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An Incident with a Fishing Vessel

Updated: Nov 28, 2018

November 11, 2018

Today is Veterans’ Day. I still read the news each morning, even though each nautical mile we sail seems to take me farther from its emotional impact. Like so many across the country, I am awaiting news of vote recounts, especially in Florida and Georgia. After reading about the Veterans Day commemorations in Europe, I feel chagrined at how little humans have learned about avoiding the conditions that lead to war. More than one political commentator has noted that nationalist movements are undermining belief in the beneficence of liberal democracies worldwide—but who would have thought this would ever be the case in America?

We departed Homer Smith’s, for the “outside”––the channel to the Atlantic Ocean. Winds were blowing 15-20 kts out of the northeast, and if we were lucky, we could keep the sails full, with the wind behind us. We entered the narrow Town Creek Channel, headed southbound for the ocean, just as fishing vessel McKenzie, with both outriggers extended, was making her way north. The fishing vessel took up the entire width of the channel and was motoring directly towards us. The captain didn’t get on his radio to issue a securité call, and we had no room to maneuver. Christoph moved hard to starboard to the very edge of the channel, and I grabbed the VHF radio to hail him. “Fishing vessel McKenzie, this is Sailing Vessel Delfina,” I stated clearly. The captain replied in a lackadaisical voice, “Well, it was windy out there and we’re crabbing.” This was a bewildering and unsatisfactory response. He slowly raised his port outrigger so that we could just get by without hitting it. Suddenly we felt a jolt and heard two loud bangs as our hull or keel hit something below the water. Owen spotted the sign that read “Submerged Pilings.” Mckenzie had essentially forced us out of the channel and onto the pilings. 

Fortunately, we were able to maneuver, and didn’t seem to be taking on any water. We where shaken. We contacted the Coast Guard to report the incident. Fishing vessels are not supposed to fish with outriggers extended in the middle of a channel open to all traffic. In order to assess damage, we will have to either haul out or have a diver examine Delfina below the water line. 

The weather was fair, and winds were very manageable at 17-22 kts out of the NE, which meant the wind would be directly behind us as we traveled southwest––setting our course for  210 degrees, if we went to Masonboro Inlet; and to 250 degrees if we stayed out all night and rounded Cape Fear.  Following seas were 4-5 feet, and the wind was expected to strengthen. We only saw one other boat on the outside all day, a catamaran named Cute Cat, whose captain engaged us in a lengthy discussion about whether he should continue on the ocean under the prevailing conditions. We weren’t sure ourselves, and told him about the option to go in at Masonboro Inlet.

We unfurled the jib, but couldn’t manage to keep the sail full without power, so we motor sailed through the day as we continued to deliberate about whether to take advantage of the clear weather to sail through the night and and come back in at the Cape Fear River, or head into the Masonboro Inlet. We knew we wouldn’t reach Masonboro Inlet before sundown, and Christoph worried about coming after dark at low tide. A text from our experienced friends cinched it—they recommended Masonboro rather than sailing around Cape Fear overnight. Phew. So long as the wind did not oppose the current, we’d be fine. I know Eileen had story about rounding Cape Fear that she would one day relate.

The channel approach was well lit and we anchored easily in 15 feet of water. I had made a spicy beef stew in our Thermos cooker the day before, and it was great to have a hearty meal after a long day on the rolling waves. A Thermos cooker is such an easy way to cook when underway; it is comprised of a cooking pot within a thermal pot. You combine all the ingredients and spices desired; bring the mixture to a boil, and then simmer for 15 minutes. When the cooking pot is placed within the thermal pot, the food continues to cook in the retained heat for several more hours. 

The best part of the day arrived after dinner—a video of Juniper taking her first confident steps alone, crossing her bedroom, stuffed green Froggie in hand, her face lit up as she walked into the waiting arms of her jubilant mother, Claire. 

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