Published: Thursday, July 27, 2017
After a morning of trolling on Lake Michigan aboard the family boat, the section of sandy beach looked like the perfect place for a picnic and a chance to stretch our sea legs. The bottom was rock-free and continued its gentle slope into the surf, offering a broad stretch of shallow water for our guests to cool their heels as they waded to shore.
I shifted the outboard out of gear and allowed the boat’s momentum to carry the bow into the knee-deep shallows, where it grounded gently on the floor of sand and I shut the engine down and tilted up the lower unit. Once guests and gear were off-loaded, the hull floated clear of the bottom and I slipped over the transom, grabbed the anchor and line attached to the bow cleat, and walked a dozen yards or so before burying the flukes of the Danforth into the sand. I set the hook with a hearty tug and tested it to make certain it was dug-in enough to hold the boat in the light offshore breeze.
After eating, we decided to walk up a ways and do some exploring; I gave the anchored boat a quick look to make sure it was staying put, and we were off.
What I didn’t factor was the afternoon wind shift toward shore that, with the waves it generated, combined to swing the boat like a pendulum on its anchor line and wash it broadside against the beach, where we found it upon our return less than an hour later. We were well into the digging and rocking process when a fellow boater motored up and offered to assist.
Because of the gentle slope of the beach, the Samaritan couldn’t get closer than about 30 yards to our craft and still have enough water under his hull for his prop to dig into. Fortunately, he carried a 100-yard coil of stout double-braided line for just such occasions.
After threading the line through our port transom eye, he waded out to his own anchored boat and knotted a working end to each of his own boat’s two transom hooks. He hopped back aboard his boat and, putting the engine in gear, gently snubbed the connection tight, making sure both the lines were under the same tension and that his direction of pull was directly into the wind and perpendicular to the beach. Warning everyone but the two of us, who were doing the rocking and the pushing at the bow of the boat, to stand well clear, he throttled up and with steady power pulled the boat free.
Our savior had shown textbook form when responding to our situation by:
-Not putting his own boat in peril; by standing well off the shallows. He anchored in deeper water and walked the hauling line in to us, in so doing reducing the risk of damaging his own lower unit in the shallows and the chances of his own boat becoming grounded.
-Assessing the stranding situation and determining it as “doable” based on the progress we had made, the wind and water conditions, and his equipment and experience.
-Pulling from the stern of his boat with its bow facing open water rather than backing his boat to pull us off. That allowed him to distribute the strain at two points on his transom rather than place the entire load on a single bow eye, giving him better control of his own craft.
-Tying off to transom eyes rather than deck cleats. Although any fitting is capable of giving way under strain, towing or lifting eyes secured on the transom are typically installed with backing plates to accept a greater load.
-Using slow, steady power to pull the tow line snug and the boat off the beach. Sudden thrusts of power to attempt to “yank” a boat free can snap a line, break hardware, or both.
-Having everyone stand well clear of the boat in the event a line snapped or a piece of hardware broke free.
We were fortunate to have an experienced, well-equipped boater arrive to assist that Independence Day. If you find your boat beached or grounded and have any doubt about your ability to get yourself out of the stranding situation, even with the offer of help from fellow boaters, it is best to call for professional assistance.