You are no doubt familiar with what they say, “There are two types of sailors, those who have run boats aground, and liars.” Well, last Saturday I finally joined the ranks of the truth-tellers.
It was a rather blustery day in the north Puget Sound, and our first time trying a day charter in the area on a tidy little Beneteau 31. Unfortunately, neither the weather nor the novelty of the area were to blame for my first grounding, but rather complacency and distraction.
When we did our first bareboat charter in the San Juan Islands last summer, and in turn experienced our first chart briefing, I was struck by how much time we talked about other charter guests who had run aground. We were subjected to a number of “case studies”, the sum of which made clear that experience was no protection against shallow water. Quite to the contrary, the charter owner was of the strong opinion (based on their own data) that the more experienced the skipper, the more likely the chance of the boat being run aground. The reason?… simple complacency. With more experience, you develop confidence and with that confidence the assumption that you know what you’re doing and that your level of vigilance is adequate, as demonstrated by your lack of accidents to date. Guilty as charged.
So what about the distraction? A case of your guileless skipper engaged in too much video recording, for posterity of course, and not enough watch keeping. Now, would I have avoided the grounding had I not been viewing the world through a screen?… maybe, but I doubt it. The aforementioned complacency was deep-seated, and the navigation buoy that I should have been leaving to starboard was already well off the port beam… out of sight, out of mind.
And the end result? Well, it could have been much, much worse. When we hit, we were only motoring at about 4 knots, and the bottom on our way out of Eagle Harbor was apparently sand and/or mud. So rather than an abrupt thud, we experienced a rapid deceleration with the bow dipping down a bit while the engine strained to continue ahead. Once I overcame the sinking feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach, a full-throttled reverse was more than enough to back us off without further incident. At that point, the channel marker I had missed became glaringly obvious and we made our way back to the proper channel and our home port without further incident.
A final word on the truth-telling. The overwhelming mindset after running a charter boat aground is akin to reverting back to childhood, recognizing that you’ve done something terribly, terribly wrong, and desperately trying to figure out some way to keep your parents from finding out. As proper sailors and seamen, we must resist such temptations… thar be the path of liars.
Aside from the obvious deceit that would be demonstrated by trying to avoid responsibility for a grounding, it would be downright dangerous. Though I was quite confident that the “soft” nature of our grounding meant that there was little chance of any serious damage, I couldn’t be sure. What if there had been enough force to separate the keel from the hull? Am I going to put the next charter guest in harm’s way?
I chose the honorable path and noted the grounding in the post-charter skipper’s log. So what did it cost me? A few hundred bucks, a few minutes of entertaining conversation with the owner of the charter company, a video of the dive on the keel, a clear conscience, and a very memorable lesson.