Wednesday, January 25, 2012

There Are Some Boating Experiences A Person Could Just Do Without

  Some of my previous blogs have reviewed our boating history, but more of those had to do with what boats we have owned, as opposed to some of our actual experiences. Since our travels on Swing Set won’t start until later this year, I figured I’d keep my limited blog writing skills lubricated by relaying some of our more memorable moments to my faithful blog followers.
  There are a number of things that you don’t want to happen as the captain, or as the owner of a boat. The usual calamities such as fire, collision, and sinking are certainly ones to avoid; along with getting lost, getting stuck in a hurricane, and running aground. The list is longer, but our negative experiences involving our boats; with the exception of our trailering mishaps, mainly involve running aground.
  There are different stages of running aground, ranging from lightly touching the bottom, to "hard aground" where a crane might be needed to extract you from the hard. Our experiences have never been of the hard aground variety, but even the less critical groundings are nerve wracking.

  Back in 1988, Rosie and I took our second trip down the eastern Florida coast in a boat. The first time we traveled from Jacksonville to Key Biscayne, taking two weeks to do the trip down and back.  For the second trip, we trailered our 242LS Formula to Sebastion, Florida, which is roughly mid-state, and set our sights for Key West. Rosie is pictured above where we are anchored just off of Tank Island, which is directly across from Mallory Square in Key West.
  We spent five glorious days in Key West before we decided it was time to make our way back upstate. We had come down on the eastern side of the Keys, so in the interest of variety, we decided to travel back up to Marathon Key, and then on to Miami, on the "western" side, or the inside route. 
  Back then, I didn't have GPS, but I did have a paper chart and a compass; so I calculated a route that would take us necessarily far off from the sight of land, as the inside route is very shallow. My plan was to use dead reckoning, basically, knowing the distance to Bahia Honda Channel where we would turn east in the direction of Marathon. I knew I had to travel at a certain speed for a set amount of time until I found the channel marker I was looking for, and sure enough, with the aid of our binoculars, I found our channel marker far in the distance.
  As I was making way toward the marker, still very far off from land, we came to a grinding halt. My preoccupation with the compass and the binoculars distracted me from monitoring the depth finder, a most important oversight. 
  We were nearly "hard aground", as the boat was listing to one side, as sure sign that the whole keel was sitting on the sand. I immediately raised the outdrive and I put on some surf shoes to prevent stepping on anything, then jumped out of the boat into about 18" of water.
  The reality of the situation was sinking in as I ineffectually tried to shove us off into deeper water. I then decided to consult the tide tables and luckily found that we were on a rising tide and all we had to do was wait; however the tide in that area doesn't rise a whole lot, so the prospect of floating off was still doubtful. As we settled in for the wait, I did try to contact somebody on our handheld VHF radio, but to no avail. We were still pretty far from any populated area. I wasn't very enthusiastic about contacting anyone however, as I still had some hope of extracting ourselves from our predicament. Had I been able to raise anyone, I most likely would have had them stand by just in case. I don't suffer humility well.
  Once we arrived at the apex of the rising tide, the boat was floating level, but the stern was still sitting on the sand, and the lower gear case was also in contact with the ground. I had to work with the situation at hand, so what I did was to direct Rosie to the bow of the boat, using all 103 pounds of her hulking mass to offset some weight from the stern, but we remained stuck.
  I directed my efforts, then, to the bow of our boat; since it was essentially afloat. I pushed on the bow and got the boat at least turned around with the bow directed to deeper water, which was in the direction from which we had come. With Rosie bouncing what she could of her enormous frame on the front of the boat, I shoved from the rear with my back to the swim platform as I lifted up on it as much as possible. I am just now realizing why I have back problems today, as I write this.
  We finally got the Formula floating. Damage only amounted to a chunk of aluminum knocked out of the lower skeg that I later fixed with JB Weld. (Good stuff) I consulted the chart again and plotted a course through deeper water, and we breezed into Marathon for fuel.
  This story has a happy ending, as will the others about grounding, but a 24 foot boat is a lot lighter than our current 40 footer. The few groundings we've had with our larger Swing Set caused us a fair amount of anxiety; those stories are coming up.

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