9 Oct

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I just read Sailing Alone Around the World, by Captain Joshua Slocum, for about the tenth time. On this reading I noted that Captain Slocum careened several times on his voyage, usually to paint the bottom. This was long before travel lifts, but being a budget cruiser, Captain Slocum wouldn’t have paid for one anyway. He just found a suitable beach with an adequate tidal range and let nature do the work.

Why don’t we careen anymore?

If we careened on our local American swimming beach to slap on a few coats of Micron we’d undoubtedly end up in handcuffs, but in much of the world nobody cares. Also, careening might not allow enough drying time for modern (and expensive) bottom paints, but there are lots of other tasks below the waterline. I’ve known two people who’ve had to haul out to get the adjustments right on folding propellers. I guess they thought the job too complicated to do underwater, so they bit the bullet. In both cases, after a trial run, the adjustment still wasn’t right, so out a second time at something like $500 a pop. Ouch.

Some modern designs with swing keels or spade rudders couldn’t careen without damage, but most sailboats, even with fin keels, should be able to careen without incident. If not, this poses some pointed questions about how the boat might handle a grounding or unintended careening, of which I’ve had many.

The one time I intended to careen was in Richard’s Bay, South Africa. I’d noticed while diving that there didn’t seem to be anything holding on the rudder shoe. It wasn’t falling off, but it looked like someone attached it with stainless screws, and the stainless did what it does when deprived of oxygen for years on end.

My buddy Ian arrived from California with some stout bronze screws, the Richard’s Bay harbormaster said he didn’t mind, and the tidal range was about eight feet, so I plowed Condesa into the beach, stern first:
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Once the tide was all the way out things started to go wrong. We powered our electric drill with ship’s batteries through a small, plug-in inverter, which didn’t give enough oomph to go through a inch of bronze. To make matters worse, to get the drill at the right angle we had to dig a hole under the rudder, and this hole quickly filled with water. Ian would bail out the hole as fast as he could with a bucket, then I’d jump in with our underpowered drill until the hole filled again, no more than ten or twenty seconds of drilling before we had to bail again:
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Somehow we got a few screws in with adequate sealant, while working up a great sweat in the African summer, and the rudder has stayed on for the last ten years:
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T’would have been easier in a boatyard, but not $500 easier.
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This article was syndicated from The Adventures of the Vessel Condesa


  1. Clark Beek

    You can see how my boat balances, also with a cutaway forefoot on a full keel…might lend itself to doing bottom paint one side at a time. The best would be to tie alongside a pier, I guess. I’d want to be very sure about any kind of crutches: it’s one thing for a boat to lay over; another to fall over :-)

  2. JB

    I’ve often thought about it with my Columbia 24. It has a full keel, but with what I think is called a cutaway forefoot it can’t balance. To that end, I’ve seen others add “crutches” to keep their sailboats balanced and level as the tide slipped away. The main thing, it seems, is to have as wide of a foot as possible. Then, securely tie the 2x4s to the forward chainplates!

    If I ever try it, I’ll post photos!

  3. Rick Spilman

    More than once when I have run aground, I have jumped down with a brush and started scrubbing the hull as the tide fell. If I am going to screw up and put her on a sandbar, I might as well make it look like I did it on purpose.

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