The conditions were reasonable to begin the arduous final leg to the home port. Along the way, the dinghy came loose, and needed to be rescued. Simple enough, what could go wrong?
For the past couple of days, I have been harbored in a slip at Ft. Walton, as the remains of a hurricane pass through. On the third day, conditions were reasonable to power sail west on the ICW towards the home port. At 10:37 in the morning I realized the dinghy was no longer in tow, and could be seen about half a mile behind me. I shut down the sails, and began what should have been a "simple" rescue of the dinghy. Instead, a series of multiple challenging events, consumed the rest of the day.
The winds are 15 to 23 knots due east; the normally calm waters are cresting at 3 ft; the dinghy is drifting east at 1.8 knots. When I caught up to the dinghy, I met my 1st challenge.
The 1st Challenge: how to snag the dinghy, while single handed, controlling a drifting ship, next to a moving target (the dinghy), in the context of the wind and waves. Soon there after, I got my answer; you don't.
While working to snag the dinghy, the mother ship had slid up on a channel marker and was looking to tie up with the post. Through some quick manuevering (and grace), the ship was freed, and the dinghy chase was back in motion.
The 2nd challenge: snag the dinghy, while the mother ship is at anchor; no more drifting blind, as I attempt to snag the dinghy. I lowered the anchor, down wind of the dinghy, and waited for the dinghy to "come to moma"; surely, this will do it; what could go wrong...
As the dinghy approached I was ready with a pole and a rope... but, the dinghy was not quite close enough. Think fast... So, I threw on a PFD, grabbed a rope, and jumped into the very chilly water, after the dinghy. What should have been an easy swim to the dinghy, quickly had me exhausted and not even close to the dinghy. So, I turned back toward the mother ship and expected to see the stern a short swim away. Instead, I quickly realized I was in the iron grip of a 2 knot current. I was located not behind the mother ship, but 50 ft. in front of the mother ship and my distance was increasing by the second.
... the high winds were blowing the dinghy east, while the water current was pulling me west ...
At first I swam towards the stern, where the ladder was located; bad idea; futile to say the least. I noted the very long, taught anchor line, pointing, like a steel rod, from the front of the bow. I swam with all I could muster to snag the anchor line and then pull myself up to the bow. Once there, I could catch my breath. I was almost too late. I had to dive a short distance down to find the anchor line and grab it. I pulled myself to the bow, rested, and then swam for the stern.
Time for lunch, and a new plan...
I checked the charts, and found that at some point, the dinghy would find a shoreline and beach herself.
The 3rd challenge: How to leave the mother ship, and not get caught in the current, swim to shore, and then rescue the dinghy.
The dinghy beached herself. The charts indicated a point in the waters, where I could anchor the ship close enough to get to shore, and then walk a mile or so to rescue the dinghy.
This time, with reasonable difficulty, I was able to rescue the dinghy, and I was on my way back to the mother ship. With the wind at my back, the dinghy was easy to paddle back to the mother ship. The trick was going to be, to snag the mother ship while on the dinghy. If I missed, there is little chance I could paddle against the wind to the mother ship. Fortunately, all went well. I thought my troubles were over...
The 4th challenge: The tide was going out, such that the ship was now lightly bumping the bottom of the shallow water. The longer I stay here, the worse it is going to get. Each time a wave comes in, it lifts the ship up, and then lowers the ship down; "boom", bumps the bottom over and over again. Meanwhile, the winds have changed, and the shoreline is now right behind the stern.
When I raise the anchor, as soon as the anchor releases itself from the bottom, the winds will blow her straight back into the shore... not good. At the same time, the winds are blowing so hard, there is no way I can pull the anchor in by hand.
The plan: use the jib winch to pull the anchor in; run the engine to provide forward propulsion. As soon as the anchor releases from the bottom, increase the engine to full throttle to push the ship away from shore (with the anchor dragging in the water). What could go wrong...
I setup the anchor line on the winch, started the engine, and put it in gear. Then I began cranking the winch. The anchor line quickly got tangled up in the winch. This would not be so bad, if I had released the anchor line from the horn cleat on the bow, BEFORE I started to crank the winch. However, now the anchor line was locked between the horn cleat on the bow, and the winch; there was no way to release the anchor line. Meanwhile, the rythm of boom, boom, boom as the ship bumped the bottom was getting louder... not good.
The solution: cut the anchor line, and start again...
With the $125 anchor line severed and the anchor line reset in the winch, the engine running in gear, I began cranking the winch. Little by little the ship moved forward until the anchor released from the bottom. With the engine at full throttle, the ship, bounced and skidded across the bottom to deeper water.
It was now 16:38 and I was finally, back under way.
Today, I own a Sail Touring business in Pensacola, FL. Please feel free to connect to with me when you are in town.
Sinbad Sail Ventures, Daily two hour sail tours
Link To: Sinbad Sail Ventures