Small Stuff

Anchor symbol The latest installment of boater versus beast involves a particular left-coast hazard — marauding otters. Port Townsend Sails founder and wooden boat virtuoso Carol Hasse, known as Hasse to her friends, has been trying to keep the cute critters off her Nordic Folkboat, Lorraine, for the last decade. But Hasse may have gained the upper hand.

Photo of the Nordic Folkboat, LorrainePhoto: Carol Hasse

"Those (maybe not so) adorable river otters that share our Salish Sea marinas are a real problem for vessels with low freeboard. The otters prefer to make themselves at home aboard boats with covers of any sort that will protect them from the elements while they urinate and defecate with great enthusiasm," Hasse told Seaworthy. "Strategies for repelling them abound — open containers of mothballs, ‘markings' left on the dock or mooring lines by male dogs or ‘salty dogs' (also of the male variety), carpet tacks pointy end up, radios left on (arguments abound as to the effectiveness of NPR news, country, rap, hard rock, ...). In my experience, none of the above works 100 percent of the time, if at all. Not even high-pitched audio pest deterrents!"

For years Hasse tried to protect Lorraine's brightwork from sun, snow, and rain with every conceivable type of boat cover. "I discovered that otters ALWAYS found their way under or around and created quite a water closet in Lorraine's cockpit," she said. "Nordic Folkboats have an open cockpit and a common bilge — meaning hosing the cockpit sends any and all messes into the bilge to ripen aromatically. Hand cleaning the inside of a lapstrake hull is a special challenge; add otter droppings (or shall I say, explosions), and cleaning gets downright dangerous. Who would have thought that the thin shells that pass through an otter's entrails could slice through surgical gloves? Or that their urine is nature's best paint/varnish stripper?

"Tiring of that kind of spring cleaning made me stop using any of Lorraine's lovely boat covers ... leaving her to the elements, but generally otter-free. Then one day I had an inspiration for a snug-fitting cover that would close off the cockpit to otters, relieve me of regular de-watering detail made necessary by winter rains, and protect the cabin sides and companionway hatch varnish. I approached my friend Leah Kefgen (now of Port Townsend Rigging and Canvas) who made the cover fit like a glove — I call it Lorraine's dachshund sweater. It has worked brilliantly for three winter seasons, although perhaps our dog's territorial expressions when visiting Lorraine's dock deserve some credit, too!"

Score one for Hasse. We'll be sure to let you know all the details if the otters make a comeback.

Anchor symbol The aptly named Running Free washed up on a sandy beach on Martha's Vineyard on July 5, 54 days after being abandoned off Bermuda. The boat's owner, Bill Heldenbrand, left Jacksonville, Florida alone in May, bound for the U.K. with a planned layover in Bermuda. On the seventh day, he encountered heavy weather some 400 miles west of Bermuda. After battling 40-knot sustained winds and 15- to 20-foot waves for 18 hours, he hove to in order to get some rest. He woke to find the jib sheet chafed through and the jib flogging. A passing tanker offered to take him off the boat, and given the continuing deterioration in the weather, he decided to leave his belongings and the uninsured vessel, never expecting to see either one again.

But, as so often happens, boats prove to be much stronger and more capable than sailors expect. Not only did Running Free manage to survive the storm, but she ran the gamut of the busy East Coast shipping lanes, dodged the myriad rocky ledges and outcroppings along the New England coast, and beached herself on a sandy shore some 700 miles from where she was abandoned. The jib was shredded and the boom broken, but otherwise she was in fine shape. The solar panels had kept the batteries fully charged, and the electronics were all still working when Daniel Carpenter from TowBoatUS Falmouth set to work freeing her. "It took three days to remove, and the hull was still in very good shape," Carpenter told Seaworthy.

There are numerous examples of sailboats being recovered intact after their owners abandoned them in even more extreme weather, including the sailboat featured in the movie, The Perfect Storm. Anyone who saw that movie or read the book will remember the Westsail 32, Satori, whose crew was plucked off the boat in the midst of the raging storm. Several days later, the boat washed up on a Maryland beach. A bag of personal items the skipper had mistakenly dropped when he left Satori was still on the afterdeck.

Running Free, Satori, and numerous other vessels in legendary storms like the 1979 Fastnet race, the 1994 Queen's Birthday storm, and the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race demonstrate how well boats can take care of themselves even in extreme conditions. Leaving the boat, whether for a life raft or a freighter, can be extremely dangerous. Among offshore sailors, the hard-won lessons from those storms can be boiled down to one piece of advice: "Don't abandon ship until you have to step up into the life raft."

Anchor symbol In the "you must NOT be a boater" category comes a story about a PLB (personal locator beacon) being put to an unusual use. It seems that a burglar broke into William Malloy's truck in Bakersfield, California and made off with approximately $5,000 worth of boating and outdoor equipment, including an ACR PLB. Malloy reported the theft to the Bakersfield Police Department and informed the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the disappearance of the beacon, since it had been registered with them.

A few days later, the U.S. Air Force Response Coordinator and the California Emergency Management Agency contacted Malloy. Was he aware that his beacon was going off? Though the beacon had been reported stolen, they wanted to make sure that he hadn't recovered and activated it. No, Malloy told them, the beacon was still missing along with the rest of the loot. So a search and rescue was mounted, not for Malloy, but for his stolen gear. Law enforcement tracked that PLB signal right to the thief's lair, where they found not only Malloy's equipment but stolen goods belonging to several other victims as well.

Obviously the burglar was not a boater. Had he been, he would never have touched the one piece of equipment designed to bring government agencies right to its exact location. Malloy got his stuff back, and ended up spending only $200 out-of-pocket — the cost of replacing the window in his truck. If thieves don't take up boating, maybe there will be more emergency-signal-assisted apprehensions.

Anchor symbol Have you ever fantasized about being a surveyor? Working outdoors, spending the day on or near the water, messing about in boats, helping people buy their dream boat or get paid by their insurance companies ... what's not to like? Well, plenty actually. If you're harboring romantic notions of the surveyor's life, take a good look. Surveyor T. Fred Wright of Carolina Marine Services submitted a damage appraisal with the photo at right in it and the comment, "I demand hazard pay!"

When Wright arrived at Lake Wylie, South Carolina to look at Force Ten, a 23-foot Bayliner that had sunk in its slip, the boat had already been recovered and was sitting on a trailer. Vic Winebarger of Boat Sales of Lake Wylie warned Fred of the "potential hazard" aboard. "The pictures should be attributed to Vic," Wright told Seaworthy. "I refused to go into the V-berth to investigate further; not that I'm chicken or anything!" He found another snake lying on a stringer in the stern of the boat. "That one never moved while I was aboard," he said. "Thank goodness they warned me of the potential hazard before I boarded! Otherwise we'd have had to break out new undies."

Snakes may not have been the only critters involved. Wright found muskrat-gnawed flaps on the cockpit scupper drains, which may have contributed to the sinking.

So if you're ever faced with a sunken boat in warm Southern waters, make sure you take a good look before reaching into any dark corners.

Anchor symbol The American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC), the industry organization that writes safety standards for boats, has just released an iPhone app designed to help you figure out what safety equipment you are required to carry on your boat. "Boat Essentials — USCG Safety Gear" is a free checklist app for the new or experienced boater, developed with a U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Safety Nonprofit Grant. When you download the app, you will be asked a series of questions about your boat, and based on the answers, the app will show you what equipment is required and what is optional. It can store information for up to three boats along with important dates, such as when your flares expire. 

— Published: October 2013

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