Friday, October 22, 2010

October 4,5,and 6- The Final Leg will not be forgotten

Wednesday- At 10:45, October 6th

Ann writes:

Thank goodness we have arrived at our final destination!
I was never entirely fearful, but when we were communicating with the US Coast Guard, I had fleeting visions of them taking us off Anomaly and leaving her to be bashed to bits, trapped in high seas on a lobster pot. And it all can be attributed to the fact that she's a very fast boat. But I digress....

We left Lunenburg on Jon's theory that we would sail through Monday night, Tuesday and night and arrive in North East Harbor (NEH), Mount Desert Island (MDI), Maine by the light of Wednesday morning, but it didn't work out that way. I remember thinking I would rather wait 12 hours and have 2 day legs and one night leg, but the weather report for late Weds. wasn't good. If I'd known it was also a new moon, I definitely would have made that request.
Things started ok with a chilly but lovely parting sunset over Lunenburg, but as total darkness fell, with no horizon and rough, bounding conditions, I began to feel really ill. It also got extremely cold. I had to take more drugs which made me drowsy. I was able to spell Jon on watch for awhile, but he didn't get much rest due to the boisterous conditions and the odd behavior of the frequent fishing vessels. Some of the nautical lighting schemes didn't seem to make sense and it was sometimes difficult to tell what was coming at you. Monday was a rough night that didn't set us up well for the rest of the voyage.

By the time I came up on deck Tuesday morning, things had calmed down a bit in the gulf of Maine. I saw some porpoises, a seal, and 2 different little birds landed on the rigging for a short while The rest of the sailing was actually pretty good, and it became apparent that our good progress had us arriving in the darkness of early morning. There was a definite possibility of tangling with Maine's famous seafood.

The trouble started around 3AM Weds. Jon was finally sleeping and I noted we were drifting slightly from the heading he specified. I knew it probably wasn't significant, but I was absorbed by studying the instruments. It was a dark but starry night, and I became aware of faint shapes zipping by. I finally decided to rouse Jon, and then some of the buoys started hitting the boat, so we definitely were in amongst the lobster pots, more than 9 miles offshore in over 250 feet of water!

Jon decided to turn around, but almost immediately we were stuck. It was 5 am, total darkness, a storm coming, and the sea bashing the transom as Anomaly strained on the lobster pot. It was just about 5AM. I'll let Jon tell the rest of the story, but just short of ordering an expensive rescue 4 hours later, we popped off and were free again. After another 2 hours of dodging pots all the way into the harbor, we arrived.

In summary,
2568 nautical miles (just under 3000 statute miles)
6 provinces
2 states
2 countries

Jon writes:

As we turned southwest from Lunenburg along the southern Nova Scotia shore, the wind increased from the east and soon we had 2 reefs in main and mizzen. We dodged one large dragger that completely ignored (or perhaps was ignorant of) our presence. It was quite a rough sea, with 20-25 knots from the east following up on the strong wind from the south over the last couple of days, and neither of us were feeling our best. As we neared the southern tip of Nova Scotia, there was more traffic: cruise ships heading north towards Halifax, fishing trawlers moving randomly, and one peculiar assemblage that must have been a tug and tow. They had been paralleling our course offshore, but closing the distance and then turned to go west. I wanted to be a bit further south to avoid the places on the chart marked "tidal rips", many of which had names like "The Rip", "Tail of The Rip", "Horse Race", etc.  These are caused by the strong currents turning the point out of the Bay of Fundy. When less than a mile distant a powerful searchlight came on from the tug and picked us out. He must have seen our radar transponder and wondered what we were. They finally altered course to pass astern, much to my relief.

As we turned west around Brazil Rock, it became apparent that we were well ahead of the speed needed to arrive in Maine in the morning: we had covered the 93 miles from Lunenburg in less than 12 hours. The next 20 miles to Seal Rock took less than 2 hours, running through the water with speeds often in the high 9s, and carrying sometimes 2.5 knots favorable current. Into the next morning the wind lightened, and nearing noon it was down to 4 knots. Had it stayed strong, we might have made Maine by nightfall. I kept two reefs in both main and mizzen to slow down even more, so that we would not be too early reaching the coast.

At midday I started the engine to charge the batteries, and shifting into gear revealed that we had picked something up on the prop the night before, bad vibration at any speed above idle. This meant that the engine could only be used with care for manueuvering to dock once we arrived in Northeast Harbor. Eventually the wind picked up to 8 knots or so, and it became quite a pleasant, leisurely sail at 4 or 5 knots, calm sea, double reefed though the afternoon and night. Then about 4 AM Ann woke me with the news that she had seen lobster buoys.

