Baby's First Grounding

     "Three meters," I call up from the nav station.

       It’s nearly dark out, and moonrise is still several hours away. Stephan, who does not panic as quickly as I do, is at the wheel. He’s driven us past an ominously marked ‘cable area’ and is trying to keep the red light that marks a shoal to port but, like fog or sea depths, darkness disorients.There are 360 degrees of port if you’re circling something.
        “2.5… 2.2…two meters.”
        “I can’t tell where the turn is.”

         The instructions in the cruising guide read only to cut wide around the unlit green buoy keep the shoal water across the creek and enter it mid-channel.
        “1.5…turn the other way…. one meter….”
        He slams Hanalei into reverse.

         Break for Mike’s vocabulary lesson. I know you know that a meter is 39 inches, but you’re probably wondering about its significance. I’m talking about how much water is under our keel, at the lowest point of the boat, where our sonic depth-finder, mounted to the hull, interprets it. So we’re not talking about how much water there is, but how much is left after subtracting our two meters.
          Now I’m calling out numbers like I’m announcing a space launch, “point five, point four, point three, Stephan! Other way other way!” I squawk.
          “I’m trying, but this current is pushing me around.”
           By now my numbers sound more like the despondent baseball announcer in Mudville watching Casey bat. “… point two, point one…”

          We both know where this is headed and there’s nothing more we can do to avoid the inevitable. “…zero.”

          We’re aground. Or as superstitious seafaring folk say, we have ‘touched.’

         Fortunately, what we have touched is the sand and mud of a river marsh, not rock.

         Stephan drops the bow thruster to pivot us away. Hanalei wiggles but remains at the same depth. After a couple more attempts he stops.

         “What’s the tide doing?” he asks.

         I turn on the laptop to check the Savannah tides I copied before we left Southport. We’re an hour away from low tide. “Dropping ‘til 7:30.”

           At this point, good seamanship dictates we kedge, or drop an anchor in deeper water. That will keep us upright as the tide drops. The pressure might even free the keel. But we don’t really know where deeper water lies and it’s too dark to launch the dinghy and take soundings.

         Stephan turns off the engine and comes below.

         “I guess it’s time for dinner.” 

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