boatsign

We see this whimsical sign (installed by the previous owners) each time we go up or down the stairs of our companionway. Useful advice at times like these.

Tuckered out from the festivities of the 5F, we raised our sails early the following morning and waved goodbye to Little Farmer’s Cay. Another cold front was headed our way, and we’d selected a less traveled spot called Pipe Creek for ducking in to hide.

Leaving the cut at Farmer’s heading north, we settled into a faster sail than expected, which brought us in ahead of schedule. Showing up early isn’t a good thing when you’ve planned to anchor in the deeper waters of high tide. It became soberingly clear that we were in a bad situation that required negotiating shallow waters in places where charts are of little use.

Experienced sailors say that “reading the water” is key in these situations. Unfortunately, my hydroliteracy is remedial at best. Standing out on the bowsprit (the frontmost point on the boat), I trained my eyes on the water below. Ironically, it was so clear that I couldn’t say for sure if depths were rising or falling – everything just looked terrifyingly close. I second-guessed what I saw, signaled frantically for Brian to turn, and then turn again, but each way we went, the ocean floor appeared to be closing in on the keel. Suddenly, there was a horrible BOOM. Brian and I lurched forward as the boat jerked to a stop. The keel had smashed into a solid and unyielding coral surface on the ocean floor. We’d run aground, hard.

Shaken with adrenaline, we sprang to action, opening up the cabin floors, checking the hull below the waterline and bilge. We were convinced we’d find a big, gaping hole with water rushing in. But there was nothing. Returning to deck, we tried some reverse maneuvering to get unstuck, but to no avail. The only option was to wait for the tide to rise, and hope that it would float us off. Eventually it did, and we anchored safely down the way in much deeper waters.

on the hard

Our boat is built like a Sherman tank, and we like her that way. When we do run aground, there’s peace of mind that we are doing it on a boat with a full keel (the bottom part that points downward from the hull, runs the length of the boat, and is contiguous with the rudder). Boats with full keels are less likely to sustain damage when run aground, because there are no edges to catch and pull. This feature was a non-negotiable for us when boat shopping.

The saying goes –  if you haven’t run aground, you haven’t left the dock. We made it ten months before it happened to us.