A bloody fine first day with a crab claw 2

31 March 2005     Editor    0 Comments.

Part Two of Wade Tarzia’s epic first sail with a crab claw rig.

Bleeding while you are swimming is disarming and kind.  What seems to be water dripping in my face is actually something horrific—that it never stopped dripping should have clued me in, but I’m still pondering that nth dimensional paradigm.  Somewhere a baby is crying.  I know this sounds like a cliche because, in all the bad novels, as soon as something interesting happens, there is silence, and always, “Somewhere, a dog was barking.”  The thing about cliches is that they’re true, they’re the condensed wisdom of society, but we English professors never tell our students this.

The baby is crying, and they repeat, “Man, you’re bleeding!”  I say stupidly, “My foot’s stuck.”  And it is.  I’m floating in a pool of blood, my eyes are covered with a strange film that I later know was blood, and I’m drinking ounces of my blood, and it will continue for quite a while because I’m also tasting Plavix, a blood-thinner, one of my medications.  Yet, I’m happy that I wore the life jacket today, because at least I’m floating while—yes—the Nutcracker Effect.  I didn’t have the words to respond better than “My foot is stuck,” nor could Hollywood have scripted a more unbelievable plot.
I fish for my knife to cut my foot off (I have heard of stuck people who have done this, and when the pain of capture is as much as amputation, I’ve heard it can be done).  But I remember dropping the knife in the bottom of the boat some minutes ago during the typical shortening-of-the-sheet ritual.  Now the knife is gone, and I consider asking the guys to help, but give up on that immediately and pull free with that primal impulse that is millions of years older than humans, and that will explain why my ankle looks the way it does right now.

Next I’m sitting on my ama, not sure how I got there, yet very glad it has the buoyancy to carry my full weight.  We discussed this topic in the Proa internet group: should an ama carry a sailor’s weight, or have neutral buoyancy, or ..... No, it should carry your weight, trust me.  The boat-guy and skier are doing something, their wives are hovering about, the kid is now screaming, and I’m still drinking my blood.  I marvel that blood doesn’t taste too bad, all in all—rather like low-salt V8 juice that has been sitting in the sun.  It has soaked my PFD, my shirt, my pants, and later in the hospital I will discover my underwear is brown, so as I write, I’m wearing none.  Did I cut loose a prodigious fart when the ama cracked me?  No, my pool of blood dyed the tighty-whities, and we really must believe all those odd movie plots no matter what.

The skier guy jumps in and says he will tow me back to the shore.  He ties off on the ama.  I say, “Don’t tie off on the ama, tie close to the hull,” but the blood in my mouth makes it come out as a bubbly, “Donth tie opthf thrubth amba,” so he thinks the concussion is getting to me.  Language is also the problem.  They don’t have cubbyholes in their brains for what I want to say.  I just want to say, ‘Don’t tie off on the Aka, and don’t tie off on the Ama.  If you stand on the Ama, it will sink, and raise the Vaka, and drain the cockpit of water, which is good,’ and I must have had a concussion because plain English seemed foolish at the time.

More advice is being shouted to me; they want to take me aboard, and worry that I’m losing lucidity sitting there on my ama so calmly.  I’m just disappointed, because the whole rest of the day unfolds before me, and sailing back to the ramp in triumph is not part of it.  I read some of Richard Feynman’s books on physics, and he wrote that some subatomic particles travel back in time—this is the only way to explain their odd appearance in certain reactions.  This must be how seers tell the future.  So I clamber up into the boat, stoic in all-knowledge, painting red handprints on the gelcoat.

The poor child aboard now howls because his father has just hauled a bloody thing out of the sea.  The mother shields her dear one from the sight, but he leans around her legs to peek, same as happens in various ‘don’t look!’ legends.  I say, “Hi there!” to make him happier, but I know he only hears, “I’ll be there in your closet tonight.  I will be that sound you dread, that sinking feeling that electrifies your heart when, at the edge of sleep, something squishes in the shadows of your room.”

