Two weeks ago Rhonda and I invited boat guests Shirley and Matt, plus Marco Island friends Marilyn and Jean, for a late afternoon cruise out the Marco River and into the Gulf of Mexico to enjoy the sunset. It was a warm sunny day and the sunset was spectacular! No green flash, but beautiful!
When we fast-idled out into the Gulf, we were on the port/left side of the channel, near the red aids to navigation (ATONs). I noticed that the water depth on the depth sounder was less than the e-chart water depth. So on the way back into the channel, it seemed like a good choice to stay on the other side, near the green ATONs.
NOT a good choice at all. R&R has a 4 foot draft. The depth sounder showed 5 feet, then almost immediately 2 feet, then 1.5 feet! Help!! I pulled back to neutral and confirmed that though we were not aground, the props were churning sand. I gently moved the gear-shift levers from neutral to forward, then back to neutral. Stalled the engines, no movement. A few more times and slowly we moved into deeper water.
We had found a shoal (“skinny water”) on the green side of the channel. In an after-action talk with guys on the dock, one said “Ya gotta hug the reds in that channel” and another said “Kiss the reds.” We obviously had far too little PDA with the red ATONs.
I also had not checked the Tides app to learn that our 4-6 PM cruise was near the afternoon low tide.
On the way back to the marina, we felt vibration on the starboard side of the boat. I drove back to our marina slip mainly on the port engine, correcting for direction with the helm.
The next morning Steve and Brian, divers who serve our marina, hooked up to their Hookas, jumped in, removed the starboard propellor, and hauled it up on the dock. One of its four blades was folded over like a dog’s ear!
Fortunately, (1) Marco Island has a good local machine shop that specializes in propeller repairs and high-speed balancing, and (2) we had no plans to cruise anywhere for a while. So, two weeks later, the starboat prop is repaired, and both props are cleaned, balanced, coated with anti-fouling paint, and reinstalled.
A couple more lessons learned – BEFORE leaving the dock, check the tides and check with the locals about shoals and other hazards.