Posted by: wrmcnutt | October 13, 2009

Should Sea Snark Wakes Boil?

So I took Dad’s Boat out this weekend.  It was one of those early autumn days that let you know in no uncertain terms that summer’s gone, and if you think otherwise, you’re kidding yourself.  It was plenty warm out, but the wind was blowing briskly, and there was a mild bite to it.  More importantly, it was windy.  In fact, there was almost too much wind for my little boat.  The Tennessee River was running just short of whitecaps.  We’ve had a lot of rain lately, so the river was up, and the current was running briskly.  Autumn in the Tennessee River valley is far more breezy than the summer, so the sailing has been looking up.

I put the boat in at the South Knoxville Bridge.  There’s a public boat ramp at the Ned Ray McWherter park.  I had to wrestle with the boat to get the rigging assembled and the sail hoisted without getting concussed by the boom.  A distinct contrast with my summer experiences. It took me back to my childhood again.  That was often how the wind felt when I was an eleven-year-old taking the Snark out on the Goose Creek Reservoir.   I remember the snapping sound of the sail in the breeze as the Snark bobbed impatiently at the dock, waiting for me to cast off.  And the sharp *whump* of the sail filling as we cast off and got under weight.  Of course, that came after doing the b0b-bob-weave, dodging the sail and boom as they whipped back and forth, after being raised but before being gotten under control.  No matter how experienced you get, it still takes two hands to raise the sail and belaying the halyard.  Which doesn’t leave a hand for the sheet to keep the sail under control.

There’s also a moment of chaos in the casting off of a small sailboat.  If it’s good sailing weather, you need a hand on the sheet to keep the boom from swinging out perpendicular to the keel.  You need a hand on the tiller to steer.  You also need a hand on the dock to launch.  And you need a hand on the gunnel to get your butt into the right position in the bottom of the boat.  Oh, and if you’re launching in shallow water, you also need a hand to put the daggerboard into position.  And it all has to happen more or less at the same time.  It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and it usually comes off 1 – 2 – 3.  But you have to pay attention, and the first five second of any voyage tend to be the most busy.  If you’re lucky.

So I wrestled the boat into position, hauled the sail back around the mast, slammed the daggerboard down, cast off, and grabbed the tiller.  And away I went.  I take back everything I’ve said in the past about the Tennessee River and wind.  It was running upstream like a fire-hose, and I jumped away from the dock like a shot.  I’ve not had an experience like that on the water for quite some time.  I made it upstream from the South Knoxville Bridge to the Island Home Airport in record time.  It couldn’t have taken me more than twenty minutes.

It was the first time I sailed on what might be considered a “following sea.”  As I mentioned, the river was just short of white-capping, and perhaps the wind was blowing a little too hard for my little Styrofoam boat.   My surface speed was just a little less than the speed of the waves, so they continued to slip up behind me, lift my stern, and then roll under the boat and charge ahead.  The steering felt mushy.  I presumed that was because, despite the speed I was making downwind, the surface water of the river was being blown upstream slightly faster than me.  This would mean that little, if any water was going past the rudder, so the helm was somewhat unresponsive.  And it changed, depending on the stage of the swell, being “more mushy” as the stern lifted.

The river was a little scary, down at the Snark level.  Remember, Dad’s Boat only has about eight inches of freeboard at the best of times, and my overweight carcass normally drives her two inches deeper.  The stern of Dad’s Boat only sticks out of the water about four inches.  The waves were running before the wind at about fourteen (14) inches from crest to trough.  I had some serious concerns about getting swamped.  If the caps had actually have been breaking, I would have put back into the dock.  I had to keep an  eye on the sun.  Dad’s Boat has no lights, and being on the Tennessee River with the average power boaters around here is a great way to get in an accident.  We’re getting well into mid-Fall now, and the days are getting shorter.  This was also my first voyage since restoring the boat in blue jeans and a jacket.  I will confess to recalling my survival drills on how to get out of jeans and jacket that I got when I was a Boy Scout.  Particularly given the near-chop I was blasting northward in.

On my second tack I considered turning around and running upriver some more.  The flow noise on the hull sounded like water for spaghetti as it gurgled alongside.  And behind me, the river positively boiled. Snark sailors are not accustomed to hearing the river roar.

After I made it to the juncture where the island of Island Hope Airport is located, I reluctantly decided to come about and sail back south.  I had come this far before, and really had had hopes of seeing some of the river I hadn’t seen before.  But the sun was dropping too fast, and if you start your voyage with a downwind run, you have to allow a minimum of three times your run to get back, especially on a narrow body of water like a river or inlet.  The neat, tidy tacking diagrams you see in books and online really don’t apply.  You don’t get to zig-zag neatly.  The pattern often looks like sawteeth, and if you can’t get a “good tack,” the trip back can be as much a FIVE TIMES as long as the trip out. Then, on the third tack –

my rudder exploded.

Blown RudderAll right, I exaggerate.  What happened was that one of the rivets that held the rudder to the gudgeon assembly ripped its way out of the plywood.  Now there was nothing to hold the rudder up and down, and only one rivet holding it on the boat.  So the only thing holding it straight was the strength of my wrist an forearm.  If you’ve seen me swordfight, you’ll know that “mighty thews” does not exactly apply.

If you recall, it had been built in a big hurry, right before the Lilies War, early in the Summer.  It was only supposed to last a week, and and I don’t really have any complaints coming.  Proportionally, it lasted longer than Odyssey or Spirit. Still, the timing was unfortunate.


Yep.  Powerboat.

Deep-V hull?  Check.

Oblivious operator?  Check?

Running like a bat out of hell?  Check?

Too effing busy trying to handle boat coming about just as the two foot wake breaks over the effing eighteen inch waves I’m already dealing with?  Check.

Up to my ass in cold, muddy river water?  Check.

I’m starting to root for the floating debris.

In any case, I made for the nearest dock.  I found a half-rotten floating dock still above the water and got the boat tied up and hauled the stern up out of the water. Water had been let in along the rivet holes.  The wood had delaminated and rotted.  There was no way I was going to be patching this back together with rope and duct tape.

Oh – check out the friendly pit bull tied up tin the back yard. Maybe I’ll just break out the paddle and head down to the nearest city park.  It took twenty minutes of paddling, and then I had to haul the boat out over about two meters of rocks to the grass.  My wife was kind enough to come get me and give me a ride back to the boat ramp where I recovered my chariot and went back to load up the boat.

I’ve missed some good sailing fabricating yet another rudder.  I hope to have it done by this weekend, when I’ll hit the river once again, before the end of the season.

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  1. You need to compare notes with Paul about sliding a boat through waves.

  2. Nothing like getting your posterior swamped in cold water! At least once it’s happened all that’s left is somehow getting said rear end to shore. Not always an easy task.

    • This far, Snarking on the Tennessee River, I’ve managed to avoid getting outright swamped. But 2 inches of water, yeah. Twice so far now. Too bad the snark can’t mount a naval cannon.

  3. […] this does not feel right.  Feels like that time when one of the rivets tore out of the Snark rudder. Quick look over the transom.  Sure enough, the lower pintle (pin) has come out of the gudgeon […]

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