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Hole in the Water

It was a bright Father's Day morning, the sky Bluebird clear after a fierce, strong line of storms passed through in the night. The phone rang with the news that "have you seen your boat? It's on the bottom" (!) I jumped in the car and raced to PSA and saw the incongruous sight of just our mast from the spreaders up sticking above the water! I called our diver, Ryan and he said "That explains what I saw last night. The running lights on your boat were on and they looked low to the water". Recalling the intense lightning that woke me during the night, I realized that what had happened was likely a lightning strike on Chaos! Fearing the worst, I joined Ryan in the water to survey the hull. Strangely, the keel was entirely buried in the soft Black Hole Creek mud! Feeling blindly along the bottom of the hull, there didn't appear to be any damage until I got to the through hull fitting which was missing it's plug. Oddly, this was the abandoned in place through hull when we installed new speed/depth sensors and was firmly wired shut. Ryan shoved his glove in the hole and we surfaced. Now what? Ryan couldn't get the dive bags until the following week and I wanted the boat raised immediately. He said, "let me try something, and I'll meet you back here after lunch". He returned with 6 plastic 38 gallon trash cans from Home Depot and some line. "I've done this before and it might work". Willing to try anything, we quickly calculated that indeed, Chaos's 4,000# mass (much less in water) could indeed be lifted by the 1800 lbs of buoyancy the cans could provide. We tied a line tightly around each can under it's rim, with 2 loops, like floppy ears on each side. Meanwhile, Ryan dove under the boat and after scooping the mud from around the base of the keel, tied another line around it's base against the hull, also with a loop on either side. Surfacing in a mass of mud and bubbles, Ryan grabbed a trash can, tipped it into the water, filling it, then hauled it down to the keel with a line through the loops. Repeating this for each can took only a few minutes. We passed an air hose hooked to one of several SCUBA bottles of compressed air in Ryan's dive boat to him and he disappeared under again, filling the upturned cans with air. A torrent of bubbles and mud, then less. Again he surfaced and we emptied each compressed air bottle, exhausting our supply. Several of Chaos's crew members had arrived by now (along with a horde of curious Junior Sail kids asking kid like questions - "did anybody drown?", "Why is the boat under water?", "What's holding it under?") Michael secured a gas generator while I acquired a small air pump (meant for blowing up air mattresses and swim toys) and we ganged these together, Rube Goldberg style to force more air down into the upturned trash cans. The boat stirred! Listing left, to rose slightly. In a moment, it shifted right and rose another foot. The boom appeared. Now the top of the deckhouse rose, dripping and shining in the bright sun! Ryan swam under the stern and gave a great heave, pushing himself deeply into the Blackhole mud for a terrifying moment but the hull seemed to break free and up it came, with the companionway mostly clear and cockpit visible. Quickly, we threw a 3" diameter suction hose down the hatch and fired up the gas pump in Ryan's skiff. It's roar joined the growl of the generator and thrumming of the air pump and a great gush of water spouted from it's outlet. I jumped into the mostly filled cabin and diving down, quickly found the taped plug we hoped never to use, obediently tied nearby the through hull fitting, plucked out Ryan's glove and shoved the plug in. The fitting had been blown apart by lightning and plastic remains of the plug, clamping ring and threaded fitting washed around the bottom. The battery switch was in the off position but the strike had energized the system and turned everything on! Indeed, the stern light had still been lit under the water when we first got to the boat. Amazingly, she floated, rising incredibly quickly as the powerful pump threw water back where it belonged, in a stream, shooting out the length of Ryan's skiff. Suddenly, the pump stopped! The sudden quite was deafening. Out of gas. never mind...she's floating! We towed he slowly, still half filled, to the dock where we tied up, surrounded by curious kids. A powerful electric pump with it's endless power source took over as we enlisted the kids in emptying the boat of all it's contents. Arrayed on the dock, sails, tools, lifejackets, sheets, flags, gear of all sorts, it looked like a yard sale. Kids invited aboard the "sunken ship" delighted in capturing grass shrimp and minnows before the succumbed to the pump and I flooded the interior with fresh water from a hose, washing the mud into the thirsty pump stream. Then, she was empty. It was dark, the kids had gone and I sat on the dock, exhausted but relieved. The next day, the outboard quickly roared into life after a rinse and oil change, the sails and gear were hosed off and the interior was scrubbed and bleached. Talk turned to doing the Wednesday Night race in a few days. We motored Chaos over to the nearby marina for a quick haulout to replace the shattered fitting. It turned out that full recover wasn't quite that simple... that is another story. But, in a few weeks, Chaos entered the water - and the race, again, rinsed, repaired and with her buoyancy intact.

Tom Price

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