At Sea, 25 53.38 N 081 46.21 W
Our passage across Florida Bay reminded me of another hazard I haven't written about. Crab/lobster pots. To many boaters, the fear of getting tangled in the line of a pot is second only to the fear of running aground.
The number of pots depends on the location. The highest density we have seen is in Chesapeake Bay, next highest is in Maine, and third highest is in the Florida Keys. On the continental shelf, we have seen pots in water more than 150 feet deep. There aren't many that deep, but a few.
Once again, Tarwathie has an advantage over many other sailboats. Because of her full keel, and skeg rudder, and the small aperture opening for the prop, Tarwathie is far less vulnerable to snagging pot lines than other boats. But less vulnerable doesn't mean invulnerable. Twice, we have snagged lines in our prop so severly that the engine came to a sudden halt, and the only out left to me was to dive below with a sharp knife between my teeth. Three or four other times, we snagged pot lines that did not tangle the prop. Instead, we dragged those pots for miles.
Our worst experience happened up in Maine. The lines wrapped around our prop. The wind was pushing us toward rocks. It was time to do or die. I dove with my knife and cut us free. It took about five minutes. I got such bad hypothermia that it took two hours for me to recover. Since that bad experience, we carry a wet suit and special knives on board.
But it's not as bad as it sounds. Here are some common sense tips.
- Always use a shaft saver. Thst is a device that sites between the prop shaft and the engine shaft. It prevents damage to the engine if the prop becomes fouled and suddenly stops. PYI is the manufacturer of shaft savers.
- Consider shaft knives. We don't have any, becasuse we had too little shaft between the hull and the prop. With our new prop and shaft, we have more room. I'll consider knives. From what I hear, they are very effective.
- When sailing rather than motoring, your risks are greatly diminished.
- If you catch a pot line that does not foul the prop, you'll notice it as suddenly reduced speed while motoring. Tarwathie loses one to 1.5 knots of motoring speed when dragging a pot. If that happens, stop and try backing up. 75% of the time, backing up will solve the problem. The other 25%, you'll have to dive and cut the line. That ratio might be 50-50 on sailboats with winged keels.
- Always carry line cutting knives on board explicitly for the case of having to cut loose a pot line. I buy line cutting knives from Hamilton Marine. They are very cheap, less than $5, and very very sharp the very first time they are used. Therefore, I save a never-used knife for the pot line emergency. It will cut any line like butter, and let you get out of the water and back on your Boston minimum time. A snorkel, mask and fins may also make the job easier. But if your knife is sharp, it will take only two seconds to cut the line. (If wrapped around your shaft, allow two seconds per wrap.)
- (I use the same knives attached to our safety harnesses. If we ever get our foot fouled in a line and get pulled overboard, that knife could save your life. Last spring, I told a horrible story about a woman who died like that in Oriental, NC. I can't say for sure if she had a knife that it would have saved her, but perhaps yes.
- Now for my word joke, the opposite of zig is not zag, the opposite is continue straight ahead. Libby keeps and eagle eye out for pots and she zigs around any that get too close for her comfort. I do the same, but my comfort zone is more relaxed than Libby's. I will not zag for any pot more than one foot off our centerline. Libby zags for pots 50 feet away. Libby's goal is not so much to avoid fouling, it is to avoid it on her watch. Instead of zigging, you can always just put the engine in neutral.
- In any case, as soon as the sun goes down, you aren't going to spot any more pots. Some cruisers, perhaps most cruisers, use that as a reason to never sail at night. I consider that as extreme and irrational behavior. Sailing at night offshore is a wonderful experience. It should be sought after, not avoided. The risk of fouling a pot line is not so great that you should avoid night sailing. Most pots are found in shallow water, so if you get fouled at night, just drop your anchor and wait until morning.
Ha ha, coincidence? Guess what just happened as I sat below writing this? Yes, it happened on Libby's watch. In this case, we were able to shake it off by backing up.