October 2, 2012

A swimming champion

THE LATEST ISSUE of BoatU.S. magazine contains a story about the salvaging of a 40-foot sailboat that went aground late one night off the south jetty of Oceanside Harbor, California.  As salvage stories go, there was nothing too remarkable about this one.  A commercial tow-boat was called in and dragged the sailboat by brute force into deeper water.  No one was hurt and there was no serious damage. But one remarkable aspect of the story seems to have been rather glossed over by BoatU.S. in its desire to emphasize the role played by its own rescue-boat agency, Vessel Assist.

According to the article, when the call from the stranded skipper arrived at the office of Vessel Assist in San Diego, they quickly loaded a 34-foot tow-boat called Shelter Island, and got under way for Oceanside, a trip of about an hour.  There they got a line to the sailboat and slowly towed her off toward the open ocean.

It’s the bit about how they got the line to the boat that seems remarkable to me.

“Once Shelter Island arrived, shallow water forced the towers to stay almost a quarter-mile away from the jetty, which meant that 1,200 feet of 1/2-inch towline would have to be taken to the sailboat through breaking waves and against an outgoing tide by a swimmer — Captain Shane Thompson. This would’ve been all but impossible with nylon rope, but the crew had taken time to load a remarkably strong Amsteel Blue line, which floats.”

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to tow a long line behind you in the water, but it’s damned difficult.  Even if it’s floating, there is a tremendous drag from 1,200 feet of line. Simply swimming yourself ashore (presumably in a wet-suit in that cold water) against breaking waves and an outgoing tide would be difficult enough, but fetching in a half-inch line the length of four football fields under those conditions is almost superhuman.

That’s a job for a shallow outboard dinghy, or a personal watercraft, neither of which the Shelter Island was carrying, I presume.  In any case, if the BoatU.S. story is correct, Captain Shane Thompson, a technical dive instructor, did a mighty fine job and deserves the highest of accolades.  He must be some swimmer.

Today’s Thought
I saw him beat the surges under him,
And ride upon their backs; . . . his bold head
’Bove the contentious waves he kept, and oar’d
Himself with his good arms in lusty stroke.
— Shakespeare, The Tempest

Did you hear that all the toilets in New York’s police stations have been stolen? So far, the police have nothing to go on.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Anonymous said...

Likely wearing a wetsuit and fins, perhaps even scuba gear. I'd expect a marine towing outfit to be equiped with such.

Greg Ross said...

We were involved in a grounding on a falling tide a few years ago. Somewhat similar situation in that neither of us had a tender but only about 400' separated our LAYLA and a Cape Island fishing boat. Difference in our circumstance was that the tidal current was across our stern, runnning probably close to 2 knots.
The skipper had played out hunderds of feet of poly with a fender on the free end, the idea being that my wife would swim across and retrieve it. Skipper and I communicated via VHF after my wife had snagged the fender but she could not make any way across the current. I bellowed to her to hang on for dear life and then asked the skipper to tow her upstream. THe idea being that she have the advantage of the current, she managed to hang on and then resumed the swim.
We were laid over close to 45 degrees by the time she back got along side. He asked me several times over the radio whether towing from the top of the mast was a wise idea, him figuring he'd tear the rig right off it. I had rigged tow lines end to end secured to the Main haylard and had the coils of line on several stanchions on what ended up being the high side. I took the buoy from her, climbed up and made the knot from his line to mine and dropped it over the side. No sooner had I released the line then skipper took off, Mrs. was still in the water! Down to the low side and helped her aboard and then back to the high side, at one point nearly getting snagged in the streaming line.
Once the tow line came taught LAYLA pirouetted and off we went with water flooding over the coaming and into the cockpit.
Back on the VHF I indicated when the depth looked Ok. I had closed thruhulls at the beginning of the adventure but had neglected to consider the engine room vents on the aft deck, amazing how much water can flood in through a 3" opening!
No question in my mind that DW (da woife) saved the Boat.