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Old 11-15-1999
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Don Casey is on a distinguished road
Here’s the Rub

The noon advisory had Hurricane Irene passing Miami's latitude out in the Gulf of Mexico, then curving into Florida's west coast south of Tampa. Weighing the threat of the storm against the wrath of the daytime television audience, some Miami stations decided that the latter posed the greater risk and announced that they would discontinue continuous coverage and return to the soaps at 1 p.m.

Irene wasn't paying attention to the coverage anyway. The storm turned to the right, preempting The Young and the Restless. By 3 p.m. winds across Biscayne Bay were already gusting to hurricane force, catching more than a few boatowners underprepared.

Northeasterly winds an oddity due to the storm approaching from the southwest put the terrace of my bayside highrise condominium in the lee of the building during much of the storm. That allowed me to watch the struggle of the boats in the marina below, particularly a 50-something sportfisherman and a 21-foot sloop.

Both skippers had taken extra measures to protect their vessels. Because the sloop was along the outside of the end pier, her owner had put out two anchors one off the starboard bow, the second from the starboard quarter to keep the boat clear of the dock when the wind clocked around to the south. Otherwise she was tied to the pier with bow and stern lines, and with a line from the bow to the slip's associated piling sitting about 20 feet beyond the end of the pier.

The owner of the sportfisherman had doubled up on all his lines. Double stern lines criss-crossed. Double spring lines were rigged to keep the boat from moving too far aft in the slip. Double bow lines were looped over the concrete pilings. But both skippers had made the same egregious error.

This private 10-slip marina sits along the mainland shoreline in the narrow throat of the upper bay, protected from the ocean by Virginia Key to the east. But Virginia Key is two miles distant, so as wind speeds increased, vicious little waves began to roll into the marina.

The little sloop was soon pitching violently, effectively at sea despite the pier alongside. As each trough passed, first the bow, then the stern dipped below the level of the pier. The short dock lines, tensioned by the weight of the wind on the hull, began to saw back and forth over the edge of the dock.

The outcome was inevitable, but I was amazed that the lines withstood this abuse for several hours. When the dock lines did chafe through, the little sloop swung away from the pier and trailed out behind the piling. The owner had wisely attached the bow line to a loop of chain around the rough, square piling, but at the boat end, the line was rubbing across the edge of the deck with each pitch of the bow. How long could it last?

Two slips over, the big sportfisherman lifted to the waves more ponderously, but she was putting a great deal more stress on her lines. Her owner might point out that he had her secured with no less than a dozen lines, but the reality was that her fate depended entirely on the dual bow lines looped over the windward piling. As the heavy boat surged back against these two lines, they stretched over the hard edges of the piling. Trouble began with destruction of a single, hair-like fiber, then another, and another. With the higher strain level, the lines securing the big boat succumbed more quickly, releasing the pitching boat to lie against the leeward piling and pier. Within an hour the drama was over. The concrete pier gouged a hole in the hull, and the boat filled and sank.

How much chafe protection do you have on your lines? It is astonishing how many boat owners are either careless or clueless about the need to protect lines from chafe, especially dock lines, mooring pendants, and anchor rodes. Twenty bucks worth of well-placed hose would almost certainly have saved this $400,000 boat not the kind of day-after realization that is likely to make you feel better.

If you are tempted to invoke sailorman snobbery, let me assure you that this particular mental deficiency is not linked to wearing your Rolex too tight. When I went to check on my own boat after the storm, the shoreline was littered with beached sailboats. Of the half dozen I examined, all but one had chafed-through mooring pendants still attached to their bow cleats. (The sixth one had unscrewed the shackle, almost certainly because the pin had not been wired.)

Under normal conditions, reinforced vinyl hose does an admirable job of chafe protection. Simply slide a generous length of hose over the line, position it to provide protection, then secure it in that position. I hold my chafe protectors in place with lengths of smaller line fed through the three-strand, then looped around and tied into a square knot. For braided line, use a single length of light stuff secured with rolling hitches to the protected line at either end of the hose.

At the first sign of clear hose yellowing or turning cloudy, replace it. Vinyl hardens with age and UV exposure. If the hose cracks, the razor-sharp edges of the break will make short work of the line inside.

Make sure the hose is of adequate inside diameter. You should not, for example, use 3/4” ID hose on 3/4 line. As the line stretches and contracts inside a tight-fitting hose, the friction can generate enough heat to melt the nylon fibers. Give the line plenty of clearance and plenty of airspace to help dissipate heat.

Reinforced rubber hose (heater hose) will no doubt stand up to the elements better than vinyl, and I wonder if it also contributes less to line overheating, but its potential to leave black marks on the hull has limited its popularity. I may give the red kind a try the next time I replace the guards on my mooring pendants.

Leather has long been touted as an excellent material for chafe protection, but my personal experience is that the kind of leather found on most boats, split cowhide, gets brittle with age. If you protect your lines with leather, inspect it regularly. One of the sailboats on the beach had chafed through two pendants enclosed in stitched-on leather chafe protectors. Stay away from those white split hoses sold commercially for chafe protection. They do the job under easy conditions, but as soon as the boat starts to jerk on the line, split hoses invariably open and squeeze out from under the line, leaving it unprotected just when protection is needed most.

Split hoses are especially convenient for anchor rode protection and especially treacherous. The better alternative is to slide a couple of feet of vinyl hose over the anchor rode in advance. We keep ours rigged at around the 100-foot mark, our usual scope, but it is a simple matter to release the securing lines and slide the hose to a different place on the rode.

The best way to avoid chafe is to rig the lines where they won't rub anything, but that isn't always possible. Where they can rub, always take the time to rig chafe protection. It will extend the life of the lines—and maybe the life of your boat.

The little sloop? The bow line chafed through, but the anchor line held by just a thread.

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