Baby's First Grounding, part 2: Catch of the Day

          What happens when a keelboat touches in mud is that, without water to support its thin keel, the boat gradually flops to the side. If we had been able to set a kedge anchor, that might have counteracted gravity a bit, but we didn’t. We waited for the tide.
          Tidal swings take a little over six hours, with their strongest volume and flow during the third and fourth hours. Since we had arrived nearly at low tide, it would continue to ebb for only an hour longer, then flood another hour before we were back at ground zero.
          Still, the resident engineer felt the need for a measuring device to observe our progress. Stephan rummaged through our ample tool supplies (see spares) and found a carpenter’s level, which he balanced on the washing machine and declared an inclinometer.
          The inclinometer’s bubble gradually nudged to port until by dead low tide we were listing 15 degrees, sort of like in a fun house. Only not.
          I radioed the US Coast Guard to ask about the cable area. USCG wanted to know whether we were taking on water, whether there were any children aboard, whether we had life jackets.
          No. No. Yes. And what about that cable area?
          The USCG charts were as vague as ours but they, too, thought we were clear of the area.
           Sea-Tow radioed. They’re what they sound like, a rescue operation mostly for motorboats that run out of gas. They had been listening in on our “distress call” and wondered whether we would like a lift.
           The thing about VHF radio is that anyone can listen in on anyone else’s conversations and most mariners have no compunctions about doing so. It’s not quite as bad as a private ambulance listening in on a police scanner, but still.
          I huffily informed Sea-Tow that we were a SAILboat and only needed help from Mother Nature, then glanced back at the inclinometer and hoped I wouldn’t have to eat my words.
         The tide rose. The inclinometer bubble slipped to the center, then the other side, and the depth sounder started showing numbers above zero.
         Finally, we started the engine, made a careful u-turn and anchored.
        We  slept in, and by the end of the day we lifted anchor to head to a marina where the kids would meet us for Thanksgiving break.
        As we arrived at the marina, the current was running hard.  Up on the bow, Stephan noticed a line hanging off the boat. We have a bow thruster that I like to use when docking, but a line caught in the bow thruster’s propeller will shear it off.
 Mike’s vocabular words: bow thruster.
              It’s a bi-directional propeller at the bow that drops down into the water. We use it for a burst of energy to move the bow of the boat around at low speed, when we lose maneuverability, for extra turning power in tight spaces or when I am otherwise about to hit something. If you had one on your car, you could drive up alongside a parallel-parking space and put yourself in sideways between the other cars.
         He tugged but it was too heavy to budge. I cut the engine and the boat stopped. Almost. A strong current was pushing us toward a bridge that I knew was not as high as our mast. To keep control of the boat, we needed to be moving.
         He tried again. This time it moved easily.
         “I think it’s an anchor!” he called from the bow.
          The next pull delivered a shiny, healthy little Fortress dinghy anchor, the kind we been planning to buy on the next West Marine run. I guess we weren’t the first boat to have trouble with the Bull Creek anchorage.

         I put the boat back into gear.

        “There’s something else.” Stephan was still pulling on the rope.

         “Hurry up!”

         “Hey, it’s another anchor!”

          Twins. How sweet. We couldn’t escape having a spare, even by accident.

          With our catch of the day hanging off the bow, I throttled forward and headed to the dock.

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