For the second time recently, a Chinook uni bolt failure separated my rig from
my board with zero warning. The difference this time was the size of the lake
and the wind direction: 80 square miles and side-off, with NO access to the
downwind side. i.e., the pre*** conditions at our major lake. We always
check our gear before heading out, and the bolt (between cup and uni) was as
tight as it could be and still allow rotation.
But on my outside jibe -- of course -- the bolt snapped in mid-hop in 4.7 wind
and the board came down 20 feet downwind of me on a near-plane. I sprinted for
it, but "sank up to my ankles after 50 yards" as the gap widened. The board
blew away quickly. I swam back to my sail and began digging through my
emergency *** pack I wear just for this lake.
The guys on shore couldn't find me or my signal mirror through binoculars (you
can't aim those mirrors for crap). None of the three flares or two smoke bombs
worked; they're now just orange shoreline litter. I was dressed to swim for a
few hours (it was 5+ hours until dark), but not just bob until dark and then
HOPE I got rescued. The air was in the 80s, the water lower 60s, and I was in a
4/3 steamer. I could swim in a beam reach and catch a peninsula a mile away if
I started swimming now, but if I waited much longer I'd miss the peninsula and
have to swim twice as far across the wind to catch the shore. The swell was 3-4
feet and whitecapping heavily -- wind in the low to mid 30s. NO fun swimming!
So I used two of my *** pack items, abandoned the sail, took some directional
sightings and took off. First I slugged down some of the glucose (for
diabetics, at any ***tore), then I put on the webbed surfers' gloves. The
glucose provides quick but sustained energy, and the gloves add POWER
(efficiency). I sighted on a mountain peak 180 degrees from my target
peninsula, rolled onto my back, and started backstroking (arms in synch, legs
frog-kicking -- a very powerful yet relaxing stroke; I think it's actually
called the inverted *** stroke). My helmet visor kept most breaking swell
out of my mouth, and my 5kg-flotation vest kept my face above the water.
Sidestroking -- a very solid stroke for me in calmer water -- produced too much
gagging in those waves. The flotation was INDISPENSABLE in that amount of
chop/swell, but it didn't slow my sprint to the board. This vest fits like a
neoprene vest, has HUGE armholes, and never rides up an inch. I'd have been a
waterlogged carcass quickly without the flotation.
Missed the peninsula by a 100 meters a couple of hours later, sprinted straight
upwind to catch it, and walked ashore just as the State Park boat Kirk had
called on my cell phone arrived. The rangers were expecting to find the usual
floater (this lake culls the state's IQ gene pool quite effectively and
frequently), and were relieved to see a live zombie in full neoprene, helmet,
harness, and float vest (no PFD required here). They took me out to search for
my gear, to no avail. The waves far downwind were by now over 6 feet -- we're
heading down that way next time we can get a few good sailors on the water and
some observers manning the cellphone, now that the weather's finally heating
up. A couple of miles downwind on a full sinker is not to be taken lightly in
this remote lake, and phones/marine radio don't have enough range at water
The rangers looked for the gear a couple of days later, after a 35-40-mph/4.0
day, using their knowledge of the lake and its wind and water patterns. But it
was the fishermen who predicted where it came ashore, and found it -- and the
sail -- three days later. The rig was barely damaged; the board may be
repairable. The rangers said I was a textbook example of how to survive a
boating emergency; they pull the bodies of people who value their gear more
than their lives out of the water way too often.
I'm having the uni bolt scanning-electron-microscoped out of curiosity. I want
to know if Chinook encountered some counterfeit bolts.
Never Leave Wind To Find Wind