Mailboat Letters

Published: January 2013

More Left Coast Musings

After seeing all those interesting letters in the October Seaworthy, I decided to relate one of my unique experiences during 30 years of boating in Southern California.

The incident happened while fishing alone about a mile offshore in the vicinity of Port Hueneme. The day was clear and the sea was about as calm as could be. I was kneeling in the cockpit of my 22-foot Sea Ray rigging my lines when I happened to look over the starboard beam and saw this huge breaking wave coming at me. I literally leaped to the helm. Luckily the engine was idling. In an instant, I hit the throttle and turned hard right to meet the wave head-on. Unfortunately the wide-open throttle on the big V8 sent the boat over the crest, and with nothing under me but salty air, the boat landed pretty hard. Anything anywhere ended up somewhere else. Fortunately, I was quick to shut the engine down before it blew. I then checked everything I could -- bilge, engine mounts, gas tank. Amazingly, there was no damage and none emerged after another five years with the boat.

I'm guessing that wave was nine or 10 feet over my head, which means that the wave was about four feet higher than that due to my position kneeling.


Editor: Frank did exactly the right thing by putting the bow into the wave, even if he caught some air on the backside. His quick reactions almost certainly kept the boat from being swamped or worse. His story is a good reminder that wave heights fall along a normal distribution, which means that in six-foot waves (or swell), 1 in 100 waves will be larger than nine feet, and 1 in 1,000 will be larger than 11 feet. And then there's that one wave you just hope doesn't have your name on it ...

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I was surprised to learn from your introduction that "West Coast weather is consistent." Generally true in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay where we used to live — but not here in the Puget Sound (more generally the Salish Sea). We have windstorms each winter into the 60-plus-knot range and occasional events over 100.

Even during the summer, the weather, at least the winds, can go from days of calm that frustrate sailors to 15 to 40 knots that combine with currents to set up wave trains that make powerboating uncomfortable or worse. All divided up into microclimates which can surprise folks. And the old standbys of classic weather books like counterclockwise-winds-around-the-low don't work here because of the complex terrain.

Turns out there are reliable forecasts for this area but most boaters do not know about them. I'm trying to address that, a long story, however. I love Seaworthy and highly recommend it to all my Power Squadron students!


Swells and Safety

Photo of Stillwater Cove with rocks in the distance

Like the author, I wouldn't have expected northerly swells (even large ones) to wrap around the point to that extent. Interesting that anchoring in 60 feet of water just a mile away worked so well — a point worth remembering in light airs. I'm in the process of upgrading my anchoring system, and based on this article, I'll make sure I have enough rode for 6:1 in 60 feet. Below is a photo of my boat in Stillwater Cove, albeit in different conditions. The other photo looks out into Carmel Bay past Pescadero Rocks (shown on the chart in the article) — you exit to the left. I imagine waves were breaking there.


Photo of Stillwater Cove with boat in the foreground

Editor: Yes, it's good to be reminded that Stillwater Cove is calm most of the time, and quite an idyllic anchorage. But on the flip side, when we talked to Bob Pankonin, the harbormaster at Stillwater Cove Yacht Club, he pointed out that one of the California "monster wave" surfing sites, Ghost Tree, lies just north of Pescadaro Point. If you want to scare yourself silly, Google it. It just goes to show that the safety of almost any anchorage depends upon conditions at the time.

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George Phillips closes his article by saying "how very lucky" he was. He was not lucky at all. He was saved by his exceptional skill and preparation. He carried extra anchors; flaked the rode "just in case;" he had put some rope on the bitter end so it could be cut in a hurry; he had sufficient line to anchor in deep water; and he even managed to tie a fender to the abandoned anchor so it could be recovered. That is most definitely skill and not luck.


Electric Shock Drowning

I would think someone would have constructed a device that would quickly tell the user if there was electricity in the water rather than reading the current from the shore power cord. Ground one lead and put the other lead in the water and get a reading back on the meter.


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A very good article, except the last paragraph leaves one hanging. The last paragraph states that you can test to see if a boat is leaking electrical current using an AC clamp meter. Exactly how do you hook up the clamp meter onto the shore power cord to measure the electricity going into the boat's electrical system and returning from the system?


Editor: Alas, there is no easy-to-use device that can be dipped into the water to detect stray current. Clamp meters, mentioned in the October Seaworthy article, are probably the easiest to use, most readily available device that can be used by non-electricians. They work by clamping over the shore power cable while all of the circuits on the boat are under load using all of the onboard appliances (heater, battery charger, toaster ...). A reading of 0 indicates a healthy system; all of the electricity going onto the boat is also returning to the power pedestal. Anything other than a reading of 0, however, indicates a fault — or "leak" — somewhere in your boat's system or, possibly, a nearby boat. To rule out a nearby boat as the source of the problem, turn off power at your boat's power pedestal. If the non-zero reading persists, the problem is coming from a nearby boat. If, however, you get a reading of 0, the fault is coming from your boat, and you can isolate the problem by testing the various circuits and appliances under load. The testing takes time and some skill; it's not as easy as it sounds.

The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) is working with marine electrical companies to develop an even more user-friendly device — a marine shore power pigtail with a meter that would indicate any potential faults. It's relatively easy to use but will be expensive — around $300. ABYC hopes that freshwater marinas will use the pigtail routinely to check boats.

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Great story on our Lake of the Ozarks electric shock drownings and what's being done to correct that around the lake. And thanks to Bob Adriance for all your years of service to the recreational boating community. I've been reading your materials for 25-plus years and have quoted you as well in my radio shows along the way. Enjoy your extended time on the water now!


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This happened to a young boy at the Detroit Yacht Club around 1963. He went into the water to pick up a coffee maker strainer. I have been warning people ever since, always unplugging the boats that were near a swimmer. Does this happen in saltwater?


Editor: No, saltwater is more conductive than the human body, which means that electricity will follow saltwater to ground and bypass a swimmer. However, no one is sure about brackish water — at what point does the lack of salt mean that the water is less conductive than a swimmer? We recommend not swimming in fresh or brackish water near an energized dock.

Bye-Bye Bob

Oh. Did not see that coming.

About five years ago, my club decided to host a Hurricane Preparedness Seminar. I was tasked with preparing it. Because of the work Bob had done on the Houston Yacht Club, I knew I had to reach out to him for advice.

Bob shared his ideas as well as materials for our seminar. In addition, he put me in touch with the local TowBoatUS operator, who volunteered to leave his business (one of the largest operators in the country) and speak to us.

The quality of the materials we shared and the overwhelming amount of good information we provided blew the club away. Then the real life stories from BoatUS put the cherry on top.

What an asset we are losing. I am happy to see Bob heading off to enjoy himself, and know that we'll be in good hands. But, sir, you will be sorely missed.


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BoatUS made the right decision in hiring Bob Adriance 35 years ago. He has been a shining beacon for all of us who love boating and want to stay safe on the water. Here's hoping he logs many more nautical miles in the next episode of his interesting life, and that he writes about his adventures for Seaworthy. My husband, Kiko, and I join his thousands of other fans in wishing him fair winds, and many thanks.End of story marker


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