Sunday, January 11, 2009

Careening Part 1 - Towboat or Seatow?

When you run aground and cannot extricate yourself you need a tow.

That is why boaters down the ICW all have towing insurance. There are two companies, Towboat US and Seatow. Meredith has used Towboat.

Until now.

One nice thing about Towboat is that you can call them on the telephone and do not need to announce your incompetence at running aground to the entire boating population over VHF radio.

This may be the only advantage to Towboat.

Having run aground at the Pablo River mouth we called Towboat to assist. The local Towboat base informed us all their boats were on a search for a missing vessel but that they would divert one to assist us. We urged they hurry as tide was still rising a bit and we thought a tow at high tide was a good idea.

When the Towboat arrived, 30 minutes after high tide had passed, the operator was driving a small Bayliner. Bayliners are not towing vessels. They are barely fit to be called boats.

The operator was almost as fit for towing duty as was the Bayliner. Sprouting a dirty face, obviously a failed attempt at growing a beard, he appeared to be 20 years old. Maybe.

The first thing out of his mouth was "I don't know much about towing sailboats."

The tide has turned. The kid in the Bayliner tries pulling Meredith forward. Nothing happened.

A couple of passing boats offer to help suggesting we "call someone, maybe a towing service".

We inform them that "Towboat is here" pointing to the unmarked Bayliner piloted by the highschool dropout. Shaking their heads in disbelief and sympathy the passersby mutter "You have got to be kidding".

Efforts to tow are not working. The kid on the Bayliner is towing with one hand while using the other to get telephone instructions from his base office.

He reaffirms that he knows nothing about towing sailboats. We begin to suspect his lack of knowledge extends even deeper.

Finally Bob calls the Towboat base and suggests that current efforts are not working. He informs the base that the tide has turned. The increasing stridency in Bob's voice is intended to match the increasing urgency of the plight of Meredith. Towboat base informs Bob that high tide is not for another hour and a half. Bob points out that high tide has already passed and they are currently at slack water.

Bob is really disconcerted because the Towboat base is only 1 mile from where he is grounded. Bob figures Towboat knows when High Tide occurs and they are just dicking him around. Bob is wrong. Towboat base is just clueless.

Towboat promises a second boat before the tide is reduced by any significant amount.

The kid in the Bayliner announces he has to stop towing because he is stuck. As he says "And I only draw 3 feet".

The Bayliner is stuck immediately ahead of Meredith.

Bob wonders aloud how the kid in the Bayliner can possibly be aground if he only draws 3 feet. The answer is chilling. "There is only 3 feet of water across the whole front of your boat" announces the kid.

It occurs to Bob to ask why the kid in the Bayliner was trying to pull Meredith into 3 feet of water when she draws 5 feet. It also occurs to Bob that this query exceeds the ability of the kid to answer so he holds his tongue.

The little twerp has been pulling Meredith INTO THE MUD. Good job kid. Why don't you apply for a job at McDonalds. Not as a burger flipper though, it's too dangerous for you.

About the time the second boat is due to arrive to help, hopefully with an operator who has actually towed a boat before, the VHF erupts. A boat stuck at Fernandina, just north of us, is calling Towboat for a tow. (apparently they do not know about the cool telephone communications).

Towboat Base promises a towboat to this second boat "right away".

Almost instantly our cell phone rings.

It is "Randy" from Towboat base who regrets to inform us that his second towing vessel cannot get to us. According to Randy this is because the starting motor for the second boat "blew up" when the second operator tried to start it.

Bob asks if this is the same boat that is now speeding unimpeded to Fernandina to help the guy on the radio.

Randy's response: "Oh, you heard that radio call did you?".

Well, yes Randy we did hear that. What else did we have to do while your unshaven idiot teenage son pissed away his afternoon playing in the mud in his Bayliner.

Bob suggested to Randy that his next call would be to the central Towboat dispatch number to let the guys at Geico, who run Towboat, know why he was buying a Seatow membership.

Randy promised to be at Meredith at the next high tide with 2 vessels. High tide, Randy informed everyone. was at 5:00 a.m. the next morning.

Bob sort of lost it at this point.

Bob's tide charts predicted high tide was at 3:30 a.m. Bob noted that Randy had missed high tide at Isle of Palms by an hour and a half that afternoon. Isle of Palms, Bob pointed out rather testily, was where the damn Towboat Base kept their damn boats.

Randy promised to be at Meredith with 2 towing vessels equipped for towing at 3:00 a.m.

The phone call was terminated.

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