The boat-guy yells at his wife for coddling the child as he gets a first aid kit out.  He’s proud of the kit but can only produce an inch and half square bandage to press on my wound, but that helps.  In the chaos I admire my upside down proa.  The main hull is floating high, right on the gunwales, and so I learn that the watertight enclosing of my foredecks and addition of those cute plastic watertight screw-in ports was a good decision.  But now the boat-guy’s boat will not start.  I am starting to feel for this fellow.  In fact, I’ve been too snooty towards him in my mind.  He looks up at the sky and mumbles, “Hot starter.”  He is now very quiet; he also sees the future.  I was angry at him, but he is just like me: we cannot control much in life, but we can take it, we endure, for our goals have been smashed down and all we want is That One Thing to Look Forward To, a boat.  And now it can’t be controlled, so they flag over other boat-guys to drive me to the ramp; they’re young cool-dudes, implicitly trustworthy and effective, but with this thought I feel a stab of sorrow for both the boat-guy and myself.  A thoughtful wife has dialed 911 for an ambulance.  I had asked her not to, insisted I was fine, but she tells me many Tales from the Crypt, whose dominant themes are concussions, blood clots, internal injury, and “people get head injuries and seem fine and tomorrow they’re dead.”

The other boat-guys can’t maneuver close because of the wind, and I’ve been watching the skier spending 5 minutes trying to figure out how to cleat off my boat, and I give it all up for lost and jump in the water and swim for the boat that runs.  They toss me a rope, and toss, and toss again, and so I just swim for the damned rope too, and I haul myself over as the wind finally brings the two boats together to catch me between two gelcoat icebergs.  The Monty Python people could film this for the Coast Guard.  I get aboard, apologize to the drifting weekenders again for having had a sailboat’s right of way, and I am ferried across the lake with my legs hanging over the transom, trying to let the blood get sucked into that mesmerizing wake.  Boat-guy #2 tells me to watch my feet, he’s going to raise the outdrive; I get a flash vision of my toes describing a parabola into the air, but too late: he rams his outdrive on the lake floor a second after his passenger says, “It’s getting shallow!”  This boat is now disabled.  I am Evinrude’s worst nightmare, second only to Honda.  Again I say thanks and sorry, and swim for the ramp, with the thoughtful passenger assisting by interfering with my stroke.

The Emergency Medical Technicans are waiting, and they know their stuff, they know the signs of an idiot who is going to tell them he has to get his boat squared away first and then he’ll drive himself to the ER.  They have clever jokes and subtle coaxings with which they lure me into their truck, and then that’s that, the thick doors clang shut, and I’m going to the hospital.  The EMTs are volunteers, and I have dragged them away from barbecues, but they cheerfully do their job.  The woman is proud of the head wrap she makes for me, and now I look like a dangerous mercenary solider: just give me sunglasses and a dagger taped to my harness.  She confides, “The drawback of this job is that I get motion-sickness back here.”  (This should be an interview question: do you vomit on your patients during the ride to the hospital, yes or no?)  It’s the lack of air-conditioning, turned off in deference to my wet clothes.  She is perfectly willing to become sick to aid my comfort, but hearts soften when people turn green.  “Oh, I’m warm enough,” I say.  “These clothes dry out fast, so turn it on,” and for this gallantry I become a shivering mess by the time I am admitted into the emergency room.
I wait a few hours, because there are true emergencies here, and I have a mere gaping head injury with the chance of internal hemorrhaging that could lead to permanent disappointment, but the doctor is apologetic.  The other patients have chest pains—a whole bunch of people came in all at once with chest pains, and I forgive him because he looks like Mark Greene on the TV show ER (except he has hair), and I always liked Mark.  I’m shifted to different cubby holes, and I note each cubby has one used cotton swab on the floor. This makes my bare feet tingle—the hospital floor must be writhing with viruses and pissworms.  But then, what are the odds that two different waiting rooms would each have a used cotton swab on the floor?  Not high; perhaps this is a little-known ritual of some kind.  Boaters are familiar with ancient rituals, and I read somewhere that the folklore of medical people evades anthropological observation because these customs are as closely guarded as grottoes with diamond-eyed idols.

There is a rack of magazines, some good ones, but on inspection they are only the covers of good magazines, their interiors torn out and sold, I guess, on the black market.  Perhaps this is all a fake, perhaps behind the CAT scan room is just some two-by-fours shoring up the exterior walls to fool me.  I’ve read Twilight Zone stories like that.  While I am pondering this, I see some wet wipes in a container on the wall.  Since the inside of my nose is itching with layer upon layer of dried blood—any wooden boat owner can get the paint analogy— I pick out a wipe and start probing and cleaning.  The wetwipes make my nose really, really sting bad, and their volatile odors are gagging, but they do a great job, as good as those new heat-machines for stripping hulls.  The pain does not abate—something seems up.  I look on the bin and read that these are not human wetwipes; they are very strong, disinfecting floor and furniture wetwipes “to eliminate the chance of cross-infection.”  Yes, they’re hull-strippers!

