The world is full of gotcha! sounds. Every new (to you) house, car, motorcycle, power tool, and, yes, sailboat makes them. These intrusive noises are seldom harbingers of good news, and are almost always sorted out by accident. That is, nobody tells you in advance: “Mr. Foster, if you ever hear a loud CLANG, followed immediately by a metallic scraping noise and a shower of sparks, it probably means someone should have replaced those driveshaft bearings. Enjoy your hardly used Chevrolet!” Nope, it never happens like that; rather, you’re more likely to be driving along a winding, narrow, cliff-side road overlooking the Ohio River just outside Pittsburgh.
But I digress. My new sailboat’s first Gotcha! sound was actually nothing bad. Just a loud “thunk” when the retractable keel winch cable slips off an adjacent cable wrap just before I reach the “all up” position. Scary, but the boat’s designer assures me it’s nothing bad. Phew! Today’s Gotcha! sound, was also a “thunk,” but it was way louder, and followed by a pulse-stopping, metal-grinding, part-snarling moan. This terrible thunk/moan shut my 14HP diesel down, and even with my boundless lack of experience and/or expertise, I knew this sound couldn’t be as benign as its predecessor. We were dead in the water, a couple blocks from our neighbor’s dock, and drifting the wrong way. Thankfully, the massive ketch usually tied to the approaching pylons was on its way to the Panama Canal, so I assumed the owner wouldn’t mind if we tied off to ponder Life, the Universe, and Everything while we waited for a tow.
My first instinct upon hearing today’s Gotcha! sound had been to glance at the depth finder. I’ve now logged enough hours practicing motoring maneuvers in Lake Louise to not only have created layers upon layers of chart plotter etcha-sketch lines any kindergartener would be proud of, but also to know that I’d never seen a depth reading under ten and a half feet. But I had to look. Eleven feet deep . . . we didn’t hit bottom.
I couldn’t bear the thought that my brand new transmission had conked out, but since there wasn’t a lobster pot anywhere near Lake Louise, I was hard pressed to sort out the puzzle . . . until my roving eye passed around the deck for the hundredth time. Why did the self-tailing tang on my port jib winch look bent? And worse, why was the red line headed over the port rail instead of being tied neatly to the stern rails like its starboard twin? GOTCHA!
OK, bad stuff happens, and sailboat lines, like sound reinforcement cables, are the blessing and the bane of Life, the Universe, and Everything. They are like wayward children, prone to sneak off the reservation at the slightest provocation, and until I get someone to cut the last bit of line off my prop, I’ll not know the extent of the damage. Who said "bad luck is better than no luck at all?" I'd like a word with them……