Monday, April 15, 2013

Tow, tow, tow your boat

We ran into a sailboat here in Lake Sylvia that had gotten itself into a bit of a pickle. The man, his pregnant wife, 2-year old son, and infant had been towed to Lake Sylvia because their engine wasn't working and their dinghy had been stolen (the one in the picture was donated to them). Apparently there was no money for a marina or engine work.  The sailboat was a new endeavor: an escape from a previous life and meant to be a fresh start.  The only problem was that they had virtually no sailing experience.

They were trying to get up to a relative's home north of here but couldn't get out of Lake Sylvia into the intracoastal. The tow company wouldn't tow them out into the ocean where they could sail, but would only tow them to someplace safe where they could get their engine fixed. For good reasons.  So they had been sitting on their boat for a week waiting for...well, we're not sure, but it ended up being us I guess.

Initially, they flagged us down and asked us to pick up some formula for the baby.  Eventually we agreed to help tow them out of Lake Sylvia with our dinghy. From there, the boat planned to sail its way through the ICW to the ocean and sail to where they needed to go. I know, the whole thing (including our involvement) seemed like a bad idea to us too but we felt bad for the kids ('Won't somebody think of the children!' was exclaimed plaintively in our mind's ear). 

Along the way, another boat (thanks Joe!) got roped into spending considerable time trying to charge the boat's batteries, and help out with the fuel system--all to no avail. They also gave the boat some additional water because they had run out. When we picked up some additional supplies for them, we were paid back in $8 worth of nickels in rolls. We're still scratching our heads over that one.

So ultimately Matt rafted our dinghy onto their sailboat and towed it into the ICW. After untying, the guy managed to get about 500 yards down the ICW before having issues.  He got the boat into irons after tacking, narrowly missed wrapping the boat around some channel markers and promptly got stuck on a sandbar. Matt and the another dinghy pushed him off the sandbar. He tried to tack again and got stuck again.

After getting him free for a second time, it was decided that the best option was for the two dingys to push him from behind so that he wouldn't have to worry about tacking (which would have been very interesting, especially through the narrow channel for the 17th street bridge).   So Matt and the other dinghy pushed the boat all the way down the channel and out into the ocean--but not before getting stopped by the police boat for inadvertently straying to close too the cruise boats (or entering the  "Federal Security Zone" as he called it).   After hearing the story of the dead engine, the kids onboard, and the rest of the cluster, the Marshall let them go, figuring 1) no one could make that up and 2) the quicker this boat gets out of my jurisdiction, the better. Once in the open ocean, the sailboat was able to maneuver with less chance of hitting anything and was sent off on its way.

After about forty minutes, we got a call from the sailboat on the VHF saying that they were doing 5-6 knots and that everything was fine. Hopefully they get home safely and we don't hear about them in the news.


  1. That's some story! Thanks for sharing (this and all the other stuff)


  2. Couldn't stop shaking my head in disbelief!! But like the Marshall figured, you couldn't make up a story like that.

  3. Jennifer - This is Ruth Jajko. Your child welfare buddies in Suite 187 are panicked about the kids in this story...who knew that in addition to home visits, our ilk might need to make sailboat visits?

    1. Hi Ruth! You mean you're worried about our kids, right? Just kidding. I know what you mean. It might seem hard to believe, but it actually sounded like the boat was a much healthier environment than the one this couple was leaving behind. Of course, I'm not good at those judgment calls. Another reason I could never do the great work that the caseworkers do...


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