It’s time to wrap up this series of posts on running aground and move on to other topics. “What other topics?” I hear you ask. Depth finders, anchoring, kayaks, crab pots, the release of my newest novel, hiking from one bay to another, mornings on the water, “Juneuary” weather in British Columbia, navigating rapids and narrows, writing, and so on.
Yes, fine, but what about the profit side of running aground for fun and profit?
Well, here goes.
We went aground in the Octopus Islands in the summer or 2015. (By rights, I ought to say that we went arock.) We figured at we’d taken some paint off the bottom of the keel, but that other than a patch of missing paint, we’d come through pretty much unscathed.
However . . .
Early in 2016, we discovered to our surprise, call it that, that we hadn’t escaped our little adventure as handily as we’d imagined. (Wishful thinking is a wonder thing, isn’t it?)
Several months and $14,000 later, our boat was ready to go back into the water, and we were able to take her north into British Columbia again. Thank God for good insurance companies and competent yards!
Ho-hum. So far, so normal.
Hang on. Here comes the exciting part. (Exciting if you’re in love with boats, that is.)
In terms of the boat herself, the big “profit” came in two forms. The first was the discovery and repair of a chronic leak in the keel-hull seam. Those seams aren’t supposed to leak, they’re inspected to ensure that they won’t and don’t leak, but they leak, nevertheless. Not a lot, but it doesn’t take a lot to create a serious problem.
The second was the discovery and replacement of several degraded keel bolts. We’d hit the rock so hard that the keel flexed enough to bend several of the bolts attaching the keel to the hull. As it turned out, those bolts were steel, and due to water intrusion over the years, they’d rusted. Which is understandable. After all, the hull was laid up and the keel attached in the early 1970s, and stainless, due to its comparative lack of strength, wouldn’t have been appropriate. (To say nothing of the potential for corrosion between stainless-steel bolts and a cast-iron keel.)
Still, understandable or not, it’s good, very, very good, to have the problem fixed. For now. We hope.
The other ways in which we profited from running aground—this time!—have to do with things and lessons learned or confirmed.
The most immediate thing we learned is the location of that stinking rock. Needless to say, the next time we’re in the Octopus Islands, we’ll be very careful about it—and about all the other rocks that are visible only at low tide.
It’s important for boaters to ready and willing to help other boaters, especially in isolated areas. Self-reliance is of paramount importance on the water, but so is importance of rendering aid if needed, in ways large and small.
If possible, enter unfamiliar anchorages at low tide. If not, proceed with extra caution. When the tide is out, have a good look around. You’ll be surprised how much smaller the bay, nook, wherever has become. You’ll also be surprised at how many more rocks there are showing, at how far out the beach has come.
Most of the time, entering anchorages and marinas comes at the end of the day, when people are tired, hungry, running out of patience, and focused on securing the boat and settling in for the evening or, conversely, punching out, going home, and escaping all those self-absorbed tourists for a few precious hours. It when people are tired and distracted that mistakes are more likely to happen, when tunnel vision is more apt to take over, when routine creates a kind of mesmerized carelessness.
The end of the day is absolutely the time to see to it that the familiar doesn’t take over, that things are double-checked, that “best practices” are followed, and that everyone stays alert and focused on the whole of what is going on. It is no time to default to autopilot.
Study the chart(s) of the area. Have them handy for easy reference. Yes, I know you studied them before approaching the area. You did study them, didn’t you? And you did read the overviews in the various cruising guides and coast pilots, didn’t you? And you came away with more information than the locations of the nearest golf course, shopping boutiques, kayak-rentals stands, upscale restaurants, and ice-cream stands, didn’t you? I hope so. Well, have a look at those charts again. They are a wealth of information. You won’t have memorized all of it—How far out does that gravel bar come? Really? Do we leave that buoy to port or to starboard when approaching from this particular direction?—so you will have to have them handy.
Paradoxically, in some areas a depth finder will do you absolutely no good at all. Unless you’re using some very expensive gear, depth finders, even the fancy-schmancy ones, look down. They do not look ahead.
Rocks like the one we ran into in the Octopus Islands are pinnacles. They rise steeply off the bottom. They’re shaped more like traffic cones than they are like piles of gravel or discarded riprap. Which means that by the time your depth finder detects the rock—Guess what, dude?—you’ve already slammed into it.
All is not lost. Often, just as with many South Pacific reefs, these rocks can been seen out ahead of the boat. Which means that there is no substitute for a pair of eyes up on the bow or perched up on the boom.
(Ladies, no matter what your boyfriend or husband tells you, no matter what you’ve seen on various book jackets, taking your shirt off will not improve your eyesight.)
Remember that there is no rush. Take it slow, dead slow. The bay, anchorage, or that magical little nook isn’t going anywhere. It’s unlikely to fill up. And even if it does, so what? You can almost always find another spot the hook. In most cases stern tying is an option.
Also, as far as I know, caffeine withdrawal is not fatal. (I’m not entirely sure about this, but for the present, let’s take it as read.) A delayed meal won’t cause acute starvation or malnutrition. Hunger, maybe, but not starvation. Yes, it’s raining and, yes, you’re soaked to the skin, but unlike the Wicked Witch, you will not melt.
Doing it right often takes longer, but doing it in a hurry can, and often will, take many times longer . . . if you can do it at all. Think about the number of boats that have grounded, or sunk, because their skippers were in a hurry and cut inside a buoy or failed to double-check their charts?
This whole episode reinforced for me the importance of the configuration of a boat’s underbody. How exposed are the rudder, prop, strut, and shaft? What’s likely to happen to the keel if the boat runs aground? What’s likely to happen if the tide goes far enough out to leave the boat high and dry? (I saw this happen twice just this last summer.)
These are things to consider, to keep in mind if you wish.
One last thought. Regardless of the problems and challenges, boating is a fine and magnificent madness, especially when done along the Inside Passage.
As always, your results may vary.