Grounding with grace
Top tips on how to make it look deliberate
Like everything to do with sailing, going aground is a lot easier than the experts make out. Of course, the experts are the true experts at it, and do it frequently, purely to illustrate the myriad techniques for getting off again in articles in PBO.
Most of these involve throwing everything that’s in the boat into the water – or what’s left of it: anchors, liferafts, cushions, engines, ceramic toilets and toilet doors, flat-screen TVs, mobile phones, people and wot not.
In truth the mobile phones don’t help much, but I’ve never once come across an expert guide that actually tells you to take them out of your pocket. This seems remiss, as wet phones help even less.
On the other hand most sea-survival experts strongly caution against jettisoning hair dryers – which are heavier than mobile phones – particularly if the hair dryer’s owner is on board. This is for the safety of any married man on board who hopes to remain married, and single ones who hope to reach retirement. Under no circumstances should you kedge a hair dryer overboard while it’s still plugged in. The consequences would be truly shocking.
After outlining any given scenario experts cheerily conclude “if you’re lucky that’ll do the trick”, before proceeding to describe 23 other techniques that might also do the trick.
Then, once all hope is lost, experts advise crew to pass the time by swinging off the end of the boom or other bits of rigging to provide amusement for passing boats and put maximum distance between yourself and the skipper. And here there’s an important distinction often overlooked by experts. Whose boat is it? If the boat isn’t yours, and if the ground is firm, simply walk home. If your mobile phone still works, first ask the skipper the lat and long, then call a cab before walking ashore. If the boat is yours, you’ll have different priorities, mainly to explain to the authorities that you are not aground, but have “careened” the vessel for:
■ a mid-season scrub and antifoul
■ to replace the impeller
■ inspecting the anode, prop, stern-drive, lower rudder pintle, gaping hole in the bottom of the boat etc
■ to save face.
And so you see, it’s not as complex as the experts make out. And in fact I’m something of an expert myself, as boats with lifting keels, like my Sailfish, are even better at going aground than bilge-keelers. I’ve been so far aground I once nearly made it to IKEA; on another occasion I got a parking ticket.
In fact it’s reassuring to know that any novice can acquire a secure grounding in this field of sailing completely free of charge and without buying costly charts or going to the expense of night classes. Indeed, there’s nothing like learning from experience and the best lesson comes from PBO’s long-running Learning From Experience feature, which is an impressive archive of knowledge. What it teaches us beyond doubt is that, as it’s been running for 40-years-plus, we don’t learn anything from experience. And I can prove it.
My chums Mark and Dave, recovering Sailfish 18 owners who keep their Jaguar 24 at Orwell Yacht Club, invited me sailing, and within an hour we noticed that we’d stopped going forward. That’s not unusual in a bilge-keeler, but some time after that we noticed we weren’t even going sideways. Quite unusual in a bilge-keeler. I was at the helm, but that’s not strictly relevant because I assumed they’d let me know where to point. They assumed, unfairly I thought, that I’d been looking at the echo sounder.
Then abruptly, our learned discourse was stopped in its tracks by a dazzling display of nature. All around us an impressive plateau was emerging, the receding waters uncovering oysters the size of baseball mitts which, as they snapped shut, squirted jets of water skyward. It was like the fountains of Versailles or the Taj Mahal. Then more nature happened – like sunset and stuff – and we returned to bickering and Mark said: “Anyway, I thought you’re supposed to be an expert cos you write for PBO.”
“I am,” I countered. “I’m researching a Learning from Experience article.”
‘Ask the skipper the lat and long, then call a cab before walking ashore’
“And don’t forget the poppadoms...”
Mad about the boat Dave Selby is the proud owner of a 5.48m (18ft) Sailfish, which he keeps on a swinging mooring on the picturesque Blackwater estuary in Essex
Dave recently fitted his Sailfish with an altimeter