Friday, February 29, 2008

Requiem for a Friend

Photo courtesy of John FasuloHow should I start to tell you about Bob Gainer? Should I start with the end? The sadness and empty space caused by his untimely demise? Should I start with the happy times? Or about how incredibly smart he was? His encyclopedic knowledge of sailing and ships?

Bob Gainer was my friend for 30 years. We fooled about with boats together, messed with computers together, spoke about sailing and sailboats over rum and coke and Black Russians. In almost every case, I came away with more knowledge and more esoteric knowledge than I'd previously had.

This was his way, and what everyone I know in common with him felt. He was a master rigger and woodworker. Kind to a fault, with a tremendous sense of humor.

All these things, however, don't go halfway to describing the person he was.

As a teenager, he, um, liberated a small open boat and sailed solo to Nova Scotia and back much to the consternation of the owner who had told him to take the boat to paint it. At 21, in 1974, he sailed solo across to England in a 22 foot Sea Sprite. This was with no self-steering or electronics, save a VHF radio.

Later on, he took a two-tonner out to deliver it to Europe. Here's his story in a nutshell:

"I owned an Allied built Chance 30/30. It was a great boat to sail but had a few
problems offshore if you get into very bad weather.

"Admittedly you wouldn’t make it a habit to sail in a hurricane but it gives you a very good idea of what a boat is capable of in cruising.

"In October of 1976 I was in Hurricane Gloria with 90 Knots wind speed and 45 foot (or better, its hard to tell) waves. Just to the north of me was the 590 foot 15,028 ton Sylvia L Ossa with a crew of 37. She sank with a loss of all hands sometime between the 13 to the 15 of October.

"During the height of the storm the truck fitting failed by cracking between the hole for the headstay clevis pin and the corner of the casting adjacent to the mast. The loss of the headstay was to say the least very awkward at that time.

"In trying to turn the boat downwind after the headstay went the rudderstock failed at the bottom of the bolt under the tiller and the stock sheared off.

"Within the next hour the motion of the boat was so violent that the hull failed with a crack forming between the aft-most keel bolts. You could see the sides of the crack moving up and down as the boat rolled. She started to make water at that point.

"After getting beat up for that hour I had the boat back under control and hove to. Before the storm was fully over the steering was repaired and a new head stay was up. The leak was getting bad so I started for the nearest dry land as fast as I could go.

"At this point Hurricane Holly was predicted to be coming my way. I had enough of bad weather so I sent out a Mayday by SSB and that was received by a Dutch tugboat and they relayed it to the German ship Hagen of the Hapag-Lloyd line. She had passed me in the night some 100 miles to the west but she turned around and came back to get me.

"When she got to me the wind was climbing and had reached 60 knots. When my boat came alongside the Hagen the crack at the aft two keel bolts propagated along the
entire length of the keel. The bottom of the boat flexed downward and opened up
at the bolts and she started to sink.

"In the hour so before we met we spoke by VHF and they asked for the dimensions and weight of the boat. There plan was to weld a cradle to the deck and if they could, they wanted to pick up the boat with two wire slings and swing her inboard to the steel cradle.

"When we did get together the captain kept his ship away from my boat a few feet and had two of his crew come onboard with wire cutters. They helped me off and then cut the standing rigging while some crew on deck held the mast. They brought the rig on
deck and on the next roll she was out of the water.

"I don’t think she hit the ship but once during the entire time. That one strike crushed about ten feet of hull-deck joint. I had been beat up so much from going up the mast to rig a headstay that I couldn’t walk and that’s why I needed help to get off my boat.

"The entire rescue was over in under ten minutes and they never came to a full stop.

"The bottom line is the keel area of the boat is not strong enough and the rudderstock needs to be solid instead of heavy wall tubing. When the boat was on deck I found that the fairing forward of the rudder had also failed and the keel had dropped over 1/2 inch by digging out the fiberglass under the washers for the keel bolts.

"Other then that I thought the boat was great."
This is pretty typical of Bob. Not that he was a disaster ready to happen, but he took most everything in stride.

As it turned out, he had been declared dead, had his obituary in the "New York Times" and ended up with a book written about the adventure, "Presumed Lost". It's no longer in print and Bob really didn't care for it because it was more about how he ended up on the ill-fated Chance 30-30 than the storm itself.

The sea was in his blood - he was preparing a Tartan 34-C for a trip to west Greenland. He was teaching young people about boats, boat construction and the sea through the auspices of the Hudson Fisheries Trust. He was about to be part of the deployment team for The Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries.

I could write for hours, if not days, about Bob and his adventures, jokes, knowledge and kindnesses. But I think I'll stop and leave you with this quote:

"...The sea absolutely doesn't care about you one-way or the other. But the sea will exploit all your mistakes and weaknesses and is relentless in its probing to find those mistakes.

"...No mater how well you have prepared, no matter how skilled you are the sea will always win.
The sea is very patient and will always win in the end. The sea has all the time in the world to wait for you to make that mistake, your last mistake.

"The sea may give you a free pass a couple of times, if it wants, but when it decides to strike, the sea will sink you. People just don't understand, they can't understand how fast the sea can go from the pretty picture postcard you buy at the beach to the raging devil himself.

"And the next morning, if you are there to see it, can be the most beautiful sunrise that has ever been since the beginning of time.

"I have several friends that have lost playing this high stakes game. Without exception they had the skill and boat that was necessary to do the trip. I don't know why they lost the game; all I know for sure is that the sea won, again. The sea will always win in the end; it's just a question of time."

You are missed, my friend.

(Photo courtesy John Fasulo)

1 comment:

Chris McKesson said...

I too am going to miss Bob a lot.

He came and visited us aboard our boat. There were a few others aboard but then they drifted off and Bob stayed for hours - and we could have gone on for many more.

I didn't get to spend enough time with him. He was a friend, but if we had been a few hundred miles closer he couldn't have been a very good and special friend.

Darn it. I miss him.
The best eulogy I can give to any man is: "He was a good shipmate, and a good friend."

Good bye Bob. Fair winds.

Chris McKesson