Copyright M.& M.M. Ough Dealy 2007-2010

Myth of the Sharp Edge


There was no doubt that she was a curvaceous and attractive lady. Her covering when I met her was a dazzling white emphasizing her qualities above and below. On better acquaintance I found that her manners were impeccable for the most part. She rarely flew into a tantrum even when times were hard and her patience was tried to the utmost. Occasionally she'd exhibit a darker side and then she was uncontrollable. Mercifully these fits of bad behaviour did not last long as she was amenable to a strong rein; but that had to be applied lightly for most of the time. She was generally a calm character undemanding and for the most part she was habitually dry. Over some 7 years she was a boon companion and she taught me much.
This story is about my first experience ashore with her.
Let me introduce you.Her name was Myth and she was a "Black Sioux" of Dutch origin. She was just less than 30 feet long, some 7 feet in the beam and drew under 6 feet. Her free board was about 2  feet and she carried a Bermudan rig. This was the traditional rig fore and aft based on single mast with a choice of fore sails and one main sail aft of the mast. The system for handling the sails was simple and made her easy to control; that is most of the time. Her small diesel engine, only 3 horsepower I think, could be used when the wind failed or to get one out of trouble especially on a lee shore. But that engine was to prove the cause of a near disaster as well as my life line as I am about to relate.

A Nice Start to the Day

The day began beautifully, not a cloud anywhere and just the hint of a breeze. The tides were just right too, making a flood early in the morning and running out to low tide at about mid day. Being a spring tide the range was at a maximum of about ten feet. That suited very well as the mission was to clean Myth�s bottom and renew the anti fouling. This was the first time I was attempting to do this messy but necessary work and I had, I thought, planned the exercise with care.

The idea was to sail from our base in the Whitford estuary into the Waiheke Channel and then Westwards to Musick Point from thence onto Auckland harbour and Okahu Bay and the Yacht Club placed there. I had earlier spotted hard standing by the yacht club and a grid for going aground on with two wooden piles for support.

I intended to berth Myth there to clean and anti-foul her between the tides; but precise timing was essential if I was to succeed. I had to reach the grid and tie up not later than half tide; otherwise there would be insufficient water to float her onto the grid with enough time to warp on and ensure that as the tide ebbed she�d settle and remain up right. Her only support when grounded was her thin fin keel; the two wooden piles were the only things that would keep her up right once the tide had dropped.

There was great potential for disaster if I misjudged anything.
We made an early start just before flood tide, making it easy to get off the mooring and over the subsurface reef in the channel. This ridge of hard rock was the first hazard for learner sailors and I had been made well aware of its malign presence on earlier I was careful to avoid it this time. The sea was calm and the friendly Westerly breeze pushed us to Auckland harbour without incident. I found Okahu Bay and the hard standing without any difficulty. Two hours after flood tide Myth was suitably warped to the piles and ready to settle on the ebb. Everything was going well. So confident was I that my crew and I went below to have a cup of tea and wait for the level of water to drop below  the
bilge and make it possible to start cleaning her hull.

Hard Labour

For the next 4 hours we laboured hard. The first job was to scrape and hose off all the marine growth on the undersides and keel. Myth was pretty foul so there were a lot of barnacles and even a few nascent mussels, plus the scum on the old antifouling. The next job was to sand down the underwater surfaces with wet and dry paper. This provided a key for the new anti fouling. We started all this whilst still standing in water; but as the tide ebbed we worked our way down to the lower reaches of the keel until finally Myth was left high and drying, firmly on the grid.

There was then a period of waiting whilst she finally dried out and we could set about applying the anti fouling paint. This was a particularly noxious job, but at least we were able to do it in sunshine and in the open air. We had to work quickly to ensure that the paint had enough to time to dry adequately before the incoming tide immersed it again.

We were weary, wet, dirty and hungry at the end and sought sanctuary again in Myth to recuperate and wait for the flooding tide to float her. But there were ominous signs that the incoming tide was bringing a change in the weather. The wind was now starting to gust from the North, Northeast putting Myth on a lee shore. That would make getting off the grid tricky and we would have to rely entirely on the engine to get away cleanly. There would be no way of using the sails as there was no sea room in which to tack. On top of all this the light was beginning to fail. But still confident, I expected Myth to be floating before dark, giving us just enough time to get her into the harbour and onto a mooring for the night.
So there was nothing to be worried about; it would be all so simple and straight forward.Or so I thought.


I was now to learn yet again that nothing is certain, especially when dealing with boats and the sea.

Myth became water borne as expected just before sunset and we proceeded to cast off the mooring lines. My crew was forward and stood ready to let go the last line whilst I had put Myth astern to get her off the piles and backing into the wind. I then put Myth into forward gear turning her clear of the mooring piles and shouted to my crew to cast off the last bowline; but the cast off line fell into the water, just as Myth gathered way going forward. I could not see much because it was now quite dark and the wind was really blowing hard and stirring up choppy water.

