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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction at

Access to the net comes and goes, so I'll be writing in fits and spurts.Please feel free to browse the archives, leave comments where you will and write... I'll respond as I can.

Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Monday, November 4, 2019

Going Nowhere

Elev. ~20ft over low water

Going nowhere isn't about turning your back on the world;
It's about stepping away, now and then,
So you can see it more clearly
And love it more deeply.

-- Pico Iyer

Going Nowhere

It was a dark and stormy night...

Wait. No. It was bright and balmy day. We had turned the corner from Chatham into Peril Strait, cutting through Morris Reef as we've done a hundred times.

But this time, we were continuing the turn into Sitkoh Bay, intending to skirt the outlying reefs along the inside corner. We'd threaded the reef on the last of the rising tide, and it was now starting to fall. What's worse, it was now past top of springs (tides getting smaller for the next week and wouldn't be this high again for two weeks). Flat seas, that day, but forecast SE 20kts rising to 30kts (from the worst quarter) with seas 4 to 6ft for the next day.

We took bearings from the chart and gave ourselves some extra margin. Not enough as it turns out, and definitely given those italics above.

Anke had the good sense to think one of us should be at the bow (me saying, "Only if you like... we're well clear!"). She wasn't even all the way forward before she called out, "Hard to port!"

I duly put 'er over hard, but too late. We fetched up mid-ships against the only point in the whole durn area that could have caught us, a little 4in pinnacle standing atop a sunken hill.

In 30 years of sailing cheek on jowl with reefs, this is only the second rock I've hit. Ironically, the first was about a hundred yards away (broke my rule about running through unscoped kelp patches) and about a mile from where we spent a few memorable days on the beach.

This one was a doozy!

Initial assessment showed a couple knots of current held us pinned against that toe-stubber at about our Center of Lateral Resistance (side point around which a boat will spin... or not), so we:

  1. Tried to spin off under sail... not enough wind to overcome current.
  2. Tried to pole off... not enough strength at a steep angle.
  3. Stepped onto the rock and tried to push off by hand... we were on a peak and I couldn't step far enough away from the CLR to gain leverage.

    By now, we're starting to settle on whats showing as a small, thwartships ridge a foot aft of CLR. It's no longer just current we're fighting, but gravity.
  4. Tried levering off... ditto.
  5. Tried lever + handybilly... double ditto.
  6. Rowed out a kedge... by now, we're settled too hard to shift, even with capstan assist.
Okay. At this point, we give up on trying to get off the rock, and turn toward stabilizing ourselves on it.

Luckily, that ridge was plenty long enough to support us across the bottom. No fear of tilting and falling sideways. But, being a ridge, it was like a teeter totter with the big kid at the bow. The bow started to settle, and our stern reached for the stars.

Our first impulse and effort was to lash some fenders under the bow for a cushion. But it soon became clear that even with their extra height, we would be dangerously bow-down by the time they fetched up. At worst, we'd nose-dive down the hill and fetch up hard.

Sooo. We had plenty of firewood... we were able to post two pieces on end - one on each side, about 4ft forward of the fulcrum point, standing on the rock and shouldered under the bottom. Further settling of the bow was stopped, and we could breathe a little easier as the water ebbed away.

Fortunately, we could move freely around the boat without our weight being an issue, though we were pussy-footing, to be sure. Didn't want to shake ourselves off those posts!

We rested a bit and had a meal. What a view! The sun was getting low over two of SE Alaska's great waterways. First snows on the peaks all round. Us in the high bleachers, looking down upon it all. Warm food, coffee and time to think out a plan.

Kinda like yoga.
Doesn't really catch how high up we were!

First thing was to run the numbers. Check the tides, calculate ranges, apply the Rule of Tenths. Check it twice. Safe by a foot... we would float in the very early morning.

Next, we contacted the Coast Guard to let them know our situation (about which they would likely get some calls from passing traffic), and that we had it in hand.

