The slight sway and swing of a boat at its mooring and the very first blush of the morning those have to be among any sailor’s happiest memories. But, I’ve spent the first night aboard dreaming about the diesel. The Cap’n refused to have it serviced before the cruise. “It’ll do for the little jaunt we have planned.” Cranky but reliable when kept serviced, the faithful servant had pooped out as we were picking up our mooring last evening. “No problem,” quoth the Cap’n,” we’ll kedge out in the morning.”
Somewhere I had heard that term, maybe while reading the Hornblower series of books. It was the way my father-in-law smiled at me as he said it that convinced me that it meant extra duties as assigned for the crew, me.
So there I was in the morning rowing the skiff and trailing a long line. The stern was low in the water because it held the anchor to which the line attached. The idea was that I rowed out dropped the anchor, and then those aboard winched the line in pulling Psyche closer to the mouth of the cove where the light breeze was blowing. The skiff usually had no stability issues, but today I had to be careful to place my body weight forward of where I’d typically row. There was the uncanny moment when I had to go aft to hoist the anchor over the transom. All the weight was concentrated in a small area aft with nothing to counterbalance it forward.
On the Psyche, my wife and brother-in-law were busy raising the mainsail and jib, ready for the moment when the sails caught the breeze. Then came one of those puffs of wind that belie the light air that barely ruffles your hair. Aboard Psyche, the sails rapidly fill, the person who should be at the wheel and main sheet – the Cap’n, is way forward in the bows drinking coffee and smiling. My brother-in-law is diving for the main sheet to control the sail, my wife is grabbing at the wheel, and Psyche is rounding over to port as the sails fill. For me, this is all happening in slow motion – Psyche rounds to port, the line between Psyche and me stretches, in the stern of the skiff holding an anchor, I feel the inevitable tug of the boat on the anchor. Into the water goes the line, anchor, and me. On Psyche, the Keystone Cops are running around.
I was scared to let go of the line and frightened of what could happen if I continued to hold on. I had heard of whalers pulled from their boats by the harpooned whale, and this reminded me of that.
I decided to let go and start swimming for the boat. As I got hauled aboard, the wind died. The Cap’n has by now recovered his dignity and has pulled out his pipe. Looking directly at his son, he says, “I guess someone will have to go back out and kedge again.” This statement is met with sullen silence by all the crew. For once, the “happy” team aboard the Psyche is united; there’ll be no more kedging today.
Crew and skipper were saved from mutiny by the return of the wind. We got underway, and no further mention was made of kedging until an evening game of Scrabble several nights later. the Cap’n proudly completed the word kedge. He laughed. I was next, and everyone looked towards me as I added to the word keel the letters for “haul.” “keelhaul,” I pronounced, glaring pointedly at the Cap’n, ignoring the looks of my wife and brother-in-law.