Getting Free of Lobster Pots

The price of sailing a quick and responsive fin keel boat in Maine is fouling an occasional lobster pot warp. Strider has only picked up a half dozen in six seasons of sailing. Most were two or more that had become tangled so that they weren't lying naturally in the current. The lesson here is to be especially vigilant about two pot buoys close together.

Here is the gear we use to get unanchored from the traps out of sight on the bottom:

I've only used the Hook Knife once for a pot warp but it's been very useful to clear weeds and loose floating rope from the prop. It goes on to the end of the extendable boat hook with the removable head and is primarily there for peace of mind when there is a ledge or lee shore close at hand and I know I would need to cut a pot warp loose quickly to restore control.

The snap hook on a line taped to the same boat hook with duct tape works so well that it is now the first method I try. I love lobster and respect lobstermen so I don't cut off $150 or so of their gear casually. Besides, cutting the warp leaves you wondering what may still be wrapped around your shaft to disable your engine the next time your start it. Clearing the entire set of gear and seeing the buoy is worth the peace of mind. Even so, after clearing a warp, I put the throttle to cut off and bump the engine with the starter in forward and reverse to be sure nothing is around the shaft. Not letting the engine start will minimize the force of entanglement if anything is there.

Here is the drill:

Round up quickly after feeling the drag. Often, the pot will come loose on its own. In any event you want to get sail off as quickly as possible before the boat swings off downwind as it loses way.

The bronze snap hook is tied to a line about 1 1/2 times the length of the boat. It is taped to the end of the boat hook with duct tape as shown. This can also be done with a standard boat hook on the end opposite the hook.

If you can't see the pot warp, unroll some jib to pull it up into reach. If it can't be seen, feeling with the boat hook will locate it. The hook latches on easily being guided by the pole which is then pulled loose.

I use the main halyard winch. Winch up the line pulling a bight of the warp forward. This will usually dislodge the buoy since it is being pulled back opposite the way it snagged the prop or rudder.

Once the buoy is in sight, winch it aboard and make it fast as a temporary anchor, unclip the line, hoist sail, let the pot buoy go, and you are on your way. Even if the buoy should not come loose, getting second line tied to the warp and taking the strain off will greatly simplify buoy removal by other means.

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