Blowing in the Wind - 09/12/2007

The Bruno and Stillman was also a very good-handling boat. On the other hand, its maneuverability was not what people in today’s world of twin-engine boats with bow thrusters have come to take for granted. To back into a slip, you learned to take advantage of the current and wind, but it was very predictable.

A Routine Towing Job…sure it was...

With this backdrop in mind, one of my buddies broke down in his charterboat on a late fall day about five miles outside of Rock Harbor. An offshore wind was blowing 20 to 25 knots out of the northwest. I went out to pick him up without a second thought, as I’d towed hundreds of boats in my time in the Coast Guard. Both of us were alone in our boats, and once I got to him, I rigged a bridle to my stern cleats and tossed him a 200-foot line that I tied off with a bowline to the bridle, while he tied off to his bow bitt. We were off and running.

Standard procedure, at least in Coast Guard small boats, is to tow on a hawser, usually 600 feet when in open water, shorten it up when crossing a bar or entering a channel, and then bring the other fellow alongside, with your stern 10 feet or so aft of his and the bow tied in so the boat steers easily.

Simple as pie—you’re locked together as one unit.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Boaters

Well, it didn’t work out quite like I’d planned. First, we were each alone on our boats, so I didn’t have the line handlers I was used to, which meant I had to leave the controls. Plus, the wind was blowing us down on the beach by the time we got our lines situated. The problem was compounded by his hull design—lots of sail area; he just sailed along downwind at a good 3 or 4 knot clip.

When it became clear he was going to be hard aground before we could get tied off properly, the only thing I could do was tie my bow line to his stern and back him away from shore (by this time my four-foot-draft boat was in less than five feet of water). I had to back down because with the single engine and full keel, this Downeast hull acted like a big wind vane and did not like idling into the wind. I ended up backing us slowly away from the beach, shipping the occasional wave over the transom, for maybe 20 minutes before we had enough sea room to tie off alongside each other and proceed under some semblance of control. It was an exciting hour.

The moral of the story is there’s no substitute for thinking ahead. Leave lots of sea room for maneuvers like this, and bring along some help.

E.S., Plattsburgh, New York