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High Dry


									       There’s an old story concerning two tug captains       backing down hard, but the boat stayed put. He fig-          method that works on some boats is to send everyone
being interviewed for a job on the Intracoastal Water-        ured we had missed high water and prepared to wait           forward. Most boats draw more aft, so that as the bow
way. The first was asked if he had ever run aground           the six hours for the next high tide. I asked if he          goes down, the stern will come up.
on the Intercoastal. He responded, “No, Sir! I’ve run         minded my “trying something”. I worked the rudder                   If someone does try to pull you off, have him
up and down the ditch for thirty years and never once         from hard over to hard over and alternated between           keep a light steady strain on the towline. The idea is
ran aground.” He was excused.                                 full ahead and full astern on the engine. We started         to pull the boat off a little farther every time a wave
       The second man was asked the same question.            moving; he looked at me saying, “You’ve done this            lifts it off the rocks. Do not drag the boat over the
His answer, “I know where every rock and shoal is             before, haven’t you?” My response, “nah”.                    rocks. If you don’t have a tow available, try using
on the Intercoastal because I’ve hit every one of                   The idea was to break the suction of a soft bot-       your anchor. Carry it out some distance away from
them.” He got the job.                                        tom against the hull. It was a trick I learned running       your boat. You will have either to use a dinghy or
       Their interviewer was very shrewd. In the first        tugs and barges up and down the Intracoastal Water-          wade out to do this. Take a light strain on the anchor
place, he figured the first captain was lying. Every-         way. We don’t usually talk about it, but running             line on a deck winch and if possible use your engine
one has run aground in the Intracoastal sooner or later.      aground can be a way of life on the Intracoastal. If         as well. Whatever you do don’t force things; let each
The second captain demonstrated that he was willing           you just try to back down the way you came, the gunk         wave lift the boat a little further off.
to accept his mistakes and learn from them.                                                                                               Desperation can lead to some very innova-
That’s why he got the job.                                                                                                         tive ideas. One tug captain I knew once used the
       Going aground is undoubtedly an error,                                                                                      barges they were towing to pull the tug off the
but most of us have made a few of those in our
time. The important thing is what you do about
it once you’ve made the error. First, stop and
think. Your biggest problem is the damage you
                                                              High & Dry                                                           bottom. The wind was blowing in the direction of
                                                                                                                                   the deep water. He took a heavy line and put the
                                                                                                                                   eye of one end on the bollard of the tug and the
                                                                                                                                   other end on the barge. All other lines were taken
will do by taking the wrong action. Many times                             by Donald Brands                                        in. The barges started drifting away with the wind,
a boater’s first instinct after going aground is to                                                                                but when they pulled the slack out of that line, it
get off the bottom as soon as possible. At                                                                                         jerked the tug right off the bottom!
worst, this can lead to serious damage from                                                                                               Now let’s consider what caused you to go
rocks or other unforgiving obstructions. At                                                                                        aground in the first place. You may have expe-
other times, it will only lead to frustration that                                                                                 rienced an exceptionally low tide or the area
can be completely avoided by waiting for bet-                                                                                      you’re in may have silted in since your last pas-
ter conditions.                                                                                                                    sage. However, the unvarnished truth is that
       Before you do anything else, evaluate the                                                                                   most groundings are navigational errors, some
situation. Consider what kind of a bottom you                                                                                      careless and some pardonable.
have come up on and what the weather and sea                                                                                              In this age of electronics, many errors
conditions are. Then check your boat for leaks                                                                                     can be computer-assisted mistakes. If your
or any other obvious damage. Is water filling                                                                                      GPS says you are in good water and you
your bilge? Where is it coming from and can                                                                                        don’t feel good about that, check it out! Don’t
you plug the leak? Where are your props, your                                                                                      put blind faith in any electronic aid. The GPS
rudder or through hull fittings? You could be                                                                                      or LORAN system itself could be down,
