Once upon the timeline of my existence the vibrating strings of my constituents became aligned and harmonized with a man I shall call E. We shared business, leisure and intellectual pursuit. Our life view seemed very similar. We shared a love of the sea, his for sailing and boats, mine for surfing and windsurfing. Our friendship lasted for many years and each of us became comfortable and accepting of the others quirks. Susan and I moved south to our current homelands the same time he sold his business and retired from full time work. We remained friends and traveled the miles to visit each other often.
Around this time E hatched a plan to buy a small boat and take it north to the Puget Sound and beyond. He would sail the inland waterways, visit they many islands and live on his boat. He had a passion for the designs of L.Francis Herrishoff, particularly the H-28. Although small in living space, the H-28 was a beamy, shallow draft design that sailed quite well across a broad range of conditions. It was not meant for offshore sailing but would do in a pinch on the unintended longer passage. One day a few years later I was down on the bay front when I noticed the stern of a small sailboat that looked very similar to what I remembered of the H-28. It was tied to the Sylvester Brothers tug dock and easily accessible. On further inspection I discovered it was a perfectly restored H-28 named Katrina and it was for sale! I called E immediately and in a matter of a week he was Katrina’s new master.
During the next 6 months E commenced to sell or give away most of his accumulation of lifestuff and outfit Katrina for his plan. He stayed with Susan and I until he had Katrina in a live aboard condition. E also decided that he would sail Katrina north to the sound. This decision troubled me deeply and I urged him to transport the boat by land. In all my years working for the Harbor district, around the waterfront, surfing and windsurfing I knew the the northwest winds of the California coast are a year round phenomena. I had first hand experience having fished on a few Albacore trollers and crewing on the delivery of a 65′ troller in a 14 day passage from Moss Landing to Hanalei, Kauai. Motoring north is tough enough but sailing north on this coast is only attempted by the most experienced. E was determined and his plan was to leave in early spring. Spring is when we would pull out our windsurfing gear. Spring IS the windy season in California. I became worried of his judgement and started to question all the quirks I had become comfortable with.
One Saturday I had ridden my bike into town to do my weekly equipment maintenance at the shop. The phone rang, it was Susan, ” Honey, I ran into E at the grocery store and he said he is leaving on his trip this afternoon”. I was astounded, at that time he had only accomplished a 2 hour sailing sea trial in the bay and motored to the fuel dock. I pedaled to the Embarcadero and his tie slip as fast as I could. I arrived as he was literally letting go the last line. I said to him, ” Are you ok? Your going?” He replied,” I’m going to try and make it to Monterey in 3 or 4 big tacks”. I roughed the math in my head and thought he’s going to have to sail out at least 80 to 100 miles to make that work. Offshore, beating upwind on the California coast, in March, in an H-28, a horribly bad idea in my estimation. By then he was well away from the dock and he shouted finally, ” Don’t worry Buzz, I know what I’m doing”. I raced down the Embarcadero, along the inner jetty as fast as I could. E unfurled the mainsail and the jib. He sheeted them both when he pulled even with Target rock, Katrina heeled over, accelerated and sailed straight out into the glittering afternoon sea. It was one of the most beautiful sailing scenes I have seen in my life. It is etched in my memory. Breathtaking.
By Monday afternoon the northwest winds were blowing 25knots+ on the beach, I could only imagine what it was like 80 miles off. I was seriously worried.
On Wednesday evening Susan and I had just sit down for dinner when the phone rang. It was E. I can’t tell you the relief I felt in that moment. I said, ” Where are you? Monterey?”. He replied, “No I’m in Watsonville”. I said, “Where’s Katrina? tied in Monterey or Moss Landing?”. He did not reply for a few moments, then, ” uuuuhhhh Katrina is not tied anywhere she is drifting north of Point Conception 50 miles out. I was lifted off her around 2pm by the Coast Guard helicopter. I called a mayday and they flew out to me. They told me to abandon they were not coming back”.
For all these 25 years since I have often reflected and tried to recall exactly what I said. I know I did not say, ” I told you this would happen”. I think it was more technical in nature, “…. how much water was in the boat? How strong was the wind? How large were the seas? Were you seasick? Was the hull breached?” What I do remember is what E replied, he said “YOU don’t know what it’s like Buzz” I did not reply for a long minute or more. I was thinking…thinking of the terror I felt that night on the tiny 65′ long Lusty a 1000 miles to windward, Beaufort force 10+ winds and giant, chaotic seas. Thinking of how I came to my peace and gave my fate up to the universe…..thinking. And then E said,” Well I guess this is the end of our friendship”. I was astounded, angry that he would think that. I did not reply. He said good by and hung up.
In the next week I made contact with a nice young man at the local Coast Guard station, he called me a couple times with updates of the position of Katrina, one from a fly over by an F-18 out of Lemoore NAB and a sighting from a fishing boat. I had organized a pilot friend to fly out into the channel to search. Another friend with a 40′ fishing boat was on call to go out and tow Katrina once she was in range. And then I got a call from a friend at the Port San Luis harbor office, ” Buzz, I think a fishing boat just towed in your friends sailboat. It was a small white sloop about 28-30′ right? It’s funny she is in almost perfect condition, the rudder is broken from banging back and forth all these days but she only had about 50 gallons of water in the bilge. Why did he abandon her?”
To this day I do not know why E called the mayday or why he abandoned Katrina at sea. I know thru the grapevine he did get her back. I also know that he did eventually get Katrina and himself to the Puget sound…. by land. He wrote Susan off and on for a couple years, but I have not spoken to him since that night on the phone. I’m sure we are both guilty of more than a couple of the seven deadly sins. To this day I think I see him sometimes and I go back to make sure. E would be in his early 80’s by now.
When I was in my early 20’s my dear friend Winston gave me a copy of Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. It was a beginning for me and I have used it as an allegory of life. I have often wondered which character would suit me best; Siddhartha the protaganist, Govinda his friend and follower or Vasudeva the enlightened ferryman. I would be happy as any of them. Perhaps…. they are really one and the same? Perhaps WE are really one and the same.
Perhaps someday we will realize it, perhaps not.