A Camden boat grounding dissected, can crowdsourcing help?

Written by Ben Ellison on Aug 18, 2016 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

aground_in_Camden_mooring_field_blurred_cPanbo.jpgThe identities of the sailing motor yacht and its operators are irrelevant. But how did they go hard aground in a highly used harbor during a clear summer day? Was it just a dumb mistake or was a lack of chart detail partially to blame? Should the USCG or the town of Camden better mark the danger? Did marine electronics somehow contribute to what was at least an embarrassing incident? Can crowdsourced data help? I’m not sure about the answers but I have assembled a lot of information for discussion…

Charles_Addams_cartoon_Sad_Movie_published_in_the_New_Yorker_1946.jpgBut first, should I even be writing about a fellow skipper’s embarrassing and possibly costly mistake? I’ll lay some blame on my parent’s beloved collection of Charles Addams cartoon books. This one — called “Sailing SuperYachts” and well documented here — has been stuck in my head for at least 60 years, and I sometimes remember Uncle Fester’s contrarian glee when I’m pleased to test radars and such in fog and rain. And while I did not actually enjoy being first on the scene of the grounding, it is way too rich in interesting detail and possible lessons to leave undocumented.

aground_in_Camden_charted_1b_cPanbo.jpgLet’s start with the fact that the big sloop grounded right on the clearly charted 3-foot area that’s also guarded by green USCG navigation buoy C “7”, seen above on the 1:20,000 scale NOAA harbor chart available for this area (though little of the Maine coast is charted in such detail). But please don’t make presumptions quite yet.

By the way, note that NOAA recently removed the partially misplaced and confusing “private aids” that Camden uses to mark the channel between the mooring fields, which I gently complained about in 2010. Note, too, how the somewhat random set of Gizmo tracks seen on my office copy of Coastal Sailing in Phuket Explorer pretty well defines that channel and also indicates that I, like most local boaters, rarely mess around in that shoalish area between C7, Curtis Island, and Dillingham Point.

aground_in_Camden_charted_2_cPanbo.jpgBut here’s last Friday’s Gizmo track, with Coastal Explorer now displaying the NOAA ENC vector chart — C7 and the 3-foot area still quite visible — and also the state of the tide when I first saw the grounding. But at least half that track was made before the grounding. As odd as it sounds, I was already specifically trying to investigate the 3-foot area because a Camden Select Board member recently witnessed a lesser grounding there and asked the Harbor Committee to put a cautionary marker on the spot. The committee wasn’t particularly enthused — “there’s a reason for Can 7” being the general sentiment — but for me it was also a good opportunity to test several forms of sonar recording and sharing. In hindsight the sonar did reveal more of a problem than I’d realized, but frankly I didn’t really notice it until…

aground_in_Camden_mooring_field_from_south_cPanbo.jpg…I was surprised to see the sloop hung up hard — bow thruster fully emerged, in fact — right where I’d been surveying about an hour and half earlier. Those poor sailors identified the reported trouble spot better in real time than I did with all of Gizmo’s sonar gear.

To be clear, this view is northward with Can #7 seen just right of the grounded boat’s bow (and taken just after I’d made another track through the little-used Dillingham/Curtis passage). At left is the crew kedging an anchor, which they then used in an attempt to twist the stern southward and motor in reverse off the obstruction. That did not work at all, and frankly was not a good idea given that the tide still had a few more inches to fall and there were barnacle covered rocks visible around and beneath the hull. But there’s more to that story, too.

aground_in_Camden_AIS_view_cPanbo.jpgThanks to Marine Traffic and the volunteer AIS listening stations which make it work (more needed), we can see that before the grounding these sailors had been underway for over 24 hours. They left Rhode Island just after dawn, local time, on Thursday and crossed the Gulf of Maine during the night. They may well have encountered thunder storms and/or fog, and the trip would have been tiring even if they didn’t. Using the larger image above, you can almost hear what happened next. They were likely talking by VHF or cell phone to the yacht club or marina as they entered Camden Harbor and just a little way into the channel they got assigned a mooring on the north side of Curtis Island. So, they cut through the mooring field until — bang, grind, done! — their keel found that shallow rocky patch and they eventually realized that they had to sit there for several hours before getting to rest, eat well, and enjoy this beautiful town. I did actually hear some of the cursing.

