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Always Ready To Help

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Our Pacific Northwest neighborhood is not what you would call crowded as far as boat traffic goes, which is one reason we like boating here. As long as all is well, we don't mind being by ourselves as we travel along at 7 knots.

On the other hand, it's reassuring to know that if a problem or real emergency crops up, there are other boaters out there who can help. Of course, we still take the usual precautions, like staying on top of weather and maintenance issues, but knowing there are others who can come to the rescue does make our cruising less stressful and more enjoyable.

My wife, Linda, and I were on a very enjoyable cruise a couple summers ago aboard our single-engine Krogen 42 when we realized just how benevolent the cruising community is. We were on an all-day trip from Campbell River to Nanaimo, both on Vancouver Island, B.C. Early that morning, we had headed south from Discovery Marina and sat in the Strait of Georgia's northbound ebb for a long time. As we passed Mitlenatch Island, the current subsided as usual. Looking at Vancouver Island, you can imagine the water flooding in around the north end through Queen Charlotte Sound and up from the south by way of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The currents meet in the area of Mitlenatch, and the result is little or no current in that part of the strait.

There we were, enjoying the sunshine and flat water, with no complaints.

Then, suddenly, a thumping sound-actually, more like a big thumping feeling-came from the stern. Did my coffee cup bounce across the chart table? I don't remember. What I do remember is pulling the engine out of gear and going astern to look at the prop. I took off my shirt, put on a mask and snorkel, and hung over the swim step. I was worried, and the water was very cold.

It appeared the prop was wrapped with yellow rope or twine. But I couldn't hold my breath long enough to see much at all, let alone get hold of the mess.


Would the prop turn in reverse and unwind the knot? I tried that, but the engine quit as soon as I went into gear.

The prop wouldn't turn. We weren't going anywhere.

It was about 10 o'clock in the morning, and we were in more than 200 feet of water and 5 miles from shore. The wind was calm, but the afternoon forecast called for winds to pick up to 20-33 knots.

This was not an emergency. We just needed help clearing our prop. If we couldn't do that, we would need a tow back to Campbell River.

I explained all of this to Comox Coast Guard Radio. There was a coast guard vessel in the vicinity, and there was some conversation on another frequency. The crew of the coast guard boat was ready to come to our aid, but the dispatcher decided that a marine-assistance advisory would be issued first; a commercial boat might be willing to help us.

We broadcast our position, boat description, and problem on Channel 16 and immediately received several replies. A southbound Nordic Tug offered to tow us to Comox. The skipper came within hailing distance, and we talked. The Nordic Tug was smaller than our boat, and it would have been a pretty slow trip. We were appreciative that the skipper was willing to add several hours to his trip that day just to help us, but what we really needed was a diver to untangle the mess on our propeller. I sincerely thanked him, and he continued on his way.

en asked the coast guard for telephone numbers of commercial tow and dive services in Campbell River. One operator said he could come to our rescue but not until 4 p.m. The other company I called didn't answer the phone. It is interesting to note that most pleasure-boat traffic on Georgia Strait travels along the British Columbia mainland and up Malaspina Strait. On that side of the straits, there are more interesting places to visit and tuck into in rough weather. The lack of small craft where we were may have accounted for the lack of response from commercial vessels.

Not long after the Nordic Tug left, we got a call from Sea Bear, a Canadian sailboat that was some 30 minutes from us. The crew were moving some buoys that their yacht club was to use in a race, and the first mate had her scuba tanks with her. The skipper said they would come over as soon as they had gotten the last buoy in place. What a bit of good fortune.

In the meantime, Capella, a 65-foot pleasure boat, came alongside after hearing the marine-assistance broadcast about us. The skipper of this unusual boat, a big, one-engine, trawler-style yacht-not a workboat conversion-also offered us help in the form of a tow back to Campbell River. I told him about the Canadian sailboat that would be coming to help and asked if he would stand by while we got a look at the situation under our stern. He agreed to stay, just as Sea Bear came into view.


Sea Bear's crew consisted of a family from Pacific Beach on Vancouver Island: a husband and wife and their two young daughters. The wife had her wet suit on as they pulled up to us. As soon as we rafted to them, she was under our boat with a snorkel. After a few minutes, she surfaced and said she needed her scuba tanks-there was a real mess of polypropylene line on our prop.

She suited up with her tanks, grabbed a hacksaw, and stayed underwater for more than 20 minutes, cutting a rat's nest of 3-inch-diameter yellow line off our shaft and prop. The line had probably been part of a commercial towing bridle; there was about 6 feet of line still intact and enough frayed line to fill a 33-gallon household garbage can.

We hoped that was the end of our dilemma. I started the engine and eased into forward. The prop turned, and our boat moved. Success!

Profoundly grateful, we thanked the Sea Bear crew several times and offered to treat them to a weekend's moorage at Roche Harbor or another San Juan Islands destination, but they refused. They said they were glad to help and that "the law of the sea" required them to do so.

After we waved goodbye to some great sailors, I ran up to cruise speed and felt no vibrations. All was well, and we were ready to pick up our voyage where we had left off. We thanked Capella for standing by and continued south. What nice people you meet up with while floating around in a boat.

Our mechanical problem had been corrected, but we had been delayed about three hours, and now the winds were picking up. Heading into the wind and waves did not bother a boat like ours, but it did bother some of the crew-including Victor, the ship's mascot, a springer spaniel mix that loves the water as long as the water holds still. We usually steer clear of rough weather if we can.

Rather than going all the way to Nanaimo, we ducked into Schooner Cove Marina, just above Nanoose Harbour. It was a windy approach, but we got help from some friendly folks on the dock. Several of those who helped us into the slip saw the name of our boat and asked if we were the people who had been disabled off Comox. They had heard about us on Channel 16, and we were famous. More importantly, we were safe in port with no damage, and we'd had a great experience with cruisers who had gone out of their way to help.

Three years later, we met some new neighbors at a Christmas party. We got to talking and learned that they had just sold their boat, a 65-foot single-engine wood boat. She was not a fishboat or a tug conversion, but a yacht built by Vic Frank here in Seattle. I asked if they had ever had an occasion to stand by in Georgia Strait while another boat unwound a towboat line from a prop.

Yes, they had done that. They were the crew of Capella. Talk about a small world.