You Think That was Dumb?
The A to F Scale
Sitting comfortably at anchor or lounging at a marina, it’s impossible not to watch as the new guy comes in to drop that anchor or snug up to that dock. And, in doing so, at least for me, it’s equally impossible not to critique the effort. I use the A to F scale and have developed a set of criteria to arrive at the final grade. I know this sounds awfully judgmental and, well, I suppose it is. But admit it… you’ve done it and I’m sure it’s been done to me.
My formula for grading has been developed over time and has a lot to do with my own learning curve. The grading may seem harsh; hardly anyone ever gets an A. On the other hand, almost no one gets an F…. if the anchored boat doesn’t kite away into the rocks or another boat and the crew survives, they have not failed. If the dock is still intact, the boat hasn’t sunk, and the crew isn’t being whisked away by the EMTs, the docking maneuver is not a failure. It’s the finer points that make the grade. Here’s an example of an A:
Coming off the ICW in Miami to get into the Marine Stadium anchorage you need to parallel the Rickenbacker Causeway in an unmarked channel, then swing hard first to port, then to starboard before reaching the basin. Along comes a 38’ Bristol under full sail being singlehanded. Without missing a beat, the captain/crew negotiated the entrance to the basin, deftly headed upwind, and with the anchor pre-positioned for a clean drop, let go and sweetly settled back on the hook. The sails were dropped in no time and within a few minutes, Skippy was downing a cold one in the cockpit. That’s an A.
On the other hand, a really low grade was earned as follows: The approach to the dock was straight forward even though the canal was narrow. Several dozen times before I had aced the docking by popping into neutral at just the right time, swinging hard to port, and giving the precise amount of reverse. The boat would wind up at the dock lined up perfectly with a bump that wouldn’t break an egg had it been used as a fender. This time, however, was different.
For one thing, there was an audience on the opposite dock. I had it all lined up, slipped into neutral, spun the helm, goosed the gear, and sucked the dinghy painter right into the prop. Quick! Pop her in forward to unwrap the painter! Look over the taffrail to see if it’s free! And… oh no, fall right the hell overboard!! Sound like an F? Not quite… the boat didn’t sink, the dock didn’t break, and although my ego was crushed, I wasn’t physically hurt. Thanks be, the painter in the prop stalled the engine and the boat drifted harmlessly down the canal. That was a D-.
I’m a firm believer in one well set anchor as opposed to two or more, but I won’t argue with those that insist on an anchor spread. That is until it approaches the extreme. I’ve seen instances where there’s plenty of swing room, no current, and a captain that spends hours monkeying around with some spider web arrangement as if the next perfect storm was forecast within the next day or so. One guy earned good points for deploying his anchor without much fuss and no yelling. He didn’t lose any points after setting the second anchor, but started to slip in the ratings with the third. Big time losses were accrued as the fourth and then fifth hook went in; there was no current and the wind was under 15 knots. His B was adjusted down to a C-.
Watching him over the next two days as he constantly checked and rechecked each rode, adjusting all the time, dropped his score to a pitiful D. By the time he was ready to retrieve his ground tackle, the whole shebang was hopelessly snarled into a macramé mess that took the best part of the day to unravel. Actually, the D was probably kind. Anchors drag. Mine has and if yours hasn’t, it probably will at some time. If the scope is reasonable and the anchor matches the bottom, dragging won’t gain you points, but it may not lose too many either.
The only anchoring F I’ve given was to the skipper of a 32’ cruiser back in the late '90s who dropped the hook 50 yards offshore of the Lani Kai at Ft. Myers Beach, FL. The holding is known to be especially poor at best and most boats over 25’ avoid the place in an onshore breeze. Undaunted, this guy let loose a little lunch-hook tied to a hank of three strand with a couple of half hitches. By the time he finished his third beer ashore, his yacht was firmly aground on a fast falling new moon tide. He had anchored in 6’ of water with 7’ of rode. According to local eye witnesses, after being notified of the grounding and after several more rounds at the bar, he stumbled down to the shore, climbed aboard, found some lighter fluid and attempted to burn the boat to the waterline, burning himself in the process. Off he went with the EMTs and the police. Now that’s an F! Or is it? Scuttlebutt had it that the boat was part of a contentious divorce settlement, so maybe the F should have been awarded for the arson attempt, a whole other category.