I don’t know about you, but it took me a while to realize that my nautical skills and judgment are substantially diminished after a night or more underway. And, by the way, I did motor over and try to comfort the grounded sailors about how soon the tide was going to change. The AIS history helps to better understand their mood (and I swear I was not grinning like Uncle Fester ;-).

It happens that I was also testing a Garmin Virb XE camera mounted at the masthead along with the recently discussed gWind sensor that is also wirelessly integrating with Gizmo’s just installed GPSmap 7612. The results are pretty sensational and will get detailed coverage soon, but the story told here is how innocent it looked to drive through the mooring field to that cursed spot. Note, for instance, how the bottom appears quite flat with the depth gradually increasing as I motored toward the grounded boat (though it would be nice if Garmin’s Virb Edit team turned the depth graph right side up).

aground_in_Camden_mooring_field_Navico_GoFree_Insight_Genesis_view_cPanbo.jpgNavico GoFree Insight Genesis provides the best sonar information about the grounding spot that I’ve collected and viewed so far. Please click the collage above bigger and look for the little orange track dot on the left. At that moment I was doing a clockwise loop around the grounded sloop quite close to its port side and looking down at some scary rocks, as suggested by the DownView sonar window that goes with that track point. The righthand screen shows an even steeper and pointier situation that I’d imaged earlier in the day and higher on the tide (but didn’t notice at the time). Also, included in the collage is the tide offset information for the processed sonar map, and it looks reassuringly accurate, though I suspect that one or more of those rocks may be less than 3-feet deep at Mean Lower Low Wide (or MLLW, the chart depth datum). And remember NOAA’s recently discussed Zones of Confidence; this area was last surveyed during the period 1940 to 1969 and thus NOAA’s accuracy confidence is no doubt low.

At any rate, this sort of hard-edged irregularity is not what you see on sonar around most of this harbor and not what you might expect from that large area evenly charted at 3 feet, but it is potentially much more damaging to a boat than a soft flat bottom. Perhaps NOAA should add some “+” marks indicating submerged rocks, but would that really help? I’m not even sure that the one-foot contour lines guesstimated by Insight Genesis from my sonar log describe the bottom precisely; I suspect that it’s more like a field of bumps. But I’m certainly glad that Navico’s data collection technique includes the raw sonar data (though the large files also make it the most cumbersome system to use in my experience, and I still can’t see all the data I’m uploading, like StructureScan and ForwardScan.)

aground_in_Camden_mooring_field_Garmin_Quick_Contours_view_cPanbo.jpgHere’s what Garmin Quickdraw Contours look like now that users can also share them online. I was disappointed that the Quickdraw specific points of interest that you can add on an MFD don’t seem to travel with the community files (yet), and I also doubt that those soundings are tide corrected, but the collect and share system is young and mostly aimed at fresh water, and it’s pretty easy to use even now.

aground_in_Camden_mooring_field_Navionics_SonarChart_live_view_cPanbo.jpgMeanwhile, the trailblazer of crowdsourced sonar data, Navionics, also has a Community Edits feature that I used to mark the trouble spot as rocky area that may be shallower than charted. That might really help as many boaters use the Navionics apps and Community Edits can also be seen on many chartplotters (compatibility guides here). But I did not use the SonarChart Live data above to locate the spot because it seems to be a little askew, and also because I came across a confidence-shaking 2-foot spot on the current processed SonarCharts for the entrance to Camden Inner Harbor. That spot would be stacked up with yachts if the SonarChart was anywhere near true, and I may have contributed to that bogus crowdsourcing. Doh! (And nonetheless I hope to try the Raymarine LightHouse 17 version of SonarCharts Live soon.)

I think that crowdsourced depth data is an interesting work in process, especially for tidal areas and especially for this sort of “watch out” detail. But it is helping me to document the issue, crowdshared points of interest like Community Edits do work to some degree, and I’ve already added an Active Captain hazzard mark which will be seen by many cruisers new to the harbor. I was a little surprised at the FaceBook effect, however. I posted that masthead video on my personal timeline yesterday and a number of local boaters have already reported bumping on that little rock patch, which now looks like it’s safely among deep-draft moored boats. Maybe the momentum builds for the town to mark it with a pole or isolated danger buoy?