Hoping for the best and thinking that we were clear, I put the throttle fully forward. Then, just as things looked to be under control there was a THUNK and the engine stopped quite dead. The wind then took over with a howl of triumph and pushed Myth towards the rock lined foreshore. In a blind panic I leapt out of the cockpit, grabbed the anchor and chucked it overboard in the forlorn hope that it would find something to grab hold of and stop Myth"s increasing haste towards self destruction.

By the grace of the gods that look after green young sailors and landlubbers the anchor bit and Myth turned into the wind. With a clatter and another sudden THUNK she was brought up short by the anchor and just sat there looking startled, no more than 10 meters from the rocks and just 5 meters from the piles of the grid.

Despite our plight I was rather glad of the dark. I hoped to hide my embarrassment from prying eyes and the scorn of better sailors than I. By then the rain had started and I doubt if anyone had bothered to stay outside. At any rate we were certainly very much on our own and wondering what to do next.
The first priority was to get the engine started again, but, try as I might the starter just could not turn the crankshaft. There was a horrible groaning noise as the starter motor tried to turn. I was forced to desist when an unwelcome burning smell started floating out of the cabin. That quickly change the priorities, I had now to find out what was jamming the engine. By then, although the situation was still precarious, I and my crew calmed down enough to discover the mooring line hard up along the entire length of the hull going into the water just about in line where the propeller was. The line was very tight; in fact so tight that it was impossible to shift it. It was as hard as iron and obviously under great strain.
It did not take a genius to work out that the mooring line had wrapped around the propeller and/or the shaft, completely jamming the works. We had to clear that line somehow and so I first cut it off near the bow .But that made matters worse. We now had a length of line in the water as a hazard to leeward whilst it was still tightly wound round the shaft and entangled with the propeller.
Meanwhile the wind had increased in strength by another notch and the temperature fell to make us even more miserable. There was nothing for it, someone had to dive in to clear the propeller and shaft of that confounded mooring line.

Jumping in I found to my relief after the initial shock of immersion that I was relatively warmer in the water. But I could not see anything and so had to work entirely by feel. Fortunately the kitchen knife from the galley proved to have the sharp edge that was Myth"s and my salvation. It took several dives to cut away the line. At first the iron hard line was impossible to cut. I simply could not get enough purchase on the boat to wield the knife effectively. This was a clear demonstration of the laws of mechanics, action and reaction and why Astronauts find difficulty in working in space without a hand or foot hold. Anyhow I found that by holding onto the shaft with one hand I could apply the knife with the other and saw a way through the tangled lines.

Relief and a Last Straw

After about 30 minutes of gasping, choking and blinded work the line finally gave up and the remnants came away from the shaft. My crew, bless her, had brewed a cup of hot tea, made another of hot soup and found some rum. That combination was a welcome reviver, but the wind, now howling in frustrated anger, reminded us of the urgency of our plight. We simply could not stay where we were. The rising tide and wind could force the anchor to drag and send Myth on to the lee shore. We"d go aground again anyway when the tide ebbed.
To my immense relief the engine started on the first go and we were able to run forward, weigh the anchor and find a mooring. Fortunately we found one about 100 meters away from the grid. It was bobbing up and down in the choppy sea and was just visible, but we managed to get hooked onto it. Great was our gratitude to the gods that were looking after us that day. Things were now under control again and we could relax, dry off, have a meal and go to bed. And so we did. We seemed to have survived with minimal damage and not too much loss of face.

Yet there was to be a last straw. Just before dawn when it was quite dark, I fell out of my bunk. When I came to my senses I realized that Myth had gone aground on the falling tide and without the support of piles she was now lying on her side on the muddy bottom of the bay. In my haste to moor up I had not checked the depth of water. My crew was OK as she was on the downside bunk and only woke up when she heard the crash of my fall and the use of some ripe language. But fortune was with us yet again. The wind and sea had subsided during the night so we were not at risk; we just had to sit and wait for the tide to float us off once more.

Myth certainly needed sharp edges that day. She supplied two herself - the galley knife and the blades of her propeller. It was for me to supply the vital mental sharp edge but I had done so inadequately.
On every boat I have owned since then I have certainly kept sharp edges like knives or hacksaws. I have tried also to provide a sharp edged mind but that has remained far harder to ensure consistently.

I had also to swear never again to use a galley knife for purposes other than food. It was the only way I could mollify my wife and persuade her to act as crew for me again.
Myth of the Sharp Edge -  A Boon Companion
 Myth of the Sharp Edge circa 1975
Whitford Estuary SPCC Moorings