The Octopus Islands Marine Provincial Park, British Columbia, is a delightful cluster of tree-covered rocks and ragged bays on the east side of Quadra Island. The park is located at the mouth of funnel-shaped Waiatt Bay. The large end of the funnel opens onto the Okisollo Channel, a short distance north of Surge Narrows and a similarly short distances south of the Hole in the Wall and the Okisollo Rapids.
The bay is relatively sheltered and the holding, in our experience, is excellent. For the most part, the water is neither too shallow nor too deep for comfortable anchoring. There is ample space, especially in the bay itself.
A typical boat has a lot more hanging off her bottom than the keel. Most powerboats don’t even have keels, not in the sense that I’ve been using the term here. They relying instead on the configuration of hull itself to provide directional stability. (For the moment, I’m setting aside bilge keels, skegs, and so on.)
The other things, the really vulnerable things, hanging below your boat include the rudder, the prop, the strut, the shaft, and, in a very special way, the raw-water inlet.
From right to left, the top photo on the right shows our boat’s prop, strut, prop shaft, and two zincs, the round things that look like metal tennis balls. The prop is painted with antifouling, but beneath that gray is bronze. The strut is also made of bronze. It’s job is to hold the shaft in place. The shaft connects the output side of the transmission to the prop. The zincs help to prevent galvanic corrosion. As marine items go, they’re very inexpensive, but heaven help you if you don’t keep them fresh. This usually involves a diver, a minimal expense considering the alternative, or a haul out, about which there is nothing inexpensive. Reasonable, yes, inexpensive, no.
The photo on the left shows out boat’s rudder. It’s a little hard to pick out against the background. It’s the tall black shape between the red ladder and the blue stand on the left and the propeller on the right. It’s down and to the left of the boat’s name. Our rudder is a spade rudder. It hangs on a rudder post that it fitted through a tube that runs up through the bottom of the boat. At one and the same time, it’s both a rugged arrangement and a fragile one. Were the boat to come down on it in just the wrong way the post, which is a stainless steel tube, could easy bend, the rudder could be torn from the post, the housing could be cracked, and so on down the macabre list.
When it comes to a sailboat, her keel will provide certain amount of protection. However, if you can’t get her free before the tide goes out, she’ll go over onto her side . . . unless you’re very lucky.
My wife and I once anchored for the night in a small bay or sorts across from St. Helens. We had a fair amount of water under us when we turned it, and we didn’t expect much in the way to tidal action. (Apart from the tides, runoff, and so on, the main thing that affects the depth in the lower Columbia is whether or not the dams are holding or releasing water. Typically, they hold water on the weekends and release it during the week to enhance power generation.)
In the morning, we awoke to find our beloved San Juan 24 hard aground, standing perfectly upright, nestled against a sandbar. She had dry sand on one side and about five feet of water on the other.
Heavy protects sailors, fools, and working girls, so I was doubly protected, while my wife was triply so.
If a sailboat does end up on her beam ends, it’s nothing to joke about. When the tide comes back in, the rising water stands a fair chance of overflowing the gunwales, filling the lower portions of the cockpit, and spilling down the companionway and into the cabin. In short, the boat may flood long before she floats.
When it comes to her rudder, props, struts, and prop shaft—and apart from the possibility of eventually flooding and resting on her beam ends—a high-and-dry sailboat will be in much the same fix as the boat on the left.
The first picture on the left shows this rather nice powerboat in profile. In this view is doesn’t appear as though there’s much to worry about. She’s on the sand, and once the tide comes back in, unless she’s come down on a rock or the stump of the piling, meaning that unless something had poked a hole in her bottom, she ought to float again easily enough.
Now take a good look at the picture on the right. This is a stern view of the same boat. Take a careful look. See what’s happened? As the tide when out, the boat’s own weight drove her props, struts, rudders, and shafts into the sand. You can just make out the set on the starboard side. They below the man in the cockpit and to the right of the woman with the pink bag.
Sand, especially wet sand, is not soft. This is not one bit like nestling you favorite antique into a box filled with Styrofoam popcorn.
On the other hand, the forward part of the hull could have taken the lion’s share of the boat’s weight, so she may have escaped unscathed. I doubt it.
It’s important to remember that in all likelihood the prop(s) and the strut(s) are made out of bronze and that the prop shaft(s) is(are) made out of stainless steel. These are relatively soft metals and are easily bent.
My wife and I were motoring into Cathlamet, WA when we heard a clang-thunk from the bottom of the boat. A second later we saw a piece of drift about the size of a short boom handle floating in our wake. We also noticed that the boat had picked up a new vibration. Sure enough, we’d hit a piece of drift and had bent the prop.
Which brings up an interesting side point. In a grounding situation, as well as in places where there’s either a lot of drift or a lot of crab pots set out, I would bet that the best arrangement would be to have the rudder mounted securely along the tailing edge of a keel, with the prop housed in a aperture. This would both shield the prop and reduce the length of exposed shaft to nothing or nest to nothing.
In the photo to the left, the aperture is the rounded space, to the right of the two people, between the trailing edge of the keel and the leading edge of the rudder. The prop is plainly visible.
Where you’ve grounded a powerboat or a sailboat, the chances are the first thing you’ll do is try to back off. If low RPMs down work, you will, doubtless, open the throttle until you’ve red-lined the engine. If that doesn’t work, jump to the next time-honored method. You’ll drop the RPMs to a near idle, shift into forward, and goose the throttle again. Only this time, you’ll shift the rudder from side to side in an effort to pivot the boat off.
