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Ever Running Aground
Few things are certain, except death, taxes and going aground
March 2021

urrent event: in case you have been living in a cave, a Panamanian flagged freighter has run aground in the Suez Canal. In a spectacular fashion, the Ever Given has wedged itself into both sides of the one-lane portion of the canal blocking all shipping.

The Ever Given is one of the largest ships on the planet. It is 1312 feet long, weighs 220,940 tons and draws 47 feet of water. It is capable of carrying 20,124 containers. The ship is 200 feet longer than the largest US Navy aircraft carrier. The pictures are spectacular. European commerce will be disrupted for weeks maybe months. I have much empathy for the captain. He didn’t know…

john rahm
Captain John Rahm
It’s Gonna Happen
Unbeknownst to most boat buyers, a substantial supply of groundings come gratis when purchasing any boat, large or small. I do not know where these groundings are stored on boats. Surely if located aboard they would be tossed overboard. And, when boats exchange ownership, groundings are magically reloaded aboard. It is a weird quantum phenomenon. Therefore, groundings are inevitable. So here are my thoughts:

Groundings are similar to the Corona virus. Prevention is important. Do planning and mitigate the risk of running aground. If going somewhere “big”, draw some lines on an Ipad or a paper chart (remember paper charts?). Yes, paper charts are still available. When the line is drawn, eyeball the route. Look at the depth contour lines. Learn/remember/annotate the locations where the risk resides. Here in Oriental, the risk of grounding occurrence is high. But, the risk of severity is low (mud). Maine is otherwise. Speaking of Maine, pictured below is Orion.

orion aground

My longtime best friend, who is extremely proficient and experienced, had an inattentive moment (distracted with family aboard) and ran his Hunter 45 onto a ledge during an ebbing tide. He knew it was there. The ledge was clearly identified on the charts and chart plotter.

Thankfully, Orion had minimal damage and was floated off during the next high tide. Not willing to surrender, he continued to proudly fly the U.S. Marine flag from the spreader.

So, be attentive. If the depth meter starts the countdown, slow down. There is a huge difference between running aground at six or seven knots, and two knots. In the physics formula that calculates force, velocity is squared. When in doubt, slow the heck down.

And, be mindful of the usual challenging areas. Typically the mouths of creeks require increased attention. Locally, although dredged, the Whittaker and Pierce Creeks demand good helmsmanship. On the way to New Bern, the Hampton Shoal deserves notice. To Ocracoke, Brant Island and the Royal Shoal must be avoided. The pirate Blackbeard, a few days before his demise, while on the pirate vessel Adventure, ran aground on Brant Island Shoal in 1718. (Running aground can happen to anyone.) At least with no navigational aids or GPS, Blackbeard had an excuse. It is otherwise for you. So;

Red Right Return? Not Always.
Navigational aids matter. Reds on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway mark the western boundary of the channel. Greens are the easterly side. This is different from the “reds on the right when returning home” channel markers. When transitioning on or off the waterway, the colors of the nav aids often flip. Visit the Captain’s Blog January 2020 Varsity Cruising. In Beaufort, Sea Tow is gainfully employed towing boats off the bottom from outside the navigational aids. Here in Oriental, TowBoatU.S. is frequently busy. Deaton Yacht Service owns the local TowboatU.S. service. Matt or Gary will come and rescue you. Please follow their direction carefully. However, before giving in and admitting defeat on channel 16, try this.

Back out the “way you went in”. Your hull has carved a brand new groove in the bottom. Follow it back out. Also, heeling over reduces draft. Make your shiftless, fat brother-in law hang off the shrouds while motoring in reverse. Or, swing the boom amidships and make your least favorite child shimmy out to get the boat heeled. If you decide to spin the boat in place, you will have more power in forward. But, you might have to carve a new groove coming out. Clean your engine raw water intake strainer afterwards. Watch for engine overheating as you plow your way out. Check for flooding. Anyone need first aid? A few words about kedging.

Kedging is running/setting an anchor out with a dingy, wrapping the rode on a winch and using that winch to drag the boat forward. This method is covered in all the sailing books. Kedging reads easy and sounds good. However, my testimonial, having done this with a big boat, is that kedging is extremely difficult. If the anchor rode is all chain, an additional line that leads back to a winch must be tied onto the chain. Obviously, you cannot put chain on a winch. (Some have tried) Also, the line that leads to the winch must come over the bow so the boat does not drag sideways. Note to all: kedging with a windlass (vice winch) is the quickest way to windlass replacement. Windlasses are not constructed for the rigors of kedging. And lastly, cranking the winch will be exhausting. Ensure your heart does not blow a valve or explode out of your chest causing injuries to others. Be patient.

ship aground
Your grounding probably won’t be this embarrassing

Running aground is not an emergency unless your boat is flooding. And if flooding, the boat is grounded and will not sink (a lot). The Coast Guard is not coming. The Coast Guard does not care if you are aground. They view your grounding as a personal problem. If they are not busy and in a good mood, the Coasties may help you establish contact with TowBoatU.S. or Sea Tow. Here in Oriental, I highly recommend Gold Unlimited Towing as a part of your BoatU.S. membership. To eliminate confusion, BoatU.S. is the membership organization while TowBoatU.S. is the service provider associated with BoatU.S. orion aground
This year, in addition to the standard $24 membership, Unlimited Gold Towing with BoatU.S. costs an additional $151. Along with a $6 donation, this peace of mind costs $181. Of course, TowBoatU.S. will tow non-members. Commercial towing fees are usually $250 per hour from the time the tow boat leaves the pier until returned. (ouch $$$$.$$)

In closing, I would like to convey the wise advice from my expert navigator. She advises, if the seagulls are standing in the water, and you see their knees, it is shallow. Don’t sail over there. That might be all you need to know.

Fair Winds,
Captain John Rahm

ship aground

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Captain's Blog on TownDock.net is all about making your time on the water enjoyable. Captain John Rahm teaches sailing and boat handling at Third Wave Sailing.