Running Aground in British Columbia

by Kristine Mietzner


I dropped the bright white main sail, secured the halyard, tied six marine blue nylon ties around the sail’s bright white folds, and finally, stepped back into the cockpit. The sailboat purred as my children, their father, and I approached Oak Bay Marina under engine power. 

A bald eagle soared high above us, a curious raven cawed, flying above the mast, and a gull landed on the bow, checking us out.                                          

Standing in the cockpit of the Sagale on a sun-filled August afternoon, Mark and I prepared to dock near Victoria, British Columbia. In the main salon 14-year-old Anna read Little Women while eight-year-old Ben played with Legos on the cabin floor.
Mark looked at the water, met my eyes, and called, “Read the depth meter!”
Scanning the red numbers on the black box attached to the cockpit wall, I said, “Thirty feet.” We slowly moved toward the marina.
“What does it say now?” Mark asked.
“Twenty feet.” A few moments later I called, “Fifteen,” in a more concerned tone. As the depth grew shallower, I shouted, “Thirteen! Mark, it’s not deep enough. Turn around! We’ll hit bottom. Get us in reverse.”
“We’re fine,” he replied. “That’s only the distance from the tip of the keel on down.”
“Not! It’s the distance from the water line to the bottom? We’re going to hit bottom! See for yourself,” I said.
We both looked over the rail and saw the sea floor through the clear, translucent, aqua water. The ginger-colored sand appeared as close as ten feet but it was difficult to be certain with the sunlight refracting through the water. In any case, it was far too late to stop the forward motion of the vessel. I glared at Mark as he repeated, “We’re fine. We’re fine.”
He is so wrong! This is so typical and here I am trapped on this boat with him.
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OZ On The Water


When I was invited to spend a week sailing off the coast of Maine, I expected to make witty conversation as I toasted nattily-clad fellow passengers with a glass of vintage champagne. You know, like Walter Cronkite, or one of the Kennedys.

The Schooner American EagleAfter all, what did I know about sailing? I grew up in Kansas and Nebraska, two states that are about as removed from the ocean as the Sahara is from the North Pole. 

So you can imagine my surprise when I boarded the American Eagle, an authentic Maine windjammer. Seventy-five years ago she was hauling fish from one port to another; today she carries passengers on cruises around Penobscot Bay.

Despite the loving restoration done by Captain John Foss, nothing can change the fact that I was going to be sleeping in a cabin carved out of the old cargo area, the same place that was once filled with dead fish.

Like Dorothy, I wished I were back in Kansas.

The first night I cracked my head when I sat up in bed. No headroom.

The second day I strained my back when I helped hoist the sails. No know how.

There were only a few canvas chairs on deck, so I found a place on the floor. Whoops — on the deck.

"Wicked nice, isn't it?" asked one of the passengers, a born-and-bred New Englander who'd been sailing all his life. Wicked? That's when I learned that "wicked" means "very" in New England-speak and “cool” in hip-talk. But I’m neither a grizzled Yankee nor a young chick, and where I come from, the word "wicked" is used to describe the Witch of the West and serial murderers.

But by the third day I was sea steady if not exactly sea savvy. When the wind blew hard, the boat seemed to fly, skimming over the water with deck tilted and passengers cheering and laughing. But mostly it moved slowly, giving a sensation of drifting—and dreaming.

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