Saturday, May 1, 2010

I learned about sailing from that: Check your systems before you need them

This post is not about some long-ago event, from 30 or 40 years ago when we were just starting to be sailors. The events here occurred this morning, when we should have had the benefit of long experience. But hubris gets the best of everyone from time to time, and this weekend it was our turn.

The trip this weekend was our first of the year. Events and weather had postponed it until now, and we were anxious to be off the dock for a quick over-nighter to Port Madison. Despite the desire to be off, we waited until afternoon to throw off the lines, spending the morning getting Eolian ready to go, after her winter hibernation.

Everything went well and we had a wonderful evening meal, despite it being chilly and spitting rain on me while I BBQ'ed. The morning too was idyllic, as we were planning to dock back at the marina (about 90 minutes away) at slack water, which would occur at 13:30.

About 10:30, we checked the NOAA weather forecast, and found that the 20+ kt winds which had previously been forecast to arrive in the evening, now were expected in the afternoon. We decided to get ready and leave, reasoning that docking in the tail end of the tide change was preferable to docking with a 20 kt tailwind.

At 11:00, we were ready. I had the engine running, Jane was at the bow with the washdown hose at the ready, and I was below at the chain locker, ready to flake the incoming chain.

Jane keyed the windlass, and then: well, then NOTHING. The windlass was an inert lump of metal, and nothing we could do would persuade it to run. I wished then that I had just bumped it at the dock, to be sure that it would run when needed, after sitting all winter.

So we hoisted the anchor by hand. This is not an easy task, since Eolian's primary anchor rode is 3/8" chain, and the anchor is a 66 lb Bruce. That is a lot of weight. We were quite fortunate tho, because:
  • We had started to leave an hour earlier than planned - thus we had an hour of slack in our schedule.
  • We were in 14 feet of water, with only 75' of chain out. This means that we did not have much to retrieve, and that only 14' of it was suspended at any time.
  • There was no wind
  • There was a vanishingly small current
  • There were no other boats around us - meaning that during that period after breaking out the anchor, but while we were still retrieving it, we didn't have to worry about drifting into trouble
I don't think things could have conspired to make it any easier on us. We got the anchor back on board, and the rest of the trip continued our good luck - it began to rain just after we were tied up and had closed the boat up.

  • Test all systems, at least at the beginning of the season, before you need them. Make the test at a time and place of your choosing - one where time and circumstance do not require the test to succeed.
  • If a failure occurs, be prepared to change your plans.
We got out of this one way too easily. In any other expected circumstance, the consequences could have been much more severe.

Years ago when I was a kid, I used to read Flying magazine. I particularly enjoyed a long-running series of articles entitled "I Learned About Flying From That." Each article was written by a pilot, who humbly admitted to having made a mistake, and then having lived, told about it in the hopes that others would not have to make the same mistake. I thought then that it was a good format, and I still think that now. This series of postings is my attempt to recreate that article series with a new subject and new technology.

(If you would like to help others to learn from your mistakes, please send your article to: WindborneInPugetSound at gmail dot com)



Livia said...

I thought electric windlasses had a manual option and now (after reading around a bit) I realize they don't necessarily. Yikes - 66 lbs!

Mike said...

Our windlass, if we ever get it installed, apparently does have a manual option.

This post inspired me to check our dinghy engine. Did it work? Ummmm... not so well. :(

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