Unfouling Props in Rough Seas Is Full of Peril. I've Seen It Done
Nordhavn Atlantic Crossing Case Has Some Parallels to 'VivieRae's' Plight in the Pacific
Just as this story was about to be released, Loose Cannon learned that the owner had recovered the lost yacht VivieRae II. According to information originating from the Nordhavn Dreamers forum, the Nordhavn 96 is underway again. One prop had been fouled by the stray tender towline, as expected. Unexpectedly, the other prop was found wrapped in a fishing net. The yacht’s tender was sighted by the Australian Coast Guard 230 nautical miles away. A boat was underway to recover her too.
The situation bore similarities to the way VivieRae II was disabled in open ocean north of Australia last week. A big Nordhavn (for her time) lost main propulsion crossing the Atlantic as part of a company-sponsored rally across the Atlantic Ocean.
Both boats had stalled because of lines wrapped around their props.
The VivieRae II story was attracted more than 11,000 readers over the weekend, and some of them (writing on Facebook) blithely suggested that instead of calling the Australian Navy for rescue, a member of the crew should have gone over the side with a sharp knife gripped between his teeth.
The following observations were from the 2003 Nordhavn Atlantic Rally. I was on board the Nordhavn command vessel, Atlantic Escort, during a 1,800-mile leg from Bermuda to the Azores. Escort was sheepherding 17 other vessels across to the Med—mostly Nordhavns.
I was in the pilothouse when the decision was made to put divers in the water, and it was a damn serious moment and just as scary to witness the plan unfold. I can’t compare conditions to those facing the crew of VivieRae II because I wasn’t there, but I would describe the seas in the Atlantic that day as moderately rough.
At the time, I estimated the swells were nine-footers, and they were spaced close enough to make us uncomfortable, despite active stabilizers.
When we arrived at the boat with the prop wrap, a Nordhavn 62 named Autumn Wind, she was chugging along at 4.5 knots using her auxiliary or get-home engine. The Azores were about a half day away.
Even so, rally boss Jim Leishman acceeded to a proposition from two of his guys who were pleading to be allowed to swim over and get beneath 77 tons of heaving, pitching, rolling fiberglass and machinery. The stakes were high, not only for the divers involved, but for the company’s reputation; PAE had undertaken the rally as a marketing demonstration.
Leishman is vice-president of PAE, builder of the Nordhavn line. One of the divers was Leishman’s son James. The other was Justin Zumwalt, grandson of the famed admiral who directed U.S. naval operations during the Vietnam War.
Jim Leishman instructed Autumn Wind’s crew to keep the vessel into the seas, using only the bow-thruster to hold her in place. Our guys donned wetsuits and dove off Escort’s swim platform. There was no levity during the operation.
After the pair was able to ascertain that the culprit was a ½-inch line wrapped several times around the prop, James Leishman timed his move. He waited for a period of relative stability to avoid being whacked on the head by the hull, then dove under the stern with a knife in his hand. He made three cuts before coming back up again.
At this point Jim Leishman asked that Autumn Wind restart her main engine, and, contrary to all conventional wisdom, instructed the crew to give her a blast of reverse. When they shifted into forward gear, the mean vibration that had been caused by the line was gone. Reversing the prop apparently finished the job that James had started with his knife. Autumn Wind had her legs back. We arrived at Horta before the sun had set.
Having witnessed the events of 2003 I can understand why VivieRae’s captain apparently refrained from a similar effort. The tow rope fouling his props was probably more than an inch in diameter, maybe inch-and-a-half. And there were two props fouled, not just one. And there was no escort vessel standing by to assist.
The question I have—and one that was shared by other thoughtful mariners with whom I’ve spoken— was this: Why not spool out some anchor rode, creating an ad-hoc sea anchor, and just hunker down? Sooner or later, seas would subside, and someone could make that dive with a hacksaw.
Stand by. Maybe we’ll get an answer.
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Had they had Spurs line cutters installed they could have most likely kept on going
A tile cutter makes a good fouled prop line removal tool.