Tag Archives: stranding

Stranded: how not to beach your boat

On the way from Lowestoft to Wells I stopped at Sea Palling as planned, anchoring behind the artificial reefs that protect the amazing sandy beach and create lovely lagoons where families with young children enjoyed the sun.

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The weather was mild with a force 4 from the north west and I anchored in a sheltered spot tucked in behind the east cardinal, paddled ashore in the kayak, had some of “Norfolk’s best tea” and enjoyed the atmosphere. It was about this time that I had the idea to beach Tammy Norie. What can I say? I was tired.

I visited the lifeguard station and explained my intentions. They said no problem, and advised me of a suitable spot one lagoon west of the entrance. At high tide at 17:00 I gently drove Tammy Norie over the sand bar and up the beach, watched by the remaining holidaymakers. She scrunched neatly onto the sand and was lifted and dropped gently a few times by the waves. I jumped into the surf with the anchor and dug it in, though it was entirely redundant. I also threw the mostly useless tiny 1kg kedge anchor away from the stern just in case. Here she is immediately after beaching:

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Then the trouble started. I really hadn’t thought hard about the wave action. As the tide ebbed the waves started picking up the stern and dropping her quite hard onto her skeg (the leg-like fin a the back that the rudder is attached to). The stern is exactly designed to be picked up by waves, so I should’ve anticipated this. The sand was quite hard packed and the repeated impact of the skeg was loud and worrying. But by this time it was too late for me to back out — Tammy was thoroughly aground on her keels.

Bang. Bang. BANG. Uh oh. I was genuinely concerned that the impacts would do serious damage, perhaps hammering the skeg up through the bottom of the boat and pretty much destroying her. I wondered what to do. She’d be much better off facing the waves, wouldn’t she? So I stood at the bow and tried to use the wave action to turn her around. But it was too late, and I only managed to shift her about 20 degrees. I sat on the beach and watched despondently.

Why had I done this?

Firstly, I wanted to try it and see how it worked out. There’s a story I heard long ago that I often mention to people about this kind of thing. A boy was brought into hospital with head injuries, and when asked what happened he said “I was seeing how close I could get my head to a train.” The lesson is that there’s only one way that could end. I need to be a little more cautious about “seeing how” things work out with Tammy Norie.

Secondly, I’d heard from Nathan Whitworth that the artifical reefs at Sea Palling didn’t provide much shelter. “Those sea breaks are rubbish,” he said, “they don’t break anything.” So I imagined that with Tammy on the beach I’d get a good night’s sleep. Ha ha ha. No. Even as Tammy settled down and the dangerous banging stopped, I realised with horror that the sea was going to come back. At about 04:00. And I had to be ready. A slightly bumpy night on my small anchor was nothing compared to what I’d have to deal with.

Thirdly, I wanted to see whether Tammy’s bottom was collecting sea life. I haven’t done anything about renewing the antifouling, hoping that the old stuff might still have some effect. Given that it’s old, I thought, perhaps it is super poisonous and still potent. That, at least, I could do. As the sea withdrew I got a pretty good look.

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Really quite a lot of barnacles, but only a small amount of beard around the waterline. The barnacles came off easily after about 15 minutes’ work with a scraper, but by now it was dark and I didn’t do a complete job. The barnacles seemed to like the back edges of the rudder and keels most of all, and these were difficult to clean.

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That done, I started thinking about how I’d protect Tammy Norie from the waves in the morning. I knew that the wind was going to come around to the east or south east, so she’d be more sheltered than before. (Stupidly I hadn’t really thought enough about this in advance, though.) A friendly chap at the Sea Palling Independent Lifeboat had reassured me earlier in the evening about this point. I was somewhat heartened by the nearby presence of the lifeboat station, but I didn’t expect anyone to be there at 04:00 and I wasn’t going to ask.

I got out the folding shovel and dug a pit under the skeg. The hard packed sand was easy to move. The pit filled up sand and water almost immediately, but it was loose and soft. I dug more, making a pit about a metre across all round the skeg.

By this time the tide was low and the sand was exposed for about 20m behind the boat. I took the main anchor to the stern and walked it out as far as I could on its chain and rode, making it off on one of the stern cleats. I noted its position using a line between the lifeboat station and the beacon at the end of a reef. Then, because I didn’t trust the cleat (it still has no backing plate) I made a bridle between it, the big bow cleat, and the other stern cleat. That should absorb some load.

Then I tried to lie down and sleep. But it was no good. What if the wind got up? What if the waves were even bigger in the morning? What would happen if Tammy broke up on the beach? What could I retrieve first? Was I likely to be injured? Was I creating a potentially fatal accident? These were the thoughts in my mind as I slipped only half way to sleep.