I suppose the grading system is unfair. A captain with a long history of straight A’s can’t rely on his grade point average when his pride and joy is on the rocks after only one F. Peggy, my wife the teacher, thinks it should be strictly pass/fail (but where’s the fun in that?). So for now, be advised that if I’m watching as you anchor, I’ll be grading the effort. Unless, of course, I’m extracting our own boat from the shattered remains of a dock or wading around it knee deep in the anchorage scratching my head.
The Distance Swim
I knew I couldn’t swim all the way across the harbor in the Newfoundland outport of English Harbour West. The distance from my Grandfather’s wharf on the north shore to the Petite Dock on the south shore was about a mile. But I was positive that I could make it halfway. There was an obvious flaw in the original plan that was handily solved by Cousin Billy. We borrowed a Newfoundland dory and he took us out to the midpoint. There was another component of the plan. At age six I had never done a distance swim so we figured to be on the safe side I would wear an inflated inner tube.
All was ready. I stood on the gunwales of the dory and, taking a deep breath, jumped in. My feet hit the water. The inner tube hit the water. The inner tube stopped. My feet did not. I shot through the tube into the cold Atlantic Ocean.
Even at age five Cousin Billy was a quick thinker. Immediately after I arrived back at the surface, sputtering and choking, Billy threw me some flotation aids. Both oars struck me on the head. Under I went again, blood flowing from my scalp.
The now oar-less dory drifted away. The inner tube was long gone. It looked like I was going to have to choose between drowning, hypothermia, bleeding to death, or being eaten by a shark. Luckily my younger sister had been recruited as an official on-shore witness. She deduced that all was not right and managed to attract a passing fishing boat. From my viewpoint in the water they were not demonstrating an appropriate sense of urgency. They eventually arrived and with a true Newfoundlander’s priorities the skipper recovered the dory, the oars, Cousin Billy and me - in that order.
Cousin Billy's Cousin
The Bottom Job
It’s been a long tiring 48 hours for Bill and me.
On a Thursday at 4:00 pm we were hauled out of the water for the first time in two years with the intention of scraping, sanding, and painting the bottom of our 45’ long-keeled sailboat, Argonaut. By the time the boat was pressure-washed and blocked up it was after 5:00 and we did small preparation chores only. Mostly we were waiting for the boat to dry off. For the next two days we worked like madmen because time is money! We were lucky our bottom paint was in as good condition as it was, the worst of the growth was on the very bottom where the keel is about 15” wide. I swear to you there were entire sea communities under there: condos, schools, churches, lawns… We did it, though, and at 4:00 pm on Saturday Argonaut went back into the water.
Because we were the last boat to go in for the weekend we got to stay in the slipway for the night (with unlimited water and electric, hooray!). In the middle of the night I was woken up by the sound of the bilge pump turning on… checking the clock, it was 3:00 am. That was the third time it had cycled in 12 hours… it’s not a wooden boat! I woke Bill and he checked the water levels, said he could see a trickle of water coming into the bilge from forward… but in the darkness there would be no way to find the source so we waited until morning. Our batteries and pump could easily control a trickle of water.
As soon as we were up we went trickle-hunting. I found it! The thru-hull for the wash-down was allowing a small flow in. We remembered that we’d tried to get the exterior guard off of this thru-hull so we could scrape, sand, and paint it on Friday. But we couldn’t get it off; we’d removed the screws and used a flathead screwdriver to lever it off like we successfully did with the generator and engine’s guards… but it wouldn’t budge. Then Bill remembered that this thru-hull/guard were one piece, so it wasn’t coming off unless he removed the whole thing. We decided to not remove it at all, just cleaned and painted as best we could. When we saw the trickle of water coming in we remembered: it’s best to replace the screws before returning to water! P.S. Thank goodness for our Brownie Hookah!
Bill & Diane Stevens
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