A Backstory Post
Getting to Know Each Other
One Friday night in April, Andrew and Leslie were scheduled to arrive for my weekend. Usually, they would try to get a hop on the drive, leaving Las Vegas around 4:30 or 5 putting them here around 9:30 or 10:00. This particular weekend, I committed to telling them about my *little* problem, and I was planning to have out with it as soon as they arrived. If I don’t, I’ll just forget. For this reason, I started to get nervous and impatient as early as noon.
“Oh, Sonrisa, they have hours yet to be here.” I told myself, as I unconsciously niggle at my problem.
At four p.m. I start counting down. At six, I’m starting to feel cheery even though the sunset was a bit grey and a light drizzle of rain starts to form dewdrops on my deck. Seven….eight….nine! The nine o’clock hour is always the worst for me. They are almost here, but not yet. Next thing I know, it’s ten. Then eleven, then eleven thirty!?
“Oh no! Did they decide not to visit?!” With this, my niggling gets furious and focused. “I wonder if they are okay. Any horrible land thing could have happened to them!” I pick and pick, working the edge of the stainless steel up and down, back and forth. Man, could I go for a piece of floss right now.
Finally, at 11:53 p.m. I see the door to the marina swing open, then shut. I’m too short to see who walked through, but who else could it be at this late and drizzly hour? I wait a few minutes and finally, I see Andrew’s head first, bobbing up and down as he walks past the boats on the first row of slips. As they turn the corner to my dock, I see them both and I’m so happy….
that I forget.
Yes, I forget to tell them about my problem again!
“Hi Sonrisa!” Leslie chimes, “We missed you! That was a loooong drive!”
“You’re telling me.” I say. “I have a cold beer waiting in the fridge for you to take the edge off.”They crack open their beers and we all relax, finally together again. “Bring any friends this weekend?” I ask. No one seems to be trailing, but they could be staying in the hotel nearby.
“Nope, just us.” Leslie says. “What should we do?”
Before I think twice, I say: “SAIL!” And we all laugh. Of course I want to sail.
The next morning, its grey and cold, but Andrew and Leslie are still game. First thing in the morning they ready me to sail and we back out of the slip wobbling our way toward freedom. “Yeeeeyyyyiiii!!” I say as we roll open my sails and break out of the marina. “Go west, go west!” I say, always trying to get them to speed off to Mexico. The wind is up, waves are up, and we are crashing forward splashing salt water in big foamy waves off my bow.
We are about five miles off shore when suddenly…I remember.
Not only do I remember that I have the problem, but I remember I’m supposed to tell them about the problem, and I remember we were definitely not supposed to go sailing this weekend with this problem looming. “Shit!” I whisper under my breath.
“What’s that Sonrisa?” Leslie asks.
“Nothing, Nothing!” I feel around to see how bad things are. I know I’ve been steadily making this problem worse for the last week nervously picking at it as I do. “Ooooh.” I think. As I feel the edge of this …problem…, and I know it isn’t good. I know I may not be able to hold it together much longer. I don’t want to scare anyone. Maybe I can make it back to the marina?
But before I can put together any meaningful strategy, I feel a “pop” in my joints, just like you might when your back goes out or you break a hip – not necessarily fatal, but can lead to ramifications that are. Suddenly, I have a hard time breathing, I don’t know if it’s my panic or an actual effect of losing my chain plate, but suffice it to say, I’m not in a good mood.
“Whoa,” Leslie says, “Is that supposed to look like that?”
A brief lesson on sail boat anatomy: Sailboats have those tall sticks that point up to the sky. This is my mast. It is necessary to hold my sails up and out, it helps me catch the wind. Masts can be made of wood, aluminum, carbon fiber, or other materials. Mine is made of aluminum. Masts are strong but they cannot stand up by themselves, especially if the sails are out or we are moving around in waves. So, they are usually held up by opposing points of tension built of wires or cables (called a “shroud”) that holds the mast up on our front, back, and our two sides. The wires run from various points of the mast down to a connection point on my hull. The connection point for the wires are called “chain plates”. All sailboats have some iteration of this setup. Me, I’m very strong, and so I have 10 tension points, all built out of oversized stainless steel wire connected to 1/2 inch thick stainless steel chain plates.
Unfortunately, stainless steel can be compromised over time. Stress or tension from the motion of waves or push of wind can cause micro-cracks in the stainless steel grains. If the stainless steel is exposed to plenty of oxygen, these mircro-cracks make very little difference in the strength. But, if the stainless steel is attached in a way that does not allow oxygen to flow over it, then when chloride ions from salt water make their way into the micro-cracks, a process called “crevice corrosion” starts. The stainless steel starts eating itself alive, and I start picking at the crack in my spare time making it worse and worse until we arrive where we are today. One of my chain plates has split in half, and it is no longer doing its duty to hold the wire tension to keep the mast up.
As you might imagine, this could be very bad. If my mast folds over and crumples or – even worse – falls off, I cannot sail anymore, and if it falls into the ocean in these waves it can become a giant punching stick that could put a hole through my hull in seconds.
Andrew follows Leslie’s finger pointing at my wire which is now loose and floppy, swinging loops in motion of the waves. While the chain plate has parted from itself, it hasn’t worked its way loose from where it usually sits, so at this point, Leslie and Andrew can’t see the break, they can only see that the wire isn’t as tense as it usually is.
My stomach sinks. They are going to be so angry with me.
“No, I think it’s always like that.” Andrew says. Leslie raises her eyebrows and wrinkles her nose at this response. I’m sure Captain Andrew is just trying to keep the wits of all those aboard steady…right? I groan in agony, the sails are still up and they are pulling and yanking on my broken bit with every wave. Andrew dives down below to start rummaging in my cabinets to gain visual access to my chain plates. Leslie changes my sailing direction to move the sails to the other side and thus take the stress off the side that is broken. For this, I am most appreciative.
Soon Captain Andrew returns, poking his head up the companion way stairs. “Uh….I think we should take in the sails and head back to the marina. I’m pretty tired.”
I roll my eyes. He’s not fooling anyone. “What’s wrong?” Leslie says.
“Let’s just head back in.” He reaches out, starts my motor and Leslie begins tugging on my roller furling line to bring in the sail. Soon, they’ve dropped the main sail and we are motoring with no sails out at all.
All three of us sweat it as we roll in the waves the way back to the marina. What Andrew and Leslie don’t know, but I do, is that this isn’t the only chain plate that is in this state of disrepair. I have at least two more I’ve been niggling on that can also break at any moment. Jeeze, I’ve really put myself in a pickle this time. “Hold it together, Sonrisa!” I tell myself.
TO BE CONTINUED….