Bat The Cat Sits Phat...
Almost Not!

Photos By Kelly Jean Walter

     This happened early in July during the summer of 2001. It was one of those days at the beach that started off bright and sunny and warm, and quickly turned to stink in the afternoon... With a little more than the normal amount of excitement that a thunder storm generates.

Picture 01
     I can remember some summers when I hoped that it would rain so I could stay off the beach and... Vacuum... Or do laundry. Sometimes it will be sunny and warm for what seems like months. Sometimes it just gets cloudy and begins to rain.
     Other times...
The storms roll in from the west usually. The wind will start picking up and a bank of dark clouds will bear down on the island from over the bay. They can come in as hard and fast as a freight train. They don't usually catch people by surprise, but their intensity is hard to predict. Most will pause to watch the show, until they remember something that needs to be secured somewhere...
Like a sailboat at the bay.
Picture 02
Picture 03
     I left to drive down to the bay just as it was starting to rain. Kelly, repair and re float partner, and her sister Shannon weren't about to miss checking out the boat so we all piled in the truck and headed towards the incoming storm. It became obvious that there was a problem by the boat as soon as we rounded the corner on the bay road. It didn't seem like there should be this many people with cars parked at the bay to watch the storm.
     We could see Bat's mast as soon as we rounded the corner. I knew right away what had happened... Bat was dragging her anchor... And was in danger of drifting onto the beach, or into a near-by power boat. Like an accident on the highway, a crowd had formed as people stopped to watch the drama. It was much more than morbid curiosity in this case.
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     As many people were trying to help as were watching. The group watching seemed to be comprised mostly of people trying to convince their significant others to "get the %$#@!& out of the water... The lightning is getting closer". No one was listening. It seems even strangers recognized that Bat was special... Not just another sail boat.
     Bat, you see, is an A-Cat... A one-design class of racing boat with deep roots in Barnegat Bay. Bat is a gorgeous old wooden daysailer, designed and rigged for maximum speed in shallow water. She's a winner as well, having taken the Governors cup at Sailfest 2000 in Island Heights. Bat seems worth trying to save.
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Picture 07
     The rescue crew was a little less than organized, and Bat's owner was hesitating to give directions to the volunteers. As some were heeding the advice of those whose eyes were on the approaching storm, the rest were determined to help and more headed into the water. Handling a boat that size in waist deep water in a howling wind is no easy task. The volunteers insisted on keeping her broadside to the wind, which didn't help.
     One by one the volunteers abandoned the cause leaving myself and the owner to tend to bat. Some of the bystanders on shore ran to get some anchors. It's the beach... It's the bay... Every one seems to have an anchor or two collecting dust some where. Would they arrive fast enough?
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Picture 09
     The first anchor arrived just as things were looking hopeless. The anchor was dragged out and set by hand, and Bat was pulled forward by the new anchor line with the help of a push from the stern. Her owner was determined to save her in spite of his wife's insistence that he leave the boat, and that it's not worth dying for.
     After putting up quite a battle, Bat's progress to leeward was finally checked by the additional anchors. With only two feet to spare until she collided with a nearby power boat. The lightning was getting alarmingly close by now and Shannon was more than ready to leave and was not shy about getting that message across. Kelly was standing by with the camera until the very last, shielding it from the rain between pictures and "suggesting" we leave only after Bat had been secured.
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     We couldn't leave before making sure Cantaloupe, the fifteen foot Mutineer, was riding out the storm safely... Which she was, thanks to a mooring anchor of three hundred and twenty pounds of concrete blocks and twenty feet on strong chain.
     Bat was secure, but resting in dangerously shallow water. She doesn't draw much water herself, but pitching over the swells at anchor was causing her stern to pound on the bottom after each wave.
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     Bat's owner and wife pause on the shore for one last look at their prize A-Cat. We all knew it was time to take our leave of the bay beach. The wind was picking up even more and the lightning was practically on top of us. Bat would have to be left to luck and the elements until the storm passed.
     A few hours later the bay beach is calm and peaceful. The storm has passed and the most exciting thing happening is the sunset. The Yacht club is lit up and a party of some sort is underway. Can't let a little weather interfere with the social schedule. Boat people seem better able than most to ignore bad weather and get on with having some fun.
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     Bat resting quietly after her ordeal. Tomorrow will be time for a move to deeper water.
     Just a gentle breeze blowing out of the west as the lights on the Toms River Bridge line the horizon.
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     Bat survives to sail again with the help of some volunteer rescuers that ignored common sense and the pleas of their partners on shore. What's the danger of being hit by lightning when a beautiful old boat is in jeopardy? Not really that great thanks to a phenomenon known as the cone of protection. If you're in an area under the mast of a boat, defined by an arc of around thirty degrees down from the tip of the mast, you are safe because lightning will always hit the mast. Just don't hang on to the stainless steel stays.

All's well that ends well.

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Copyright 2001, Chandler H. Johnson