Mailport 01/15/01

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Freewheeling Prop
Re: the recent correspondence on prop drag and freewheeling (November 1, 2000). Surely the answer is straightforward. If you have a pressure-lubricated gear box (I believe Borg Warner for instance) under no circumstances freewheel as there will be no oil flow to the box. Hurth, one of the commonest boxes fitted to sailing boats and above all to Perkins/Westerbeke, definitely advises against freewheeling and goes as far as to suggest always engaging the reverse gear to hold the shaft. Reason: Lack of proper splash lubrication to the plates, which wear quickly if badly lubricated with ATF fluid. Unpressurized splash lubricated bevel gear boxes can probably freewheel safely.

Patrick Matthiesen
London, England


Tow vs. Salvage
Congratulations on a thorough and well researched article on the issues of towing vs. salvage in your July 15th issue. We strongly support your recommendation that all boat owners make sure they are adequately insured for a salvage claim.

We would like, however, to correct one point about the right to claim salvage when the salvor and the boat owner are participants in a towing service program such as TowBoatU.S. or Sea Tow. You state that …if you subscribe to a Sea Tow or BoatU.S. towing plan, they will not be eligible for salvage awards. This is not correct. It is true that the towing service provided by TowBoatU.S. or Sea Tow is for non-emergency towing only and does not extend to salvage. However, if the three elements of salvage are present, the service falls outside of the towing service agreement and the tower/salvor has the same rights as any other volunteer to claim salvage.

We require that any time a boat needs salvage assistance, the TowBoatU.S. captain must make this clear to the owner before the service begins, and give him or her the right to either accept or refuse this assistance. Those boats insured under the BoatU.S. Marine Insurance Program have the added benefit of our 24-hour emergency dispatch for salvage assistance.

As you point out, salvage is as ancient as mans traversing the seas. It is essential that boat owners be educated and prepared for all possibilities, including the need for salvage assistance.

Terri Parrow
Vice President, BoatU.S. Towing Services
Alexandria, Virginia


In my line of work, I deal with salvors on a fairly regular basis, many of whom I find hard-working, skilled and fair. However, I wouldnt be honest if I didnt mention that the profession as a whole has been tainted by an aura of greed and opportunism. To a great extent, this behavior has been trained into salvors by several of the larger and more rapacious companies. Although Im not nave enough to be surprised by such business practice, it does irritate me that these same salvors try to maintain a syrupy self-righteous appearance of being there to help.

Id like to offer the following in addition to the excellent advice you provided.

Once the tower pulls you off and hooks up, there are cases where he will tow you back to his own dock and essentially impound the boat until his price is paid. Call it what you will, but the justification is often put forward that a maritime lien is placed on the vessel to secure payment. The reasoning, once again, can be found by digging back into ancient admiralty law. Shipyards were allowed to hold a vessel in dry-dock until payment was assured, all to prevent the vessel from sailing off to Timbuktu on the promise that the check is in the mail. In essence, you have to cut a deal before the boat is pulled off whether you like it or not.

In waiting for the tow, take the time to record the exact circumstances-weather conditions (including impending weather), sea state, bottom condition, condition of vessel, personal injury aboard, and threat of possible environmental damage from a fuel spill. This is absolutely vital information in settlement of the salvage award. If the vessels condition is stable, theres no impending danger to people, the vessel, or the eelgrass and snail darters around the boat, then say so in writing.

If possible to do so without putting yourself in harms way, take steps to stabilize the vessel: Set out bow and stern anchors to keep the boat from washing further ashore. Place cushions (PFDs, old tires, etc.) under the lee bilge as the tide goes down to prevent the boat from being holed. Strip off non-essential deck gear that could be damaged or tangled when the boat is rigged for a tow. It seems that I never see cruising boats with emergency kits complete with underwater curing epoxy (Petit underwater patching compound can be a life saver). Being able to stop a leak or plug a small hole can have a significant affect on the salvage effort.

Be wary of a salvors insistence that you take any of his gear aboard that may seem unnecessary, such as a pump if your boat is not leaking. Sometimes this is used as a ploy to make the salvage effort seem more severe than it was in reality. Of course, this isn’t to say that you should get in the salvors way or tell him how to do his job.

If you are cruising in the islands or outside US waters, be aware that you might have insurance coverage with an overseas underwriter. The implication might be that the insurance policy is written according to the law of general average. Too complex to go through here, it is suffice to say that this is a policy of indemnification. In other words, the boat owner is responsible to pay for the salvage up front, and the insurance company will reimburse the fair and reasonable amount for the salvage. As the salvage sometimes includes towing the boat from the islands back to the US mainland, and there is rarely enough competition in the islands to cause salvors to charge reasonable fees, the potential for problems is substantial. Add to this the fact that few boaters carry $10-$40,000 in spare change on board and you have a situation that leaves the stranded boater, well, stranded.

Marine insurance companies do not necessarily have standard approaches to salvage. Some only pay a maximum set rate (based on a percentage of the hull coverage), which may prove woefully inadequate in comparison with real world salvage fees. Read your policy and ask questions to see what protection you have regarding salvage as well as oil spills.

Having coverage with an insurance company that offers emergency 24-hour assistance can be the best answer. This way, you can contact the company right from the boat and let them handle the negotiations directly with the salvor. This is, after all, a matter best left to professionals.

Lastly, be very careful in attempting your own salvage or trying to play hero with several of the knowledgeable boaters from your local yacht club. People can and do get hurt in this business, and no boat is worth risking life or limb.

Jonathan Klopman
Marine Surveyor
Marblehead, Massachusetts


I have to take issue with your absolute statements about refusing to sign (or indicate a willingness to sign) Lloyds Open Form/Contract. It is my understanding that it is the standard for everywhere in the world except the USA. If the water was rising, the weather bad and someone offered me a tow, Id take it and let the insurance company worry about the details later.

Also, if you think those rewards are unjustified, read Farley Mowats book, The Serpents Coil. This is the dramatized true account of the salvage effort on a freighter that refused to sign Lloyds Open Form.

Richard Dinning
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada


Where Credit Is Due
To Atkins & Hoyle, Toronto, Ontario: I recently installed Atkins & Hoyles relatively new Euro-Davit system on my sailboat. After three months of use, I was experiencing accelerated surface corrosion problems with one of the three major stainless steel pieces because the finish did not have a good polish. I also realized that a simple change to the block and tackle lift system would somewhat ease deployment. I called Atkins & Hoyle to discuss these issues fully expecting to be disappointed. Much to my surprise their customer service representative immediately agreed to replace the corroding stainless piece and agreed to send me some additional components to modify the block and tackle lift system. A week later the large and rather heavy parts arrived at my door in Florida with all shipping charges paid!

Michael D. Masters
South Daytona, Florida


To Blue Sea Systems, Bellingham, Washington: Blue Sea makes the CableClam, a first class fitting for leading wires through the deck without cutting off connectors. The design is intelligent and the materials well chosen for lasting value and long-term resistance to leaking. I recently had cause to change the wiring running through my CableClam and to do this properly requires a new rubber puck, the part of the CableClam that is drilled to match ones particular wire. I called Blue Sea to see how I might obtain a new puck, and they offered to send me one at no charge. Knowing how long the fitting will last, this is very generous.

Jesse Deupree
Portland, Maine

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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