Index of Articles in Frank's Corner of Sailing Texas
Donít Mess With Tugs
Learning to sail can be very nerve racking and frustrating, especially when your sailing area is full of hazards just waiting to expose your weaknesses. I had invited a good friend to come and go for a sail one Saturday. We threw our gear on board and made preparations to cast off and head down the channel under the bridge. We sounded our signals for the bridge man to raise the railroad platform and made our way down the channel where we have to make a right turn and begin the long slow ride past all the ships tied up and maneuver our way around various activities and past the hanger where Howard Hughes kept his Spruce Goose (we are talking some time ago lol).
My friend and I were chatting about sailing and the things we needed to do once free of this busy channel, not really paying any attention to what we were about to encounter until it was too late. As we approached this sea tug on the starboard side of the channel pushing this ship against the dock so the deck hands could secure the lines and release the tug, I noticed how the forward traffic was side slipping to port side of the channel, with the tug taking up about 50 feet of the channel.
Right at this point there was not much room to sail past the end of the tugboat. It dawned on me what was going to happen - the prop wash from the tug was so great she was pushing all powered vessels away from her stern. Fortunately those with power were able to maintain forward motion and get clear - then there was us. I tried to steer so I could do a 180 but it was too late - we were caught in the wash and the boat was slammed against and wedged between the bow of two other smaller ships tied side to side at the dock.
There had not been too much wind up to now but as we found ourselves wedged between two bows it felt like a hurricane had suddenly come upon us. The sails were whipping around like sheets on a cloth line in 40 knot winds making so much noise we could not even hear ourselves talk. The boat was bouncing like a rubber ducky in a bath tub, the mast and spreader bars were pounding the sides of the ships and being pushed deeper and deeper in. We were both shouting at the tug operator, who I am sure was having a great laugh watching us struggle to save ourselves from total destruction. Parts of my wooden mast were splintering and falling down upon our heads, stainless steel cabling flailing about like paper ribbons. I was shaking my fist at the operator in defiance to his overwhelming power like a mouse challenging a lion for what scraps of meat were left on the bones. It seemed as though we were doomed, when suddenly this power boater came from nowhere and asked if we want a tow. I am sure the relief he saw in our faces was answer enough as he threw us a line and I tied it to the foredeck cleat and he carefully pulled us out of the dark hole that was threatening to consume us.
As it turn out the damage was not as bad once I could see things clearly but sailing for that weekend was not going to happen. We were able to make our way back to the slip and stow the gear and head for home feeling defeated and one more war story to tell the Grand kids as I grow much wiser and older.
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