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Old 03-04-2006, 11:43   #1
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Towing Near Miss

This is a good example of a good deed nearly turning into a disaster.

Last summer friends of ours had a mechanical breakdown and were stuck trying to get back to our marina. They have a 40' steel hulled sailboat and had alot of bad luck with it for 2 seasons. Just as one thing would get fixed they would head out only to have another thing fail. This particular evening we were coming back from our Sunday cruise and we saw them coming down the reach with their sails up. That is tricky at the best of times and we knew if they didn't hit the opening in the reach to our marina they would get hung up. They did. At this point, they we only about 500 meters off the dock, if not less, so it seemed like an easy little tug to pull them off and get them in. bear in mind that this boat was twice the length of ours and outweighed us by 2.5:1 We pulled them off, but then that to take them back into the reach to get a line on and pull them to the dock. That proved alot trickier than we though and after about an hour of struggling we finally had a solid bow line on and were brinig them in. We got them through the gap in the reach and then did a wide turn to get them along side their dock which was thankfully at the end of the marina. What none of us seemingingly smart adults failed to take into account was the physics of the docking thing...an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by some force.....not to mention the math. One 40' dock vs 1 25' cruiser and 1 40' sailboat....

Well we did get the sailboat in, but not entirely without incident. It crashed into the end of a little sailboat who's backside happened to be stiking out from it's slip. No real damage, just knocked their outboard off it's bracket.....it missed a big expensive cruiser by inches and we managed to untie and take of moments before it crashed into our stern.

Lessons learned: Rick is creating a proper towing harness....one made of nylon and will float and won't get caught in our propellers should there be some slack in the lines while towing (another part of this adventure). ....one that can be disengaged alot quicker than trying to untie ourselves from a boat that is barrelling down on us. A knife will be kept in an easily accessable location to cut us free in the event that unclipping is not practical. Also, before starting another tow, we will need to think it out and discuss with both crews exactly how it is going to be done and radio in for extra help at the marina.

We were very lucky this time. The only damage was to one of our boathooks and that is easily repalced.

Lori, Rick and Shadow
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Old 03-04-2006, 13:08   #2
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Good lessons.
the other important point is how you tow. Long line towing is OK in open water. It can get quickly out of hand in confined spaces though, as you found out. Once you get into a resricted waterway, a different approach is required. Firstly you approach ALL aspects of towing with patience and clea thinking. NEVER go into a panic. If you are panicy, you need to take a stop and clearly think through. In the confines of the marina, your best approach is to come along side the other vessel and take short lines and keep them in tight to control the towed vessel, just like you see a tug and it's barge. You need fenders between you to protect both boats. This keeps the other boat in control. You will be supprised how easy it is to control a boat even much bigger than your self.
If you can't get into a finger birth due to width, then the next way of doing the task is to take the towed boat from closer to your bow, not from directly along side. You need to be able to have the towed vessels nose just forward enough to be able to control it into it's birth and have someone get onto the finger and control line. Others in the marina coming to your assitance is even more helpful.
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Old 03-04-2006, 19:10   #3
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To add to what Wheels said... you want to position your smaller boat toward the stern of the boat you are "towing" (pushing) for ease of control. Do not position amidships or by the bow. You'll have a lot of trouble steering both boats if you do.
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Old 03-04-2006, 20:39   #4
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Side towing is the only way to go. With the obvious exception of open water. Good long dock lines to secure the boats together. The design of a towing bridle for long line towing will depend on how your boat and the boat being towed, or towing is set up. It is best to keep line of sufficient size and length aboard to be rigged when needed rather than to make a permanent bridle IMHO.
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Old 03-04-2006, 22:20   #5
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Kai's exactly right.
Plus, DO NOT use any metal hooks at all. It is best to either have eyes spliced or simply attach the line ends to the cleats with a figure eight and half hitch to lock off. A snap hook or any metal hook will not take the strain a line will, especially 3/4" and it will have the potential of becoming a missile.
Towing with a long line is difficult at best, especially if the towed vessel has no stearing, eg. it is a sternleg. And then of course, you have no stopping control if you have too.
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Old 04-04-2006, 11:03   #6
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My cat with a single engine and twin rudders is rather like trying to tow with a single stern drive engine - an exercise in frustration. I will take issue with the learned on this thread, cause unless you get the push point alongside right, you will have no control at all. The best I have achieved so far is by having a bridle from both corners of the stern, connecting to the towing rope abt 1/2 boat length astern. This helps allow the thrust from the single power point to be directed in the correct direction. If you really need to be able to manoeuvre easily, then tow from the bow for the necessary manoeuvre, then change back to tow from aft.

Towing into the marina - impossible on a long line, either tow onto an outside pontoon with easy access, transfer to some form of workboat from the marina, or if all else fails, push from abt 2/3 back alongside. (really doesnt work very well pushing from a cat like this!) Alternatively provided the wind/tide are not significant, cast off the tow and push into the pontoon berth using one or two tenders.
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Old 04-04-2006, 21:17   #7
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The cat definitely presents some interesting problems, and I can not speak from experience, as I have never towed, or towed with one. When I tow with the inflateable, I side tie even stern to stern. If I am towing my own boat, I simply use the dinghy for power, and steer with the towed boat. When I am towing someone else, I have them steer, but use the outboard hard over on the dinghy to help maneuver. Little pushes, and power astern away from the towed vessel is very effective. I have towed a 25 footer into the slip on a long line with my 40 footer. We towed it into the marina, then threw a midship line from the towed vessel. When we got near the slip, the bow line was released, and the midship line was tensioned to maintain way, and help pull the boat around. Then we released, and the towed vessel glided into the slip. Almost looked like we knew what we were doing. Plan B was to not release the midship line if we felt the boat had too much speed approaching the slip. This would have alowed the tow boat to power astern, and stop the towed boat. I also recommend, especially on smaller boats, keeping oars on board. Even a 30 footer can be manuevered into the slip with an oar.
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Old 05-04-2006, 03:48   #8
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A cat with two engines is a good tow boat as when secured alongside you can power mainly on the engine nearest the boat being towed and the forces are evened out somewhat. However a single engine and twin rudder configuration is a "bit" of a nightmare for alongside tows.

