Sailing Tip of the Week- How never to hit bottom

It would be surprising if EVERY rock in the world were marked. Where there are rocks like this there are sure to be submerged rocks between - no matter what the chart says
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They say that there are two categories of sailors – those that have hit the bottom, and the liars.

With this article, I have to place myself firmly in the first category.

I believe the reason 'they' (I never really know who 'they' are) make this statement is to promote caution, to remind you that that you’re never immune from colliding with the bottom of the ocean no matter how much experience you have.


Certainly, I’m one of those who believe that the bottom is always to be kept at a distance. Here’s a story that happened to me that will hopefully stick with you and help reduce (probably not eliminate) the number of times you’ll be introduced intimately to the sea floor.

The setting is the beautiful Bay of Islands, New Zealand. We were motoring amongst the picturesque islands photo-documenting the anchorages for a website that we are building for Sailing New Zealand (http://www.sailingnewzealand.co.nz).

In one particular instance, there were two ways to get around to the next bay. Cut through a 30 metre wide channel between a set of rocks and the island or around the outside of the rocks. We consulted the GPS map and the paper map, both indicated deep water between the rocks and the island. And on top of that, it was high tide (2.5 meters above datum). Clear, Right?

BONK! Said the rock and the boat simultaneously.

So what had happened? Was I off on my positioning? Nope – I checked that countless time after we’d given the keel the headache of its life.

What happened was pure thoughtlessness. What was I thinking? I had put pure trust into data, by assuming that each and every rock in the world has been accurately positioned and that data exists on all electronic and paper maps.

Very simply, that is just not the case and I should have known better. Would Captain Cook made such a rudimentary mistake as he performed his amazing exploration of the unchartered world? I doubt it! In those days they constantly lead lined off the bow and sent dinghies in to doubtful waters. Lives were at stake.

While I do believe that it’s pretty safe now-a-days to assume that in deep waters almost every rock has been marked, at least in the First World countries or areas frequented by ships, the mistake I had made was in shallow water close to an island.

Fortunately the story ends without any injuries except to my wallet and to my two-year-old who hit her head in the berth below-decks while sleeping. That’s a really unfortunate way to wake up by the way.

We reported the issue to the charter company. They hauled the boat and we paid for the damages. Even though we were going slowly, the abrupt stop caused a separation gap between the keel and the hull, introducing a leak.

Moral of the story: The ocean’s beauty is alluring but it can be treacherous. Play it safe – every time. Your experience does not give you a 'get out of jail free' card. In fact your experience can lead you into a false sense of security. Time for me to push the reset button on what I think I know and go back to the basics. Lesson well learned. I hope this story helps you 'go around the outside'.

One final note – it’s really important to report incidents like this to the charter company. First – it’s a matter of integrity and secondly it is a safety concern for the next charterer. There are many, many 'what if?' scenarios you could probably think of, and for the price of the insurance deductible the peace of mind is worth it.

And after all was said and done, amortizing it out over my sailing career the cost was about 50 cents per sail. No big deal but the re-learned knowledge is worth so much more.

And the final tip is, to learn much more about the procedures and pitfalls of coastal navigation, take the http://www.nauticed.org/courses/view/coastal-navigation!NauticEd_Coastal_Navigation_Sailing_Course.
http://www.sail-world.com/77459