aground forward with your wheels and rudder                                                                                        your own antenna could be down, or some-
clear aft. Take soundings around the boat with                                                                                     one could have hit the wrong button without
a lead line to see what part of the boat is hard-                                                                                  your knowledge. There are many reasons
est aground. You will probably have to impro-                                                                                      why these infallible magic boxes can turn out
vise the lead line with a wrench for weight and                                                                                    to be fallible. Radar can give false echoes or
small line. In the case of a sailboat, consider                                                                                    fail to pick up something you think it should
your keel or centerboard arrangement. An                                                                                           have picked up. This can be very misleading
overly aggressive attempt to get the boat off                                                                                      and lead to identification mistakes.
could cause something expensive to break.                     on the bottom can hold you in place like a suction cup.             Another common mistake is to proceed on a
       It’s a good idea to have wooden plugs, neoprene               ONLY do this with soft bottoms! Sand and mud          certain course and speed without considering what
matting, duct tape and the like on board. With these ma-      bottoms don’t usually do much damage to the hull,            the current is doing to you. If it is running at
terials, you can at least slow down a leak, if not stop it.   but sometimes if the boat is imbedded deep enough or         roughly a right angle to your course, this can create
If you don’t have anything and you have a serious leak,       if you have a spade rudder or the like, you can still        a very significant error, more than sufficient to run
improvise. Bags, luggage, mattresses and a lot of other       break things off.                                            a boat aground. Vector diagrams are beyond the
items can plug a hole in an emergency.                               Arranging a tow should generally be the last          scope of this article, but if you are not familiar with
       “Pop” your engine in and out of gear at slow speed     thing you consider. You are entirely at the mercy of         them for figuring set and drift, consider learning
and pay careful attention. The idea is to test it to make     the competence of the person assisting you and in            how to do this. The solution will tell you what
sure it will turn OK without doing further damage. Pop-       most cases, you don’t know them at all. Even if you          course to steer in order to make good the course
ping it in and out of gear, hopefully, will not cause sig-    are using a commercial service, this is still no guar-       you had in mind with the prevailing current.
nificant additional damage if something is wrong.             antee that they are fully competent. Likewise, the                  There are errors on charts. Some areas haven’t
       If the weather is calm and the tide is going out,      Coast Guard and marine police are only human and             been surveyed since the 1940s or earlier. Some-
just wait until the tide comes back in and lifts your         some are better than others. I have heard stories of         times there will be a small inset in the chart that
boat off. I once grounded a Pearson 30 in Long Island         transoms being pulled off boats by the rescuer. You          will give this information. Mark the spot where you
NY’s Great South Bay. It was our honeymoon. We                are always taking a chance when you accept a tow,            had your problem on your chart and pass the word.
had a week and were just gunk-holing around. That is          especially to drag a boat off the bottom.                    Report the error to the National Ocean Service,
probably why we grounded in the first place. Instead                 Now let’s suppose you’ve put the boat on rocks,       NOAA (N/CS261), 1315 East-West Highway, Sta-
of getting frustrated, I checked the tide tables and saw      it’s already high tide and the weather is getting worse      tion 7350, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3282; fax 301-
that we would have high water in about two hours. I           with building seas. Face it, you will have damage. The       713-4516 or e-mail
set the anchor in the direction of the deepest water and      object here is to salvage the boat and have as little               Once the incident is behind you, think where
retired below with my bride. It didn’t seem like two          damage as possible. First, try to decrease your draft.       you made your mistake so you won’t do it again.
hours had gone by when the shadows in the cabin               Your greatest weight on board will probably be water:        Navigational errors have many causes. The most
started shifting as our love nest swung to its anchor.        potable water, bilge water, ice, etc. Then consider the      common cause is simple inattention. We go boating
       There are some tricks that can be used if you are      people on board. Have everyone who can get out of            to relax and unwind. When people relax, they don’t
sure you won’t do damage. I once helped a friend pick         the boat, either by wading or getting into a dinghy or       always pay full attention to what they’re doing.
up a Bristol 29 that he had just bought. It was located       inflatable. Alternately, on a sailboat you can try           Relax, yes, but stay aware! Anybody can run
at a rather shallow marina, up an extremely shallow           swinging the boom out to one side and having people          aground. Some will do it more than others. The im-
creek. We waited for high water to take it out, but ran       hang from it. If this can work, it will roll the boat onto   portant thing is to learn from your mistakes and not
aground in the mouth of the creek anyway. He tried            its side and roll the keel off the bottom. Another           to make a bad situation worse.

November/December 2010                                                                                                                      Page 25

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