Camden_in_1864_nautical_chart_cPanbo.jpgSome will say that the chart and C7 buoy mark the danger well enough, and certainly a whole lot of boats did not go aground while that nav aid has apparently been on the job since at least 1886. I wish I could find a higher resolution version of the old chart, but even the (click big) version above suggests that the cartographers charted some sort of ledge where now it just shows a 3-foot plain. And you can definitely see the incredible contour, road, building, and forest detail they were able to map without any of our technology. Are we really making progress?

While searching for high res antique charts I did come across a wonderful 1916 book called Glimpses of Camden (fully viewable, downloadable and in the public domain). Yes, there were few boats moored in the Outer Harbor then, but much of natural beauty and even the summer style of a century ago is still very much on view around here, and that’s why it’s worth even a long passage and/or an occasional boating surprise.

Club_House_on_Mt_Battie_1916_aPanbo.jpg

 

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RAINMAKER FOR SALE: Used Gunboat 55 On the Block

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No kidding! Though she is in rough condition. This is Gunboat 55 hull number one, which was dismasted and abandoned by its owner and crew 200 miles off Cape Hatteras in January 2015. She was spotted and recovered off Bermuda this past March. Now she’s on the hard and is being auctioned off, with the starting bid pegged at $15K. Bids must be received by September 6.

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The bridgedeck, with a mere stub of a wheel hub left on the steering pedestal. The teak decking doesn’t look half bad!

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An engine, I’m guessing

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Starboard transom. You can clearly see here how much of the hull was submerged

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Interior living space. I assume the structure on the right with missing drawers is a double berth frame. Not sure what that is lying across it

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Another interior shot, looking into some sort of machinery space

 

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Daily thoughts of a sailing gypsy

Nav desk

I was surprised, flattered even, when I heard from some of you that you’ve missed my appearances here. And yes, it has been unprecedented, my neglect of WaveTrain of late, but I do have an excuse. I have been pouring my wordsmithing energy into finishing a book I’ve been working on, which should be out in the world sometime next spring. Loyal readers here can do me a YUGE favor and buy the damn thing when it appears (don’t worry I’ll tip you off when it’s time). Meanwhile, if you haven’t already, you really should buy my first book.

It’s summer, too, so I have been messing around a lot on the boat, which also means working on the book on the boat (see image up top). There have been two outings I’ve failed to document here, both of which have involved sailing with Prospective Buyers. (The boat is for sale, remember???)

PB 1 is an old friend, Tim, who just happens to be on the hunt for a bigger boat. One “that can go places,” as he puts it, but not necessarily an aluminum one. We had a very light-air test-sail moving the boat between Potts Harbor and Great Chebeague Island, where we hobnobbed with our mutual friend, Brian Harris of Maine Yacht Center fame, who was hanging there with his family.

I failed to take a photo of Tim on the boat, but Tim did take a photo of the A-sail we were flying.

A-sail flying

This asymmetric spinnaker is a “legacy” sail that came with the boat. It doesn’t get used much. All the rest of the sail inventory has been replaced in the last few years

PB 2 is a new friend, Nico, who was sent to me by an old broker buddy, John Proctor of Lawson Yachts, who heard Lunacy was available through my cousin-in-law (long story that). Nico and his wife Amy are looking for an aluminum boat (smart people!), but were hoping to find one with a centerboard or lifting keel, so Lunacy might not be the boat for them.

Nico steering

Nico steering Lunacy during our test-sail last Monday, which was from Cliff Island into Portland Harbor. The wind was semi-strong at times, so we just used the working headsails. We’re hoping to organize another sail with Amy aboard soon

But I know what you really want to hear about is the poop on the foredeck, provocatively mentioned in that subtitle up there. You might be wondering: has Baxter perfected the art of passing waste onboard? Without having to endure the indignity of an ocean passage?

Well, sort of.

Poop mat

What prompted Baxter’s fecal emergency were some really expensive high-end dog treats I bought for him in Portland. I gave him just two of these things over the course of half a day on the boat, and for the following three days he had bad diarrhea. He never did use the doormat I bought him and have been religiously spraying with magic marking potion, but he did twice use the foredeck forward of the mat, where it was super-easy to blast everything overboard with the washdown hose. And once during the night, when he was trapped inside by the screen I put up over the companionway, he used the head and did his business on the teak grate in there, right over the shower sump, which was absolutely the best choice he could have made under the circumstances.