Most of the time one of the other of their two techniques will work. Sometimes they don’t, calling for ever greater levels of creativity.
But wait. Just like a contestant on Queen for a Day, “you’re still not through.” By definition, your boat is in shallow water. Your prop(s) is(are) throwing up clouds of sediment. That sediment can be mud, sand, bits of shell, small rocks, bits of weed, slivers of waterlogged wood, and/or so on.
Your raw-water pump will suck in that debris, the portion of it that makes it past the strainers, along with the water your engine needs for cooling.
The remaining debris can or will work a number on your raw-water pump’s impeller, clog or damage your raw-water pump as a whole, clog your heat exchanger if you have one, clog the water channels in your engine block if you have one, and otherwise work a number on your engine. Overheating may result, which in turn may cripple or destroy your engine. Cute, no?
So, there you have it: rudder, prop, strut, shaft, and raw-water intake. They’re all at risk when you run aground.
What can you do?
Don’t run aground. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.
The next post in this series will deal with running aground itself—the how, the why, the where, the who, the when, and the myriad dangers to those aboard, especially when they decide not to stay aboard!
In meantime, I’m going to hunt up the nearest marina bar, look out over the boats, sip my drink, and return to my condition of unparalleled expertise.
I’ve already blogged a bit about what you’re likely to hit when you run your boat aground. It might be just as well at this point to write about the parts of your boat that do the hitting.
But first a brief review. Running aground is no laughing matter, especially the farther north along the Inside Passage you go. The photo to the right shows a rock, one that clears at low tide. See the two smears of paint, one black and one red? The red one a pretty clear. The black one is sort of hidden in the patch of crushed barnacles.
I first learned how to sail on the Columbia River. Now that I do most of my boating on Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia, I’ve had to relearn a lot of things.
One of them is what it means, as in really, truly, actually means, to run aground. In other words, I’ve had to figure out the difference between knifing my keel into a sandbar and slamming my keel into a rock. (Unfortunately, as will be revealed later, the only effective way to learn this is by doing it.)
The powerboat pictured to the right went aground near the south end of the Swinomish Channel. I have no idea why, but I suspect that he tried to cut between the buoys marking the north side of the channel and head on up toward Deception Pass. From the channel, that stretch of water looks safe enough, but it isn’t. Once the boat was aground, a filling tide did the rest. Cutting buoys and buoys lines is a common practice, but it can have unfortunate, and often expensive, consequences. In this case, the boat is aground on sand, so the damage, if any, was probably minimal.
I seem to have opened another can of worms, but let’s see what I can do with it.
The hull is the part of the boat, ship, etc., that keeps the water out. Keeping the water out, allows the boat to float, to house machinery and equipment, to carry people, stores, and/or cargo, and, paradoxically, to dive beneath the waves and to rise above them again.
As functional as they are, hulls can also be things of true beauty. They can be sweeping, graceful works of art.
The photo at right shows Sand Man, a historic tugboat undergoing one of her periodic haul-outs. For more on Sand Man see http://www.tugsandman.org. Sand Man is a truly beautiful tug, and those involved in her maintenance are to be congratulated on their work. She is, incidentally, not entirely dissimilar to Rainbow, the tugboat featured in my novel, Enoch’s Folly.
This story grew out of a workshop writing exercise. The instructor gave each of the participants a toy and told us to use it as a springboard. Some received stuffed animals, others fit-the-shape-through-the-hole puzzles, and so on. I received a top that reminded me of a mushroom anchor. Read on to see what I did with it.
Now that I’ve opened this can of worms, let’s see if I can make some sort of sense out of it.
Ships, boats, dinghies, and rafts are all vessels. What they have in common is that they are intended for use on or under the water.
A log that has broken away from a log raft or drifted off a beach at high tide is not a vessel. It is a hazard to navigation, as many a hapless skipper can attest.
However, two or more logs lashed together for the purposes of getting from one place to another—even if it’s only back to the starting place—constitute a vessel. If you build a house on those lashed-together logs, then they’re a float.
Life on the water can be sublime, but it comes with a number of, shall we say, challenges, like figuring out what to call what. Buying gasoline when you meant to buy diesel can ruin your whole day, not to mention your engine. Yes, people have made that mistake. That’s why the pumps and hoses have different colors.
Water, air, beer, and barbecue are pretty clear, but houseboat, floating home, and boathouse can scramble your mind.
Houseboat refers to either a vessel or a house built on a float.
Alastair MacNaughton and his uncle, Chauncey Winston, have been at each other's throats for decades. Nobody enjoys a good old-fashioned family dustup as much as these two, but their squabbling has created a deadly paralysis from which the family company, Winston Tug and Barge—the largest maritime transportation concern on the Columbia River—may not emerge.
NOW AVAILABLE “The Happy Man” in the Valor issue of Fiction River.
From the editor’s blurb:
Jamie McNabb brings us a story of a senior non-commissioned officer, a man he describes in the story title as a happy man in a most unhappy war.
Jamie’s stories have appeared in a number of previous Fiction River volumes (Universe Between, Past Crimes, and Pulse Pounders). As the titles suggest, he writes in a wide variety of genres, but concentrates on science fiction and sea stories. He is currently fusing the latter two in his current novel-in-progress, The Jolly Tars in Space, from which this short story was developed.