An old saying that we’ve heard many times around our sailing community is: “There are three types of sailors: those who have run aground, those who haven’t run aground yet, and those who’ve lied about it.”
And on our way to our next anchorage, we ran aground for the third time in our sailing career. Here’s what happened next…
After sharing our anchorage with the seven other sailboats in Dividing Creek the night before, we were anxious to find a quiet, peaceful spot away from the rest of the world. We scanned the chart looking for such a secluded place and traced a route further up the Wye East River called Pickering Creek.
The chart showed depths of eight and nine feet channeling up a winding way. We concluded that Pickering Creek not only offered an unfrequented location to anchor for the night but also offered safety from the potential winds of a predicted thunderstorm that was approaching late that afternoon. Gem&I draws 5 feet 3 inches, so we are keenly aware of where we can and cannot sail, because running aground is something that HAS happened to us.
An All-Too-Familiar Experience
I was at the helm, checking both our Signet depth sounder and the GPS chart depths as we cruised further up the Wye East and entered Pickering Creek. Both depth readers gave me the green light to continue navigating up the creek without concern. But without warning, we felt the keel bump the bottom, and I knew at once we had run aground and the boat stopped propelling forward. It was an all-too-familiar experience as this had already happened to us twice before (first time: out of Deltaville; second time: in the Kent Narrows channel). I slowed the engine down and put it into neutral in the hopes that we could rock ourselves free of the mud and get back into deeper waters.
No such thing happened. So we waited and discussed our options. I wondered about putting up the sail, because the wind was blowing in a direction that I hypothesized would push our boat into the deeper part of the creek. Damian assessed the situation too, and we checked the tide tables on our phone to see whether the tide was working for us or against us.
Rescue Attempt From Always
While we were looking into these options, a little 22 foot sailboat named Always chugged by. Damian called to the older couple enjoying their daysail cruise to ask for their help. From a distance, they appeared happy to aid in our “rescue” from the shallow waters we were grounded in. Damian hopped in our trusty dinghy with a few of our dock lines. He tied them together with bowline knots to create one long line that he would row out to the couple aboard Always. Thrilled that his dinghy was having even more use than an exploring toy, he eagerly headed toward Always as fast as his arms would row him.
But then the line dropped.
And he had to row back to our boat to pick it back up. This time he wrapped it around his waist per my recommendation. He rowed about halfway out to them the second time and discovered the next problem: the line was too short. Damian called out to alert Always to our need for a longer line. The little sailboat motored as close as she could get without running aground herself, and the captain barked to his wife to tie a bowline to throw out to Damian in the dinghy. She cheerfully obliged and tossed it out to Damian, who tied it to the long chain of shorter lines that was cleated to our bow.
Though she was eight feet shorter and much less strong, Always pulled and pulled our Gem&I with all her might despite she only had a tiny 8 horse powered outboard engine. Still at the helm, I felt Gem&I‘s keel pull free from its entrenchment in the mud, and I shouted out the exciting news: “We’re free! We’re free!” Damian thanked the husband and wife of Always who wished us on our way. I uncleated the bowline, started up the engine once more, and Damian rowed back in a mad dash to join our ungrounded boat.
No sooner had the little sailboat Always motored away then I felt yet again the thud of our keel scrape the bottom of the creek for a second time.