So I’m pretty pleased with the little guy.

I’ve come to the conclusion he will never really enjoy living on the boat, though he does tolerate it. He does like getting to go ashore in new interesting locations. The big highlight during his past week aboard was getting to chase wild turkeys across an open pasture on Cliff Island.

Foredeck rest

Mr. B lounging on the foredeck while under sail. No turkeys in sight

Meinens

Another highlight! Baxter and his pal Percy (in the foreground) supervise mayhem conducted by the Meinen family during a visit to Popham Beach. That’s Jack, who is now much larger than I remember, sitting on top of his sister Sophie and his dad Kurt

Adix

A special treat! We got to sail past the famous three-masted schooner Adix while exiting Portland Harbor

Stars

Baxter with stars all around. My new Panasonic camera does this sparkly thing when the light is super-bright, and it’s driving me crazy! Wish I knew how to make it stop

Tower

Baxter peers out the old observation tower at Fort Baldwin on top of the big hill behind Popham Beach. Seeing stars again!

Screecher hoist

Baxter relaxes before we hoist the screecher

Broad reach

The screecher flying on a broad reach as we slice our way up Broad Sound

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Tropical island sailing

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Turquoise water, white sand, the stretch of a tropical island…contrast of our dinghy and a local outrigger. We are so tremendously privileged in our experiences. But our privilege extends far beyond this: most importantly, our privileged lives stem from the place in the world we were just plain lucky to have been born in. A place with a wealth of opportunities and support. Not always easy, but nearly endless possibilities.

My last post, about how cruising wrecks lives, speaks plain truths of uncomfortable differences in the way we look at our culture now, through the lens of the last eight years. It shouldn’t be interpreted as it a rejection of our home. As more than one commenter (friends, thank you!) pointed out – you can be perfectly happy living differently. We don’t have to “go back”…as if we could! But we’re all impacted by our experiences in life, we can use that to make choices or changes.

Sunfish and a sunset sail, Mystic River

But it also shouldn’t minimize how our experiences have pushed to the fore of our minds how incredibly well-off “we” (anyone in the developed world) are. The consumption I reacted against is just one symptom. More importantly, we have dramatic control over our individual destinies compared to people in so much of the world. There’s enough to eat, and education, and medical care. We are rich enough not to worry about meeting base needs and instead contemplate luxuries like progress toward self-actualization, or benefits of the newest iPhone.

Last night I received an email from a boat that had recently arrived in the Ninigo atoll, Papua New Guinea. Longer term readers know that Ninigo is one of those very special places that’s remain close to our hearts—we’ll never forget our stay there in 2012. As usual, it was because of the people who touched our lives.

Why yes, that IS a tree kangaroo on Siobhan's head

We only get news from the friends we made on Ninigo’s Mal island when a cruising boat stops in, because they have no communication to the outside world—just a radio to contact another island. Visiting cruisers like Carina’s crew offer a golden opportunity to trade updates. This boat in particular contacted us before they left from Palau for Ninigo, so we were able to ship a small care package, photos, and letters via the good ol’ USPS.

But the news wasn’t good: my friend Mollina, who I call sister, hasn’t recovered from her baby’s birth earlier this year. She’s struggling badly enough that she can’t work in the vegetable garden that feeds her family. She can’t hold her children for long.

Mollina and her firstborn, Finn, madonna and child

Mal looks like an island paradise, and in many ways it is, but it is a difficult life that shouldn’t be romanticized. Let me put it into a bit of perspective. On Mal, there aren’t any roads; just some footpaths. There’s no electricity. There’s no fresh water piped in, and no sewage piped out. There are no grocery stores or hardware stores or regular supply ships. People get by with what they forage or build. There are very few ways to earn currency.

