A Hole in the Water, or How to Refloat a Boat

The trip to the Vancouver Police property office happened in the freezing rain. The dinghy was in pieces, with the floorboards removed “for easier transport” and it was covered in grime. (See this post to find out why our Zodiac was there.)

It was so dirty that we realized we couldn’t take it in a taxi. Jason had to run off to Home Depot to get a tarp and some rope while I waited with our stuff. It wasn’t really a waste of time and money, because you can never have too many tarps or too much spare rope, right? Once we had it wrapped up, we managed to get a cab and stick the thing into our storage room in the building’s basement. It smelled of dead sea creatures, but neither of us had enough ambition to wash it off.

We thought retrieving the dinghy was the hard part.

On Tuesday while at work, I got a voicemail from the VPD Marine Unit. In the high winds, Tomahawk’s anchor line broke and the boat washed up on the beach – on the opposite side of the bay from where it was anchored (see map below). They said it was undamaged, as far as they could tell, other than the missing anchor and chain.

When my heart stopped pounding, I asked to leave work early. My boss is a boat owner, so he was very understanding and my coworkers were great too. It was dark when I got down to Sunset Beach, but it was still easy to spot the mast pointing through the air toward the shore at a dysfunctional angle.

Grounded Sailboat

Tomahawk Grounded at Sunset Beach (Photo: Nigs Donald)

The cops had placed yellow tape around the area, but they warned me that people might try to loot the boat. I had no idea how to proceed. Jason was working until midnight, so he had to get a play-by-play through my frantic text messages.

The constable recommended coming back at high tide early the next morning, but I didn’t have a plan yet. I had called a marine assistance company, but the guy quoted me at $2000 for a tow. He later reneged and said it would be more like $5-600, but I had already moved on to another course of action, which was to frantically scream for help via Facebook, the Vancouver boating and sailing meetup group, and text messages.

Amazingly, a whole slough of people responded, including some total strangers. Jason and I went to a boating knot tying class earlier this year as part of a local meetup group’s activities. A few people from the group came out to help, which was excellent, because they actually had some idea what they were doing. It was inspiring how many other friends also offered their assistance.

Jason and I spent Wednesday morning buying a new anchor at Wright Mariner, where Steve, a former fifteen-year liveaboard, felt so bad for us that he gave us ten percent off and some useful advice. Jason had to work from four to midnight, so I headed to West Marine to pick up some chain and rope (not cheap!).

The evening high tide turned out to be grossly insufficient to do anything with the boat, although people had dug a hole in front of the keel to prevent it from digging back in. Someone showed me a tide app that indicated the following morning’s high tide would be a meter higher, so we decided to reconvene at 5:45 am.

I had bought cheap rain pants at Canadian Tire, but they ripped when I got in the car first thing in the morning. My advice? Don’t go for the cheapest option. Once they had a hole, it kept growing larger and larger, until they were hanging off of me in shreds. I did keep them on though, because they were more or less intact for about three inches above my boots, which is where it mattered the most. It looked pretty funny though.

Our refloating adventure wasn’t without its mishaps (e.g. soaked feet) and personality clashes, of course, but by rowing out in our dinghy to drop the new anchor at a right angle to Tomahawk, we were able to create some leverage on the boat. We also tried first to keep the halyard (line for raising the sail) tied to a log on the beach, so that Tomahawk would stay well on its side. This was to prevent the keel from digging back in to the ground when it started to move away. A military spotter who lent a hand told us that the incoming tide would fill in the hole dug the previous day for that purpose, so we needed to take another tack.

Unfortunately, having the boat tied to shore with people hauling on the line to keep it heeled over created a pull in the wrong direction. Another total stranger, Jamie, happened to be passing by in his dinghy with an outboard. He offered to lend a hand and three guys, including Jason, sat in his dinghy to pull the mast in the same direction as the anchor line – in other words, towards the water, where we wanted the boat to go.

Meanwhile, on deck, I was busy with one other person hauling on the anchor with the aid of a winch handle. The rode was wrapped around the winch drum (essentially a device for cranking) and we were able to haul Tomahawk back into the water by pulling it over onto the other side, keel to shore. Now the keel wouldn’t dig in and the hull sat farther out from the sand, in deeper water.

“We’re losing tide!” I kept hearing. I wasn’t sure if the boat was going to make it out before the water level sank too low again. Our high tide was the highest we would have for the next week or so, at least, so I was thinking we might need to pay for a tow after all.

Then suddenly Tomahawk leveled out, sending everything crashing below deck. We were floating happily in the water again! We kept cranking on the rode to get as far out as possible, so that it wouldn’t get stuck again.

After a scramble back to shore to collect our stuff, most people went on their way. Sadly, I didn’t get to say goodbye to most of them or thank them for their amazing help, so I will do it here: Thank you, Michael, Richard, Star, the other Michael, Jamie, Sarah, and Jay. And to those I had on standby: Claudy and co, Emily, Mike, and Jaynie.

With sore muscles but a happy crew, Jason motored us into False Creek through a sunlit, sparkly morning. Jamie stuck around to help us pick a spot to drop anchor close to the Aquabus ferry dock where we were before. He lives on a 46-footer called Paramour and has logged over 40,000 miles of water throughout his cruising days. A teacher by training and a generous person by nature, he has offered to show us the ropes in exchange for food and drink.

Now I know why they call a boat a hole in the water that you throw money into. The new anchor, rode, rubber boots, swivel, shackle, and other necessary odds and ends gouged a huge chunk into our bank account. But it could have been worse: the rocks could have gouged a huge chunk into Tomahawk’s hull.

Richard, a long-term sailor and a natural teacher as well, checked over the hull and keel at low tide. He pronounced them free of cracks, which is excellent. However, last time I was on the boat with Jamie, we found some water in two port compartments. He suspects a water tank line leak or water that crept in through the cockpit when the boat was on its side, not a hull breach. Let’s hope he’s right.

In the end, we discovered the kindness of the boating community, as well as the VPD Marine Unit, who were professional and helpful throughout the whole ordeal. We learned a few technical things. We experienced the drastic difference the tide makes, and we were able to enjoy the immense gratitude that comes from being so lucky. Out of the four boats that ran aground, ours was the only survivor, thanks in large part to all those who came to our aid.

*The boat drifted from Point A to Point B on the map below, through the water, of course.

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Categories: Anchoring, Troubleshooting | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “A Hole in the Water, or How to Refloat a Boat

  1. Pingback: Free Fenders | Waywardly Mobile

  2. D Russell

    Wondering if the 2.5:1 scope provided the opportunity for the anchor to pull out, that seems seriously lacking. It’s good that you upgraded your ground tackle and hopefully it holds in the future but one of the most common problems with anchors dragging is lack of scope, if you don’t have enough out when things kick up. If you are going to swing into other yachts there may not be enough room to anchor there. Anyways a good learning lesson and it seems like the two of you have a lot to learn but it’s all an adventure right? Glad the boat was able to be refloated with minimal damage… the winds can get pretty brutal over the winter there so you want something strong there to dig in and hold and also have your rode chafe through from the motion. All chain with a snubber might give you the piece of mind while leaving the boat or an oversized anchor Anyways I am sure you already know this now, but best of luck

    • Thanks for the tips! It wasn’t a case of the anchor dragging, but rather of the line snapping. We should have replaced it when we bought the boat – who knows when it was new! Right now we have all chain and a heavy-duty anchor (same one as before), so we feel and have been much more secure.

  3. Pingback: Actual Sailing! | Waywardly Mobile

  4. Pingback: A Cold Dunk | Waywardly Mobile

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