Notes from the 2014 Cruising Diary: On Personal Flotation Devices

Some days you get to test that little auto-inflate canister in the life preserver to see if it works. Ask me how I know. Okay, I’ll tell you. It happened at Kuper Island. I give it to you straight from my notes from that day.

On the way to Bergoyne Bay

Saturday, Sept 6, 2014 This is not a day for sailing. It is a day for motoring and charging the batteries. Destination Kuper Island;  the lovely sandstone beach we visited last year. We anchor just off that beach in 25 feet of water. I let the dinghy down to go rowing, go ashore and take photos.

Easy rowing on flat water, no turbulence.  I thoughtfully put my camera in a waterproof bag. I remember the water being quite warm here last year.  This year I have a swimsuit. Going for a swim would be fun tomorrow. The universe has other plans for me.

Portland Island

I tie up the dinghy to the swimstep. Stow the oars. Place my camera bag on the swim step and notice that the ladder has not been deployed so is too high. Holding onto the step, I begin to get up to let it fall into the water.

How is this happening? The dinghy is out from under me, I am stepping on the gunwale, and then watching in horror as the gunwale sinks beneath the waves and I am in the sea, still holding onto that swim step. I feel the water seep through my clothes and am amazed that it isn’t too cold; actually quite refreshing on this hot day. I cannot believe it. Maybe I am in shock already.

 I am relieved the life jacket has not deployed because I don’t need it. But just as I think that it pops open. First one side, then the other. My neck now in traction,  I am a cork with a head and two arms flailing around. Swimming in an inflatable life jacket is ridiculous. A big white jelly fish approaches me in a determined manner. I fling my arm out at it, waving it away. It tries to approach from the rear. I spin in the water, kicking ineffectively at the creature, a bobbing stooge ninja. It retreats, waving menacing tentacles, ghostly in the green sea. I see sunlight shining through its body. It is beautiful. 

Mike, examining the sandstone at Portland Island

I grab one flipflop floating by, yelling for Mike. His preternaturally good hearing works so well. Usually. But not when I’m in the water behind Galapagos, down low. I can see the exhaust pipe above my head. I feel happy that the engine is not running.  The dinghy is upside down, floating with all the oars, portable bilge pump, and square flotation device we keep there. No sharks in sight. Do we even have those here? I manage to get the ladder down, but I can’t handle the upturned dinghy. It is dead weight in the water. An island of heavy white gleaming dully in the brilliant sun.

 I yell for Mike. What the hell is he doing in there anyway? I bang on the hull. He appears, a bit nonplussed but calm in the face of a wet wife, treading water underneath a firmly engaged turgid yellow flotation device, fending off determined sea creatures. How did this happen, he asks. Seriously? 

The offending dinghy, ‘Tortoise’.

I remember my hearing aids.  I hand them to Mike to open and lay in the sun. I will clean them with alcohol.  I realize the top of my head is actually dry; most of my hair is dry, I have no water in my eyes. I must have been holding onto the swim step the entire time, never submerging completely. I hope they will be okay.  Damn the things!  I get dead tired of having to be troubled by them. Why can’t my ears just work right, for the love of Jesus?  

The davits, once again, worth their weight in gold. Mike is able to use one of the davit winches to pull the dinghy up. There is a gentle whooshing noise as the seal with the water gives way. I easily recover the items that had been trapped beneath.  What they say about Walker Bay is true. They are unsinkeable. As am I, riding each wave, facing the sky. I can barely move, much less propel myself with any accuracy. Ralphy, without snow.  I am wearing a sundress. Guess where that ends up? Who cares? This is British Columbia. No one knows me here anyhow. The jelly fish has given up. I think about staying in the water longer. 

Kuper Island, later that evening.

  I climb the ladder to the boat and prepare to rinse off with fresh water. I strip off the wet salty clothes and leave them on the deck. I can’t bring myself to remove my underwear while on deck. This isn’t Europe for Christ’s sake.  No salt water below. I think about how when we are in warmer climates we will have to be aware of this kind of thing. Salt water on the upholstery will make it always feel damp.  I hate that. No salt water on clothes below deck. Now it’s a rule.

I clean the hearing aids. They still work. No harm, no foul. I am completely uninjured without so much as a bruise. Except to my ego. But cruising will get you used to that in a hurry. 

Sandstone formation on Kuper Island.

Sandstone formation on Kuper Island.

19 thoughts on “Notes from the 2014 Cruising Diary: On Personal Flotation Devices

  1. Love it! – a great cruising story! You gave me a good chuckle! (sorry) – I deployed two jackets – one I left out and 2 spots of rain got it – whoosh – up it went (this was in the middle of the ocean (jacket in cock-pit) and the noise, frightened the life out of us! The second was while I was training a student, they kept insisting on getting so closed to markers that I knew were on rocks – I had to grab the wheel to make my point – I grabbed the cord on his jacket and whoosh – up it went- funny as!

    • Glad you got a chuckle! It was actually pretty funny. This is my second ‘deployment ‘. The first was when I tripped getting out of my kayak in about 6″ of water. What a waste!

  2. Glad to know for certain your PFD inflates as expected but sorry for the manner in which it was tested. So if it was necessary, do you have confidence you could get into a life raft or swim to a rescue vessel in your PFD?

  3. That sounds like something I would do…. glad you are ok! soo…. was it time to replace the CO2 cartridge anyway? Probably not… it was probably replaced a month ago… that is the way these things work sometimes… well, at least you know the PFD is in good shape!

    • Apparently it’s not just you, Tom! Glad you enjoyed the story. Thank you for the feedback about how the blue was showing up. I have changed it and hope it is easier on the eyes now.

  4. Great little story. Well written 🙂 And no, Tom, it’s not just you… the blue text is really hard to read. Melissa – you might want to stick to white on the black background as it is much kinder on the eyes (these old eyes anyway)!

    • Thank you Cathy, both for the compliment and for the feedback about the ‘readability’. It looked fine on my computer but I do rely on readers to alert me if there is something amiss on theirs. I have changed the script color so hope that makes things easier for others. Thanks!

  5. Ohhhhh Melissa! I am reading this as my bedtime “medicine” (you know …laughter is the BEST…And I have had a huge dose tonight. At your expense (sorry) but it felt so good. You are SO good with adjectives and paint such a vivid picture I am right there as it happens. And I KNOW it is not polite to laugh at anyone in distress…but with your word paintings you just beg for it.

    • Well actually the whole thing was funny. And the fact that people are apologizing for laughing means I got the whole ‘mixed feelings’ thing across!

  6. Mark just passed the laptop to me and said, “read this”.

    Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Sorry, I had a good laugh 🙂 The part about the jelly fish was the best. Isn’t it nice when others can laugh at your expense?

    So glad you survived the dunking.

    Aren’t boats fun? Oops sorry! I hope I didn’t wake you up?

    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff

    • I love it that so many people laughed, then said ‘sorry for laughing’! Excellent! Because I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry myself. Turns out laughing is better. Had the jelly stung me, I may have cried. I swear it was after me!

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