Yup – we ran aground yesterday. The starboard engine water strainer is still clogged (I’ll get to it today).
We made several mistakes yesterda morning.
- We were too tired to make a decision on leaving the dock, and ideally I’d have just been patient and brave, and planned on making the calcasieu lock solo
- There was a storm coming in with forecasted winds gusting 40 – 50mph that I wanted to get ahead of
- I was annoyed that we didn’t have electricity at the dock we were at (Laeburge) and annoyed that I had lost $375 at the casino the night before, so I wanted to get out of there
- I’d drank too much free wine at the casino so I was extra grumpy
- I wanted to have Brett along for the trip through the calcasieu lock (basically I didn’t want to single-hand through a lock)
- We didn’t plan out the route, we were overconfident from the previous day’s success and thought we wouldn’t even need the nav chart on the way back out
- Brett was being met by his wife Sally at the calcasieu lock in 4 hours, which meant we needed to haul ass (in other words – go 8mph non-stop)
- I did NOT have the depth alarm turned on on the depth finder, if I would have it would have yelled at Brett to look and slow down
Here’s what happened. After untying the boat and leaving the dock, we found ourselves head-in to a wind that was blowing about 20mph. Adrenaline combined with fatigue kicked in. Again due to fatigue, I had failed to turn on the remote thermometer system (which is a dual wireless grill thermometer) so I had Brett take the helm and I took my phone downstairs with me (the phone was dying because we didn’t have electricity last night).
With no navigation computer, Brett turns left too early. We’re on a little shallow channel now. In his defense, there was a giant tanker in that channel, right in the center, so it made it look extremely deep.
At 1800 RPM this boat (which weighs 35,000 lbs) rises out of the water a few precious inches. If you run aground fast (let’s say a steep, hard slope) you’ll stop, and be able to back out. If you do it on a gradual slope (which this one was) then you’ll be a long ways into the shallow before the boat actually stops. What made me notice we were in shallow water, in fact, was that we began creating a surf-style looking wave on the port side and I yelled from downstairs, “what’s our depth?”
Brett looks and says (in a fairly confident voice, I might add) “2.6.” Oops.
At that point I asked Brett to pull one engine (the port) out of gear. He did so – but we were still turning 1700 rpm. A BIG NO NO on these boats and 30 year old transmissions. Luckily no harm came from this and Brett is cool enough under pressure to know not to put it back in gear. By this time we were hard into the mud and silt, and leaning to the starboard side.
A boat this big, leaning to one side while stuck aground is a scary thing to experience, by the way. The song: “That’s how you know you fucked up…” was playing on repeat in my head.
I took over the helm to see if I could figure out what to do next. The leaning is even more pronounced on the flybridge. I pulled up the navionics app on my phone and found that we were in 3′ of water but that just to our right about 10 feet was a dropoff to 4′, then 5′, then 6′. I decided to try to spin the boat using the engines. I turned the wheel hard left, put the starboard engine in forward and the port in reverse and begin giving a little throttle. She moved forward a tad, but did not spin.
I decided to put on some swim trunks and see what we were into. The water wasn’t very cold, but by just sitting on the swim platform I could feel that we were in muck. It looked solid black and felt like a hundred years of old oil spills had tainted the bottom of this channel. My foot and ankle were covered in the black muck and I still couldn’t feel any substantial weight supporting clay or sand. This was bad, as it meant that the keel was waaaay deep in the mud, and likely that the propellers were churning through muck instead of water.
After the first attempt at spinning failed I went through other options.
- Matt’s trick using an anchor and dinghy. Matt had told me that if we ran aground and can’t power off of it you can use your anchor and the manual windlass. Just use a dinghy or kayak (I had neither) to run the anchor way out to deeper water, then drop it and crank yourself off the ledge.
- Matt’s dad’s trick using a mooring ball or 5 gallon bucket with the lid on. (This was an option, because the wind would have carried the anchor out in the perfect direction of deeper water. If I could rig a quick release knot on the anchor I could do it without even swimming.
- Wait for the tide to come in and we’ll drift right off
- Brett suggested that we just power through with the starboard engine until we’re clear.
I had Brett pull up the tide charts and we got the second surprise. We were in high tide. This meant that with a 1.2′ tide going out, we were going to be even more stuck that we were now. If we couldn’t get free we’d be riding this storm out for at least the next 20 hours while stuck hard aground and unable to use the generator for fear of clogging it’s sea strainer.
This is bad.
After thinking for a bit I figured that we were probably clogging up the sea strainer on both engines so option number 4 was worth a try before going to option 2.
It worked. With the starboard engine running at 1800 rpm and the rudder hard to the right we slowly but surely churned through the muck. The boat quit listing after about 60 seconds and I knew we were home free. At this point the depth finder (oddly) stopped reading depth. I was staring at it (of course) praying it would read deeper than 2.6 but instead of going deeper it went to 0′! I think the silt was so thick aft of the propeller that it gave a reading of zero depth!
After about 2 minutes of this we were in the clear and suddenly the depth finder read 4.2.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP went the engine alarms (CW TEMP) was blinking red. When this happens it literally feels like someone hit a defcon 3 button. Alarms were going off all over the boat. (OK, not all over, it’s just one at the flybridge and one at the helm but they are SUPER loud). I brought the starboard engine down to an idle, carried my grill thermometer (which was now reading 216 degrees) downstairs and confirmed that – yup – she’s overheating and not cooling down. I shut down the motor.
We still had the port motor, however, and it started up just fine. I took a five minute breather to let the adrenaline flow and (hopefully) dissipate and had Brett take over the helm.
At this point I knew we’d dodged a bullet.
The next day I cleaned the sea strainer and used water pressure to flush the lines, I also managed to pull the impeller out of the starboard engine, messing it up on the way out. I was sure I had spare impellers on board, so I wasn’t worried about damaging this one. I finally got it out and to my dismay it wasn’t the same as the impellers I had on board. Ugh.
I got a ride from peanut to west marine and they did not have that impeller in stock. $130.00 to have one overnighted and I’ll pick it up today.
When I get a chance I’ll post a video describing the impeller and cooling situation (which is still a problem on the starboard engine, I have no cooling flow to the exhaust.)
Boating – I love it. 🙂