Imagine this bay (Kingston's downtown harbour, near the La Salle Causeway) in a force 4 southwesterly. Does it look like a good place to shut off the engine and drift around for a while?
Yup, I don't think so either. But the boat icon on that chart (044 14.075 N 076 28.345 W) represents a real boat- a six metre Bayliner that we pulled away from the rocks on our last trip. There's a three to four mile fetch south and west of here, and in a force 4 wind, that'll give 3 foot seas at the mouth of the bay, and 2 foot breakers near the causeway. But this boat had (for whatever reason) stopped to drift for a bit, and discovered- with perhaps fifteen metres to spare- that the 1980s Mercury outboard wouldn't restart.
It's rare that we actually have occasion to use the VHF: "Securite, securite, securite, this is Sunset Chaser entering Kingston inner harbour with a disabled vessel in tow." We were able to give the boat enough of a tug that the waves could carry both boats safely under the adjacent bridge into the inner harbour while we rigged proper towing lines. And things turned out all right, this time: the Bayliner's engine came back to life a few minutes later.
There's another incident I want to mention, this one from 2003. (The pattern will become obvious shortly.) Here's the chart, the land mass being the southern tip of Beausoleil Island in Severn Sound (044 49.713 N 079 52.014 W):
Once again, the boat icon is an actual boat- a 10 metre cabin cruiser with twin Merc sterndrives. Such a boat, obviously, cannot float or run in less than a metre of water, so how did it get buried up to its trim rams a quarter-mile into a sandbar?
Once again, bad seamanship starts the problem and bad maintenance compounds it. Apparently lacking charts of the area, the helmsman decided to cut well inside the buoy- which was fine while the boat was on plane. When the throttles were pulled back, of course, the stern settled- and the twin Mercs went right down into the sand, locking the boat firmly in place.
Now, the obvious solution would be to kill the engines, tilt the drives fully up, and get towed out to deep water by a smaller boat. But Sunset Chaser and another small boat couldn't budge this beast: a deteriorating trim ram had seized in place, locking the starboard drive leg at full down. A 17-inch prop on a Bravo leg is a remarkably effective anchor in hard sand. Digging didn't help, fiddling with the trim pumps didn't help, and after well over an hour, the cruiser's helmsman decided to just gun it and let the prop churn its way through the sand (with obvious implications for the cooling system, the prop, the shaft seals, the gimbals....)
Sunset Chaser puts on only a hundred or two miles in a season, mostly in busy close-quarters situations, and we probably tow or otherwise assist about one boat a year. Some, I don't mind: a windsurfer stranded off the shore from fatigue or injury, for example. But these two, and others like them? If someone can't be bothered to use the most basic of seamanship skills, doesn't carry charts (or can't read them anyway), and continues to rely on engines and equipment that they know are unreliable and under-maintained, it should come as no surprise when you see them flapping their arms around on deck (these guys don't carry radios) trying to flag down other boats.
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