We were meeting two other boats in the San Juans, going from Anacortes to Friday Harbor one weekend. They had gone on ahead of us and one of them sputtered out of fuel
about half way there. It was a Passport 40. They anchored at a spit and our other friends came along and got them under tow with their much smaller 30' sailboat. It was calm and the waters protected between islands but currents are always an issue there (and numerous ferries, other boats, etc.)
We had a Whitby 42 with a Ford Lehman
and it was agreed that we would pick up the tow and take them in to Friday Harbor to join up with the yacht club group meeting there. We were all double-handing so we had to do it right or screw up bad. First (as I remember from some years ago), the smaller boat dropped their tow line (an extra halyard
line) and the Passport pulled it in. We came up close on the side of the Passport and they threw the line to us. The Admiral took it to a stern cleat and wrapped it but did not secure it as you would at a dock
. The idea was to be able to release it quickly if needed. Likewise on the Passport where they secured it to a forward bow cleat.
The towed boat kept a neutral helm
and stayed at the wheel
. We had two channels to go through and a few turns. We maintained about 4kts in center channel. We did not have any flags
to indicate what we were doing so it was probably not too kosher as far as that goes. It was about 10 miles and getting late. As we made the last turn to starboard to make Friday Harbor to port a mile ahead, an incredibly dense fog
came in all of a sudden. I mean as in "can't see the bow" thick. And then the sun set and it was dark and foggy. And ferries were coming in and out of the harbor. Pretty tense I can tell you. We used radar
and blew our horn constantly and contacted the harbormaster with our intention to tie up to the outer dock
, normally reserved for Customs
For some reason, as we came in we decided to try and get the boat on the inside of the harbor which involved going through a very tight entrance of about 100' and then an almost 180 degree turn to port and then an immediate turn to starboard to the dock, but actually 180 degrees to get out friends' boat to a slip bow in. As you can imagine, your actual turning radius is magnified by the length of two boats plus the line with significant momentum to be taken in to account.
We shortened the tow line and slowed to a crawl. We made the first turn to port and got straightened out, and then did a u-turn to starboard in a tight radius and built up some weigh to give some steerage to our tow. We then headed for the next to the end open slip where numerous club members were waiting. At the last possible moment we slipped our tow line and made a hard turn up the alley-way and our tow continued in to the slip. They came in at low speed and were stopped by a spring to the dock.
It was terrifying and wonderful at the same time. We should not have even tried it but in this case it worked out. We kept in close communication via VHF
and planned each move before we did it. We also were familiar with the harbor and the docks. And we all had lots of fenders out. The hardest part was actually getting in our own slip as we had to overshoot everything and back up, which our Whitby did not like at all.
So I guess, in the right circumstances, you can tow another sailboat.