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post #11 of 22 Old 11-07-2017
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Re: Towing and being towed

Ask any skipper with Sea Tow or Tow Boat US and they can tell you hours of tales of failed cleats, bits, chocks and any other attachment point on modern day plastic sailing boats. Even headstay chain plates can rip off if used as a towing point. There is no similarity between towing and the stresses of sailing, anchoring or being tied to the dock.
Backing plate or not, most of our cleats just were not designed for the stresses of offshore towing, even by professionals, never mind amateurs.
Commercial barge and ship towing is most often done with a gargantuan chain bridle attached to the tow, whether the tow line is rope or cable. The tow boat does not actually 'tow' the towed vessel, but lifts this huge chain and that weight is what moves the tow, much like an anchor's catenary.
My suggestion is to never accept a tow from an amateur. It is just not worth the risk to your boat, or your life. I will rescue folks from their boat whenever possible, even putting my vessel in harm's way if need be, but I would never tow another boat with my sailboat.

"Any idiot can make a boat go; it takes a sailor to stop one." Spike Africa aboard the schooner Wanderer in Sausalito, Ca. 1964.
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” ― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

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post #12 of 22 Old 11-07-2017
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Re: Towing and being towed

We've towed boats in trouble a few times over the years.. but only short distances and in sheltered conditions. We were also gently towed (at about 3-4 knots) ourselves last year after blowing a head gasket, but only when the breeze died completely and sailing wasn't possible anymore.

But these are far different scenarios than an open water situation.


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post #13 of 22 Old 11-07-2017
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Re: Towing and being towed

We towed a boat only once, it was about 26 feet like ours. The extra drag caused us to be late arriving at the narrow channel where the tide had now turned against us. It was probably only running about 3 knots but with the extra weight it was touch and go for a few minutes, we were not sure that we would make it. For Faster and others in this area, this tow was from Pirates' Cove back to Nanaimo through Dodd Narrows.
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post #14 of 22 Old 11-07-2017
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Re: Towing and being towed

Making the tow line the proper length so that the disabled vessel and towing vessel are "in-step" (both boats are on the top of swells at the same time rather than having one in the trough while the other is on the crest). When out of step, the towing vessel will be running down the back side of a wave while the disabled vessel is coming up the front side, and vice-versa, resulting in large shock loads on the tow line.

If the towing vessel tries to exceed the hull speed of the towed vessel, the towed vessel will become unstable and could founder.
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post #15 of 22 Old 11-07-2017
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Re: Towing and being towed

We were called to the rescue when our sailing companions in their Morgan 34 got knocked down in a 35 kt puff off York, ME, which was our destination for the night. That’s not a place you want to sail into, especially with a foul current. Our friends lost their raw water prime (spreaders touched the water) and were having a hard time working on it with the boat wallowing in 20+kt winds about 6 miles offshore.

So, we rigged a bridle at our end and had our friends daisy chain dock lines to about 125 ft. The plan was to come along side, pick up their line and attach it to our prerigged bridle. Except that they were drifting sideways at over one kt and I had to get out of there fast. We ended up “crossing the tee” and picked up their line from their bow, being careful to avoid wrapping our prop. We then had to turn them 90 degrees to follow us. At least we were dealing with a NW breeze—on the nose—heading into the harbor. Our 3GM30 strained to get up to 3 kts, but our 3 blade MaxProp was probably earning its keep at that point.

Thankfully, our friends were able to resolve the raw water issue, once they were stable enough heading into the seas. They started up their engine and after waiting a respectable time to make sure it was good, they cast off their line and we both motored into a safe harbor.

It was overall a dicey situation for us and I hope not to have to repeat an amateur tow, even though all went well and we had a good plan and knowledgeable sailor friends as a plus. Not recommended if SeaTow/TowBoatUS are available. However, there was no other recourse, so we did what we had to.
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post #16 of 22 Old 11-07-2017
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Re: Towing and being towed

We got towed off a sandbar in the Sacramento Delta.
I brought the tow rope through the bow chocks and
around the keel stepped mast with a rag for chafe.
Worked fine for the 12.35 seconds needed for the tow.
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post #17 of 22 Old 11-11-2017
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Re: Towing and being towed

I towed a boat across the Strait Of Georgia (20 nautical miles) this past summer.
I choose a side by side arrangement.
I had the towing force on spring lines with slack bow and stern lines.
Usually my auto tiller could handle the steering but sometimes the towed vessel had to use their rudder to keep the boats separated. This was necessary when we encountered large wakes.
The tow went well with no problems.
Now I know this will not work all the time and would not be my choice for off shore or long haul situations.
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post #18 of 22 Old 11-11-2017
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Re: Towing and being towed

Towing side by side can be a source of damage even in calm salish sea. Large standing waves appear from nowhere even during slack miles from passes .Pollier is especially tricky .Back in the day sometimes 4 or 5 fish boats would raft under power and head for far openings. A lot of drinking going on but ok because the kid (me) was at the helm.Humourous tales aplenty
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post #19 of 22 Old 11-12-2017
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Re: Towing and being towed

It is notorious for small boats to have the cleats torn out when being towed over any great distance in the open ocean. Reccomendation has been to terminate the tow line to the mast since I started cruising 50 years ago as it's doubtful that the mast could be pulled out of the boat. Of course you'd have to run the tow line through chocks or someway to keep the actual tow point on the bow. The problem with towing a sailboat at anything much greater than a few knots is the boat will wander putting great strain on the tow line. A substantial U bolt with large backing plate near the bow waterline would be the best tow line attachment but even then the boat will wander. Believe the 5,000 mile off course sailors said the most frightened they were on their adventure was being towed by the fishing boat and eventually decided to end the towing, abandon the boat and get rescued by the Navy. The boat was left a derelict and towing was not attempted by the Navy.
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post #20 of 22 Old 11-12-2017
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Re: Towing and being towed

Originally Posted by zedboy View Post
This to me is the key point: tell the guys in front, "SLOW DOWN!!!"

Your boat and its hardware will be happier to stay below hull speed. Trying to go faster will quickly stress things beyond their designed limits.
Beat me to it, sometimes its hard to read all before commenting. Tow Boat should know the basics, we once towed a JetSki and although he was capable of extreme speed I was only comfortable with 2-3 kts max. Short tow but best to be slow and safe.
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