That old saying…

Going aground… it’s part of the boating experience. Points East file photo

January/February 2022

By Randy Randall

There’s that old nautical saying, “If you’ve never gone aground in your boat, you’re not a sailor.” Maine ports and rivers are usually deep and well-marked, but estuaries like the Saco River and Biddeford Pool can surprise you – and before you know it, you’re stuck in the mud. A little inattention at the wheel or misreading the chart can end up with a call to SeaTow or, at best, a long wait for high tide to float you off. Friends of mine went down the ICW one winter, plowing their way from Norfolk to Florida. We’ve experienced a few groundings every summer for reasons you probably wouldn’t imagine.

A tuna boat was getting ready to head out for the midnight opening and came alongside the launch ramp to take on more diesel. It took about an hour to back the truck down, run out the hose and top off the tanks. Then another half hour to load the gear and the generator and the groceries, and by the time they got underway, they were stuck in the mud.

This all happened right at closing time. We’d brought down the flag and were just locking up the office when we heard the cry for help. Matt jumped into the skiff, threw them a tow line, and tried mightily to tow them free, but that heavy boat wouldn’t budge. We did twist the bow towards the channel, but the bronze prow was buried. Our little 15hp motor was no match for a tuna boat with full tanks. All we could do was tie lines from the boat to the wharf to keep the hull upright when the tide went out. They said later those lines kept the hull from tipping over.

You can run aground other ways too, even in something as small as a kayak. I love to paddle along the shoreline and peek into the eel ruts and saltwater marshes. Sometimes I’d follow a brook back into the woods for half a mile or more. The salt marshes are wonderful places to see deer, heron, muskrat, eagles, turtles, duck blinds and derelict boats. You feel like an explorer as you paddle slowly through the tall marsh grass, catching sight of something new around each bend.

I was so absorbed in watching the birds and the scenery I was surprised to feel my paddle touch bottom. A quick look over the side showed I was in very shallow water indeed, and that water was receding fast. I knew if I didn’t reach some kind of channel quickly, my little boat would go aground, and I was going to be marooned far from shore out in the middle of a salt marsh. I couldn’t even imagine how you’d be able to walk or slog your way to dry land. It was imperative that I find deeper water – and fast.

I began paddling and shoving the kayak through the reeds, aiming, I thought, for the brook. I was desperate and pushed the boat through the sandbanks and over the high spots where it touched. Where is that brook? I thought. I’m going to be stuck here for six hours in the hot summer sun.

About then, the kayak’s bow parted the thick grass, and the boat slid into a pool of deeper water, floating free. Even then, the ditch was shrinking at an alarming rate. I wrangled the kayak around and frantically pushed, hitched, and paddled out of there, heading for the river. I was never so relieved as when I reached deeper water and saw the open river ahead. Hurrah!

We’ve had other memorable groundings, too, like our docks grounding out as we’ve tried to shove them ashore, but that’s a whole other story. I think the adage is true. You haven’t really been boating unless you’ve also run aground a few times. Just pray it doesn’t happen too often.

Frequent contributor, correspondent and friend, Randy Randall is co-owner of Marston’s Marina in Saco, Maine, and a dreamer and waterman of the first order.