And which way you decide the particulars will tell you a lot about your outlook on life in general.

- Paul Browne -