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From an article by:
August 2001

By: Michael A. Smith
Photos: Gary John Norman
Making Up the Tow
"Making up" the tow (connecting the two vessels) with shackles
and other fittings precedes "streaming" (paying out) the towline.

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Editor's Note:
All of the Towing
Equipment Pictured
in this Article
Manufactured by
Rope, inc.
     When making up the tow, Myers works the sportfisherman close enough to the Feadship so his mate can throw a monkey's fist to the crew on the mothership. The crew then hauls the Kevlar towline aboard, shackles it to the midpoint of the bridle, and starts paying line. At the same time, Myers backs away from the Feadship while his own crew pays out towline, too. Once all the lines are streamed and the Feadship is underway, Myers shuts down his diesels, then locks the shafts so they don't spin. (Some gearboxes depend on the engine for lubrication and will self-destruct if left freewheeling.)

     “Detroit Diesel says you can tow for 12 hours without locking the shafts, but I always do it anyway—you get less drag with the props not turning,” says Myers. As it is, towing the Viking cost the Feadship 1 to 2 knots, a noticeable penalty when you figure the yacht cruises at 13 knots, max. On the other hand, “in some conditions the boat acts like a sea anchor and improves the yacht's handling,” says Infinger. In other words, the added drag of the fishboat helps the Feadship track straighter and keeps the stern from slewing around in a quartering or following sea. Finally, a crew member ferries Myers and his crew back to the Feadship using one of the megayacht's two Zodiacs. Since the tow is always unmanned, its running lights are rigged to switch on automatically at dusk. Because of the length of the tow, both the Feadship and the sportfisherman have to carry proper towing lights, the same as required for a tug hauling a barge: The towing vessel carries two white masthead lights (three if the length of the tow, from the stern of one vessel to the stern of the other, is greater than 200 meters) and a yellow light above the stern light, with the same arc of visibility. The towed vessel carries red and green side lights and a stern light but no masthead light. In the daytime both vessels show a black diamond shape whenever the tow length is more than 200 meters.

     The Davis 50 has an emergency light on her bridge, easily visible from the Feadship, set up to warn if something's amiss, e.g., the bilge pump starts running. Infinger keeps close watch on the tow, with visual inspections every half hour and constant monitoring by radar and an aft-facing camera.

     Using this procedure Infinger has towed the fishboats thousands of sea miles, from places such as Charleston, South Carolina, south into the Caribbean, as far north as Maine, down to Mexico, and through the Bahamas without a hitch. His longest passage has been five days. “Towing isn't a problem,” he says. “There's no limit as long as you have things rigged right; use a long enough towline, you can tow anything.” But not everybody is as well prepared, or lucky. Ask the megayacht owner who lost his 30-foot center console at sea several months ago when the towline parted (nobody noticed?), only to get a message from the U.S. Navy when he hit home port. It seems the aircraft carrier Enterprise had retrieved his boat; later she was returned to him in a lighthearted ceremony, freshly detailed by the sailors. Now that's extreme.  More here...

By Michael A. Smith

Michael A. Smith is a former captain of commercial vessels and yacht skipper. He has been writing for marine magazines for more than 25 years.

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