The first time I ran aground was the first time I ever went sailing in England. It was about 10 years ago. My husband was fortunate to have a friend with a boat. We left from Fareham going towards Portsmouth harbour late in the afternoon. Our passage plan was to cross the Solent and make our way into Cowes on the Isle of White. Running a sailboat aground wasn’t a part of the plan!
Since it was my first time sailing in England and meeting Bill, our captain, I was a bit nervous. Yes, I had boating experience, but sailing in and around the Solent is not for the feint hearted. I was accustom to quiet,open waters and the Solent is anything but quiet.
I ran us aground within a ½ hour of leaving our mooring – I wasn’t smiling anymore
Bill asked my husband, Simon, to help clean the speedometer (or whatever that thingy is called that measures speed). To do so, the boys had to go down below, pull the unit up through the hull, stop the water from coming in, clean and replace it. Perhaps a 10 minute job.
While we were motoring, Bill said, ‘Take the helm Kim and just stay in the channel’. I thought, ‘Yikes!’ but didn’t have time to object. Before I opened my mouth to say, ‘Are you sure you want me up here alone?’ he was below decks.
There I was poodleing down this river with sailboats, motorboats, naval ships, tankers, ferries, canoes, and a variety of obstacles – mooring bouys, signs, pontoons and land. I really had to use my self-talk to increase my confidence. I kept saying, ‘I can do this!’ I puffed out my chest a bit, held my head high and thought, ‘Yes – I’m out on the water! Look how cool I am helming this boat!’
And then I realised that something was wrong
The water was flying past the boat with the incoming tide yet it didn’t feel like we were moving. This was my first experience in tidal waters. It was a very strange sensation. I knew that something was amiss but couldn’t figure out what it was. My brain told me that we should be going forward, the water made it look like we were moving, but my body sensed something odd.
Meanwhile there were several boats behind me, but to the left, that were looking at me like I was a moron. I thought, ‘Gosh, I wonder if they’re laughing at me because I’m wearing a ski jacket rather than one of those fancy sailing jobbies.’
After a few minutes, I couldn’t take it anymore. I yelled down to Bill:
‘Hey Bill…I think there’s something wrong.’
He quickly bounced up into the cockpit, looked around surveying the terrain and said, ‘We’ve run aground.’ Bill, with his infinite boating wisdom, called Simon up, told us to lean over the port side of the boat while he rammed the engine into reverse. The sailboat tilted over to release the keel from the mud and the engine backed us out of our stuck position.
I turned bright red, instantly felt ill and wanted to die
Both Bill and Simon asked why I left the channel. My previous experiences was limited to trips on Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence Seaway where the channel markers are spread far apart. It could be a mile between one set of markers and the next. Using my experience I unfortunately aimed the boat for a set of channel markets too far away and missed that the ‘lane’ was actually curving to the left and then coming back in line with where I had landed us.
Thankfully the boat was in mud (not rocks!) and came unstuck
Bill didn’t even mention the mishap again and surprisingly, he left me to helm by myself again. Apparently he didn’t think I would make the same mistake twice. I’m proud to announce that I have not run aground since.
I’m not sure if that was my worst moment on Bill’s boat or the time I puked 14 times after we passed The Needles (a very rough area of sea off England’s south coast)? It could have been the time I sailed out to watch the Around The Island Race (Isle of White), got too close and entered a leg of the race accidentally?
Talking about embarrassing boating moments, my all time most embarrassing boating moment, to date, is when my husband and I got stuck down a dead end in a marina surrounded by multi-million pound boats. Instead of a 3-point turn he had to make a 56 point turn. Forward, back, forward, back, repeat…All the onlookers enjoyed their gin and tonics as I contemplated jumping to my death.
Get back on the horse..err…sailboat
Similar to the advice that you must get back on a horse if you fall off, it’s important to get back on a sailboat even if you experience massive embarrasment. If I let my little mishap, or any of my many other embarrassing moments, spiral out of control, I wouldn’t be here today planning my impending circumnavigation around the world.
Sailing is such an amazing experience. The freedom, wind, salt-water smell, blueness and sense of accomplishment can be incredible. Many people fail to get out there because it’s scary. Perhaps they’ll make a mistake? Well, no matter what, you will make mistakes, but isn’t it better to make a mistake and enjoy the pleasure sailing brings rather than not sail it all?