Tuesday, 8 July 2014

There's a reason it's called WATCH !

I was, admittedly, watching my kindle when it happened, but I swear I was looking up with each new page.  With no wind and an oil-smooth sea, we were motoring and the pilot was steering.  Patrick was napping below and we were having a lovely day.

Leaving Santander.

BAM !  thump thump thump, followed by the screeching motor alarm, signaling its displeasure at being stopped with the key still in the ignition.  Patrick bounded up on deck and stopped the alarm and we both looked behind us, already knowing what had happened.

Behind us was a 30 meter trail of fishing net, snagged around our keel and (worse) the propeller.  With the boat hook, we pulled as much of the net on board as possible.  I put the swim ladder in the water and stripped down to my knickers, then eased waist deep into the water to see if I could simply pull the net free.  No go.  With the boat hook, I tried pushing it off of the rudder.  I leaned over as far as I could go and almost had it free.  BAFFFF ! then a long slow hiss.  Always conscious of safety, I was still wearing my life vest when I went down the ladder.  As I leaned over, the edge of my vest touched the water and the automatic inflation mechanism activated, puncturing the CO2 cartridge and blowing up the vest around my ears.  Okay, sometimes notions of safety need to be adapted to a particular situation.

I climbed back on board and stripped down properly this time, outfitted with a short wetsuit and snorkeling gear.  It was a sunny day, the water was warm (ish) and, with no swell, there was no reason not to take a look under the boat.  We tied a line to a fender and trailed that out behind the boat so that I would have something to grab on to if the boat started drifting.

The sight was beautiful and horrifying at the same time.  In 200 meters of water and with bright sunshine overhead, the water was a beautiful cobalt blue and visibility was excellent.  The vision, however, was disheartening.  The net was wrapped around the keel, the rudder, and firmly twisted around the propeller shaft.  With our best bad-ass knife strapped to my thigh, I first slid the net off the keel and the rudder.  That was the easy part.  I gave a few tugs on the line wrapped around the propeller shaft but it was so tightly wound that I couldn’t even budge it. 

Part of the 30 meters of fishing net we snagged.  

I cut away the rest of the net, leaving a 1 meter section of line on each side of the shaft and we hoisted the smelly mess on board to get it out of the way.  I dove down and tried to un-wrap the line wound around the shaft, but in the water, you have no leverage,  so my little girly tugs were getting us nowhere.  Cutting it away bit by bit would have taken forever and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep free-diving repetitively for long without getting over-tired.  I needed some leverage, so I tried a new maneuver:  swim under, flip upside down, place one palm and then the other on the underside of the boat, grab the line between my legs and PULL!  One turn around the shaft popped free but there were still 3 turns firmly twisted.  I swam over to the other side of the boat (resting at the swim ladder in between each dive) and did the same trick.   The next twist popped free.  Three more round-trips and it was all clear.

The last messy smelly bits.
We pulled everything out of the water and tried to figure out what to do with it.  I wanted to keep it on board (trophy?) so that wouldn’t get caught around the next guy’s propeller but it was too big to stuff in the chain locker or store on board.  We tried calling the Coast Guard to signal where it was but they never responded.  (Hmmm...  glad we didn’t need them to come get us!).  So we tied the loose ends together so that at least the net wouldn’t drift in long filaments and I attached a few empty water bottles to keep it floating at the surface rather than drifting just below the water as it had been.  Of course, Patrick wasn’t buying into my theory and said that the net probably WAS floating at the surface and would have been visible if I hadn’t been too busy reading on my WATCH!  But since I redeemed myself by cleaning up my own mess, he decided not to harass me about it further.

So much for a relaxing sunny motor-sail to the next port.  For the next 6 hours, we kept a vigilant watch, popping our heads out of the cockpit like startled meer-cats, dodging every speck of flotsam and jetsam floating anywhere within our field of view, sure that it was another net.  I had been told that if we sailed long enough in these waters, we would eventually get something caught around the propeller but I thought we’d have a longer grace-period than we did. 

In any case, we’ll say it was a good experience and we got a good story out of it.  When Patrick retells the story now, he has me jumping naked off the side of the boat with the knife in my teeth, a much better version than the one that has me first easing into the water from the swim ladder with my life vest still on.  People around the docks have been coming up to me and shaking my hand, calling me “the diver.”  It’s funny and embarrassing but much less traumatizing than the storm.

We've been in Gijon for 5 days now, waiting for the weather to cooperate to continue our route west to the high rias. We aren't complaining, though.  Gijon is a good place to be stuck for a few days.



The Cynical Sailor said...

When I was cruising the west coast of Ireland we found a net from a trawler drifting in the water. It was quite large and fine meshed. It took us ages to hoist it on the bow making sure we didn’t damage the lifelines. It had been in the water for a while and had a potent stench. When we got nearer to civilisation we called the coast guard and they came out and retrieved it. It was a while later I found out the net was worth something close to 20,000 Euros and we just gave it away. Well there is always the consolation of the reduction from environmental damage.


MH said...

Doh! I knew we should have kept it on board! Okay, next time I'll cut conservatively and sell the blasted thing. Thanks for the tip!

Astrolabe Sailing said...

arrraggh nightmare!