Without the magazines, I have a lot of time to study the gleaming stainless steel things that lay around these cubicles, many of them designed to sting, snip, and squeeze.  This reminds me, in fact, of my outrigger canoe.  I want to start redesigning it now.  I doze a little and think of stainless steel, and I remember being in my truck some days ago, parking at the local Boater’s Haven, and my girlfriend asks if I’d mind if she stayed in the truck and read her book while I shop.  She knows I go straight to Stainless Steel Heaven in this place.  She has seen me wax poetical about $50.00 swivels, she knows I’m dreaming of modifications that will justify purchase of quick-release shackles, any four of which cost more than the proa I built in an apartment bedroom.  Yet there is something of endless vistas and eternity in everlasting hardware.  They are the ultimate extension of a boy’s father, a mechanic who worked amidst greasy metal, rusty steel, made working things from it—that was Reality, and the hardware at Boaters Haven is Archetype…. but the beep-beep of someone’s cardiac alarm interrupts the thought and I jerk awake.
Eventually the TV doctor puts me back together with Krazy Glue, though he comforts me by saying, “....but it’s surgically formulated and used for 5 years in Europe before it was approved here.”  Does Europe know they are used in medical experiments for Americans?  I feel a kinship with the doctor, not because I’m a doctor, too (though I am: a brain surgeon, for what else is an English professor, when you think about it?), no, not because of my PhD but because he can tell me about Surgical Krazy Glue, and I can chat with him about System Three Epoxy, and maybe he could try the fast-setting, thickened epoxy on the more serious wounds.

At some point a nurse dressed in bright red like the warriors of ancient Sparta (perhaps for the same reason) guides me to the CAT scan room by wrapping me with a sheet to keep me warm but tugs it like a leash to lead me through the turnings of the corridors—two images that are so paradoxical that I cannot respond wittily to her small-talk.  The CAT scan attendant has no hospital garb, and in her tee-shirt and hip-hugging jeans she looks like my college students.  I’m seeing the future again….of medical science—user-friendly computers and one-year training certificates.
I hold the boating community in deep trust, and so after I’m discharged, I nominate a fellow boat-lover to pick me up at the hospital—in layman’s terms, I dragged from his comfortable living room and pajamas a retired professor from my school because my girlfriend is away for the weekend visiting family and eating at expensive restaurants while I drink blood and bacteria-laden lake-water.  I’m glad she isn’t here right now: before she left, she kissed me and shook her finger implying something about ‘don’t get into any trouble’ the way only an Italian woman can do.  When your mate does this, automatically the sub-clauses of Murphy’s Law are invoked.

After Tom picks me up, I break it to him like a clever Odysseus that he might, if he feels up to it, drive me 16 more miles to find my boat, which has my keys and wallet in a watertight chamber.  He was good about it and regaled me with tales of Bantam Lake, on which, turns out, he learned to sail; I recommend having a tall bearded story teller always pick you up after an emergency room visit; and he should have a convertible and the night should be balmy and the stars sharp.  He informs me that the lake has a six foot tunnel under it, built in the 1920s to carry water to the city of Waterbury.  That was in the days of Egypt-envy and Rome-envy, when the United States stimulated the concrete industry by competing with pyramids and aquaducts.

I am worried about the state of my boat.  The hull built with war-trireme scantlings will be OK, but I worked for many days this winter on those crabclaw spars, and every drip of epoxy that hardened in the wrong place has a name and face.  A fireman had told me they would tow the boat to a private marina nearby.  Indeed, there we found it after trespassing past the locked gates—tied up to the dock, rig stowed amidst a tangle of new nylon rope, everything there and looking very innocent, except for the stains all around the waterline of the capsize.  Really, the boat is innocent.  My friend Richard the anthropologist is guilty: I have wanted to sail a proa ever since he gave me Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western Pacific in which the pioneering anthropologist describes the magical feeling of sitting suspended over the sea on a flying ama.  Yes, Malinowski had some fine sailing days, watched over by 20 friendly natives, ten of whom handled the shunting rig while the other ten were delegated to handle him: “Keep the funny foreigner away from the mast! He doesn’t know about the nutcracker-effect.”  Thanks, Rich!

Any way, the crabclaw rig had nothing to do with my accident.  I will modify a few things, such as mounting the goddamned mast in a socket on the windward gunwale (the Pacific natives did this, very wisely; always listen to the natives), and think more about the shunt line, and saw off the evil four-inch protruding-on-leeward akas—all this after I can wash the dried blood from my hair—30 more hours to go as I write this: Surgical Krazy Glue is not good under the waterline. 

—Wade Tarzia

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