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Old 08-02-2010, 17:25   #1
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Getting Towed Over Shoals...

I have been thinking about this a while and thought I would ask about it. In November, we ran aground at the matanzas inlet in Florida when we were right in the middle of the channel. Apparently, the deep water was outside of the channel away from the coast.

Tow Boat US came and towed us out. We got hooked up to the towboat, and the tow boat pulled us off the shoal after about 5-10 minutes of pulling.

After that, the driver kept going at about 6 knots or so right in the middle of the channel where apparently there were about 5 more shoal spots. As went over the remaining shoals, are keel would hit it and our boat would jolt up as we went over each one.

We have a Tayana 42, which is a pretty solid boat, but I have yet to pull the boat to check if there was any damage.

I was pretty upset that instead of going to the outside where the deeper water appeared to be, the driver kept going right down the middle. I was also upset that the tow boat kept up the speed to go over the rest of the shoals. I doubt the driver knew what shoals were waiting, but I am thinking that since he kept that speed up, he was thinking if there were any more, we would get over them by the speed and the pull of the tow boat.

What is the proper thing for a tow boat driver to do after pulling someone off of a shoal in the scenario? Should they slow down so you are not jumping over more shoals? Was he doing the right thing to pull us over the shoals so we wouldn't get grounded again?

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Old 08-02-2010, 18:35   #2
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Not being there, I can't say for sure but it does sound odd how the towboat operator acted. Did you get the impression that the operator knew about the hull form and draft of your boat? It certainly doesn't sound like the operator knew a lot about the area from how you describe it.

In general terms, hitting something at high speed is rarely advantageous. Some full keel boats will slide up and over things but if I remember correctly, the leading edge of your a Tayana 42 keel is relatively steep. A fin keel boat will hit and stop dead rather than rising over it and there is no advantage to speed unless it is a really soft bottom. The other thing is because of bottom suction, the faster you go, the more water your boat will draw. It is actually possible that being towed at a slower speed may have resulted in not hitting anything.

Knowing what will cause the least damage in different situations is always a trick. In places with a lot of tide, it is often best to let the tide do the work and not tow at all. Towing increasing the chances of holing and other damage greatly. However, if there is any sea running, then it is usually better to try to tow the boat off provided it is working against the bottom rather than sitting statically.

Communication is key in situations like this and both boats should be on an agreed upon working channel on their VHF. Unless time is really critical, the proper course should be figured out before the vessel comes free and whether or not the tow will continue is also important. The tow boat operator should have known your draft and should have been aware of each time you struck. Was going back the other way and using a different inlet out of the question? Personally, I really don't like going into a place if I run aground on the way in since it means that I will have to do it again on the way out.

If it were a perfect world and depths were unclear, the towboat operator would have let you anchor and taking their shallower draft boat to look for the deepest channel. It doesn't sound like your operator had that much patience though.

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Old 08-02-2010, 18:57   #3
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Their job is to know the waters well enough to stay off the shoals....period. If not, Tow Boat US needs to hire a different boat captain.

An enormous part of being a professional captain is to know the waters where you are paid to operate the company vessel or at least to know where to get this information. To repeatedly ground your vessel under tow?...we are talking amateur hour here.

I would think you have every right to sue if there are damages as a result of the repeated groundings.

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Old 08-02-2010, 19:34   #4
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Sounds crazy to me.
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Old 08-02-2010, 19:46   #5
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without being there I would have to agree with the judgement of the Tow Boat Capt. I am sure as a professional capt. he would either know the design(draft) of your boat or would have ask. He would also know the waters he works in every day.

One other thing that leads me to this is after you got off the shoal and you hit another you should have told him or question his actions right then and there.

Last year a friend ran his boat aground while I was asleep below by the time Sea Tow could get there the water drop another foot, they told us then they would have to come back at high tide to even try. By the time it was all over we lay on the boats side not even a foot of water, the boat NewPort 27' with a 5' draft.

My point here is the Tow capt. told us every step he was going to take to get the boat afoat again.

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Old 08-02-2010, 19:51   #6
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Mantanzas Inlet has a reputation for shoaling. When I hit the bottom there in early November, the deep water was in the center of the channel. As I drove off the shoal toward deeper water, I hit at least two more shoals which I continued to push my way through. The only damage to the bottom of the boat was the removal of all bottom paint on the keel bulb.
As for the competence of the TowBoatUS captain, I am sure he was the most competent person involved in the entire incident. If he towed you off the first shoal and released you in deeper water you would have needed his assistance for the second and successive shoals. Since he was the rescurer and not the rescuee, it would seem to me that you leave the judgement to him.

