Saturday, August 30, 2008

North Reef at Night

A few loyal readers have commented that they would like to see more video of my work out here at Block Island. Much of the footage I have isn't very dramatic, and frankly would bore most of the subscribers to RedRightReturning. But, they don't call me Captain Hollywood for nothing. I did find some video of a job I had last month. Before you watch this clip, let me set the stage so you'll understand what you are seeing.

The north end of Block Island tapers to a point, understandably named Sandy Point, and extending quite far out from there is the Block Island North Reef, which might have been more correctly name the Block Island Deadly, Narrow and Particularly Nasty Long Sand Bar. I guess North Reef fits better on the charts.

This sandbar is very narrow, and the west side is really almost an underwater cliff: it drops from ankle deep to twelve feet in less than a boat length. The east side is more like a traditional beach, with the depths gradually decreasing from ten feet deep about 200 yards to the east to the ankle deep bar itself. (This geography makes for some very strange seas, and even on this very calm night, you will notice some small breakers that look like they are coming towards my vessel, as if I was on the beach, when actually I'm in deeper water to the west the strand.) That long bar on the chart never really drys even at low tide. It lurks down there below the surface, waiting for the unwary boater or lazy navigator.

About 2100hrs one night, a sailboat calls Mayday and reports himself aground at the north end of Block Island. There was a bunch of thunderstorms rolling down Long Island Sound, but otherwise it was calm and clear. I was underway lickity-split, while the USCG directed all their rescue efforts to playing 20 questions with the mariner on the radio (they never did launch any physical assets to the area that I know of).

From the time I got underway to the time I arrived on scene was probably less than 10 minutes. When I had visual contact, I asked the boater if he had gone aground coming from the east or the west - the answer would make a difference to my approach and which direction I might pull him off. He thought he had come from the west, and as you will see, he was wrong. A boater who has run into an island at night is generally not your best source of reliable navigational information - but you gotta start somewhere...(look again at the chart, he was between the 9' and the 4' depths that straddle the reef just north of Sandy Point)

The video begins as I approach from the west (deeper and steeper side) of the reef, and I spin around in preparation to toss him a bridle. As you watch the video, you can actually see the reef just under my swim platform. In the backgound, the Block Island North Light blinks mockingly just behind the grounded boat.

I heard a few shells and stones rattling around in the jet, which is the boat's way of telling me it's time for Plan B. Fortunately, with the jet boat, running over hard shell and sand isn't the end of the world; it doesn't even really slow the job down.

I quickly zipped around to the other side of the reef. This eastern approach presents a few problems of its own. The depths on that side are very shallow, and when the current is running, it will set you towards the reef. As you can see, conditions were calm on this night, and I had no trouble backing up to his stern and practically handing him my bridle. The look on the faces of his family huddled in the cockpit tells a story about their experience.

As you will see, everything turns out fine, and we even beat those thunderstorms back to the harbor.