No good. No good. I got up again and retrieved one of the larger fenders from the locker. I was able to push it under the skeg and arrange some lines to keep it there, bracing it fore and aft tightly. Perhaps it would absorb some impact too. Fenders are supposed to absorb impact, aren’t they?

I went to lie down again, thinking to myself that once the sea came back I wouldn’t be able to make any more preparations. Had I done everything I could? Had I done enough? What else could I do? What else…

Sleep came. Of a sort.

I woke up at about 03:30 as the waves started slapping Tammy’s undersides. I drank some cold tea and ate a slice of cake and wondered what was going to happen. It was utterly dark. I switched on the running lights and the stern light showed me the waves. Small waves. Smaller than the night before. Maybe this would be OK.

As the waves started to jostle Tammy Norie I grasped the anchor rode and leant back, applying constant tension so that I could feel if something happened. A larger wave came. Did she lift? Did she move? I wasn’t sure. I hung on and waited, my fingers going numb.

In my head, I could hear Han Solo.

Tammy lifted on the waves for a moment before dropping sharply. But the impact on the skeg was soft. My digging and the fender were working. Another impact. Another soft thud. I felt relief: she was going to survive. Not today, Neptune. Not today.

A good hour passed with me sitting and hauling on the anchor rode. As each wave lifted Tammy I was able to get a small amount of rode aboard. I’d pulled in a couple of metres. So Tammy must be a couple of metres closer to being fully afloat. I checked a transit along the beach. More hauling. I checked it again. To my horror Tammy was further up the beach. The anchor was dragging, and the waves were pushing her ashore. Much more of this and I’d miss the tide and Tammy might get so far ashore that I couldn’t retrieve her at all.

The wave action was of course relentless, and my body and especially my hands were very tired. Sometimes, I thought, it would be good to have a winch or windlass. I pulled harder, trying to time my pulls to the wave groups. I made progress outward on the small waves, but then a big pair would come, pick Tammy up, and push her all the way back.

At about 04:45 I realised that I had to turn her around. I took the retrieved rode to the bow through one of the fairleads and made it off on the big cleat while Tammy bumped on the bottom. Timing my movements to the waves I released the rode from the stern cleat, dived over the coachroof, and took up the slack on the bow. As a wave group came in I hauled. Tammy turned! Not only that, she turned quite easily. About ten good hauls and she was facing the waves, even though we’d been pushed a little more ashore. Immediately the wave action on the boat lessened. We were still aground and still in trouble, but now perhaps I could make some progress. I pulled and pulled and we slid forwards.

I took a short rest from hauling on the rode and went back to the cockpit to start the engine. In reverse it wouldn’t do any good, but perhaps it could help me forwards. I stuck it on full ahead and went back to the bow. Heave. Heave. Heave.

And finally, finally, she came afloat.

And of course immediately started motoring at some speed around the anchor. But this was a relatively minor problem. I threw myself back into the cockpit and slowed the engine, and was able to use the engine and rudder to guide her off the sand completely and downwind of the anchor. Things still could have gone wrong. As I hauled the anchor she could have been blown or pushed onto the sand again and I’d be stuck without even the anchor to work with. But I was quick enough. Aware enough. Just enough.

With enormous relief I motored to the deep water behind a reef and threw the anchor back out. I made a short video then. It doesn’t make much sense. I’ll just show you the first frame. It was 05:45.

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You might think that was the end of the trouble for the day, but the weather was due to turn from easterly force 5s to westerly force 8s by the evening as ex-hurricane Bertha tracked into the North Sea.

The track of ex-hurricane Bertha

The track of ex-hurricane Bertha

I had to get going to Blakeney or Wells. And I was already shattered. You can read about that in my post “Who said that?”.

Lessons? Don’t forget the waves. Beach your boat where it’s sheltered from the waves on both tides. Beach her bow-to the sea if possible. Don’t decide to try new things when you’re already tired. Sleep on it. Don’t beach your boat. Don’t do what I did. Don’t.

Followup: A few days later I had a thought about this. Perhaps another thing to do is to beach your boat closer to the half-tide line. Tides are usually sinusoidal, so the sea will be falling and rising fastest at half tide. This means your boat will settle on the bottom quickly and be lifted quickly when the sea returns. Furthermore, you will definitely have plenty of water even if the boat stays still. So I think, when I try this again, I’ll anchor the boat firmly in one place well below the high tide line. No hauling, and little chance that the wave action will push the boat so high up the beach that floating becomes impossible.

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Filed under East Anglia 2014, Logs

Tammy goes paddling

A little experiment with as-it-happens posting. I’ve beached Tammy Norie at Sea Palling to have a look at her bottom and finally stick her name on. I’m not sure it was a good idea, but more on that later.

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2014-08-07 · 18:56