It all happened too fast. Endre yelled through the winds “Ready to tack”. I unhooked my harness, and uncleated the jib sheet, and yelled back “Ready!” I felt Endre pushed “helm’s-on-lee”, but before I could even shift my weight, I felt the boat stalled and hove. And in a second the unthinkable happened.
The boat was pushed back by one of the many waves and a gust swung the boom and the main sail all the way out. The bouys on top the mast came from the peripheries into the front of my vision. I looked back at Endre, but his leg was already in the water. In what seemed like the longest one second in my life, Frangepan “Franggi” was already lying on her side and all the sails are in the water.
I tried to keep on top of the hull and use my weight to counter and flip Franggi around. But I lost my hold on the trapeze line. The bouys on the top of the mast were slowly disappearing and sinking into the water as the port bow compartment filled up with water.
The first lesson in sailing is how to right a boat. But Franggi’s more than nine (9) square meter main sail was just making the dark waters brilliant white. And she was already upside down. My heart was slowly sinking down with it.
Endre was overboard already when I had to slide off. “Shit”, I uttered under my breath knowing how tough the situation has turned out. But I thought my boat still looked very pretty even upside down. Franggi’s beautiful wooden center board is sticking out of the hull like a dorsal fin of a shark.
The waves started to have white caps. The water was cold. And speed boats around have disappeared from sight. I let out a loud scream “HEEEELLLPPP!” But the crashing waves muffled the sound.
The irony is that I had just been certified as a Life Saving and Swim Instructor a week ago. I cleared my head and made sure I remember the protocols. I prayed that I never had to do them to my own husband. Thankfully, Endre was calm and seemed to be on top of his game still, and kept his mind present the entire time. For me, the saddest moment was seeing his eyes distressed at the sight of his favorite toy being helpless and being at the mercy of the thirty (30) meter deep lake and the relentless waves that started to swell about one (1) meter in height.
The calm before the storm
The wind was light when we arrived at the dock around noon. I was in very light mood and feeling thankful after seeing my dearest Auntie Phine and Val who were visiting their lovely families in Edmonton from Toronto. I suited up and put on my harness thinking of a great smooth sailing ahead in a new place and in the late summer. Every part of my body was feeling nimble. Good signs. The wind was light, and thus I will be helming this time.
The water level at the dam was low. And the ramp was exposed. The water was not that cold and the skies were clear with a few low-lying clouds. I got in first, set up the rudder, and Endre jumped aboard as he pushed. We were beaming (perpendicular to wind direction) across the waters and were sailing steady towards the nice empty beach. I was very content. Endre was snapping photos comfortably, as usual.
The shrubs and bushes have begun to turn yellow but they appeared golden in the mid-day sun. The shores were full of trees that made me feel pure coziness. After a quick stroll on soft sandy-silty beach we decided to explore the southern shores and casted off on a Broad reach and then to a Run (downwind sailing).
Frangepan was “flying” wing-on-wing. It can be tough to helm on a Run but I was perfectly fine with it. The view of our filled up jib and the full extent of the main sails were just absolutely glorious. It felt like riding the wings of a butterfly. I stroke Frangepan’s port side, “good girl” I told her. She is at her most beautiful state when we let her be and when we let her fly.
We made it through a few kilometers on a run, wing-on-wing, which was the most pleasant and satisfying thing ever. As we approached the southern end of the waters, the thick clouds have arrived. The rays of the early setting sun pierced through lumps of it. The sight was mesmerizing. It was one of the perfect moments that justify and make sailing worth the effort in Alberta. And Frangepan’s sails provided the most perfect frame for this wonderful unfolding painting.
Looking back, perhaps, this was the universe calling out to our beautifully aged boat. It was soon time to go.
When I saw the darker clouds roll in, I knew we better get out of the water. Perhaps, I should have insisted earlier. But we have endured many 30 cm (1 foot waves) before, and we thought another two (2) minutes gazing at the dramatic sunset would not hurt. But the winds were picking up and the waters got choppier. I carefully maneuvered Franggi from a Run to a Broad reach, and managed without gybing. Endre and I agreed that I better go back to jib as I have the harness on and can hike out for our ride back home, as usual. I handed Endre the helm and he got on it very steadily while he calibrated the steering.
