Saturday, July 7, 2018

Happy Hour Special - SeaClearly on the Rocks (almost)

I have been trying to catch up on our adventures so the last few posts have been post-dated. This one is in real-time.

We have been sitting on a mooring ball at Carousel Marina in Boothbay Harbor for several days while we took care of a few things. Then, the weather was supposed to be windy from the SSW followed by a switch to windy from the NW. Junie was ready to move but, I reasoned, we didn't have time to go far. So my choice was to stay put rather than run back around the corner to Linekin Bay to anchor. It seemed easy to hang on the mooring ball in a fairly protected harbor. We had already been through some blustery weather and felt secure.

We had finished up dinner and were lazing around the cockpit when the calm of the afternoon started to fill in with the NW wind expected. It was gusty but nothing extraordinary. SeaClearly, along with all the other boats in the field, swung around to a new position and the slightly different perspective that comes with it. Boats that you were close to a moment ago are now far away. The rocks and docks that were far away are now many yards closer. But we were hundreds of feet from anything.

The wind continued. I was dozing off in the cockpit when Junie says, "Wow, we are really close to that little red sailboat!" You mean the one that was hundreds of feet away just a minute ago? HOLY S*#T!

Mooring ball Number 6 was still securely tied to the front of our boat but obviously not tied to the bottom anymore. We were headed towards shore at a frightening clip. It was a very fast transition from late afternoon nap to crisis management mode. Junie lit up the instruments while I grabbed the keys and lit up the engine. Junie ran to the bow and started working our lines free from the un-tethered mooring ball. I slammed into reverse to try and hold position against the gusting winds with a mooring ball hanging on our front.

We had blasted across 300 feet in just that few seconds and were headed for the rocks. Someone in the mooring field was blasting an airhorn trying to get attention - ours, to make sure we understood our predicament and others for safety. The VHF radio lit up with someone else calling the Harbormaster and Coast Guard to alert them that a boat on a Carousel mooring was headed to the rocks and they were having trouble getting control of the boat.

Yeah, that would be us. SeaClearly was slowing forward progress as Junie got the lines off the ball. Unfortunately, we were also surrounded by the ever-present lobster pots. Our dinghy was on a bridle behind the stern. I kept spinning around watching for all of these things to make sure we didn't snag one. If we did, it would be game over. Finally, our Yanmar got some bite and we started backing away until we had enough clearance to spin left and away from the rock and dock combo. No lobster pots in tow. My first thought was to go find another mooring ball out in the field but Junie, correctly, assessed that the wind and waves were not going to make that easy. So I headed for the marina Fuel Dock to tie up.

About that time, the Harbormaster and another guy showed up in a skiff to offer assistance. I believe they were already there as we were making our escape but I had not noticed them. They jumped on the dock and helped us land SeaClearly. We came in pretty hot with the NW wind pushing us onto the dock. We were tied off and secure within a few minutes.

Then the reality sets in. We almost went onto the rocks. An hour later it would have been dark, we would have been inside, neither we nor anyone else would have noticed our predicament until too late. The Harbormaster said that, by the time they got there, if we could have gotten them a line (unlikely), they might have had one shot to keep us off the rocky shore.

As the adrenaline wears off, the emotions come out and all of the what-ifs start coming to mind. What if we had snagged a line at that critical moment? We would have been left standing there helpless. We would not have had time to get a sail out and peel off a lee shore dragging stuff. What if we had taken the dinghy in to the restaurant for dinner and left Tilly aboard?  Watching your boat crash into the rocks with your dog down below would be unbearable.  What if, what if, what if?


Normally, our bad decisions regarding weather or timing create problems for us. This time it was no fault of our own. We will take away some learnings. First, it happens fast. There is no time to wonder what to do so you better be moving and deciding at the same time. Also, the keys should have been in the ignition. They were in their normal spot on a shelf just inside the companionway and not far away but it would have saved some seconds. We should have had an anchor alarm set even though we were on a mooring ball. I should have been on the radio alerting the Coast Guard to our situation. In the moment, it wasn't my first thought. I got on the radio afterwards and thanked the people that did.
Mooring balls just lost some of their appeal. At least if your anchor drags there is a chance it will reset itself.

Well, none of those things happened and we are tied up at the fuel dock. We will be first in line when they open in the morning. Jack, the marina owner, who apparently saw the whole episode unfold, sent the dockmaster down to check on us. Later, he had someone deliver a bottle of wine. We are safe. Our boat was not lost. We are grateful this morning for our blessings and our good fortune.

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