Tangled in a fishing net

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Fri 10 Dec 2010 01:11
37:49.400N 76:18.540W - Wicomico River - Thursday night

Well, that was a day of unexpected excitement! We set off from Solomons Island in beautiful sunshine and light wind at 0830. Kali and Bill had enjoyed their time in the local bar last evening as it was an "Open Mic" night so they'd been able to listen to some very talented locals. We all loved Solomons, it had a great relaxed feel to it.

An old but seaworthy ketch left the harbour just before us and we pulled near to them by the end of the entrance channel. We put our sails up almost straight away which meant that we had to carry on past the direct route in order to keep a good angle to the wind. By the time we could gibe, the ketch was ahead and had put their genoa up although, judging from the speed they were now doing, they were using the old iron sail as well.

Bill and I put the twin headsails out and we had a lovely sail for a couple of hours, dead downwind. I couldn't really claim that it was peaceful, though, as the F15 Fighters from the local Naval Warfare Establishment were roaring overhead practicing landing and take-offs. The area near Solomons is heavily militarised. I think it's because it's the entrance to the Potomac river where Washington DC sits so was important to protect during the Nineteenth Century and the bases have been there ever since. Right outside the Potomac we saw an old style steamship just sitting there and it was a while before we realised that it was a wreck, aground and abandoned on a mud bank. It looked very strange - like it had just appeared from the past. It wasn't even at an angle and there were no signs of damage.

Soon after that, we started motoring as the wind fell light but it picked up again after an hour or so. We started sailing again on a run with main and genoa out. I went below to get some weather information leaving Bill on watch. Suddenly, there was a horrible noise of rapid drumbeats on the hull. Kali beat me up into the cockpit but there wasn't really a hurry as we were going nowhere. Trailing out behind us was a row of white fishing floats, marking the position of the net that now held us firmly in place. More net led ahead and to a buoy about 30 meters forward of our bow. Bill had seen the first buoy marking the net but couldn't see the floats in the chop and against the sunlight glinting from the water. He'd altered course to avoid the buoy and sailed right into the net.

We got the sails down and tried pulling the net up forward or backwards but it seemed completely solid. We had a chat and decided to try cutting it behind us so that Saxon Blue could round up into the wind and hopefully unravel herself. Kali did great work with the knife and we soon cut ourselves free of the net astern of us and we did seem to move a bit but we were now anchored securely by the net which had originally led forward of us. Our next plan was to use the tender to unravel the net so we launched that and I got in with Bill. It was really awkward to maneuver the tender around all the floating net without getting it wrapped around the prop and every time we tried to do anything, we ended up with nylon snagged on every projection of the tender.

In the end, we managed to get a rope around the end of the net and tried to unravel it from Saxon Blue but it was now looking like the nylon was tangled around the propellor. We made the net fast so it wouldn't get around the rudder as well and all got together in the cockpit for a conference. We were now drifting downwind, just outside the main shipping channel along which a succession of barges were moving. Kali wanted to get her diving gear on and go over the side for a look and see if she could get us free. I thought it was too dangerous as there was a bit of chop which was making the transom of Saxon Blue move up and down. If she was hit by a downstroke, we would be in an even worse position, not even thinking of the cold.

As it was, we couldn't motor but we could sail and nobody was injured so I thought it was best to keep it like that. We got the genoa out to give us some steerage way so we could keep out of the shipping lane. There was a creek leading off the main body of the Chesapeake a few miles away so we decided to head for that so we could anchor up under sail and then Kali could dive in the calm water - or we could call in the cavalry to do it. We started off sailing well but the entrance to the creek was right on the limit of where we could sail and the wind was falling all the time as it got dark. We swapped the genoa for the jib and did a series of tacks into the channel - anyone watching must have thought we were doing our Yachtmaster exam.

Finally, we beat slowly past the final channel marker, bore away into a lovely sheltered bay, tacked back and dropped the anchor as Saxon Blue lost way into the wind. Right next to us was the ketch from this morning, swinging serenely to her anchor. We tidied up the deck and got below, just as the last rays of sunlight were glinting from the jet trails overhead. I must admit that, by this time, I was completely done in. I just had to sit in the armchair for half and hour with Andrea feeding me morsels of cracker and tapenade.

After a while, I was recovered and warmed up enough to sit down with everyone and watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica before dinner. That's right. Before. I know it's crazy but that's Bill for you - he's full of wild ideas. Then it was time to eat the delicious Spinach and Mushroom pie that Kali made this morning and everyone is now fed and feeling dozy. The forecast is for mild wind tonight and tomorrow so Kali is hoping to dive tomorrow morning and see how things look below the waterline. There is a town nearby with marine services so we've got support there if we need it. I'm sure she'll be able to get the line free and I think she's even looking forward to doing it.

So, what promised to be a gentle day of sailing along the bay turned into a big adventure. It was good to be able to sail into the harbour, though. A good exercise and a good reminder that our engine is an auxilliary. I think we'll all be much more careful about avoiding fishing gear in future although there is often so much of it around that you're forced to trust to luck. I do feel a bit sorry for the guy whose nets we cut up but, hey ho, it wasn't intentional and we didn't have any choice.


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