Thursday, May 10, 2012
Lessons learned from running aground.
The beautiful thing about sailing is that, every day we spend on the water, we learn something new. We learn something about nature and our environment We learn something about our boats. Most importantly, We learn something about ourselves. So it was no surprise, that last sunday, I had one of my most informative days yet. Why? You ask. Well I ran aground.
Now I know that most people, those that don't sail, have certain preconceptions about running aground. What it means. The consequences and benefits of the same. Before, I tell you my grounding, let me give you the outcome of my grounding(this is the internet. Filled with short attention spans, multiple open tabs, and "too long, didn't read it") I was a-okay. Better actually. I was able to clean half a hull, and I left with the tide. Now on to the story.
I didn't sail fo a couple of weekends before last Sunday. I was feeling the itch (No. Not the bad kind) to get out there, feel the wind on my face and hear the water rumble under my hull. So I head down to Sailor's Soul. Rushing to leave the docks, I packed away the extra bottled water, snacks & 5gallon diesel tank (filled with fresh Diesel) I brought. I warmed up the little universal, cast off my lines & head out seeking some adventure.
Immediately after leaving the narrow, snaking channel the connects my marina to Reynolds Channel, I pointed Sailor"s Soul into the wind, brought the engine just above idle and locked the helm while I went forward to raise the main. The sails went up without incident, and I fell off to port for my first tack. My original plan being to sail East then West on Reynolds Channel. I didn't feel like harrassing the bridges as it was too late in the morning for a loop around Long Leach.
So I began sailing and tacking to find the best angle to head east through the channel. Now one thing to note and remember about Sailors Soul. As a pearson 300, she does not like to head up to close into the wind. Indeed her best points of sail tend to be between 60 - 160 (or 300 - 200) degrees of wind. As the wind was blowing in from the East-South East that day, my options to manuver were rather limited. Still I pressed onward into the wind. Never one to shy away from a challlange or difficult circumstance, I happily spent an hour tacking, adjusing my sails, and making competent progress Eastward. I had a course set between two buoys that identified a deep channel. I was not too worried about the waterdepth, since my charts showed 13 - 15 feet of water along the sides of the channel and buoys. The one thing that did concern me was all the small fishing and row boats seemingly, and literally, anchored in the channel.
I knew I had the right of way (because of my deeper draft and reliance on maintainging a specific angle of wind in order to manuver). Beyond that, That they should not have been there. Nevertheless, I lamented. I weighed the factors I though were present. I could, and should, maintain my course, and they should move. But if I did, and they did not, I would be involved in a poetntially dangerous conflict. I would win, mind you. A row boat would not put up much of a fight or protest against a 12,000lb loaded sailboat being pushed forward by mother nature. Still I lamented, and resigned (this time) to be the gentleman mariner. I fell off to port to pass below (North) of the fisherman, and then headed up to starboard close hauled to line back up with the center of the two buoys.
My plan started off well enough. The sails held their shape and i was moving forward at a few knots. Unfortunately, Sailor's Soul began to protest. The sails were too tight and the wind and current were beginning to over power the helm. I began to drift toward the lee shore. I didn't panic, as the charts said i should have had plenty of water under my keel, even with the receding tide. Also, I wanted to see how well Sailor's Soul could claw herself off a lee shore in the event my engine lost power . I held the helm for a minute or two, but once I saw i could not overcome the wind and the current, I started my engine and throttled up to tack through the wind. Mere moments passed and I realized I was not making any headway. The shore was not passing by and the ship stopped rocking in the water. It was then I realized. Uh oh.. I just ran out of water." Now remember those little fishing and row boat I was being courteous by avoiding? Well they new full well I just touched bottom and they were the reason for my altering course to do so. Do you think any of them paddled over the 30 or so feet to ask how I was or if they could help pull my off or, in the very least take my anchor out? Nope.... They all pulled out their oars and disappeared. Obviously not a real mariner among them....
I spent a few minutes trying to shake my way free with the engine. but nothing worked. The tide was leaving, and I was quickly losing the ability to rock and heel my way out. after 5 minutes of trying, I stopped. There was no reason to damage my engine or waste any unnecessary energy trying to rock a 6 ton ship. My only option was to wait. As I waited, the tide continue to recede and Sailors Soul began to heel over further and further. The tide took a good three hours to fully recede. Once it did, I changed into my swim shorts, grabbed a broom and jumped off the side. "Might as well do some cleaning" I thought to myself. in less than an house, I cleaned and starboard hull, rudder and propeller. Afterward, Ii jumped back on board and went down below to cook a snack and make some tea at 45 degrees. While my lunch was cooking, did some more cleaning an organizing inside. Some time passed. A minute or two before my teapot was about to start whistling. I heard a voice outside. I exited out the companionway to find a police boat next to me in the shallows, and multipte police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks on the shore. Lets not forget the helicopter that flew in and began to hover over me. Apparently, someone on the shore saw my boat and decided to call 911 to report a "crash". I was monitoring 16 the entire time I was there, and I told the two towing companies that I was fine and waiting for the tide, but apparently that information was not relayed. Well after a bit of embarrassment ans assurances from me, that, yes, I was okay and waiting for the tide to return. Everyone turned and headed away.
I do want to express my gratitude for the attention and efforts that the local agencies coast guard made in coming to evaluate my condition. I do wish the towing companies would have relayed my message of being okay and not needing assistance. But everyone who did come acted in an exceptional and professional manner. My thanks and gratitude to them.
After everyone left, I went back to my lunch and cleaning. Two more hours passed and the tide began to return. I waited as Sailor's Soul began to right herself. One she was upright, I began to move from one side to another to see if there was enough under her keel to rock her free. I waited another 30 minutes before determining to break free of the shore. I started my engine, lashed the helm to starboard toward deep water and put her in forward gear. The I tied my 5 gallon diesel tank to the boom and began to swing it from side to side. After a few swings I began to get a good amount of heel. Suddenly, Sailor's Soul surged forward and we were free.
As I was returning to the marina, I began to reflect on all the important lessons i learned today. I concluded that:
1. Right of way is right of way. The COLREGS are there for a reason. and one should follow them first and be a gentleman second.
2. If you do run aground, but are okay and decide to wait to free yourself. Issue a SECURITE over the radio, just to give notice that you are okay and the situation is under control. When you free yourself, end the SECURITE.
3. While careening ones boat is a perfectly acceptable practice, remember that it is so rarely used that people around you may interpret your ship as being in distress.
4. Charts may be WRONG. Do not trust them (GPS included) completely.
5. ALWAYS always stay calm and keep a cool head. As long as you ship is secured and not taking water, there is nothing to worry about. Relax, catch some sun, have tome tea or rum and enjoy the day. The tide will come and you will leave.
I hope you all had fun reading. Every day on the water is new, exciting and informative. Thank for sharing in my most recent adventure. I look forward to experiencing the next one and bringing that experience to all of you.