I’m a weather watcher, not a bad thing for a captain, so for about a week prior I watched NOAA and the like for ideas on what we could expect.
Disaster. A deep arctic cold front was being met by a wet storm from the south. The two collided on Wednesday in all the areas we needed to travel through. For those of you in other parts of the country, several inches of snow may not seem like much. The problem here in Oregon is that we don’t salt our roads. Add 25 degree air to a layer of snow, throw in a little freezing rain and every freeway from here to Portland comes crawling to a halt. The news stories of commuters taking over five hours to get home, distances less then 10 miles, were so numerous I doubt the paper could print them all. Crazy.
I found myself making the call. When could we drive if not today? Tomorrow? Would the pass be clear enough? If we went too soon we would have to use chains. A seven hour trip would stretch into 12-14. We would still be driving by the time darkness fell and the pavement froze solid. What made it worse was that we live right on the coast. Here the weather is moderated by the ocean air. Though cold, it never snowed on us. In fact it was nice and sunny most of the time. I knew from the reports that if we just waited all would be well. Three to four days would make all the difference. But waiting was painful and I had to make a decision.
It’s funny that my moment of truth as a captain had nothing to do with sailing. Still, I felt what many captains must feel when trying to decide to go or not to go. Is it safe? Is there a large enough weather window to allow for a safe transit? What are the conditions now, what will they become and what will we do if it all goes bad?
I’ve read this story before, of some other captain pushing off too soon and the consequences of a ‘schedule’. I also realized we didn’t have to go. This was not a critical trip. We could wait in our ‘safe harbor’ as long as we needed. I don’t think we could have gone yesterday but we may have been able to go today. The roads will be safe tomorrow and so that’s when we will go.
Out sailing I make decisions about how to sail. I decide when to reef and how tight to trim the genoa. In a safe boat I can test the limits of myself, crew and gear. But deciding when to sail distills down to the safety of the boat. Can we go now? Will it be safe? So many times we hear of the captain making that bad decision and wonder why he didn’t just wait. I understand that a little more now. I hope the next time I’m just as patient, taking a moment to keep the urgency from making a bad decision for me.
Next week, safe on the boat, I’ll write and let you know how it’s going.