March 16, 2014

On rocks and yacht handling

THEY SAY there are only two kinds of sailors: those who have run aground, and those who are going to. I belong to the first group and the one thing it taught me was that modern sailboats are not easily damaged by running aground. It depends on circumstances, of course, so that if you run onto a large shallow reef in a gale of wind, your boat could well be pounded to bits. But what I’m referring to is the much more common mishap of touching a sandbank or hitting a lone rock lurking just below the surface.

My most recent encounter with a rock occurred a few years ago when I deliberately sailed my 25-footer into a rock-strewn area to help a fellow sailor whose boat had gone aground and got stuck. As luck would have it, he managed to wiggle off and sail clear before I got to him. Then, on the way back to deep water, I struck a rock at four knots.

We were all knocked off our feet and there was a terrific clang from the aluminum mast. I hopped down below to check the bilges, but she was not making water.  I felt sure substantial damage had been done, but when we had her hauled out the next day there was nothing more than a hole the size of a small orange on the leading edge of the lead keel. That blemish was soon filled with epoxy and we were back in the water on the next tide.

 Thomas Fleming Day expanded on this subject in his book, On Yachts and Yacht Handling.

“This is a subject upon which I can pose as a master,” he said. “If any man has been ashore more times than I have, I should like to meet him and spend an evening comparing notes. One of my favorite amusements is to sail into places where a man has no business to go; consequently my boat is continually hung up on rocks, shoals and bars.

“While this is not particularly good for a boat, it has done me no great harm, as I have gathered a lot of knowledge and experience which, you willing, I will spread before you.

“Yachts, unlike merchant vessels are seldom damaged by taking ground. This is because, in proportion to their weight, they are extremely strong fabrics. A merchant vessel when loaded has little reserve buoyancy, and when she strikes, she hits hard; but a yacht is almost as buoyant as an empty barrel, and unless she hits with a perpendicular motion, does so very lightly.

“Frequently, when a yacht hits a rock it seem to those on boat as if the end of things had come; but when an examination is made it will be found that little harm has been done.

“I once struck a rock with a small sloop. It was blowing a strong breeze and considerable sea running; it threw me over the wheel to land on my head in the fore end of the cockpit, and knocked the rest off their pins. The centerboard was driven clear up and out of the case against the cabin roof, the sloop making a jump over the stone and into deep water on the other side.

 “We all thought the boat must be badly damaged, but as she made no water we turned round and worked her home. When she was hauled out, the only sign of the blow was a dent in the lead keel just deep and wide enough to hold a finger.”

The author goes on for many pages to describe how strandings occur and what to do about them, but he ends with this admonition:

“But better than all these directions is the advice to keep off rocks, shoals and shore. Don’t go into places unknown to you unless you have a good chart or your lead going . . . an ounce of precaution in this matter is worth tons of cure.”

Today’s Thought
He who will not be ruled by the rudder, must be ruled by the rock.
— Isaac D’Israeli, Curiosities of Literature

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
—Groucho Marx
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A heart warming story this. To this day I still look for damage to my 28 sloop after I t-boned a submerged rock so hard that my boat literally bounce backwards. To this day I have found no damage, and until I read this, thought I will certainly find the damage someday.