This seemed unlikely since we were still 10 miles offshore and in 250 feet of water. We had not seen lobster pots set this deep or this far offshore anywhere in Canada. But sure enough there they were, lots of them. And very difficult to see with a slight chop and no moon. I had planned to hove-to if we arrived early, but as we were already among the pots it seemed inadvisable: hoving-to drifts the boat sideways, making it more likely you will snag one. So I decided to turn around to retrace our path further offshore (and presumable towards fewer buoys) until daylight. Within a very few minutes, it became apparent that we had caught one as our speed dropped to less than a knot and it became difficult to steer. I got the sails down and we were essentially anchored, stern to the seas.

Our route, Lunenburg to Maine (click on chart to expand)

The wind was up to 12 or 14 knots, and the waves were getting getting noticeably bigger and pounding the transom every so often with a resounding thump. The common advice when caught on a lobster pot buoy is to hook the line with a boathook, try to untangle it and if unsuccessful cut the line. As dawn broke I found I could extend the one good boathook (the other had gotten bent by an errant sheet crossing the Cabot Strait and would no longer extend) and by leaning over the transom with the end in one hand, hook the line tethering us to the pot. But there was far too much tension in the line to have any hope of hauling it on board, or close enough to cut. Even holding on to it at all was difficult: the stern was heaving about 4 feet vertically in the waves. I tried taping a saw to the other boathook, but it was impossible to hold the line high enough to reach with the saw reliably, impossible to keep the saw in anything close to the same point on the rope. And then the boathook disappeared. I had been able to hold onto only the end grip when the stern rose to its height on a wave, finally the grip came loose from the pole and all I held in my hand was the grip. That eliminated the possibility of cutting the rope from onboard.

I had considered diving in to cut the line, the recommended method #2 if you cannot untangle it with a boathook from the deck. A fine idea on a calm and sunny day near shore, this presented a number of serious challenges on that morning: First, the water was 60 degrees and we had no wetsuit on board. Your ability to work in those conditions declines rapidly after only 5 minutes or so. Second, as soon as the line was cut, the boat would head downwind at 2 or 3 knots, faster than I would be able to swim after it. The line seemed to be tangled on the prop or saildrive so the motor might not be available; in any case we knew from the previous day that something was already wrapped on the prop and it was marginally functioning in the best case. That meant that Ann would have to do a man-overboard recovery under sail by herself. I put my own chances of successfully recovering a man overboard in those conditions with a crew and functioning engine at less than 50%, Ann had never sailed the boat by herself before so with no engine or other crew the chances of success seemed very small indeed. Third, the only way to re-board 'Anomaly' was to put the transom door down (a midships boarding ladder is designed, but not yet built); in the sea state present the pitching of the stern would make this a dangerous exercise even if the boat could be positioned for recovery. In summary diving in to cut the line seemed foolhardy. Nor did I think we would be able to launch the dinghy, from which the line might have been snagged and cut. That would require putting the transom door down and launching into the waves which were already breaking against the transom, occasionally with considerable force.

Sometime during these operations I called the Coast Guard to enquire about commercial towing services in the area. They contacted the BoatUS affiliate who said he was 35 miles and at least 4-5 hours away, assuming he could find a diver (which he somewhat doubted). He thought the cost would be at least $1000, possibly much more and no cap (my BoatUS membership would pay for the first $50...). I asked the Coast Guard for other services that might be closer, only one dive service was offered (and turned out to be a wrong number) along with the phone numbers to the harbormasters in the area who might be able to help. Calls to these numbers got only answering machines, it being early in the morning and after the season was essentially over. The wind continued to increase, and the forecast still called for gale force winds (35 knots or 40 mph) by noon.

Finally I called the boat yard that was to haul 'Anomaly', figuring that they might know someone in the area. To my surprise, they answered at 6:30 AM, were sympathetic to our plight, and started to organize a boat and diver to come out and help. This was a great relief, as other efforts seemed to be going nowhere. So we waited a while, and in thinking about what might be holding us I shifted the transmission to neutral. Normally it is kept in reverse while sailing to keep the propeller feathered and stopped. It occurred to me that if the buoy was stuck on the propeller or between the propeller and drive leg, perhaps letting it freewheel would allow it to unwind or unjam. When I did so, there was no perceptible change. However a few minutes later I noticed a change in the boat's motion, and going topsides saw that we were free and drifting ahull! It was now after 9 AM, we had been stuck on it for over 4 hours.