We reset the kedge further out in sandy bottom, well off the port quarter (the free shot out).  Set up a snatch block for the anchor line to lead it fair (from directly forward) to the capstan. This let us use nearly its full power.

Before calling it a night, we added two more rounds of firewood lying flat, aft of the fulcrum. Our thinking was that, as the bow lifted and stern lowered, we would rotate around those, lifting up and away from the stone fulcrum. Any wave-induced pounding would be on a more forgiving surface.

Oh. And I took a sledge to that 4in pinnacle and beat it flat. If we were going to bounce in the morning, we sure didn't want it poking up at us!

Approximate line of 'our' rock...
Post and round drawn in brown.

In the wee hours, the tide duly came back, and as promised, lifted us free, aided by light chop. We waited until we were just quivering before hauling the kedge line bar taught. 

Within a few minutes, we slipped free in two lunges. No grinding, no damage.


As you may have noticed, there was considerable luck involve, good and bad, as is the usual case.

If we'd been half our beam in either direction, it would have been a close call but no contact.

If we'd hit that pinnacle a few feet from CLR, we could have spun off.

If the rock had been flatter (longships), we could have spun off.

If it had been too much of a steep rock, we could have slid off either forward or sideways.

As it was, we were reminded again how forgiving ultra-shoal draft boats can be, particularly those with flat bottoms. 

We appreciate the virtues of girder construction. You can see how rigidly our stern cantilevers. The wide, flat, rigid bottom facilitated posting to limit rotation.

These two features most often mean that, even if a strong sea builds up, we can get out with little harm from a scrape like this. As the tops of the first waves lift us, the kedge pulls forward. Only a small drop and crunch are likely, and only a few of those.

All in all, however, we count our lucky stars.


On Appraisal, we draw these reminders and lessons:

  • Always give extra margin on falling tides, especially falling from springs to neaps!!
  • Remember that reefs and shorelines are rarely accurately charted!

    Pilots advise traffic keep whopping distances off visible landmarks. We run reefs all the time, but when skirting need to be on full alert or follow the pilot. Extra wide margins! Lookout at the bow!
  • Set a kedge early!

    We dillied and dallied too long, partly as it was a foul spot; easy to lose an anchor. Still, anchors are cheap relative to risking the boat, so delay was a poor choice. For ultra-shoal, it's not usually the first response, but shouldn't be delayed long. It's our heavy lifter.


We met thirty some years ago at the Pioneer "P" Bar in Sitka, AK. Its walls are covered with photos of boats on the rocks. Not exactly a Hall of Fame, but rather a Wall of Infamy.

We finally earned our spot!


  1. Glad all was well in the end. When one loses a boat on a reef, one becomes sensitive to stories like these. It's not just a boat at risk, but a home and a lifestyle.

    1. Hi Sixbears,

      And worse, life and limb are that much closer to the edge!

      I suppose in the case of loss of vessel, it's a "refreshing" chance to start again, unencumbered by previous choices. But I don't wish it on anyone.

      Dave Z

  2. Nice "how-to" if a similar grounding befalls someone. Best takeaway for me is illustrating the importance of timely, calm assessment in formulating a battle plan. Statistically, eventually, these things happen. Thank goodness it was not a thin spire with a square foot of top surface.

    In some ways makes a case for a cruising boat "base" with deployable microcruiser for exploring dicey, edgy areas. A lot different for such a scenario in, say, a Paradox microcruiser with 6" draft. What a picture that would make: a 13 foot microcube perched way up on a stone spire like a offering to King Neptune. With hapless soloist resolutely pounding down the last of the elderberry wine and listening to old Led Zepp on the solar powered boat speakers. GOOD TIMES!!!!!

    1. Hi Roberto,

      Still working on the calm assessment, but yes. 8) No panic, but still missed some obvious points in the rush.

      And yes, very much to be said for an exploration microcruiser that's light and nimble. Probably wouldn't have helped us here (thought we were in the clear), but we do plan to build one for a first look at the outer coast.

      One of these years!

      Dave Z