Just sit right back and hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.
In this case, this is a tale of ignorance, foolishness, stupidness, and just general “how wrong can I make things go”. And yes, you are more than welcome to laugh at me and whatnot. But before we get to the fun part, we’ll start with Friday.
My car had started rattling in the passenger side rear, likely a shock mount, so I had ordered all new shocks and bits and pieces, in anticipation of a silent ride once more. The rear shock mounts are annoying to a point where, for me, the easiest way to change everything out is to remove the lower subframe bracing to let the control arms drop down, and remove the shock and spring assembly and so on. Instead of getting into the fancy details, just know that my intent was to use a garage space Friday after work (9 PM eastern when I get out), replace those which is about a 3 hour job, and then go home. After about an hour and a half, it became very obvious that using an air gun to reassemble the subframe mounts the last time I did it, was not the smartest move I had made. Unable to make progress, I abandoned the project, and went home.
Saturday morning, waking up at 4:30 after a few hours of sleep, led to a 12 hour work day. I was excited though, because it was going to be boat day! The plan was to go up, motor out into the lake a ways, anchor out, and spend the night there. Then I’d be able to get up Sunday morning and be ready to enjoy myself. I left work, and drove up, getting there as the sun was already down, which I was expecting. But I’ve been out before in the dark in other places, this shouldn’t be any different. I fired up the outboard, and motored out of the marina. I did note that it was a very dark night, but hey, I have my chartplotter on, I’ve got my running lights on, no big deal, right? I know there are some fishing buoys near the channel entrance so I made sure to go out far enough that I wouldn’t find myself into one, while I tried to make out the break in the wall in the dark.
Before I go into the next part, let me just say that in the three years I’ve had the chartplotter, it has never yet been wrong. The GPS accuracy has never wavered, or shown me to be somewhere I wasn’t. So the fact that of all nights, THIS was the night I went “I dunno, it doesn’t seem right to me” should say something about why my brain was broken. It wouldn’t be the only thing by the end of the weekend. I should also mention that I’ve always been pretty religious about watching my depth. I mean, I draft almost five feet, so I’m usually paranoid about it. Saturday night, I never looked ONCE.
As I stare blankly over the bow, I see what appears to be a lighter shade along where the breakwater was, and get it in my brain that it has to be where the channel opening is. The plotter says otherwise. According to it, I’m about 75′ or so too far to the right of the channel. Remember, one of the two parties in this debate has yet to be wrong. And that statement still stands. The collision was quick, and threw me across the cockpit pretty good, spinning the boat starboard and listing quickly to port, 35 degrees or so. I scrambled to the outboard and threw it into neutral initially, trying to see where I had grounded. The crunching from beneath the keel with every swell was causing my stomach to turn a lot more than the fact that I stopped. I tried forward and reverse with the motor, nothing. I was stuck hard aground on something, and couldn’t budge in any direction. I was spinning slightly like a top, but not really moving. Without the ability to turn the outboard, there was no control to try to guide the boat anywhere, since there was no water moving over the rudder.
The boat was lying abeam of the swells, and they would alternate between just a gentle rocking, to a larger wave that would lift the boat up just enough to send it crashing back down against the rock beneath the keel with the sound of impending carnage. My only fear, if it was even a fear, was the keel being pushed so far to the side that it would spit open at the hull, and being an encapsulated keel well, I’d soon be sitting as deep in water inside the boat, as was under the hull. How did I manage to get myself aground in what seemed like three feet of water, with a five foot draft? Looking back, I basically stuck myself fast, and then as the boat turned and heeled over, the waves would push me shallower just enough that there was no moving me. I left the outboard running in forward with the slim hope that maybe, MAYBE I could catch a swell just right while I was heeled over, the keel would relax just enough, and I could inch forward. After ten minutes, that was not to be the case.
The camping stove on the galley flew across the boat, crashing into the port side on the seats. My clothes that were on the quarter berth flew on the floor and slide under the table. Anything that wasn’t in a drawer, was on the floor or the side of the boat. Thankfully my cell phone was in the drawer, and my laptop is in a nice cushioned case so when it slid onto the floor, it didn’t take a beating. However, there was water in the bilge, that due to the heel angle, had seeped up enough that my clothes were now soaking wet in dirt and dirty water. It was quite the tornado that had gone off in the cabin of my meager boat.
I swallowed my pride, and keyed up the VHF. My first intent was to see if there was anyone around the marina. I wasn’t even 1/4 mile away, and they had just finished up a summer bash party about a half hour earlier or so. Unfortunately, wasn’t able to reach anyone. I sent out a Pan-Pan request. Twice, over the space of a few minutes. And received no acknowledgement at all. My channel 16 is set at max power, 25 watts. I’ve never had an issue hearing or being heard. And yes, it was 10:30-something at night but come on, no one’s awake on a Saturday night? I tried searching through my phone for numbers for locals at the marina that I swore I had saved. Nope, nothing there. I called the marina number directly, and got after-hours voicemail. Well, that’s kinda expected, really. Finally I went last resort, probably due to the crunching sound under my keel. I hit the Distress button on my GX2200 radio. My MMSI is programmed correctly, I have GPS, but I will honestly say I hated to push it. I knew I needed help, but I felt that since it wasn’t life-or-death, that I shouldn’t be pushing it. However, I was out of options. And, as I understand it, it’s meant exactly as I used it, a vessel in distress. It’s not on the same level as screaming Mayday, but is meant to alert as a distress signal. Well, I was in distress. I pushed it. And five seconds later, felt guilty, and turned it off.