We were still in a sea of lobster pots and now drifting down on them, so I quickly set the mizzen to get some control over the boat, then started the engine. I tried a very momentary shift to forward and the prop seemed to be free to turn. Shifting into forward, we began to motor normally - in fact whatever had been tangled in the prop the day before now seemed to be gone. And so we motored towards Northeast harbor, altering course every 30 seconds or so with both of us spotting lobster buoys, often difficult to see in the rising seaway of whitecaps and breaking waves. The buoys continued for 10 miles, all the way into the harbor.

We finally tied up to the dock at Northeast Harbor Marina, and I went ashore to begin the customs clearing procedure, as we had come from Canada. The harbormaster said he was one of the ones called to come out and dive on the line but had declined, feeling it was too rough to be safe. It took a couple of hours for the customs man to drive from Bangor, but then we were cleared and back in the USA! Having arrived after the season rate change, the berth which would have cost $113/night only a week before was now just $24/night.

When the boat was hauled, it was very difficult to tell what had happened. There were some rope abrasion marks on the starboard side of the rudder but no obvious marks at all on the prop or saildrive, or on the leading edge of the keel. It is still a mystery how we were tangled, and why we came loose. There was a small bit of gill net wrapped on the hub, all that remained of whatever was picked up off of Nova Scotia. I have since learned of this device, and will be sure to have one in Maine. While this would result in the loss of the expensive trap, I no longer have any sympathy for lobstermen, they show a complete lack of restraint: we saw pots set all over harbor anchorages, within a boat length of docks, in the middle of buoyed channels, and often in large fields less than a boat length apart. Navigation at night or in bad weather is done at your peril, navigation even in good conditions requires constant weaving and vigilance. While they are entitled to make a living, they are not entitled to co-opt the ocean for their own exclusive use, which in effect is what has happened. I am told the density of pots has increased markedly in the last 5 years (there are now over 3 million of them in Maine according the the fisheries department). It is surprising that there is a lobster left on the bottom. In addition, I saw several lobster boats operating without courtesy or regard for anyone or anything. Leaving Northeast Harbor, I watched as two boats came by the No Wake buoy with sufficient speed nearly to swamp it. We experienced the wakes of their coming and going for several days in both Northeast Harbor and Somes Sound.

These rope abrasions in the paint are the only evidence of our "catch and release"
The Volvo saildrive leg and Autostream feathering prop. They appeared untouched by the lobster line.

'Anomaly' is currently on the hard in Somes Sound, Mt. Desert Island, Maine


  1. I was in a similar situation a few years ago in Jericho Bay. Wind and current kept us pretty much anchored by the stern. Could not get the float line close enough with a boat hook to be able to cut it. I was fortunate that I was towing a dinghy at the time, and was able to untangle the mess from the dinghy. Not a fun experience with the stern rising and falling in the waves. This, by the way, was a float with a toggle. These are the ones you are most likely to snag. Ever since that experience I carry a little grapnel anchor on the after deck. A sharp knife is always attached to the pedestal. I can catch the float line with this anchor, and put the anchor rode on a sheet winch and winch it in. Then I can cut the line. I do carry a spare toggle float that I may tie to the float line before I cut it. And ever since I carry this anchor I haven't snagged one float!
    Parts of Maine are littered with floats. The entrance to Tenants Harbor is particularly notorious. But it is part of Maine. At least the floats are colorful. I look at it from the perspective that with fewer lobster floats around, Maine would be much more crowded than it is now.

    Cabo Rico 42 CURLEW

  2. I grew up sailing in Maine but left many years ago. I returned in 2006 in a new boat and was totally appalled by the number of pot buoys. Snagged a few myself with a similar story/solution as yours. I have NO compunction about just cutting the darn things.

    I went south for the winter with the intention of possibly returning for another season in Maine but quite frankly, just the thought of all those buoys, toggles and lines awaiting me served to tip the balance and I took the boat to the PNW

  3. Excellent creation. It’s so refreshing to find articles like the ones you post on your site. Very informative reading. I will keep you bookmarked. Thanks!

  4. Your writing skills make anything interesting. I am going to apply all tips that you have mentioned in your post, they are really helpful.

  5. I seriously liked this site, great job. I do think I will be coming back here more often to view when you find there are any new posts!