Sunday, August 17, 2008

When Good Jobs Go Bad, Part 1

File this story under: "Some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug."

It all began quite routinely, as a thunderstorm approached Block Island on Wednesday. As this cloud passed, it started to rain, and the wind shifted from E @ 6 to W @ 15.

The weather caused a three boat raft-up of sailboats to drag anchor. At first, the Harbormaster and I sort of thought that they would fetch up, but it quickly became apparent that the three un-attended boats were heading for an innocent fourth boat anchored downwind, and we had to take some action to prevent a collision.

Sometimes, when a boat is dragging anchor, she is bearing down on other vessels, and there is no time to get aboard and haul her ground tackle - but you can't tow her with anchor still on the bottom. In those cases, a good option is to just hook on to her anchor rode with a big snap shackle at the end of your towline. When you begin to pull forward, the snap shackle will run down the rode and pull the anchor off the bottom, and you can then slowly tow the boat that way. In one quick step, you will lift the dragging anchor off the bottom, and create a makeshift towline to at least get the vessel out of a crowded anchorage to buy yourself some time and room to set up a more traditional tow. This technique is universally known as Plan A.

The trio of sailboats were all hanging on a single hook from the boat in the middle. Her chain rode was hanging over the bow roller, and I could see a nylon snubber off the starboard cleat. The chain hook on the snubber was a few feet below the surface, so I modified Plan A just a tad and opted to clip onto the chain at the bow roller, above the snubber - hoping to just pull the raft upwind a few yards and avoid the impending collision.

What's that saying? "Never change horses in mid stream." What happened was that the anchor chain was not secured in the chain locker, nor over the gypsy of the windlass, so as soon as I tried to pull, I was just pulling chain out of a chain locker, rather than towing the 3 boat raft upwind. Modified Plan A sucks wind. Now I was really running out of time, and I had to hustle back there and get a line on tout de suite!

I rushed back to the bow of the middle boat and quickly reconnected the tow line below the snubber, just as the Harbormaster informed me that the three boats were about to get T-boned by the bow of another vessel. With the tow line hooked up, time to get those jets in gear and implement Original Plan A.

WHAM! SCREECH! I cringed at the sound of my towline getting sucked up into my port jet, and wrapping around the impeller shaft at, I hate that sound, don't you? Fortunately, it's a twin screw, so I can still maneuver. Maybe I can still pull this job off without too much drama....behind me, it looks like we've just missed that 4th boat, and I'm clear to implement Plan A, version 2.0 minus 1.

Except, as I pull the rafted boats away, the Harbormaster informs me that the 4th boat's rode is now snagged around the rudder of one of the boats that I'm towing.

Let's review: I've got one engine down. I've got a raft of 3 unmanned sailboats attached to my towboat in a manner that is probably not covered in the Hamilton Jet owner's manual, and I can't disconnect myself from the 3 sailboats because their anchor chain is now sucked up tight to my port intake. I'm not sure where the unmanned boat's anchor is except that it has to be somewhere between my jet intake and the bottom of the Pond (please, God, let it not be on the bottom!). And one of the 3 unmanned boats is now fouled over the anchor rode of yet a fourth boat. Did I mention that it's pouring rain and the winds are gusting around 20 kts. This job has pretty much turned to shit, don't you think? be continued...