This family just sailed outrigger back from their vegetable garden, an overnight trip in open ocean

This family just sailed outrigger back from their vegetable garden, an overnight trip in open ocean

Mollina’s illness is much more than a setback or an inconvenience. Health care is very limited: Mollina’s husband has a deep cut on his arm, thanks to chasing a wild pig from their garden with a spear, and it’s not healing well because the local health ‘clinic’ doesn’t have enough clean bandages. At least that’s an obvious problem. I can’t tell from Mollina’s message what’s afflicting her. It’s impossible to know whether she could use the anti-fungals or antibiotics on Carina, or if what she needs is actually surgical. Oh, and surgery, or access to a trained medical professional? The nearest hospital is a two-day ride in an open boat, and it’s probably not a place that you or I would want anyone we love to go for medical treatment. There is a reason we met very few people with gray hair on Ninigo.

My big indulgence during our last weeks in Mystic is attending sessions at a nearby yoga studio. I felt the absurdity of my privilege there this morning, lying on a high-end all natural rubber mat, in a purpose-heated room that mimics Ninigo’s near-equatorial position, worrying about Mollina. It felt obscene. It felt so f*cking unfair. Tears running down my cheeks remain private, indistinguishable from the sweat dripping down my face. I have no right to be so worried about whatever the h3$% is keeping my shoulder from being as mobile lately, about whatever little problems exist in my world, because they really aren’t problems at all in the scheme of things. We have ALL THE POSSIBILITIES. We have so many lifelines to call on in a time of need.

The lovely Caper...Cuttyhunk, MA

We may find some aspects of the abundance here at home to be distasteful, or uncomfortable, or whatever it is. But ultimately, cruising brings a new appreciation for how spectacularly lucky “we” are: we have so many options. We should just hope to avoid the sickness of entitlement.

Meanwhile, I asked friends for help with Mollina’s illness, and friends showed up in spades: people offering what they have, whether it is knowledge or connections or funds. With guidance, I have a set of specific questions about symptoms that hopefully can get to a likely diagnosis. In those moments, our world shrinks in the most beautiful ways: friends from Boston, Seattle, New Zealand, Australia and more, connecting through the ionosphere in my text message to a sailing boat anchored in Ninigo. And I wait, and hope, that there will be a feasible path to help her heal.

Sunset watercolors

Classic Yachting in the Atlantic Ocean

 
I did some classic yachting over the weekend, you know the kind where sailors show up in bowties for the race and sip champagne and feast on finger sandwiches once the action is over. And classic it was. I was on a friend’s Alden Challenger, a lovely 38 foot yawl with plenty varnish and a set of brand new Great Circle Sails (yes I had to get that plug in there). I enjoyed the sailing even if the race committee were morons and set impossibly long courses with no way to shorten them once the wind died. But other than the fine sailing there was one thing that I took away from the weekend. I am damn glad that there have been some improvements in sailboats over the last few decades.
 
Let’s start with winches. We had single-speed hand-crank winches with what looked to me to be insanely short winch handles. It took some serious arm work to get the sail in after each tack and I could not help but think how much more pleasant the day would have been with a modern two or three speed winch. Then there was the problem of tacking through 110 degrees. The lovely old Alden had a full keel with  attached rudder that made each tack a slow arc and long ‘build to speed’ but the thing that was most difficult were the tacking angles. It was not much use to tack on each wind shift; instead it was more like banging the corners to avoid having to tack at all or get depressed when you saw the angle of the next tack. Yup those fin keels and spade rudders sure were a nifty invention.
 
The sails were Dacron and the sheets old polyester. I am used to sailing with membrane sails and dyneema sheets and was never too concerned when a puff hit. I knew that the sails were going to stay as they were, but I had forgotten just how much Dacron sails and old polyester sheets stretch. Each time a puff hit the leech of the sail, which had been up snug against the spreader, was suddenly a foot away and the only way to remedy this was with that aforementioned one speed winch and a lot of elbow grease.
 
Our boat was fiberglass but still heavy and it was painful to see how long it took to get the boat back up to speed after each maneuver. It was a slow build with the trimmers making the final adjustments as the apparent wind increased. How I missed one of those light, carbon hulls that barely dropped a knot each time we tacked. There was, however, one advantage to the extra weight. When we needed to shoot the windward mark against the tide the boat kept its momentum just long enough for us to squeak around.
 
Changes in sailing come incrementally, and year to year we hardly notice the difference, but when you get to sail on a boat that is older than yourself you can really see what the old timers went through. I guess that was back in the days when men were men and so were the women.
 

 

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