The Day of Reckoning

Who said old dogs can’t learn new tricks!

The morning of the departure. My CE navigation chart and Maretron data. Just started engine. A cold morning, 26F. Sunrise in an hour and a half

By Friday, the weather still looked good.

That evening, I told my crew, Tee and Thien, that they could sleep late. I could get off on my own, but they needed to be ready for action by 09:00 sharp and they needed to be prepared to spend two hours out on deck in the cold and wind without complaint. That was a deal they loved to accept because both like sleeping in on weekends.

We had the coldest weather of the year in these days, the temperatures being in the high 20’s in the mornings. I had already filled the water tanks of the boat just in case we lost the dock water.

Sunrise over the Eastern Passage and Wrangell Island as we are underway to retrieve our pots and anchor.

I also made one of my brighter decisions. I disconnected the water hose from the boat Friday evening. It took me almost 20 minutes to do so because it was almost frozen, so I was so glad i had not waited until the morning. I then decided that with the light winds we were having, there was no reason to keep all 7 lines on Dauntless.

One of my better decisions. As it was the lines were frozen and it took me a while to get the lines off the cleats. I left only two lines: a short stern line and a line that was tied my mid-dock to the bow cleat.

Saturday morning was dark and cold, 25°F, the coldest Dauntless has ever seen. The night before I had done my engine room checks, including turning on the engine water intake. I had also checked the oil and set the fuel feed.

My alarm was set for 06:30, but of course on all days of departure, I woke early and was up at 06:15. Time enough to make my usual cup of Vietnamese coffee.

Engine start was at 06:36. After last weeks’ mistake of not opening the engine water intake, I am back in the habit of immediately checking for water in the exhaust and I also ran down into the engine room to make sure there were no bad noises, smells or visuals.

Even with only two lines, it still took me 10 minutes to get the frozen lines off. I had to get some cups of hot water for the line on the bow cleat. But I was underway to Mahan Bay at 06:50, 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

I had two hours to think about the plan once we got there. I had thought that if for whatever reason, the shrimp pot floats were underwater, for instance if the pot had got dragged to deeper water, what would we do? I figured we would put out a fishing line without big halibut jig (a big hook with a 12 oz or 16 oz weight). We would troll back an over the probable areas. It turned out that I’m glad I had thought of this.

It was cold and dark, but we were on the way back to collect our gear. Just before 09:00 we were approaching Mahan Bay. It was a beautiful morning, just some middle broken clouds and light winds (see picture above). Tee and Thien were suited up and ready to go. I aimed Dauntless for the spot that we left the first pot and spotted the float right away, about 100 feet away.

Getting the boat hook ready, the boat was a bit too far away, so I turned to make another pass. This was seeming to be as easy as I had hoped in my wildest dreams.

As I approached the float the second time, I realized we were not as straight as we should be and at that instant, I realized that I could only screw up my perfect day if I ran over the thing and got the line stuck in the prop.

As I was having that thought, the float was along the port side hull, I kicked the stern to the right and put the gear in neutral, but it was too late.

Just alike that I had screwed up my perfect day by running over the float and getting the line stuck in the prop.

Fuck me. More appropriate words were never spoke.  How could I have been so stupid. I ran to both sides of the boat hoping to see the float, but nothing. Nowhere, no how.

I put the boat into reverse gently, hoping to unwind it. I immediately heard the float hit the hull and seconds later it was floating along the boat, the line still around the prop and ripped out of the float.

The Float we recovered absent pot

The line had been ripped from the float. Then we saw a little piece of the float, about the size of a tangerine, floating away. I went to get the boat underway to try to catch it, with hopefully the shrimp pot line still attached, but we lost sight of it.

It wasn’t clear to me if we still had the line on the prop or not. Now was time for Plan B.

Thien got his fishing pole. He let out a few hundred feet of line. Within five minutes we had a catch. Reeling it in like it was the most valuable fish we ever caught, it was our shrimp pot line. It was also clear that the line was still wrapped around the prop.

So, first things first, I wanted to get the pot on the boat. That done, with all of two shrimp inside, I now had to get the line off the prop.

Being able to hold on to one end of the line that is wrapped around the prop and shaft does make the job a bit easier. In this case, I asked Tee to hold tight and tell me if the line was getting tighter or looser, when I put the boat in gear. She couldn’t tell, even when I tried reverse.

I wasn’t sure if it was a language issue or simply she did not have the feel of the problem, so I decided I had to do it myself. But I also didn’t want someone else at the controls if I am holding a line that is around the prop!

So, I got enough slack on the line so that I could stand at the helm, with one hand on the gear shift lever and the other holding the line tightly with the line from the prop thru the salon to the pilot house.  I put the boat in forward gear, and I could feel the line getting a bit looser, at the same time, I could feel the prop rubbing against it.

I pulled harder on the line and it parted. I’m guessing the line cutter just in front of the prop on the shaft was able to put enough pressure to cut the line.

We were free and no vibration what’s so ever.

We headed for the second shrimp pot and it was just where I had marked it on the chart. Which does make me think that it was underwater when we were looking for it a week earlier. We snagged it, this time without any drama and it had four shrimp.

Thien ate them with gusto. 

The weather was beautiful, so once we grabbed the anchor line, we tied it off and fished for a couple of hours. We caught two flounder. They were dinner.

Pulling the anchor up now worked like a charm and we motored back to Wrangell in a much better mood that the week before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing for the Day of Reckoning

Yesterday, Saturday was the Debacle, Sunday the Plan was made.  That gave me five days to sort out the windlass and get it working again.