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Old 08-02-2010, 20:50   #7
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Well, I have seen the stupidest thing being done by a towboat in Biscayne Bay and have no faith whatsoever in these "captains".

He should have steered around the shallows or have warned you that there is no way around them for your draft and given you the choice to be pulled over them or back out to sea. He has no right to make this decision for you.

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Old 08-02-2010, 21:41   #8
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I have pulled out of all kinds of situations in that treacherous area of SW Fl, and the Tow Boat US captains have always been extremely skillful and competent. I reckon he has no way of knowing that you were hitting the bottom, and it was your responsibility to let him know by VHF what was going on. All the charts of that area are wrong, by the way, after hurricane Charlie stirred everything up a few years ago. I ran aground in Redfish Pass, on my first trip out with a chartplotter in the cockpit, by stupidly following the plotter through what used to be the channel, instead of watching the buoyage. A lot of depths are different now and channels have been moved.
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Old 08-02-2010, 22:30   #9
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Sounds nuts.

Did you ask him about it ? Didn't he have a depth sounder and did he know your draft ?

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Old 09-02-2010, 04:31   #10
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All of the responses are greatly appreciated.
This was the first time I ever ran aground and was in a towing situation. I am pretty new to boat ownership, my sailing experience was aboard other people’s boats, racing on 30-35 foot boats in lake Michigan. We were going south on the ICW (not actually using the inlet).
My opinion when we were first approached by the tow boat operator was that he was not very experienced, but he obviously had more towing and local experience than me. When he arrived, we did discuss information about the boat and where the deeper water was located (since all the other boats were now going outside the cans), and how the ones that went back into the channel were bumping ground again. I did try to call him on the VHF twice during the tow on 16 but he did not respond. (we didn't talk about a working channel ahead of time). Afterwards, I was kind of in a shock, felt stupid, thought he probably knew what he was doing, and did not discuss it with him. I am pretty sure he knew we were hitting shoals because both of us slowed down each time we hit one. Every now and then I thought about the experience and decided to post something to see what others thought.
I do appreciate the feedback. I am chalking up to another learning experience for me. Next time, I will be sure to agree on a working vhf channel, and decide on an approach after the boat comes free the first time like klem suggested. I do feel like the tow boat operator thought we might get ground again so he was pulling the boat hard to get it over any additional shoals in case we hit any. I just wasn't sure if this was the correct approach.
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Old 09-02-2010, 17:54   #11
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Another part of being a good captain is the ability to communicate to others.

Even hearing one side of the story, it sounds as if this towing captain is a ditz.

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Old 09-02-2010, 19:09   #12
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Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
......Boat US captains have always been extremely skillful and competent.
I believe this is true. They are experienced POWER boat handlers. I'm guess that most of them know didley about sailboats.

My one experience being towed was that there was no need to prove how much power he had in the tow boat. If I ever have to be towed again I will be on the bow ready to cut the line if I get another horses patut with such disregard for my boat.

Not that it will work in all situations, but I like having 2 dinks. One is a "go fast" that can do some towing.

I think one element here is that we question ourselves in situations like this and wonder if it's "just me or is something wrong here". To me, the fact that the OP started this thread an expample of that self doubt we all come up against from time to time. I say follow yer gut and let the guy know what you think. We pay te bill. We don't have to put up with the antics of the guy with the horsepower.
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Old 10-02-2010, 02:09   #13
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Hard to second guess the towboat Capt. from this side of a computer- but your off the bar.. next time out watch that depth!
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Old 10-02-2010, 10:46   #14
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I doubt if a suit will have any legs....

Accepting a line for a tow is like signing a contract......(I'll post my experiences in a bit)

Admiralty Law is interesting when it comes to this stuff.
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Old 10-02-2010, 11:48   #15
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Matanzas Inlet south of St. Augustine is not passable by sailboat. There is a low fixed bridge. On the ICW side, it is a mess. The sand is constantly moving. It is best to pass that section of the ICW at slack water at a slow speed. Sometimes the water is strong enough that the cans/cones are missed because the current pushes or pulls the boat out of the channel. There are not daymarkers in that spot because of the constantly moving sand. Just try heading north at Marineland during a NE blow. I think I went further up and down than forward.

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