Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The wrong way

What we are looking at here is two lines on a cleat of a New York sanitation scow. One of them leads forward to the tug, and one leads aft. This is what we call "scow style" make up. We do this when there aren't enough cleats on the scow, or if the cleats aren't in the right place for a more conventional make up. One of these lines does the pulling, the other is there for backing purposes. Out of view, back at the stern of the boat, is a stern line that holds the boat alongside while turning.

So here's what's wrong: Notice how each line is only hooked on one horn of the cleat? That's no good! People do it, and make a habit of it for a whole career and never get in trouble, but it isn't right. If one of these lines should fail, the boat will slide until the other lines just falls off the cleat, and then we're just hanging on that stern line. the problem with that is two-fold.

As we're making way through the water, we are cramming loads of water between the scow and the boat. These lines are under tremendous strain holding the two vessels together. Now all of a sudden we have nothing there, what happens? The two vessels get pushed apart by this wedge of water, and the only thing holding it all together is the stern line. First of all, we've lost control of the scow. We have no means of steering it. We could put the rudder hard over, bringing the boat back to the scow and doing a big circle until the deckhand gets a couple of lines out - but we need a lot of sea room to get that done. What if there's another boat, or a rock, or some other hazard there? The other problem - and it's a much greater problem - is that as the two vessels separate, they get sideways to the flow of water. They open up like a V. The scow goes one way, the boat goes the other, and now the boat is getting towed by the scow, instead of the other way around. If the scow starts towing the boat sideways, it leans the boat over. we call this getting tripped. The boat leans way over, water gets all over the deck and into any openings, doors, vents, etc..... and starts flooding the boat. Many tugs are lost in this manner. Tugs are built very low to the water, there isn't a lot of freeboard, or reserve buoyancy. You get a little flooding, and it doesn't take much before it's all over.

So why do guys do this the wrong way? It's faster. It's easier than teaching the deckhand about leading the two parts around one end of the cleat and dropping the bight on the other, or even educating them about terms like "the bight" or the "bitter end" versus the "standing part". It's a little easier to get the line off when they are like this too. Take a look at the next post for the right way to do it.

The right way

So here's the same make up - scow style - but done right. The bright blue line is leading forward, it's the towing line. It does most of the work - that is it does all the forward pulling. The older dingy line leading aft does all the work when backing, or operating astern.

The right thing about all this is that both lines have a solid purchase on the cleat. We refer to it as a "fore and aft" lead, although it's called different things in different places. If one of theses lines should fail, the other line stays firmly on the cleat. It will be a little slack as the boat slides fore or aft, but I've still got a solid hold on the scow - albeit a little sloppy - until we get a new line out. This is basic good seamanship, pure and simple. Do it right, don't take short cuts, no matter how many times you might get away with it. It's only going to take one time to ruin a perfectly good day, or get someone killed, or even just get you doing a bunch of unpleasant paperwork.