Captain Bumblebee to the rescue

“Xs” mark some of the many ledges in the vicinity of Whaleboat Island and Little Whaleboat Island. NOAA chart

By Ralph B. Pears

My hapless cruising companion of many years, affectionately known as “Captain Bumblebee” because of his fondness for a yellow and black rugby shirt, was someone who was always prepared to lend a helping hand. You could always depend on him to assist with a shipboard repair or supply a spare part, or provide moral support when things got dicey. He could also be relied upon to render assistance to a boat and crew in danger. That said, it was usually Capt. B who was lost in the fog, stranded on a shoal, or unsure of where he was in open water.

His navigational skills were actually quite good. He was one of the first sailors I knew who fully employed computerized navigation. His problem was that – for some inexplicable reason – he always rushed while using the tool at hand. As might well be imagined, this haste frequently resulted in overlooked shoals, ledges and obstructions when he charted his buoy-to-buoy or waypoint-to-waypoint courses. But I digress.

One of Capt. B’s more memorable errands of mercy occurred on a bright summer day. He and his then-girlfriend had sailed to Mere Point, in Brunswick, Maine, to visit friends staying there at a local marina. The couple had sailed over on a Friday afternoon, and had spent a pleasant evening socializing. By noon on Saturday, the Captain was ready to return to his home in the New Meadows River. So off they set to the south and east, planning to skirt Whaleboat Island. From there, they planned to run down Broad Sound before turning east again and passing Eagle Island. After passing the tip of Bailey Island, they intended to angle north.

As Capt. B passed the Goslings and started down the west side of Whaleboat Island, he and his companion saw a small powerboat aground on a ledge just off Little Whaleboat Island. Its crew was waving frantically for assistance. The good Captain immediately headed for the boat to render aid. Arriving on-scene, he learned that the stricken boat was not damaged, and that no one was injured. They were just stuck on the ledge. The tide was falling. The powerboat crew asked Capt. B to attempt to pull the boat from the ledge before the tide dropped much further.

In short order, Capt. B ran a towline over to the powerboat using his inflatable dinghy, and attempted to pull it off. Not surprisingly, the inflatable was too small. Next, Capt. B attached the towline to the mast of his 36-foot sailboat, and rove the line through his bow chocks. After much tugging and pulling from different angles, the ledge finally released its grip and the powerboat was freed.

Once he knew the powerboat was safe and out of danger, Capt. B asked the boat’s operator how he happened to become stranded on the ledge in the first place. The aswer: He’d misread the chart.

As the powerboat drew away, headed for Middle Bay, Capt. B. asked the boat’s skipper if the waters to the south of Little Whaleboat Island were clear and safe. The skipper shouted back in the affirmative: “Yes, there’s plenty of water!”

Capt. B. promptly set off under power, motoring south between Whaleboat and Little Whaleboat Islands. Before he’d gone more than a half-mile, throttle nearly wide open and the boat traveling along at six knots, Capt. B found more ledge. His boat shuddered to a stop. Fortunately, the boat wasn’t stuck, and Capt. B was able to back off. Idling in deeper water, the good captain decided to go below deck to check his charts and inspect for damage. To his surprise, the chart showed that the area he was in was laden with rocks and ledges. His reliance on the recently stranded powerboat captain was ill-advised, to say the least.

More critically, when Capt. B checked the bilge of his boat, he found water coming in at an alarming rate. Fortunately, his bilge pump was able to keep pace with the leakage, so Bumblebee got himself back into the channel between the two islands, and promptly headed for his home anchorage, where there was a well-equipped boatyard with a large Travelift.

Several hours later, as my wife and I were enjoying a late-afternoon libation aboard our own sailboat while swinging on its mooring, Captain B hove into sight steaming at top speed. He promptly secured his boat to his own mooring, which was adjacent to ours, and immediately asked me to come aboard and offer a second opinion regarding the leak. I dutifully rowed over. Captain Bumblebee related the incident of the stranded motorboat, and his ill-advised reliance on its captain. I couldn’t help asking why he’d rely on navigation information from someone he’d just freed from a ledge. Capt. B said he thought the man was a local who knew the waters, and had made a simple mistake.

When we inspected his bilge together, it became apparent that water was getting in around the keel bolts. The local boatyard was already closed. Capt. B had little choice but to stand by and hope his bilge pump could keep up with the incoming water.

Capt. B and his girlfriend joined us for dinner aboard our boat, and spent a nervous evening monitoring their leak. Finally, around midnight at high water, the Captain and his lady friend moved his boat over to the boatyard and tied her up to the bulkhead. They then spent an anxious night aboard. When she was finally hauled out, it became evident that the boat had struck the ledge with such force that its ballast weight had been pushed aft by nearly an inch. The boat was duly repaired and returned to good usage, but I don’t recall Capt. B ever being quite so willing or quick to render aid to a vessel that had run aground. He had learned to stand off and carefully assess a situation before rushing into uncertain waters.

Ralph Buchanan Pears and his wife Kathryn cruise aboard Blessed, a restored 1979 Cheoy Lee Clipper 36 ketch, from their homeport of Sebasco Estates, Maine. Unfortunately, this might be the last installment in the Captain Bumblebee series.