Gunkholing: It Took About Six Minutes

Cape Cod Life  /  November/December 2019 / ,

Writer: Brian Shortsleeve

In 1992, the January issue was dedicated to the historic Hurricane “Bob” that had just ravaged the shoreline of the Cape and Islands the previous August. The Gunkholing column in that issue recounted the travails experienced by Brian’s boat the Lady Carline, and is reproduced below.

Cape Cod Life, January 1992

When the Lady Carline broke loose from her mooring she drifted onto Amrita Island. Amrita, which is next door to my home has a hundred-year-old stone bridge that is a thing of beauty and speaks of a time when life must have been easier to understand. 

There was much conversation about the weight limit the bridge might be able to support; after all, we needed equipment capable of picking up a ten-ton boat. Amrita residents Dr. and Mrs. Buttrick, owners of the property where Lady Carline decided to rest, could not have been more gracious or more accommodating. Tom Brownell, president of Brownell Power Systems out of Mattapoisett explained the plan. Tom was willing to bring tow cranes as far as the bridge so he cold use one crane to lift the other crane across the bridge. And, then he would do the same coming off—lift the trailer and the Lady Carline at once as they passed over the bridge. 

We were about two weeks in planning and ready to go when it was decided all of the property owners on Amrita should be included in the conversation. In my heart, I knew this was right-but, the sun was getting lower in the sky and, the Lady Carline and I were getting low on oxygen. Marine surveyor and insurance examiner Dave Wiggin knows boats well and had taken a keen interest in the proper retrieval of the Lady Carline. Dave felt the time had come to resort to a helicopter. Word spread fast and much of the village turned out to watch—from a safe distance.

A small army of specialists was dispatched to the scene from Cape Marine Yacht Systems of Monument Beach. Holes were dug so that straps could pass under the hull and padding was placed on the lower side, which was slightly damaged from the beaching. One fellow was on the radio to three guys in a high-powered “chase boat.” Another fellow was on the radio back and forth to the helicopter crew, which was waiting, God only knew where. Sudden-like it was upon us, each sweep of the gargantuan blades made me feel smaller.

The down draft was many times more powerful than the hundred-mile-an-hour winds of the storm itself. Think about it—enough wind force to pick up almost ten tons plus the helicopter’s own weight! They all wore goggles; the blowing sand, mud and water was enough to knock over a full-grown heifer.

I stood on the shore, maybe 300 feet back from the copter, looking through my spray-covered camera lens and dark glasses; as I did so, a rowboat which was lying on the beach in front of me passed before my vision, over my head, and landed behind me. Now that’s a draft. 

When they first lowered her, trying to escape the down draft herself, she started across the channel for the island on the other side. Inches from grounding in that direction, they scooped her back up and set her again in the middle of the channel. Everyone with a radio agreed the copter should loosen the straps and lift away. As the pilot attempted to do so, one of the helicopter’s carrying straps became entangled with the rigging leading to the mast. The pilot began a hula dance-like maneuver above the Lady Carline attempting to wiggle the strap loose. The chase boat crew had trouble getting close because the dangerous down draft could easily capsize their power boat. By now she was blowing dangerously close to rocks back on this side of the channel. Eight guys ran into the water to push her away from the shore. Remember now, still under the down draft. The chase boat crew had no choice; they reached the stern, someone scampered aboard, disentangled the strap, the copter lifted away and disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.  The guys held her off the rocks, the chase boat pulled her back into deeper water and all was quiet. Dave Wiggin turned to me and said, “How’d you like that?”

My Best,

Brian Shortsleeve, Publisher

Gunkholing as it appeared in the 1992 issue

Take a stroll down memory lane with our 1992 Cape Cod Life issue, available for download here!

Brian Shortsleeve

Brian Shortsleeve is the owner, publisher, and founder of Cape Cod Life Publications. His personal column, “Gunkholing,” has appeared in all issues of Cape Cod LIFE since the very first issue in 1979.