Running aground in the Caribbean is less common than many other places in the world. That’s one of the many attractions of sailing here. Tides are so minimal as to not even needing to really know the time of high or low water, there are few large areas of shallow water where charter yachts are allowed to venture (some parts of the Grenadines excepted), the water itself is ‘gin clear’ and the daylight is bright–very bright. So you’re chances of not noticing an area of shallow water are greatly minimised. That said it does happen. And in the space of the last two weeks, I witnessed two which I thought I’d share as they are instructive–no pun intended!
In the first case, an understanding of mechanical leverage enabled a nearby small dinghy from a professionally crewed catamaran to free a 50-something bareboat monohull off a patch of shallow water with finesse and little damage to boat or sea bed — and with no outside towing fees to pay.
In the second, a call to a salvage company resulted in a thirty-something monohull being dragged by brute force over a coral reef that it somehow found itself on top of. From the sound and sight of the multiple shudders as she hit hard coral heads with force, I’m sure there was significant damage to both.
I’m not meaning to be critical of the bareboaters’ concerned. We’ve all been (or will go) aground at some point. If you’re a sailor, you’re in one of three of the following ‘buckets’: you’ve been aground but refuse to admit it; you’ve been aground and are happy to talk about it and share any lessons learned; or, you’ve never been aground–but surely will do one day. ‘If you ain’t been aground, you ain’t been around’ as they say.
So if you’re aground on a monohull — which is more prone to ‘touching bottom’ due of its deeper draft — the first trick to try is to use get a crew member into your dinghy, (or, as shown here, take advantage of a helpful neighbour’s more powerful one). Then, attach a spare length of line (a couple of tied-together docklines will do in a pinch) to your boat’s spare halyard and pull away at a right-angle to your boat to deliberately bring about a heeling ‘moment’. Have extra crew members lean out on the leeward shrouds to add that extra bit of mechanical moment. This will dramatically reduce your effective draft and you can then, with any luck, you’ll be able to use your own engine power to push yourself free.