My Narrowest Escape!
Francis E. Caldwell
During forty years of seafaring, itís natural one would find himself in some bad situations.
Depending upon the vesselís location, a dead engine can ruin your day, or your life, especially if the wind is blowing you towards danger.
A fire on board can make your hair stand on end.
Getting oneís leg entangled in the anchor line while attempting to drop anchor is another no no.
Well, all the above happened to me at the same time, right in front of my house at Mile 5 Ĺ South Tongass, Ketchikan, Alaska.
Our home was located above the highway on a hill. I needed to contact my wife and tell her I wouldn'tít be home that night because I was going to our hunting cabin in Carol Inlet. I had rewired the entire boat, and changed the polarity from negative to positive ground.
My anchor gear was a 40-pound, Danforth anchor, 20 fathoms of 3/8-inch chain and 50 fathoms of 1 1/2-inch rope. The rope was normally coiled beside the anchor winch, a double-spooled seine winch behind the house. To haul anchor, the anchor line went through a side block on the rail, then passed around the wheelhouse to the bow roller. During maintenance, the rope had been moved several times.
The beach in front of our house pitched down steeply and was solid rock. Depths of 20 fathoms were only a stones throw from shore, and 30 fathoms out a little farther.
I pulled in as close as I dared to shore, then yelled and shouted, but no one came out of the house. I remembered the air horn. When I pressed the button to activate it, the engine stopped and smoke started coming out of the foícísíle. I grabbed a fire extinguisher and went down the ladder. A bundle of wire ran from the engine room, through a hole in the engine room bulkhead into the foícísíle, then up to the dash board. The bundle was tightly tied to the copper tubing running from the air motor to the horn on top the house. The bundle of wire was red hot. After I doused it with the fire extinguisher, it cooled down and stopped burning, then began burning again immediately.
Meanwhile, my boat was drifting towards shore in the southeast breeze. I had to drop anchor fast. I pushed the anchor over the bow roller, and the chain followed lickety split. If I allowed the chain and much anchor rope to run out, there would be enough scope that the boat would go aground. I had to stop it off fast! When I got back to the winch, the chain was almost all gone. I dived into the pile of anchor rope and tried to stop it off around the winch. Instead, a half hitch whipped around my right ankle and jerked me tightly against the side block. My ankle stopped the anchor line from running out. The anchor still hadnít struck bottom, and the boat was nearly sideways to the breeze.
Smoke billowed out of the wheelhouse door. I now began a desperate effort to remove my foot from the half hitch that held my boot against the side block. If it had been my left foot, I would have been in better position to reach out ahead of the side block, grab the chain and hopefully obtain enough slack to extract my foot. But it was my right foot. This meant I had to twist painfully and work behind my back. I could reach the chain, but was unable to pull enough slack to do any good.
How long this lasted I do not know. I kept looking towards shore and thinking I, and my 43-foot boat were going to die right here in front of my house. An occasional car whizzed by, but I was below the driverís line of sight. They could certainly see the boat, but no one thought it unusual and stopped to investigate.
I heard the rumble of the anchor dragging along on solid rock. Now a new fear struck. Once the anchor hung up, all the weight of the boat would come on my ankle. It would probably either cut it off, or maim me for life. Right then ďfor lifeĒ didnít seem very relevant.
Next month Iíll tell you how I escaped my fiery prison.