Everyone has been telling Ashley and I that sooner or later while traveling on the ICW we will run aground. Some people we have spoken to had in fact run aground several times and stressed that a TowboatUS membership, AAA for the ocean, is well worth the expense. Many of the books we have read also say that if you have never run aground you just haven’t been sailing long enough. Regardless of this advice we were beginning to feel a little overconfident in our ability to navigate the shallow waters of the ICW. The markers have seemed straight forward so far and it has appeared simple enough to keep the boat floating rather than stuck in the mud.
Well today perhaps a little bit of complacency caught up with us. We were making good time heading south in the area near Camp Lejeune, and I may have been paying more attention to the scenery and pelicans than to the channel markers. The Red Right Returning rule generally applies while southbound on the ICW, simply meaning keep the red buoys on your right and green ones on your left. Easy enough.
While approaching an inlet I noticed two small buoys to the far west of the channel, seemingly too far to the side of the channel to pertain to me. Surely these were just marking the entrance to a small inlet crossing the main channel and I was not supposed to make a slalom course turn that would have taken us so close to the bank. I proceeded on towards the next large channel marker when I felt a slight bump, quickly followed by two more bumps and the depth sounder alarm going off as we abruptly came to a stop in 4 feet of water. We had plowed a good 10 feet into the shoal with our 5 feet of draft. I decided this might be a good time to consult the guide book and read that this area had not been dredged in the last several years and the shoal has been expanding well across the channel. This information would have been handy to have known 30 seconds earlier. Not only were we in a foot less water than is required for our boat to float, but the current and 15 knots of wind were pushing us straight into the shoal making the prospect of simply backing out very unlikely.
I did feel my status slightly redeemed when I quickly had an answer to Ashley’s question, “Well, now what Captain?” I suggested first we kedge the anchor out (row it out with the dinghy and drop it in deeper water). Next we raise the jib and sheet it in nice and tight. The idea was to use the anchor to help pull the boat around broadside into the 15 knots of wind, the jib would heel the boat over enough to get us mostly afloat again, then we would winch the boat back into the channel with the anchor rode. As we put some tension on the anchor line, the boat began to turn and lean to port. As the port rail was nearing the water without any signs of the boat floating free Ashley looked like she was definitely losing faith in my plan, but slowly with a few more bumps along the bottom we began to inch forward. Then suddenly the boat spun around into the wind and stood upright again. We were back in the channel fully afloat. For extra points we got it all done before anyone else happened by to judge my navigational skills. If it wasn’t for running aground in the first place, it would have almost looked like I knew what I was doing.
Later in the day while entering a narrow side channel to anchor for the night, Ashley tried to make me feel better by running the boat aground herself. Although, she managed to do it at a much slower speed and far more inconspicuously. With some powering back and forth we were back in deeper water looking as if nothing had happened. Despite several nearby houses and boats I think we were able to pull it off, and once again avoided the feeling of being judged by gawking onlookers. No one would ever be the wiser if it weren’t for this post. Maybe the TowBoatUS membership isn’t such a bad idea after all.