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"The Rope Trick" - A Mistake You'll Only Make Once

Captain Bill Jennings

It was a clear night off the west coast of Mexico and we were cruising southbound about 160 miles off the coastline.


Our 52’ Hatteras was proceeding nicely at 11 knots when a slight vibration became noticeable. We figured we had struck something in the water. By shutting down one side and then the other, it seemed to be a propeller or shaft problem, but we could not say for sure. We needed to find a diver to check it out.


A single VHF call brought a reply from a fishing vessel that was night fishing in the area. Their base was on an island 40 miles to the east. The fishing captain spoke excellent English and put us in contact with his cousin on the island who offered to help. We set a course for the Island and arrived at daybreak.


A small dinghy with two men aboard came out to meet us. With few words spoken, one man dove under our boat and minutes later, surfaced with an armful of heavy line. Problem solved. We may have just been lucky in this case, but a good radio sure helped.


You can easily motor over flotsam that contains material to tangle in your prop, but an even more common rope issue can stem from your own tie lines.


A stern line left untied can find its way overboard and into your propeller. Always secure your tie lines, especially the lines to stern. When a prop picks up a rope, it will usually wind it very tightly and either your motor will stall or you will feel a strong vibration. With an outboard or sterndrive, you can trim up and survey the situation. It is very unlikely you will be able to untie the tangled line. The situation calls for a sharp knife. Be sure to always have one onboard. It is the kind of mistake that is hard to make, and hopefully you will only make once. #tips #quicktips

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