“Why would you ever want a boat with a 14ft draft?” It’s a phrase my partner, Timo, and I have heard often, ever since we purchased NV, a former Open 60 raceboat originally built for the Vendée Globe, but which we now cruise. And to be honest, it was also my least favorite thing about the boat in the beginning.
I feel differently now. I’ve grown to love our keel and how impressive it looks when you poke your head underwater. I’ve gotten used to anchoring farther away from shore and living without the many marina berths and pontoons lacking sufficient water for us to tie up to. There is one issue, that there’s just no getting around: finding yards capable of hauling us out for things like applying a new coat of antifouling or checking the rudder bearing.
Drone video of maneuvering the boat into the marina and hauling out
Finding ourselves in Fiji during cyclone season, we also recently discovered another reason for wanting to haulout—lowering NV into an (extra deep) cyclone pit in Vuda Marina and removing the mast to keep her as safe as possible in the event of a major storm. Unfortunately, upon our arrival we discovered that even at high spring tide, the channel leading into the basin at Vuda has a shallow spot just 12ft deep, making it off-limits to a boat like NV. We, therefore, gritted our teeth and set about trying to figure out what to do next.
A common solution to a problem like ours is to heel the boat over by hanging a large weight from the boom or pulling the mast over with a dinghy on either the boom or a halyard. Unfortunately, when we ran the numbers, we found the 10 degrees of heel that resulted when we filled our own dinghy with water and hung it from the boom wouldn’t be enough. Upon closer inspection, we realized that as NV heels over, her center of buoyancy also shifts dramatically to leeward, which in turn causes the keel root to partially lift out of the water, further decreasing the underwater length of the boat. We were back in business! We also got a big boost in the form of a number of 40ft inflatable rubber tubes the yard in Vuda uses to float stranded boats off the nearby reef. Not only would they allow us to heel NV over further still, they would also, hopefully, help lift the boat out of the water a little.
The day of the next spring tide, we towed one of the tubes out to NV with just enough air to keep it from sinking and began attaching it to the boat using ropes and a set of straps from the travel lift in Vuda to help spread the loads. After weighing a number of different options, including possibly even attaching a couple smaller tubes to NV’s keel, we elected to go with a single large tube running from bow to stern to starboard.
When we were happy with the position of the tube, we began inflating it using compressed air from a number of scuba bottles we’d brought with us. The straps and ropes we were using to secure the tube let out a few groans prompting some anxious glances. But soon enough, a water bottle and some tools we had lying around in the cockpit started sliding to port. It was working! Stopping intermittently to check the depth of the bottom of the keel with a dive watch, we eventually reached our desired depth of 12ft at a 17-degree heel angle. The way to Vuda Marina was now open!
Soon afterward, we were on our way, with a small squadron of inflatables both towing and pushing NV down the channel. (We didn’t trust our own propeller with the boat floating at such a dramatic angle of heel.) As we approached the shallows, friends in the dinghies ahead of us called out the depths. Timo also got into the water to look for rocks or any other potentially dangerous objects. Thankfully, we made it safely into the marina without a hitch.
Once there, we began detaching ourselves from the tube. We also removed NV’s twin forestays in order to fit under the travel lift. We had to work fast before the retreating tide had a chance to leave us stranded.
As the travel lift begin lifting NV up out of the water, Timo and I jumped onto the bulb at the bottom of the keel. Ours was the deepest-draft boat to ever be hauled there, and we were by no means certain the travel lift would be able to lift NV high enough to carry her clear of the boat ramp. We held our breaths as we looked up at the amount of cable left to go, then back down at the keel, trying to judge whether or not we’d make it. Next thing we knew we were being driven away from the ramp with 5in to spare. Success!
Photos courtesy of Joanna Hutchinson