Small Stuff

Published: October 2014

Photo of a TowBoatUS vessel

Anchor symbol The TowBoatUS captains had their usual busy summer retrieving disabled boats from waters all around the country and getting them and the people aboard safely home. But people weren't the only ones who needed assistance on the water this year. These are just three of the many stories that hit our inboxes over the past few months.

Captain Paul Amaral's team at TowBoatUS Ventura, California assisted a NOAA rescue team in freeing a young humpback whale that had become entangled in some fishing gear anchored to the bottom near Santa Barbara. While close enough to the surface that it could still breathe through its blowhole, one of the whale's fins was pinned to its body, and a rope was wrapped around its back and tail flukes. It took eight hours to free the whale, which appeared a bit banged and bruised but had every likelihood of surviving, according to the NOAA team.

Captain Brian Joseph of TowBoatUS New Bedford, Massachusetts was minding his own business crossing Buzzards Bay when he saw something in the water. When he got closer, he found two deer trying to swim across Buzzards Bay and well on the way to being exhausted. After getting a line around their necks, Captain Joseph managed to get them aboard the boat, where they looked pretty stupefied by the entire experience. When he got to shallow water, he had to all but push them off the boat, but once on solid ground they recovered and wandered off.

Captain Chase Hawkinson of TowBoatUS Jacksonville, Florida had just finished a tow from 16 miles offshore and was headed to another when he saw what he thought was a person in the water near the jetties. As Hawkinson got closer, he realized what he saw swimming was a dog. The dog kept swimming away from the boat, but Hawkinson finally got close enough to pick the dog up out of the water. Seeing a couple on the beach, he took the dog over to them, but it wasn't theirs. "No tags, nothing. Just a pretty little Lab," said Hawkinson. He held onto the Lab, which he named Jetty, for about two weeks, but no one came forward to claim the dog. The local Labrador rescue society did get in touch, and they have taken Jetty in and will place him in a good home.

Anchor symbol In response to the "Light Up The Night" article in the July issue, Seaworthy reader Dick Mills wrote in to share a story of a night collision that, thankfully, wasn't.

It seems that he and his wife, Libby, were crossing Lake Champlain, on the border between New York and Vermont, at night. Libby was at the helm, and Dick was on deck helping to keep watch for buoys with a handheld searchlight. Suddenly, a vessel a quarter-mile to starboard that had been stationary roared to life, a searchlight came on, and it came straight at them at a speed of 30 knots or more. "There was no time to reach for the horn and give the danger warning of five blasts, nor time to reach for the VHF radio ... ," Dick wrote. "I flashed my searchlight at the driver's eyes."

The vessel did not change course or slow down. Desperate now, Dick yelled to Libby, "Emergency full reverse!"

It was right about then that another powerboat appeared between them and the speeding boat, overtaking on their starboard side. All three boats came to an abrupt stop. "There we were, that whole big lake with 1,000 square miles of surface, with three boats in the middle of the night stopped with less than a boat length between us. After a minute to catch our breath, all three boats went on their way. Whew, what a close call."

Dick believes that the speeding boat's own searchlight ruined the driver's night vision so that he could not see the navigation lights on the other two vessels. "Coast Guard rules dictate minimum lighting, but not maximum lighting. In my humble opinion, any lights which impair the helmsman's ability to see ahead of his vessel should be banned."

Anchor symbol Several years ago Seaworthy reader Cort Schult was sitting on his dock when his neighbors came down to their dock and proceeded to refuel their inboard engine boat. The father, a retired fireman, was pouring gas out of five-gallon plastic fuel jugs into a plastic funnel that was inserted in the fill. The five-gallon jug was several inches above the funnel when he told his daughter, who was in the boat, to turn on the ignition key to check the fuel level in the tank.

There was a loud explosion and the fuel jug in his hands was suddenly aflame. He threw the jug into the lake and the fire burned the fuel on the water's surface before going out. Fortunately the fire did not go down the funnel into the tank, no one was hurt, and the boat was not damaged.

This incident just goes to show that even the most knowledgeable people can make stupid mistakes. Schult pointed out three things for others to avoid:

  • Not grounding the fuel jug on the funnel.
  • Turning on the ignition key and creating a spark while fueling.
  • Having someone in the boat when refueling.

Anchor symbol The leaves are changing color and the days are getting shorter. While most of us reluctantly start to prepare for freezing temperatures, ice, and snow, lucky liveaboards on each coast are getting ready to follow the sun south. Instead of slogging around in winter boots and foul weather gear come December, they'll be stylin' in flip-flops and shorts. But getting there is not always the fun part. If you're preparing to make the migration, here are a few suggestions to make sure your passage to paradise is as trouble-free as possible:

  • Attend to any maintenance you've been avoiding, give your engine a complete tune up, and do a thorough inspection of every system aboard.
  • Check your spares and tools — you'll want to have some of everything, just in case.
  • Inspect your safety gear to make sure it's all up to date and ready to be put into service. Among other things, you'll want to change cartridges on inflatable life jackets, recharge fire extinguishers or buy new ones, have your life raft inspected, and test your EPIRB. If you don't have an EPIRB, you can rent one from the BoatUS Foundation for Safety and Clean Water — at a 10-percent Snowbird discount (discount code DISC10).
  • Make sure you've got unlimited towing coverage — don't leave home without it, especially if you're planning a trip down the ditch.
  • Check your insurance coverage and notify BoatUS Marine Insurance if you need to extend your cruising ground. If you're traveling to Mexico, you'll also need proof of liability coverage with a Mexican carrier. For more information, click on the "Liability in Mexico" tab at

Anchor symbol Editor Emeritus Bob Adriance sent us the photo below from former American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) president and longtime Seaworthy friend Philip Conner. So what's going on here? Blocking South Carolina style? An ABYC demonstration of how NOT to store a boat?

Photo of improper boat blocking

Actually, the boat had come to the end of its useful life, and it was about to be gobbled up by an excavator with a crusher claw and put into a dumpster. Conner couldn't help but think "of having spent hours, days, weeks, months ... discussing how many jack stands were necessary to support a boat and the proper spacing for ABYC." This boat may make blocking look easy, but, please, don't try this at home — or at your neighborhood boatyard.End of story marker


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