I was instantly hailed by the Coast Guard.
She had me switch to 22A, and asked my situation, and safety. Was anyone injured, no. Were life jackets on? In the process of. Taking on water? not at this time. Any other response? Not yet. She took my cell phone number, and promised to call every ten minutes at most, and whenever she had an update for me. I thanked her, and held on again. The swells would, every so often, and I don’t know how, but would actually flip me from heeling to port, allll the way over to starboard, and then back. That was probably the weirdest part, because you go from 40 degrees one side, to 40 the other. Makes it hard to just pretend you’re heeled over under sail, that way. Another phone call back, they were dispatching the local fire department with their rescue boat. ETA was 8 minutes. Thinking back, and I never did hear the local alarm go off, which I should’ve based on distance, but hey, maybe they have a hotline. A few minutes later, I saw a guy walking on the breakwater, no doubt to come laugh at me. And that’s when I realized I was only about 30-40′ from hitting the wall head-on, had I not run aground. That might’ve tickled. Another set of lights down the ramp at the state park a hundred yards away or so. I’m thinking well, worst case, if I’m in three feet of water, I can just walk outta here. I see more lights coming up the west shore, including the flashing lights of the department boat at the end of the bay. Their support truck makes their way down the path by the pier, and sets up. I see a couple large lights set up, but nothing completely blinding me exactly.
I get a call from the department itself, asking if I have a flare I can set off as the boat is having a hard time locating me. Ok, I realize it’s dark out, but you seriously can’t see the boat laying almost on it’s side, with lights dancing back and forth on it as the waves grind my keel away? I grab my flares, but without my flashlight handy (and since I’m on my phone, I can’t read the label with the light from it)- I can’t get them lit because I hadn’t looked at them before. Yes, you pull the cap off, but there’s a SECOND little cap on the top of THAT cap that peels off to expose the sandpaper to ignite it with. I did not know this. So I settled for flashing S-O-S on my steaming light on the mast which worked. They now saw me.
At this point, I figured they would come alongside, and send someone hopping aboard to assess, or to toss a rope, etc. But, realizing they weren’t sure how shallow it was, they kept a distance about 40 feet or so. Next thing I know, they have a guy in the water swimming the rope to me. And by rope, this thing was 3/4″, 1″, it was thick stuff. So my first thought was “why not just wade through the water dude?” and the second was “I hope this fits on my cleat..”
I cleat off on the bow, they ask how deep I draft, I tell them five feet and they say no problem, we’ll have you free and back deep in a moment. I turned the outboard off, just so I didn’t start taking off as soon as I was free, and held on. Now, this is where it gets interesting. Not because I started sinking, or anything. But because they pulled me about two feet and poof! Popped upright and completely floating free. I pop the line off the cleat and allow them to pull it in, and start the outboard. Well, once I remembered to put it in Neutral so it would start. Ok, I look in the cabin and see a trickle of water. Oh no… oh wait, it’s just the bilge water draining back. Ok, still not sinking. I make my way back to the dock slowly, the Coast Guard calling to make sure I’m ok, yep. I express my thanks repeatedly, and will be sending the Fire Dept a Thank-You card tomorrow (side note).
Docking the boat, I went to my car and got my handheld flashlight, not that I expected that I’d be able to see anything under the water , but more so I could peek in the boat and make sure I didn’t see anything gurgling around. Satisfied that it wasn’t sinking, at least yet, I shut down and tried to sleep. I was a little on edge and it took a while to fall asleep, since every little noise I heard anywhere in the marina was enough to make me strain for signs that I was about to get very wet.
Sunday morning, I woke up and decided that since it was a now a nice bright shiny day, that I was going to redeem myself and get out in the breeze. I clipped the jib on, and pulled the main cover. Started the outboard, and hopped up to undo the lines. No sooner than I had even reached for the bow line, I hear the outboard idle down, and then..sputter to a stop. I hop down, and pull the cord, since it’s done that before when it’s not warmed up, sometimes at random. Today however, no good. No more sputter, no more spark. I pull the cover, and the spark plugs. They are a little oily, but it’s a 2-stroke after all. I cleaned them off as best as I could, and tried again. Nothing. I drove a half hour to a parts store, bought new ones. Nothing. Disabled the kill-switch. Nothing. I gave up.
So at this point, I just started unloading the boat, pulled the outboard, and rearranged to make room in the trunk for it. I cleaned up the inside of the boat as much as I could, within reason, and took the chartplotter out. Most of the gear from the boat, I brought back with me to the house, and there are few more other things to bring back too, but for now, it’s cleaner. After cleaning the boat out, I took some pictures for when I list her for sale at the end of the week, and went home.
Now, I will clarify the last sentence: This is part of an ongoing plan, the sale of Silent Knight. At no point did this weekend just make me go “oh Hell with it, I quit” and decide to sell right then and there. I’ve been planning on putting her up for sale for a while, and just hadn’t gotten around to cleaning the boat out. Now, that’s done, so I’m going to figure out the engine issue, and list the lot.
Moral of the story: Don’t be dumb.
But a little more, if you have accurate maps and GPS, don’t ignore them. And if you DO ignore them, watch all the other signs. Watch your depth, and if you’re in the dark, use a light to shine your way. I ignored GPS and maps, never looked at my depth, and left my multi-million candlepower spotlight sitting on the shelf below. Lessons learned. On the positive side though, if I hadn’t hit the rock, I would’ve hit the wall. If I hadn’t hit either, there’s a good chance I would’ve ended up on the lake with a dead motor.
Funny world this is.