First thing I did was get out the Ideal windlass manual for my ACW windlass.  I had two issues:

  1. As we were hauling the anchor, it became more and more strained, until finally it just stopped with the current protection breaker activating
  2. The wildcat hits the top of the chain stripper on each revolution.

Now this windlass is 30+ years old but is built like a champ and perhaps if I rad the manual more often, it will outlast me. Because there in ALL CAPS was a warning that the windlass should only be used with a load in the clockwise direction.

My not so straight Chain Stripper

Oops. Because I had anchored with my secondary anchor whose rode used the starboard anchor locker, I would wind the rode around the capstan and use the down switch to rotate the windlass counterclockwise. I had worked in the few times in the past I had done so, but the anchor was never very deep. With a little tap on the circuit breaker protection switch, I could reset the circuit breaker button and the windlass worked fine.  I even test it, by lowering the primary anchor and letting a couple hundred feet out on the harbor bottom, which is between 10 to 20 feet under the keel.

Hauling it worked fine, except for the chain stripper being hit and therefore bent by the wildcat.

The diagram from the Ideal manual

The diagram of the winch also gave me the information that the top of the chain stripper must be exactly 2.5” above the plate of the winch to fit into the groove of the wildcat which is about a half inch wide. Mine was clearly 2 and ¾”.

An image from the Ideal Manual

In the same manual, I found an old picture, which seemed to show that the chain stripper was perfectly straight. That was enough for me.

So, first stop Monday morning was to the big boat yard next to the dock, Superior Marine Services. There, Tyler, who was the bronze and stainless-steel expert, took a few minutes out of his busy to day to help little me (He is one of those big Alaskans that towers over me, like a brown bear!).

He suggested the big press. I mumbled ok since I was clueless. After all of 5 minutes and about a dozen pressings in different angles and parts, my stripper was as straight as new.

And typical of Alaskans, he wouldn’t take any money for his efforts, even coffee money.

I walked back to Dauntless, installed by stripper and it fit perfectly. I then proceeded to pull up the hundred feet of chain I put out as much to clean it an anything else and my little windlass worked like new.

Tides, currents and sunrise were all set. Now, I just needed the weather to cooperate.

 

 

After the Debacle

While I felt good about having the common sense to abandon the anchor and not try to lift 125 lbs. of anchor chain and anchor more than 150 feet (50 ft of 3/8”bbb chain x 1.65lbs/ft x  + 40 lbs. anchor = 122 lbs. plus rode), I had a sleepless night.

While I wasn’t sleeping, I came up with the plan for the week:

First, I had to get the windlass working. It had an electrical problem; it had no power and lastly the wildcat was hitting the chain stripper. None of that was good.

Second, Wrangell only has about 7 hours of daylight nowadays. While the sun never gets very high in the sky in any case, I needed to maximize our chances of seeing those stupid little shrimp pot floats. They are only 10” by 5” wide. No easy to see under poor lighting conditions.

Third, even as we abandoned the anchor, I was looking for the shrimp pot float that should have been very near the boat. We spent 10 minutes looking for it with no luck. I was now worried that the reason we couldn’t find, notwithstanding the whitecaps and poor light, was that the float was under water, pulled there by the strong currents in the area. In the upper part of the bay, I didn’t expect the currents to be that strong, but in the opening to the bay, where we left the first shrimp pot, the currents could reach a few knots. In 320’ of water, with a pot on only 400’ of line, a current will drag the float under. Plus, even worse, with such strong currents and a light pot, who knows where the pot would be a week later.

So, first thing Sunday, I went to my navigation chart to check the currents and tides for the coming days. Coastal Explorer does make that easy. I had to find the slack current times that occurred during what daylight there was. I quickly realized that our options were limited. The viable days were today, Sunday Friday and lastly Saturday (7 days away).

Today was out since the windlass problem was not yet solved. Also, we were all tired. I didn’t want to have any more problems or issues, otherwise I may be writing about Mutiny on Dauntless.

Friday was a school day, but push come to shove, it was viable.

Saturday looked ideal with sunrise and tides. Slack time in Mahan Bay would be at 09:50 Saturday morning, sunrise is 08:20. Plus the currents would be with us until it turned just before 10:00 and then we could ride it home also.

With more than $500 of gear waiting for our return, I wanted to maximize our chances of finding it. So I told the crew we needed to be there by 9:15 to 9:30 giving us a good hour of slack or not strong currents to find our shrimp floats (I used the largest white fender I had for the anchor, I knew I would have no trouble finding it).

Subtracting the 2.5-hour cruise from 09:30 meant a 07:00 departure time. Yes, it would be dark, but my goal was to retrieve our gear.

The last part of this plan dealt with the weather. The winds had been strong 12 to 18 knots the entire day when we left the pots. At noon, it was not much of a problem, but as the afternoon, the clouds had increased, the day became even more grey and darker. With a little pickup in the winds, little whitecaps developed, which made it impossible to find any small white floats in a grey sky and sea.

A shrimp Pot Float

So, we needed a day with light winds and the less clouds the better.

I go to Windy.com for all my long-range weather planning. I still find it easier to use and I use it for the big picture in the long term. The weather models (I use the ECMWF) were consistent for the entire week and showed that Saturday was the best weather day with the lightest winds and the only non-overcast day.
That would work and I planned accordingly.

Next up, I would have to tackle the Ideal Windlass and get it working by the coming Saturday, the best day for daylight, weather, winds, tides and currents.