When aground, remember to heel

Let’s say your sailboat is hard aground. You’ve tried everything you know to get off that piece of short water, SeaTow is fast approaching and you’re looking at a whopping great towing bill! 

How about a simple lesson in applied physics? As a truly last resort, of course. If you can remember back to the dim, distant past and Physics 101, you’ll recall simple machines like levers. It turns out your sailboat’s mast is a remarkably long “lever arm.” Combine that with the corresponding truth that, as your boat heels, its draft is reduced significantly, and &mdash Eureka! &mdash you have the makings of a last ditch effort to get your boat floating again.

Have you ever tried to heel your boat over manually &mdash I mean by simply standing off to one side and hauling on a main or jib halyard? You’ll probably be surprised at the results: it’s easier than you’d think.

Now back to our situation. The basic need is to reduce your draft enough to get off that sandbar. Using the concept of the lever, you’ve got to produce a strong enough pull on the mast-top halyard (preferably your spinnaker halyard &mdash it’s set up for a side load) to heel your boat over. And I mean over &mdash when the rail goes under, the kids scream and the dog pees on the deck: that kind of over!

The pull on the halyard has to be strong enough to do the trick: depending on the size of the boat, that could mean two people standing in the water for a 25-footer, or another sailboat, or a powerboat &mdash whatever does the trick. For example, two of us once hauled over an Irwin 25 while standing in chest-deep water; and I know of a Morgan Out Island 41 that was heeled over enough to allow it to be hauled off a bar near St. James City, Fla. Just be sure to attach a long enough line to your halyard so your good Samaritan doesn’t get stuck, too. 

Another last ditch effort is to get someone in a powerboat to circle you; the waves the powerboat produces may rock you enough so that you can power off a sandbank.

When the rail is really under, it’s time to forge ahead! Either power ahead, or coordinate the haulover with a towing boat ahead of you, to give maximum thrust ahead when you’re heeled over the most. You’ll probably be successful &mdash and if you’re not, chances are SeaTow won’t be able to pull you off, either!

Picking up a mooring

Picking up a mooring can be tricky; wind and current move the boat and the helmsman cannot see the mooring pennant float in the last few seconds of the approach. Very often the rode attached to the mooring is quite short. If the boat is moving when you get the float on deck, it’s not uncommon for the crew on the foredeck to have to let go before the eye can be dropped over the bitt. This usually results in some altercation between the cockpit and the foredeck and another approach must be made. Once I had a foredeck hand who was so determined not to lose the mooring as we surged past that the boat hook was torn from his grasp. So the next problem was to get the boat hook back; fortunately it floated. 

If it is windy or the current is swift when you pick up a mooring it is a good idea to take about 20 feet of stout line to the foredeck and make fast one end. Once the eye of the mooring rode has been lifted with the boat hook, pass this stout line through and quickly secure it. Now, at your leisure, the eye can be brought on board and dropped over the bitt and the temporary securing line removed.

About the author:

Eric Forsyth built his present boat, Fiona, a Westsail 42, from a bare hull he purchased in the 1970s and launched in 1983. Since then he has completed two circumnavigations, cruises to the Antarctic and the Arctic and a visit to the Baltic. He has cruised extensively on the East Coast with many trips to Maine, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador. He has written numerous articles for Ocean Navigator covering many of his trips with emphasis on gear failure and how to recover from these eventualities.

By Ocean Navigator