Tuesday, September 22, 2009


After passing up the west side of Bear Island in the last of the light, we anchored just north of infamous Malaga Island in eastern Casco Bay, on the last night of our cruise. I decided to get up early and get us underway before my wife and son were up. Although the passage between Malaga and Sebasco is used by lobster boats, it is winding, tight, unmarked, and ledgy even by Maine standards, and I'd never been through it. So I decided to go out the same way we'd come in.

With the engine running, I was on the bow getting the anchor in when my wife appeared in the cockpit. She took the helm and without discussion we headed out the narrow pass I'd decided against.

There came a shout from a lobsterman and I threw the engine out of gear. Too late - bump, bump, bump and we came to a tilted stop. With the tide running out from under us, it was only by shifting our weight to the bow combined with the good graces of a passing lobsterman that we hauled off before the tide stranded us for at least six hours in a most embarrassing situation, smack in the middle of a fishing harbor. No harm done, I think, but I'll know more when I decommission.

The grounding happened because we failed to brief. We try, before any complex mooring or piloting exercise, to look together at the chart or the situation and talk it through. My wife is pretty skilled at eyeball navigation and she has good judgment, so we can exchange ideas and thoughts and she can challenge my assumptions - I'm lucky. This technique keeps us out of trouble, unless we fail to use it.

Example: We were in Edgartown coming alongside the fuel dock. There was at least 1.5 knots of current more or less sweeping through the dock. We would need good fendering and quick work with the forward spring and other lines, coordinated with steering and engine control. We talked this through and the mooring and unmooring went just fine, with no screaming and no hate or discontent.

Briefing works on a macro scale too. On a cruise I will generally sit down with the entire crew and, chart on the table, tell them what my thoughts are for the day - what might be our destination, things we might see or visit en route, and alternatives in case wind or weather suggest another harbor or if we just want a shorter day. Comments and ideas are encouraged. Not only does this exercise bring the crew into the plan of the day, it also gives my wife and me a chance to articulate to ourselves the navigational exercise ahead.

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