The Wood's Hole Grounding

Pocasset Harbour, MA September 7, 2006. A clear sunny day with no wind. Stan, Alun and I had decided to sail to Nantucket Island, a distance of 47 miles, whilst the ladies travelled by ferry. We left Stan’s mooring at 0740 and, under power, made directly for Wood’s Hole Passage. This is a narrow rock-strewn route between the south shore of Cape Cod and Nonamesset Island, the northernmost island of the Elizabeth Islands, which the cruising guide and subsequent remarks from other sailors all rate as “treacherous”. We arrived at the western end at 0915, earlier than originally planned, with the tide sluicing through at about 3-4 knots in the narrows, slack water not being until 1130.

The west-to-east route through is in the form of a Y, with the starboard fork of the Y exiting out into Nantucket Sound and the port fork going to the small harbour of Wood’s Hole, site of the famous US Government Marine Research Laboratory.

The channel is well buoyed, the direction of buoyage being from east to west. As the USA use the IALA B system (Red Right Returning), this meant that green buoys should all be left to starboard. I was at the helm, and Stan, with his local knowledge, took charge of the pilotage. All went well until we neared the fork. By that time we were doing at least 9 knots over the ground, and things were happening very fast. We had a chart on deck, but I didn’t have chance to check off the buoys. Unfortunately, I also didn’t have time to double-check Stan’s directions, and I did not realise until too late that we had commenced the turn too early and were passing green buoy “C5” on the wrong (port) side.

We struck the rocks on Middle Ledge with force at about 0925. After the initial impact, the boat slewed to starboard with the tide, and there were two further impacts before the tide carried us off into deep water. After the final impact, the boat was rotated 360 degrees to starboard.

The initial impact was a huge bang, and the boat stopped dead. Alun was catapulted off the cabin roof and into the starboard guardrails. Fortunately he didn’t go overboard as he doesn’t swim well. If he had, we would have had no chance of recovering him in that tide. Stan grazed his arm on the non-slip deck surface, and the wheel stopped me!

Although we were all in a state of shock, I immediately realised why we had grounded. There was no obviously serious damage and the boat was not in any immediate danger of sinking, so we carried on to Nantucket where Stan and I swam down to have a look at the underwater areas. There was a huge impact mark on the lower leading edge of the keel, and significant twisting of the lower trailing edge of the keel – nothing else was obvious at that stage, but we were making water at about 50 litres per hour.

Pantaenius, the insurers, directed us to New England Boatworks at Portsmouth RI for repairs, so Jenny and I gently motored Al Shaheen 80 miles to NEB’s yard over two days. Arriving on a Saturday afternoon, we had to wait until Monday evening to be slipped – all the time extremely conscious of the electric bilge pump running for a few seconds every 3 minutes and hoping that it wouldn’t fail!

Once hauled, the Surveyor confirmed that the damage was limited to the ends of the bottom of the keel. Everyone admired the design skills of Mike Pocock and the fabrication skills of Cunninghams. A week after the accident we had an initial repair estimate of upwards of $10,000, and Pantaenius’ approval to go ahead.  

Frustratingly, it was not until the 10th day ashore that the work began. To Jenny’s amusement, in this high-tech yard of carbon-fibre and composite race boats, two metal-bashers arrived with a blow torch and a very large sledge hammer! However, by a process of cutting, heating and percussive persuasion, they have successfully remodelled our keel! Next came a day of welding and then we were into the hands of the fillers and painters. Unfortunately the rain and the weekend came along, and we are still at least two days from being back in the water.



Al Shaheen will soon be as strong as she always was, and ready soon to sail on south.

While all this has been going on, I have installed a new chart plotter. This, hopefully, will help to avoid a similar accident happening in the future!






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