Presidents Day — sunny, nice, sometime after one in the afternoon — my friend Kriya and I were heading back to Tradewinds on a Capri 22. We were ending a short yet enjoyable sail along the Richmond shoreline. As we motored down the Ford Channel, we wondered what all the hubbub at the Craneway Pavilion was about. TV vans lined the pier-side, a loudspeaker was going, and crowds thronged around the building. My friend checked her phone. “It’s a Bernie Sanders rally!” The candidate himself was speaking at that moment, being transmitted over the loudspeakers.
Another boat passed us port to port, and after we passed I kept steering fairly close to the red right-hand marks — I was noticing some kayakers on the port side, milling around in front of the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park building, apparently there for the event too. Wouldn’t want to hit them.
Less than two minutes later, just as I was about to turn left into the harbor, I grounded Alpha in three feet of water on the mud-bed. This happened as I was looking ahead to the entrance of the marina and at the shoreline concrete steps that mark the inside of that turn. I did not realize immediately what had happened; the boat simply stopped moving ahead. (Look down, Joyce!) I looked at the outboard — had the engine died? No, it still hummed. Had it slipped out of gear? I moved it to neutral, then to reverse—alas too briefly, as glanced nervously at those concrete steps which seemed quite close… then at the end of the breakwall (Look down!) I tried revving the throttle up — obvious No Go.
Looking back, my gaze took in the kayakers and the last red channel marker we had passed, three or four boat lengths away. It was almost low tide, probably at about zero just then. I looked down past the transom, to a pretty clear view of mud beneath the surface of the water. “Oh no, we’re grounded! We’re on the mud!” I asked Kriya to move over to port side with me, and we leaned outboard with our combined weight. The boat shifted a little but sideways only. Illogically, I had the outboard still in forward gear. Did I think it was just a thin mud bar we could simply slide over? Or that the boat was oriented parallel to the margin of shallowness and we could simply slide forward and away from it? I pushed the tiller hard over to starboard, as if trying to achieve this. Belatedly, I came to more sense and put the motor in reverse for several seconds at both low and higher throttle. No go. I had missed my window of opportunity for this to be effective!
I had Kriya call Tradewinds. She handed me the phone and Angie answered. I explained we were grounded outside the harbor entrance. She said we’d likely have to wait until the tide rose again. Understandably, they couldn’t come and risk having another boat grounded as well. Chagrined, and hoping for a quicker resolution, I said we were not far outside the channel proper, maybe five or ten feet, and said I thought a tow boat could stay in the channel and throw us a weighted line, and we could catch it (I said this while eyeballing the throwing distance — yeah it might work! I could catch that!) And to my great relief, I was told to wait about fifteen minutes and they’d come in a whaler. Also, to drop anchor. I told my crew this with relief, and then went forward and dropped anchor (another first).
Just then a man in a yellow kayak paddled over from the rally area and asked if we were grounded or anchored. “Both, but grounded first,” I replied. “Do you want me to kedge your anchor? Do you know what a kedge is?” Yes, and yes! I lifted the anchor (no great distance) and he put it atop his kayak and paddled towards almost the center of the channel (while I paid out the rode) and dropped it. I then worried aloud that it would be a hazard to any traffic going into and out of the marina. The paddler said it looked quite deep, it was no problem. Maybe about 30 feet of rode was out?
I then pulled hard on the rode, urging the boat to dislodge. It did move a ways. Kriya joined in pulling as hard as we could. The rode was at an oblique angle to the boat. Maybe it wouldn’t fully work at that angle? But it was the only angle possible, as mud was at our front and other side. We led the rode back to the halyard winch, and a bit of grinding seemed like progress for a few moments, but then we felt we might just be dragging the anchor towards us at this point.
The kayaker used his paddle to measure that we were grounded in about three feet of water. At his suggestion, my crew and I tried shifting our weight from port to starboard side to try to rock and dislodge the boat. “No, you’re pretty stuck.” I thanked him for his time and said help was coming, and he paddled back to the rally area.
I spent that time sitting near the bow, feeling embarrassed and disappointed at my obliviousness. Now looking back at the wavy line of channel markers, it was clear we’d crossed over to the outside. I had been distracted, looking much more to the left than to the right side, and had strayed too far from that range of markers as we passed the terminal one. My crew, on the other hand, seemed to take it in good humor. “We have a front row seat to the rally!” She filmed a cellphone video as we waited, interviewing me about where we were, and how it was such a nice day to be grounded, or something like that.
I instantly cheered up on seeing the whaleboat approach, with Angie at the wheel and Steve coiling a long length of line, to which was attached a pink weighted ball. As they slowly neared, I readied for a catch, but instead we were told to to sit down, under the boom, for protection from the weighted end. I held up the flotation cushion near our faces for good measure. After a few initial throws, and with boat hook in my hand ready to pick up a short throw, a perfect toss by Steve arced the weighted line through the space between mast and furled jib. I scrambled eagerly to cleat it at the bow.
Then the tow began. Slowly, Alpha dislodged! I took up the anchor rode as we moved ahead. The hard part for me was pulling up the anchor out of the water once it was directly under the bow. That little Danforth really holds. Our rescuers directed us to start our outboard engine, and a moment later, the anchor had freed and we could lift it back onto the boat. We were free!
I returned the tow line to Steve and Angie. Our boats motored back to the marina, both docking at the same time. I thanked Steve and Angie for all their help. “You saved us!” I said I had definitely learned a good lesson and hoped never to repeat it. Angie said it was good we had grounded so close to the marina, and Steve quipped that it had made for a fun part of his day.
Later, at the clubhouse, Angie spread out a chart and other marked maps and shared some fascinating info, including soundings she had done in some shallower-than-expected areas in the Ford channel, Ayala Cove, etc., especially at low tide. A large amount of sedimentation had happened after the Oroville Dam break three years ago. My takeaway from the charts was to stay in the center of the channel when no other traffic was present, and to keep at least three feet away from the channel markers, as sedimentation had encroached past them. Also, she showed that the rocky corner at the harbor entrance was not too much of a depth hazard several feet from the shoreline — no need to over-avoid them, especially with a light northerly wind as we had today…the mud was the lee shore, not the rocky side!
Reflecting on what happened, I learned three things. One, to always maintain situational awareness in all directions. Over-awareness of potential hazard on one side (kayakers, rocky shore) should not have lessened my focus on staying within the channel. Two, to immediately recognize when one has grounded — in the case of a small boat of less than five-foot draft, just look down. Three, to respond immediately by reversing, along with shifting body weight to try to heel the boat away from the grounding side. What else? The Tradewinds staff can share wisdom on this. And, they are awesome!
Happy and safe sailing, everyone.