Cruising Tips – July 2006
This month: Raising and lowering your outboard, charting tips, and what to do after you run aground.
We arrived off Suva, the capital of Fiji, after a 10-day passage from New Zealand. While we knew the island of Viti Levu was about 5 miles off our bow, we couldn’t see it because of a heavy rainstorm. My husband, Bob, turned on the computer and looked at the electronic charts we had added to our navigation suite a few weeks earlier. We wanted to use them to help us get through the pass in the reef but were unwilling to trust them, knowing charts are often inaccurate in this part of the world.
We hove-to, hoping the visibility would improve, after two hours we concluded conditions weren’t going to change quickly. We got on the radio and called boats we knew were already anchored in the harbor. We asked whether they had used electronic charts to get through the pass and, if so, whether the data was spot-on. After we heard from three boats whose judgment we trusted, we felt better about the accuracy of our charts.
As we went in, we kept our paper charts laid out with the route carefully plotted; I stood watch on the bow. We motored through the rain at a snail’s pace and used the radar and depthsounder to keep track of our location. We had no problems, and everything worked out fine—including the electronic charts. But the moral of the story is that you never should rely on just one form of position finding. Even though electronic charts can guide you through potentially hazardous waters, you should always use as many different sources of position data as you can and constantly evaluate all of them as you check and double-check your position. You—not the equipment—are responsible for your navigation decisions. C.D.
Raising/Lowering Your Outboard
If you store your motor amidships or forward near the mast, you can use a spinnaker or jib halyard and any convenient winch, including the regular halyard winch, to help you raise and lower an outboard to and from your dinghy. You also need a harness for the motor; you can make one from the strong webbing material sold at any sporting-goods store. Use a safety line—any short piece of rope will do—to keep the motor from heading to the bottom if you drop it.
If you keep your motor on the stern pulpit or in the lazaret, you might be better off with a davit or crane aft. Either approach is safer than horsing the motor up and over the rail by hand. F.R.
After You Run Aground
Sailing the length of the Intracoastal Waterway in an engineless 31-foot sloop taught me a lot about what to do after running aground. The Ditch’s unpredictable cross-currents and fluky winds forced me to revisit several important lessons on ways to refloat a grounded vessel. Because even the best navigators can end up on a mud bank, even in their home waters, the techniques are worth reviewing.
- If you run aground under sail, lower your sails immediately. This will stop forward movement and guarantee that no errant breeze compromises your effort to get the boat back into deep water. Once the sails are down and secured, check the bilge to make sure the boat isn’t taking on any water. If you know you’re on a soft mud bank, you might skip this step. But if you hit something at 3 knots or more and it isn’t mud, checking the bilge—particularly where the keel joins the hull—is very important.
- Make sure you are located where you think you are. If fog or other bad weather has reduced visibility, this may not be easy. If you don’t know where you are, getting off one shoal could put you on another one.
- If you know you’re in a charted channel but are still aground, there may be unusual water levels caused by tide or wind. Charted shoals can shift their positions (usually over long periods of time), but hurricanes and coastal storms can fill in channels, and inland river bottoms can shift during spring freshets or when development changes natural erosion barriers.
- Is the tide rising or falling? On the ICW, for example, the timing of local tides can vary widely from one day to the next. Running aground on a falling tide could mean being stuck for up to 12 hours unless you work fast to get off. If you do go aground on a falling tide, you must come off as you came on. In other words, you should move away from the shoal on a course reciprocal to the one that got you into trouble. When you try to back off the shoal, keep the rudder directly in line with the keel, and keep a firm hand on the wheel or tiller; don’t rely on a rudder-lock mechanism to do the job. Start with the engine on low power (500 to 1,000 rpm) and work up to a moderate speed for a short time. Running the engine in reverse for longer periods can stir up silt, sand, and other bottom debris that could quickly clog the engine’s raw-water intake strainer or ruin the impeller.
Coral heads and granite ledges can cause more damage if you try to back off. You can lighten the boat to reduce its draft. Another possibility is to shift ballast, gear, and people either to the bow or to one side, depending on the boat’s underwater profile. Heeling the boat can often reduce draft enough that the boat floats free.
If that doesn’t work, the next step is to put out at least one kedge anchor astern—two is better. Use the dinghy to get the anchors well away from the boat and into deep water. Run the rodes to the biggest sheet winches aft, tighten them as much as possible, and secure them. Reduce draft by heeling the boat. Running a masthead halyard to the rode of an anchor set out on one side of the boat can provide more leverage to heel the boat over. Put the engine in reverse, and, if you’ve done everything right, you can often kedge yourself free.
Speed and patience are both virtues when trying to refloat a boat, but each has its time and place. Speed is important when there is a falling tide; patience works well when the tide is rising because it will oftenlift a grounded boat free. If nothing seems to work, you are still on the hard, and there’s no one around to help, the smartest thing to do is to get on your VHF and call a tow service. F K.T.
Words from the Wise
“People who have never gone to sea for the first time as sailors cannot imagine how confounding it can be. Sailors have their own names, even for things that are familiar ashore. There are never any pails at sea, only buckets. And never any pegs, only plugs. If you should call a thing by its shore name, you could be laughed at for an ignoramus and a landlubber.
“Of course there is no counting the names surgeons give to various parts of the human body, which indeed is something like a ship; its bones being the stiff standing rigging and the sinews the small running ropes that manage all the motions.
“But give me this glorious ocean life, this salt-sea life, this briny, foamy life, when the sea neighs and snorts and you breathe the very breath that the great whales respire. Let me roll around the globe, let me rock upon the sea, let me race and pant out my life with an eternal breeze astern and an endless sea before me.” —Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast
Contributors this month: Cary Deringer, Fred Roswold, Ken Textor
Click here for the Cruising Tips Archive