Uh Oh!!

In the course of human events. . . 

The Windlass. Rope pulley on the left, chain gypsy on the right

When we started this adventure, the biggest argument against it from our families was – what if you get hurt??  How will you get help? Legit points for sure. Lots of things can happen.  A slip, a fall, machinery, ropes, motors and more.  But we are careful. We think things through and we stay safe. . .

Until now.  Anchored out for a few days in Roosevelt Channel alongside Captiva Island we’d been buffeted the entire time by high winds.  One day we decide we will move to the coast, up near Venice, FL, and continue on our way to Clearwater.  We’ve already made the 3 day trip across the state, through the 5 locks of the Okeechobee Waterway to Captiva. We’re pros.  We got this.

Early on the morning of Sunday, February 26 we were going to make our way out of the channel and head north.  The wind is over 30 knots and the water in the channel has blown out, leaving a lower than low tide.  We call a tow service to confirm we can safely exit the channel and head out into the waterway separating Captiva from the mainland.  “No problem, they keep that channel dredged.”  30 minutes later we are at the final marker indicating the entrance / exit of the channel.  And we’re stuck.  Back away, try another path.  Nothing.  We keep stubbing our toe trying to get over the sand bar.  We have no choice.  We fall back into the bay alongside another trawler, also waiting to get out.

Shangri-La has two anchors.  One, a Danforth style which we’ve been using all week on this sandy bottom.  The other, a much more aggressive plow style anchor, which is best in mucky hard to grip bottom.  Once in position behind the windlass on the bow, Jan drops the Danforth and we drop back, feeding more rode to give it some room to bite.  Nothing.  The anchor skids across the bottom like a sled going down a snowy hill.  Three times we try to get it to hold in the raging wind.  No luck.

“Ok, Jan, drop the plow”  5 words that will stick with me forever.  The plow anchor is on one very, very long chain.  Heavy chain.  Heavy enough to hold a 38,000 pound boat in a storm chain.  The anchor holds.  Managing the rode (that rope or chain) attached to the anchor is a piece of cake when using the Danforth.  It has 6′ of chain, then 200′ of rope. Not so with the plow.  It is 200′ of solid chain.  When we have too much chain out, or need to retrieve the chain, one has to use the windlass.  On one side of the windlass is the rope pulley, the other side is the chain gypsy.  It’s ugly.  Indented sections of a stainless steel wheel designed to grab the chain links and pull the anchor chain aboard.  The powerful motor can lift several hundred pounds of weight.

On the deck below the windlass are two rubber push buttons we step on with our toes to activate.  One brings the anchor up, the other button lowers it down.  When using the plow, one needs to lower it carefully so as not to end up with too much chain on the bottom.  So you dance on the pedals slowly lowering away. If there is too much chain out, we tap the ‘Up’ pedal to reverse the windlass and raise the chain. With the boat bouncing on 3′ waves, spray blowing across the deck and after 3 failed attempts to get a good hook, Jan was very busy.

And it only took a second.  While raising some excess chain onto the deck, her glove got caught – between the chain and the gypsy.  Fingers crushed and her arm twisted in an ugly angle; it was over before she could say “ouch.”  Standing on the bridge and watching it all, my heart sank as she turned and looked up at me “I’m hurt.  Hurt bad.”

Battle stations – we’re anchored tight now so the boat isn’t moving.  After taking her glove off and seeing the damage we both know she needs immediate medical care.  We get her finger wrapped in a position where the loose end is sort of where it belongs.  Jan is quiet.  No screaming, no sobbing.  The salon floor is splattered in blood.  I’m on the phone to 911 while at the same time on the VHF radio to the nearest marina.  The only dock nearby is a small-boat fishing marina called Jensen’s Resort.  I don’t remember bringing the anchor back up.  I do remember there were 5 men waiting at the face dock when we snugged  Shangri-La up against it, the wind howling around us.  One of them said to me “Go! Take care of her, we got the boat.” 

Paramedics were waiting and the ambulance was already on the way.  I was sick. Jan was joking with the paramedics.  Telling them “I’m a Viking, we do this all the time.” On the way to the hospital I rode up front.  The man at the wheel turned and asked me, “Where on earth did you find HER?”  I just shook my head.  At the hospital I asked Jan, “So, are we done boating?”  “Absolutely not!” she replied. “No way is this changing anything.”

The surgeon on call brought his entire staff in on that Sunday, to make sure the work was done right.  After two hours in surgery, the doctor gave Jan a less than 50% chance she would keep her finger.  It was after 10PM by the time we returned to Shangri-La.  The storm still raging around us.

We couldn’t stay on Jensen’s face dock.  It’s not designed for vessels our size.  We needed a slip nearby.  Jan was in no condition to be handling lines or bopping about on the deck.  The folks at Jensen’s went out of their way to find us room at an already full dock at Tween Waters Resort, about a mile away on Captiva.  We were able to stay there for a week while Jan relaxed and rested up.

A week later we motored back to Ft Myers Yacht Basin to be near the surgeon during Jan’s recovery. We both thank the staff at Jensen’s Resort, Tween Waters Resort and Ft. Myers Yacht Basin for their help squeezing us in for a month when they were already full.  This entire boating community continues to amaze us with their selfless work to assist us in every way. We have been so blessed.  With the help of an incredibly talented surgeon, Jan is beating those ugly odds.  The finger is healing and may even have a nail in the near future.  

All of these fine folks encourage us to continue to Eat Life.