Skip to main content

Voice of Experience: Heading for the Rocks Page 2

We were halfway into a three-week summer cruise through the San Juan and Gulf islands in the Pacific Northwest. Aboard Hannah, our Hunter 356, were my wife Chantil, my 15-year-old daughter, Sierra, my 11-year-old son, Aaron, and our dog, Jack; also with us were my nephews Andrew and Zack, who are 13 and 12. Our vacation was going so well I jokingly considered calling work and asking for
  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

My son proudly reported: “We never hit the rocks! The lowest the depthsounder showed was 13 feet below the keel.”

“Good,” I said. “Aaron and Zack, go check the bilges, make sure we haven’t taken on any water from leaks. Sierra, make sure our running and steaming lights are on. Also, nice job on the radio calls. Well done!”

Hannah was now well into the channel and feeling the full brunt of the chop kicked up by what was now a chilly 25-knot wind. “What are your intentions?” yelled the coastguardsman at the helm of the RIB. “Where are you staying for the night?”

I considered anchoring in another cove, but decided against it when I realized how concerned Sierra was about anchoring again.

“Let’s dock at Port Sidney Marina,” I replied, wondering how on earth I would navigate five miles through the dark to a harbor and marina I had never seen before.

“OK! I’ll go back and get your wife and dinghy and escort you to the marina!” the coastguardsman yelled through the wind. “I’ll leave one of my men on your boat to help you navigate through the island passage. Keep your VHF radio on channel 16.”

I did my best to plot a course on the helm chartplotter to Sidney through the multitude of islands and ferry routes that blocked the way. It was nice having a coastguardsman with some local knowledge of the area on board to help me out. Then, I remembered the two kayaks still attached to our boat. “We had to cut them free,” explained the coastguardsman. “They were recovered on shore by some good Samaritans.”

Soon the coast guard auxiliary RIB returned with Chantil. She came aboard, gave me a relieved hug and went below to check on the kids. The coastguardsman, though, looked concerned. “We have another call, so we’ll have to let you go to Sidney on your own,” he said. “I’ll bring you back your dinghy later tonight.”

“Sounds good, I’ve got it from here. See you in Sidney,” I said, wondering how I was going to make it through the narrow island channels in the middle of the night.

Fortunately, the GPS and chart-plotter were working perfectly. I switched on the radar to make sure its image overlay matched the land I was seeing on the chart. The trip to Port Sidney Marina was stressful, especially one narrow passage between two small islands, but uneventful. Having the chartplotter right at the helm was a great help. After tying up in the marina, Chantil and I sat down and caught our breath. I couldn’t help but be grateful to all the people who helped us, especially the volunteers of the Canadian coast guard auxiliary.

“Well, at least the kids will have something exciting to write about in their journals tomorrow,” we joked.

Hindsight

What We Did Wrong

  • Leaving children on the boat alone could have had much worse consequences. We should have made sure there was some way for them to contact us if necessary. We only had one working cell phone and left our portable VHF radio on the boat.
  • We failed to notice the wind change during our hike. A prudent sailor must always be aware of any change in the weather.
  • If I had left the instruments on, the anchor alarm would have alerted the kids that the boat was dragging much sooner. The boat dragged more than 100 feet before the kids realized how close they were to shore.
  • Transiting the narrow, shallow passage en route to Sidney might not have been the best decision. It would have been safer to take the longer route around the island to the marina.

What We Did Right

  • Teaching our kids how to use a VHF radio, especially how to make a distress call, was crucial. Sierra made a proper call that included GPS information in order to get a quick response.
  • During the cruise everyone wore lifejackets while topside underway. Even our dog, Jack, has his own PFD.
  • I kept my composure and stayed focused on the important issues: the safety of my crew and my vessel. The other issues, my dinghy and kayaks, were secondary. The coast guard returned the dinghy that evening, and we recovered the kayaks the next morning.

Related

00-LEAD-JB13-RT1169

What's it Like to Sail a Legend?

At 110 years old, the storied pilot cutter Jolie Brise powers off the wind. In 1851, the New York pilot schooner America sailed to England, beat the Brits at their own prestigious yacht race (which came to be known as the America’s Cup), and launched an evolution of the East ...read more

Alexforbes Archangel1-1 (14)

Cape2Rio Draws to a Close

With just four boats still on their way, it has been a long road to Rio for the fleet competing in this year’s Cape2Rio. Larry Folsom’s American-flagged Balance 526 Nohri took line honors and a win in the MORCA fleet, finishing with a corrected time of 18 days, 20 hours, and 42 ...read more

_01-Steve-and-Irene-1

Close Encounters: A Star to Steer By

I first met Steve and Irene Macek in the proper way—in an anchorage full of bluewater cruising boats. This was in St. Georges, Bermuda, in the spring of 2019. Theirs, without doubt, was the most distinctive boat there—an immaculate, three-masted, double-ended Marco Polo schooner ...read more

14_01_230123_TOR_JOF_0414-2048x

The Ocean Race Leg 2 Kicks Off

After a trial by fire start to the race and only a brief stop for limited fixes, the five IMOCA 60 crews in The Ocean Race set off for Cape Town, South Africa, early on January 25. Despite arriving somewhat battered in Cabo Verde, an African island nation west of Senegal, the ...read more

Lead

Cruising: Smitten with a Wooden Boat

I was sailing down the inner channel of Marina del Rey under a beautiful red sunset when Nills, one of the crew members on my boat, pointed out an unusual and unique-looking 40-foot gaff-rigged wooden cutter tied to the end of a dock. Its classic appearance was a stark contrast ...read more

Screen-Shot-2023-01-23-at-12.03.19-PM

Racing Recap: Leg One of The Ocean Race

New to spectating The Ocean Race? Managing Editor Lydia Mullan breaks down everything you need to know to get started. ...read more

image00001

From the Editor: Keeping the Hands in Hands-On

SAIL Editor-in-Chief Wendy Mitman Clarke enjoys a sunny autumn cruise in her Peterson 34 on the Chesapeake Bay. It was late afternoon just after the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis when I climbed aboard the last boat on the schedule. I and others who review and sail boats for ...read more

P1580711

B&G Announces New Zeus S Chartplotter

B&G has long been putting out top-of-the-line electronics, but the new Zeus S Chartplotter is a new take on the best way to give sailors the exact information they need, when they need it. “So many more people sail shorthanded these days, whether as a couple or when they’re ...read more