I have pushed my cat quite happily for a couple of miles with the tender alongside using a 2 hp yamaha, and was able to manoeuvre the cat onto a double pile mooring - engine was pretty hot! - but my cat only weighs 4 ton. a heavy boat would be somewhat different (unless the engine was at least 4 hp).

Even with the difficulties, I have several times been able to pull boats off the mud. The last time it was a 36ft sailing boat that was on a lee shore and already more than 10 degrees over and at top of the tide. I had to be somewhat aggressive to achieve this and made use of the elasticity of a long 16mm tow rope (got a lot of slack and went astern as hard as possible away from the shallows and was doing about 5 kts when the rope went tight. The rope actually broke, but the kinetic energy stored in the roope plucked the other yacht nearly 6 ft towards deeper water, and the next effort got them afloat.

a cat with 2ft 9in depth can get a lot of places!
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Old 28-04-2006, 14:36   #9
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Glad I'm not at your marina. What a bunch of boozos. SAILING in? Was their engine dead? Or just their brains?
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Old 28-04-2006, 16:41   #10
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Rick, I think the biggesdt reason to avoid snaps, pulleys, etc. in the tow rig is that when something breaks--and something eventually will--any metal objects become missiles and tow ropes fire back at both vessels. This is a serious risk in commercial towing, you treat the lines like loaded guns and consider where they are pointing.

If you don't have a bollard or "hercules" post and you think the cleats may tear out of your boat--or the other one--one of the best ways to secure a tow line to a sailing vessel is to take a line around the mast. The mast, rigging, and mast partners will distribute the load and all of that normally DOES carry the whole load of the boat anyway.

As the towing vessel, your best bet is to run the tow line over a 2x4 or other piece of scrap wood above your transom, and then keep a htachet, machete, or other sharp large object at hand in case you need to cut the tow ASAP. One "whack" from a camping hatchet will sever a line under line faster than any hacking with any knife. (Unless you've kept a particular razor sharp one around for slicing line, perhaps. My small sheath knife is actually a high quality kitchen knife kept razor sharp for that reason. And never used for lunch, to make sure it stays sharp.)

The other thing to remember is that you don't ever need to tow someone right into their dock. Just get them within fifty feet of it, and someone should be able to get a line across and warp them in the rest of the way. Slowly, gently, by hand. May not look very professional--but warping ships in is how it always used to be done. Still works very nicely.
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Old 28-04-2006, 17:56   #11
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Be careful

Having seen a deckhand loose his thumb in a winch I would strongly recomend that any exercise involving large forces and lines (whether steel or polyester) be done with extreme caution.
Even a heavy polyester line could have enough energy to inflict fatal injuries.
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Old 28-04-2006, 18:02   #12
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A synthetic line, with enough force can decapitate a person?

The US Navy, has training films on this!!

That's also something to think about?
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Old 28-04-2006, 18:54   #13
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Rick,

I'd be leery of attaching to the stern cleats.

I'd like to suggest a three-point bridle, attaching to the mast and either the primary winches or secondaries (whichever is more practicable). This is a pretty bullet-proof setup.

Kudos to you for your resourcefulness, even if it was less than graceful at times. Your awareness has increased, and you will be that much more prepared next time.
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Old 02-05-2006, 20:26   #14
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Rick, Lori & Shadow

Sorry for the harsh words. I totally didn't put 2 & 2 together concerning the mechanical breakdown being NO ENGINE and read it as the sail in was intentional!!

Happy sailing
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Old 02-05-2006, 22:31   #15
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Rick, Lori, Shadow, thanks for the great post. Just remember that you can't help anyone if you get injured or dragged into trouble yourselves.

As the boat lending assistance you must keep control of the lines at all times and be ready to cast off or cut them if the situation gets out of hand.

Notice where the towing line attaches on a ski boat or a tug. It's near the center of the boat so the stern doesn't get dragged down.

This, in your situation could leave you in a position where you could take a wave over the stern and possibly swamp your engine. When towing on a long line make sure the other boat is far enough behind that they wont run over you.

Always keep an eye out and communicate as clearly as possible with the other boat skipper exactly what you are going to do and what you want her to do. Remind them that the rudder, aggressively used, makes a pretty good brake when they are approaching the dock (or your stern).

I agree with the others that towing on the hip is far better control wise when in protected waters. Also, when you are out sized like this, they should be able to steerbetter than you, while you supply the propulsion. Just make sure thatthey realize that you are in command and you are ready to cut loose ifthey start to take you where you are uncomfortable. Remember also that towing the boat to a protected area so they can anchor and warp in is a pretty great service when done free of charge and it helps keep you out of danger. You may even be better off taking an anchor or line to a point where they can warp themselves in to a dock, instead of trying to maneuver in tight quarters.

hth,

Phil
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