So, September 19th was an interesting day on Lake Michigan. We were taking Wild Irish out for the second day of the 2004 Hobleman Regatta. It was blowing perhaps 15 knots steadily out of the southeast. There were reasonably sized waves in the mouth of Belmont Harbor, and those damn barges in the north basin, leaving precious little space to navigate. We left the can on a close reach under just the main, and built up momentum to leave the harbor mouth. Done it many times before. Today, though, there was an additional wrinkle: one of the rental boats with the Target sail, named Jaywalk. As we passed the south breakwater wall in the harbor mouth, Jaywalk was moving north along the western side of the wall, under main and motor. We headed out, getting the boat ready to race. Then I heard something behind me, and saw Jaywalk bearing down on our stern. The bow of that boat was within mere inches of crashing down on our stern, and not appearing to turn. I instinctively headed up, toward the wind.
We avoided the collision. However, the cost was that we wound up in irons: facing into the wind, stuck until we managed to fall off to port or starboard. Before I was able to regain steerage, we had been blown north toward the rocks in the harbor mouth. We lost all speed and momentum, and I was unable to make forward motion enough to leave the harbor mouth or to tack.
We wound up on the rocks.
Not a pleasant situation. The hull of Wild Irish began to take a beating. I released the main sail and dropped it into the cockpit, as it was aiding our being blown north, on the rocks and nearer to the barges. We had the jib out and could possibly use that to reach away if we were able to push off and turn the boat. Of course, the fear there would be putting the stern on the rocks, and losing the rudder.
Thankfully, John from the yacht club saw what happened, and raced over to rescue us in a mark setting boat. He placed himself downwind of us, between the looming barges and our boat. With a line to our stern, he pulled us off. Unfortunately, the process of getting hooked up took a little chunk out of the stern, a small price to pay.
Away from the rocks, we took a line to the bow, and were towed back to our can. We didn’t see any damage inside the boat. I took a dive, and thankfully discovered that the hull damage was limited to scrapes in the topsides paint, a little chip in the bow at the tip, and some minor wood abrasion below the waterline. The lead ballast keel, though, took some damage. I presume that happened when we were pulled off stern first and the keel impacted on the rocks. The bottom had some mushrooming at the edges, and the leading edge had also mushroomed in places. Worse, at least one section was “chewed” and missing some lead. However, the rudder was completely undamaged.
Once we were assured that the boat was sound, we went ashore and thanked John. Then we trudged around the harbor to the sailing club/rental office. We discussed what happened with the owner on the phone, and with staff at the dock. When Jaywalk returned, they hadn’t a clue what had happened. Nor did they understand the rules of the right of way, that a boat under power must permit a boat under sail to sail unmolested. The rental company accepted responsibility. We’ll see how this plays out.