Soon the tide was rushing out and there was nothing to do but watch the boat heel further and further over. It was like beating without any wind. I prayed that the muck surrounding the boat wouldn't swallow it up. Five hours later, at low tide, we had laid completely over. It was a horrible feeling. Not only were we aground, we were a quarter mile from the nearest water!
I could see the yachties anchored off Punta Arenas training their binoculars on the boat and shaking their heads. I swore I could seem them mouthing, “what a fool,” and could detect the smirks on their faces. I had to do something to regain a semblance of my pride. So with the boat removed from its natural element, I put on my sea boots, hopped into the muck and went to work. I broke out a can of old bottom paint and touched up the waterline (at least on the side I could reach) and then scraped all the barnacles and slime off the keel, prop and rudder. I waited until dark to haul out an anchor to use as a kedge. By first light I was floating free and had taken up a mooring at Yacht Services. I had gone from being a smuck in the muck to a genius who used the horizontal method of careening. OK, maybe not a genius, but at least my considerable pride was partially restored.
Careening is, however, viable and certainly the most affordable way to inspect the bottom and, under the right circumstances to do maintenance. I have careened, intentionally that is, a couple of times, most recently in Taboga, a small island just off the Pacific terminus to the Panama Canal. I was delivering an Irwin 52 to Ecuador and we needed to adjust the Max Prop. The yards in the Canal Zone were bristling with business and couldn't haul us without a long delay. Also, I was extremely nervous about hefting a 60,000-pound, 15-foot-plus-beam boat on the rather tired looking lift at the Balboa Yacht Club. I would have preferred the railway lift, but it was occupied. Another cruiser suggested Taboga, so we made sail.
An old ferrocement barge lies wrecked in the harbor, and serves as an adequate careening grid. We eased along at about half tide, and with a tidal range of more than 15 feet, it didn't' take long until we were leaning against the wreck and able to change the prop pitch in knee-deep water. In fact, the most harrowing aspect of the operation was jumping down from the deck. Unlike Taboga, there are some harbors around world that have actual careening grids. My mother careened her fin-keeled Jeanneau Gin Fizz sloop in Opua in New Zealand's Bay of Islands and later in Darwin in Northern Australia. However, as long as there is sufficient tide, you can become creative when comes to careening.
If you do choose to careen, there are several tips to remember. If there is a grid available, be sure to carefully measure how much water there is at different states of the tide. It is usually best to spend a day monitoring the tide before you careen. When you do pull alongside, be sure to secure you fenders horizontally because as the boat drops with the tide you tend to roll on your fenders. Also, and probably most importantly, you must position the keel so that the boat will lean into the grid slightly. You most definitely don't want to lean away from the grid or lean too far against the grid. When you pull along side, leave 12 to 18 inches of space between the grid and the widest section of your topsides. As the boat drops it will become obvious if you are too close or too far away. Before you are completely stuck you may need to give the engine a shot of power to push the boat one way or the other.
Also, remember that you will need to tend your mooring lines as the boat drops. It is a good idea to rig up a snatch block near the chocks and run extra long mooring lines to winches for added oomph, just in case you need it. The aft mooring line can usually be lead to a sheet or spinnaker winch. The forward line can be handled by a halyard winch, or in some cases, the windlass. Before you are stranded in the boat, remember to devise a method to get down to the ground; few grids are set up for this purpose.
Finally, once you are careened, work quickly, but not hastily. If you are doing a bottom job you will need a quick-drying bottom paint. Remember, there is no reason you can't remain careened for several days until the job is done properly.
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