The Day I Kedged Out

A J29 Sailboat draws about 6ft in the water. I have wandered into shallows where BlackJack touched the bottom a couple of times in San Diego bay.

Once was near Ballast Point during a Hot Rum race many years ago. We got stuck in the mud, and as we futzed around trying to float off the bottom, a powerboat came along and pulled us free.

We weren’t the only idiots that day. As soon as we freed ourselves and started sailing, a 1D35 ran aground just a few boat lengths from us.

Another time was when I was sailing by myself in the South Bay, some 15 years ago. Driving a J29 sailboat upwind in flat water is so much fun. I kept going and I went past where I should have turned around. I landed the keel on a soft bottom just outside of the restricted area.

San Diego South Bay is pretty much deserted. No one is ever there. Considering it was right near the restricted area, the Navy Security would come buzzing with a .50 cal machine gun pointed at you today. Back then, though, there were no such procedure in place.

It was supposed to be a short daysail in protected waters, so I didn’t bring my handheld VHF radio. And this was before we all had cell phones.

I couldn’t call anyone for help. I had to free the boat myself.

I tried to motor us out but this didn’t work. I had an inboard engine with a folding prop back then. Reverse power wasn’t very strong. There wasn’t enough power to pull us off. I tried heeling the boat, even tried to hang off the boom awkwardly and unsuccessfully.

As I looked at the bottom from above the boat, I saw that if the boat turned 90 degrees, the boat would point where the bottom is a bit deeper. I could then thrust forward and work myself free.

To accomplish this, I got the anchor out. It’s a light Danforth, the kind that racers like to carry. Standing at the bow, I threw the anchor as far as I could towards the deeper water. Then I pulled on the anchor rope as hard as I could. The anchor worked itself free eventually, so I pulled up the anchor and did it again.

The boat turned just a little every time I did this. So I kept repeating this until my arms went numb. When I couldn’t throw the anchor anymore, I deemed the boat turned far enough and I cranked the motor. To my delight, the boat slid forward without even a lurch.

Mud from the anchor and chain were splattered everywhere and all over myself, but I was pretty proud of having invented a way to free from grounding with an anchor.

I soon found out, as Pardey’s demonstrate expertly in the video, this is called Kedging (or Warping), and it’s been practiced by mariners for the last few hundred years.

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