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The Dinghy to Air Bowline Incident

The most useful knot in sailing is the bowline. It is easy to tie and easy to untie even under a load. The bowline is usually the first know a sailor learns to tie and is the most important as it is not only used to secure sails but can also be used as a lifesaving knot.



On Joe’s first sailing trip he had a rather unique experience in learning to tie the bowline…


Late November 1972 Acapulco, Mexico The crew arrived in Acapulco ready to go. I was down from Tlaquepaque, where three thousand pounds had been put into gunny sacks and were set to load on a ten-wheeled truck. The following day was spent stocking the boat with provisions for the trip home. Pete Newman had taken a few moments to show Joe and Willie a few basic nautical knots: the square knot, a clove hitch, the sheepshank and the bowline.


“Looks easy enough,” replied Willie.


“It’s just a question of knowing where to use a particular knot,”said Pete. “The bowline is your best knot.”



Before lunch, everybody, including Joe smoked a hefty six-paper joint rolled from some weed I had brought down from the hills. Lunch consisted of numerous Carta Blanca beers, ham and cheese sandwiches, potato salad, fresh pineapple and more hits off the joint for dessert.


“This is the stuff we will be carrying,” I said, taking the giant reefer from Willie. “Three thousand pounds. Try to, at least, have some of it left to sell back home.”


“Boy, that’s mighty good weed!” replied Willie, exhaling the pungent smoke. “Much better than anything Jesse ever got us from Culiacan.”


“Yeah, this stuff comes from around the town of Apanzingan, in the mountains of Michoacan between Guadalajara and the coast,” I said as I passed the multi-paper joint to Joe. “Jesse, Culiacan and Nogales seem like another lifetime.”



‘What the hell, why not? What can happen to me while we’re still in port?’ Joe thought, as he took the joint and inhaled deeply, scrunching the smoke down deep to the lowest lobes in his lungs, holding it there as his face reddened, then exhaling slowly in two puffs, like an Indian sending smoke signals into the air. He then passed the reefer to Dave. Its diameter was the size of a Greyhound bus’s wheel lug nut.


Half an hour later Joe rowed ashore in the dinghy to pick up more ice. Killian was almost as phobic about running out of ice as he was about running out of gin or cigarettes. It took Joe almost the whole hundred yards from the boat to the beach to coordinate both oars into a single fluid stroke. After procuring the ice, Joe again strangely rowed back across the harbor to the Sequoia, came aboard and went down below for a siesta.


Thirty minutes later there was a yell across the water from someone aboard Howdy Doody, another yacht which had also finished the race and was lying at anchor fifty yards away.


He then passed the reefer to Dave. Its diameter was the size of a Greyhound bus’s wheel lug nut.

“Hey Sequoia! Your dinghy’s drifting away! If you don’t get her soon, she’ll get caught in the outgoing tide and you’ll lose her!” the voice from the other boat shouted. Killian came on deck, He had been overseeing the stowing of supplies, personally handling his cases of Oso Negro gin and cartons of Winstons.


He yelled across to Howdy Doody, “Could you go fetch it for me. We don’t have time to inflate our Zodiac, before it’ll be gone.”


“Hey, no problem,” came the reply.


‘Hummm, I wonder how it got loose,’ I mused, glancing down through the open main hatch at the napping Joe, open mouthed, flat on his back in the salon’s pilot berth and snoring loudly.


When the dinghy was returned, the mystery was solved. After Joe had rowed back to Sequoia, he had tied the perfect bowline in the dinghy’s bow line, showing a rapid mastery of the knot. The only problem was, he had overlooked tying the bowline’s loop around the stanchion, leaving the perfectly tied knot secured to nothing but thin air. Everybody, including Joe, had a good belly laugh and that small bit of weed engendered lunacy became known amongst us as ‘the dinghy to air bowline incident.’ More seriously though, it also served as a constant reminder to Joe, by any and all of us who witnessed the incident, to be mindful of his limitations.





90° to Zamboanga, Section 2, Chapter 14, page 147

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