Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Baltimore, MD
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Lee shore: a cautionary tale for day sailors
Holy smokes, where to begin.
Last night my wife and kids went to to watch fireworks from the boat. We went to an area where we had anchored before for meals, swimming, and over-nighting. This time, however, there was 15-20 knots of wind blowing toward shore. I wasn't too concerned because a) we were motoring, not sailing, and b) this is in the upper Chesapeake where getting dashed upon the rocks by waves is not an issue.
Just as I was turning upwind to drop the anchor, I felt us bumping the bottom. The depth sounder read 10 feet. I had encountered a sand bar here before, so I tried to motor free. But no such luck. The wind and muddy bottom quickly worked together to turn us broadside to the wind and waves, heeling us over 10-15 degrees. We were still not what I would call hard aground, but with every bump of the keel I knew that the wind was pushing us further into shallow water.
Knowing the tide was on the rise, I deployed the anchor and we settled in to watch the fireworks, with frowns on our faces and our food untouched. It was really unpleasant, with the wind, the heeling, and the bumping keel a reminder of our predicament. Eventually, the tide rose a little and I felt like we were floating. I hauled in the anchor while my wife manned the helm to keep us pointed toward open water. When the anchor was secured I took the helm, and quickly noticed from shore references that we were not moving a bit. Still stuck. The keel was only bumping infrequently now, but again I knew that every time we floated the wind was just pushing us back onto the shallows.
The really frustrating thing was that my depth sounder showed 9.5-12 feet this whole time; I draw 4.5 feet.
I finally hailed a passing skiff (this was probably about 10:30), and I'll cut the story short by saying that the rescue involved shouting, curse words, and a quickly cut line (not a disaster and not dangerous, but the point is the skiff captain took some risks to help me out).
To top it all off, on the way back in my rescuer had to call out an unlit channel marker that I was approaching on the wrong side.
1. Even if a rocky death is not a possible outcome, a stiff wind blowing on shore can cause a lot of trouble, and can prevent a rising tide from lifting you free from a grounding.
2. A knife in your pocket might not be fast enough. On a lanyard tied to your PFD would be better.
3. If you have an anchor on the bow and you want to deploy it from the stern, run the rode outside of all rigging on the way to the stern cleat. That way you can easily shift it to the bow if you want to spin the boat around.
Epilogue: My 10-year-old son told me later that he had heard me say a bad word. I asked him what he heard, and he slowly mouthed the word "dammit" (not the harshest word spoken that night). I said, "That's not a bad word when you're on a boat. Sailors have a lot of special words, and that's one of them."