61 THERE GOES THE MAST Brewerton, NY

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The low hazy sun glowed like a beacon, drawing boats on Oneida Lake toward it like bugs to a light. Hundreds of powerboats headed back to Brewerton on a hot lazy Memorial Day late afternoon. We were part of the flow moving along at 6 knots watching the powerboats speed past at 20 knots. The variety was incredible. Mainly runabouts 16-20 feet but occasionally a cigarette boat, usually being chased by another one, moving at 60 mph.

Sound drew our attention starboard. A 40′ Mainship up on plane was overtaking us to pass. It’s captain realizing he was too close for the wake he was making slowed. However, instead of slowing to a no wake speed, he slowed only enough to drop just off plane and create an even larger wake.

A frightened Oh No! escaped Ruth’s lips as she spun the wheel turning Tranquility to take the huge, high, steep, wake bow on. We didn’t make it. The wake hit at a slight angle to the bow and we rolled violently to port. For the first time, our laptop, a veteran of many rough crossings was thrown to the cabin floor.

I clung to the winch to keep from being thrown to the opposite side. Ruth gripped and fought the wheel. We both watched horrified as the bow mast support lifted about 6 inches off the starboard side of deck. We crested the wake and started down its backside. For an instant all looked well. The mast support had settled back down on deck. Our slide down the wave now jerked us violently to starboard. The port mast support lifted from the deck then sat back down.

The next wake repeated the cycle. This time the starboard support came higher off the deck, twisted a bit but settled back down as we crested the second wake. We again snap rolled to starboard and the port mast support again lifted accompanied by a cracking sound from the plywood cross ties. We watched horrified as the mast slowly moved to starboard, looking like a pole-vaulter riding the mast support out over the lifeline.

Our view turned blue. The falling mast had hit the bimini, tearing it in half and dropping it in our faces. As we cleared it away we read ‘ITSY Liverpool, NY’ on the stern of the departing powerboat. Our mast now lay along side trailing off and down behind us. One of the hold down lines was all that prevented it from sinking from sight.

We tried raising ITSY on the radio. They never answered, but did come back, look around and then left the scene. We turned to mast salvage as a flotilla of boats gathered to watch and offer assistance.

The mast trailed off behind us, its free end resting on the bottom of the lake. Attempts to rig lines from deck failed and I finally went in the water to work. A few local boaters dove in to help. One, Ray McDougal helped get lines down deep so we could get an angle to lift. He then assisted as we slowly winched the mast end off the bottom. It took over an hour to get the mast up and secured along side. Then slowly in the fading light of evening we limped into Brewerton.

Tranquility with mast over side

No marine patrol was available on the Brewerton end of Oneida Lake. We notified the police and they traced ITSY. The owner never returned our calls. Since we did not want to press criminal charges, the police could do nothing but formally record our complaint.

Having the bimini repaired, building new mast supports and getting the mast back up on its supports took 3 days. Only the bow support tripod had failed. Our rebuild included two modifications to make the bow tripod more robust. First we moved it back 2 feet and spread the support legs further apart. Second, all three legs are now bolted to the stanchions so they can’t lift we are ever waked as badly again.

We’d met Jim and Celina on At Ease a year ago in Washington, DC and became good friends. They were in port and made our ordeal easier by providing dinner upon arrival, moral support, and lending us the use of their truck and power saws. They also provided inspiration for handling the mast. Brewerton is a powerboat area. There is no place locally with power equipment capable of lifting a mast. Jim suggested rigging fenders to float the mast once we released it from Tranquility’s side. In the water I went again securing fenders to the partially submerged mast. We added their kayak as the final float and it worked. The mast floated to shore once we released it from Tranquility. Wayne at Brewerton Yacht Yard volunteered his staff and I rounded up others to help lift the mast. It took 8 people to lift and carry it out the dock and place it on Tranquility’s mast supports.

With the mast secure we cast off lines and headed to Newark, NY to visit family and continue repairs. We’ll stay a week or so enjoying the pure joy of being with family and resting up.

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