Seamanship (and the Value of a Great Crew)
Leaving dock lines hanked on the lifelines during an ocean passage is a mistake of seamanship. As with so many adverse events, a combination of factors led to ours. Bow lines hanked on the life lines, higher than forecast sea state, longer lines than necessary. These factors combined at the same time we were charging our battery (something we do about 2.5 hours a day). A big wave swept over the bow, the bow line ripped from the life line, went overboard, and the prop, turning under power while charging, sucked the line in.
A fouled prop on a sailboat is not the end of the world but it should never have happened the way it did on this passage. I remember a fleeting thought that went through my mind as we were leaving the beautiful Newport harbor ... “maybe we should take our dock lines off, we won't be needing them for the next six days”.... I didn't act on the thought. This is what sailors mean when they talk about poor seamanship.
Lady Slipper's inventory of tools, backup systems, and safety devices is long, however on this passage, Lady Slipper had onboard what always has been, and always will be, the most important ingredient to seafaring safety - an extraordinary crew.
Tom readily latched his tether onto the jack line and courageously made his way forward in high seas to try and bring the bow line on-board. Tim bravely went back to the bow, cutting the line and bringing it back to the cockpit. He persistently worked failed attempt after failed attempt to free the line from the prop. Ruth provided constant encouragement and an active hand in all efforts. The whole team patiently worked out our options, alternatives and backup plans together.
We sailed conservatively to Bermuda for two days, with a dock line wrapped on our prop. We got near to Bermuda before working our last plan to free the line. We started the engine in neutral pulled the throttle back shortly into reverse idle, while keeping tension on the line. This yielded a foot of line but it was still stuck fast. We put some tension on the line with the winch (just a little). Nothing. We reversed again. Nothing. We talked and decided to take a chance of making the wrap worse by moving the throttle to idle forward. It worked! The line was free and we were elated.
Moments later, checking in with Radio Bermuda, I couldn't have been happier to answer the question "Do you have any mechanical problems or injuries?" "Negative."