I hiked out immediately in possibly the greatest hiking series I ever had. Little did I think that these were going to be the last few ones on Frangepan. I remember feeling so much energy and agility because I know “this horse very well” and rode her many times; also my quadriceps felt warm and the beautiful scenery was just so calming. Not even the winds scared me: “Anjaneya Pahimam, Hanumanta Rakshamam!” I was chanting.
A pontoon boat came to us after we struggled with our first tack on our way back. Three (3) men came and asked if we needed assistance. They must have known that winds will be tyrannical and that we will be on a long rough ride to safety. But we told them that we were going to be fine. They stuck close by for a few more minutes. On hindsight, I wished we just reefed the main sails down at that opportunity and agreed to get towed. But partly because of adrenaline and some pride, we gambled our boat.
They came back after losing sight of our sails, and patiently waited for us to figure out how to sort out the mess of an upside-down sailboat. I was seeing their pontoon bob up and down vigorously. I felt guilty for having to put them in danger as well.
And then a white speed boat suddenly appeared. The power on their engine was reassuring. There were two (2) men with their families aboard. I hoped that the sight of two (2) adults in the water and the capsized sailboat did not traumatize the children and their dogs.
We were thinking of ways to upright Frangepan but with the sails out, it seemed impossible. Gerard and Tim suggested we tie up a rope across the shrouds, or the bow and they could tug it up. I tied the rope through the jib cleat and then tied a bizarre knot on the stanchion at the stern in a hurry.
Suddenly a young man appeared on the water out of nowhere. I would have had a heart attack if he did not have the biggest smile ever. He just said, almost chuckling, “Uhm, I was not really planning on going into the water but, OK, tell me what to do…”
I honestly did not know what to tell him except how complicated it would be to try to flip the boat back up. But Kaden started to turn the boat around while Endre tried to free up the submerged main sail from the halyard. The boat almost flipped but the bow compartments were just filled with water. Franggi was nosediving. At this point, my mind was ready to just leave the boat and get everybody out of the water and motor back to shore. The waves were getting bigger.
I hopped into the speed boat and Tim’s warm friendly hand was waiting. I could not say thank you enough to him and to everybody else on board who were patiently waiting and enduring the waves. I tried not to be too sullen in front of the kids and the dogs. They were so brave and calm the entire time.
Endre and Kaden got up and now the painful scene of dragging Franggi had to begin. The towing rope was tensioned until we heard a crack and saw the mast float up bent. I felt as if someone punched my tummy. No sailor should see her boat in misery.
We halted for a second and tried to think of a better way to rescue the broken boat. But Kaden jumped into the water to attempt to free the rope on the stern and move it to the bow. We watched nervously as he untied my horrible knot while the rope was slacking and tensioning. I heard Gerard reminded him: “Do not lose a finger!”
Kaden swam back to us and asked for a knife. I prepared myself for what was to happen. Kaden got back and saddled whatever part of the boat that was left floating. The rope got freed. And I yelled for him to swim back “NOW”. The valiant young man managed to climb back up the deck. We looked back and heard one more snap. And Frangepan disappeared from the surface. Just like that.
And Kaden said sorry.
Eulogy to my boat
In many ways, Frangepan was not just a boat. She represented “freedom” for me. I thought to myself that if life in Alberta turns out to be too unbearable, if I lost everything I hold dear here, I will still have a sailboat and I can sail to home, perhaps to Philippines, perhaps to Hawaii, perhaps to Japan, perhaps to Hungary or Mexico… or to the ashram in the Bahamas, to where my family and friends are…
Frangepan taught me to be brave and to be calm amidst all the discomforts and challenges in life; and to try to be graceful throughout storms and throughout the quietest of times; and to appreciate equally both the silent and wild times; and to be patient and thankful even in rough waters.
She was an old boat with rickety sails, with weird compartments, and with beautiful wooden center board and rudder. She was a class of her own.
Frangepan was named after a noble family in Dalmatian coast of Croatia that was once part of the Hungarian (Austro-Hungarian) Empire. We also named her after the fragrant tropical flower, Frangipanni. Frangepan is dead. Long live Frangepan.
We may have lost a sailboat, but we have gained new friends in Alberta. Endre and I are forever grateful for everybody who came to our rescue, including the pontoon boat crew and at least two (2) other speed boats.
When the going gets tough in Alberta, we stick together.