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From time to time, readers of the blog will see a post here in which we had to have the boat towed in by one of the towing companies. In our area that would be either BoatsUS or Sea Tow. Both of these towing companies are good and, generally speaking, both are fast. We’re not partial to either one…because we are members of both. For around $320/year we have towing insurance. In other words, if our boat breaks down we can call these people and they will, quite quickly, send out a boat to tow us wherever it is we want to go.

Now, I don’t know of any boater who has not had the need to be towed in. It’s one of those “if you haven’t, you will” kind of things. If you haven’t yet needed a tow, you will sooner or later need to be towed in. It’s sort of a fact of life thing. We’ve only needed to be towed in a handful of times, but when you need to be towed these two companies are a blessing.

A few weeks ago, on the last Friday in July, we decided to motor out into the bay and spend the night. The reason was to watch the last night or so of fireworks display that the Kemah Boardwalk puts on. Every Friday and Saturday night in June and July they sponsor a fireworks display. Many, many boaters head out on Galveston Bay to watch this, something we’d never done.

Just as we set our anchor we developed a hole in our muffler. Deciding it really didn’t matter whether we got the tow back in that night or in the morning, we opted to continue our overnighter, watch the fireworks, and call for the tow the next morning. Bright and early the next day we called BoatsUS. Within a short time they came and gave us a tow back to our slip.

On the way back in, it dawned on me how easy it is to spot those who have been towed before and those who haven’t.

Most of the marinas in Clear Lake are either on Clear Lake Channel (Seabrook/Portofino) or border on Clear Lake itself (South Shore Harbor/Watergate/Waterford and many more)…we are at Seabrook. What all of them have in common is that in order to get from one’s marina to Galveston Bay all boats must travel down the Clear Lake Channel (which connects the small, shallow Clear Lake, with the larger and deeper Upper Galveston Bay). Just before one exits the channel into the bay, they must pass by the Kemah Boardwalk. During the summer time especially, the boardwalk is jammed with people, who are there, among other things, to watch the big pretty boats enter the bay.

We sometimes refer to Clear Lake Channel as the Channel of Shame.

The entire dynamic hinges on three subjects which are, 1) those who have been towed in before, 2) those who have not been towed in before, and, 3) those who are observing the process from either land, or another boat.

To those of us who have been towed in before, the entire issue boils down to a PITA. We’ve been there before and know we will be there again. We are focused on one thing, getting back to our slip and fixing whatever it is that has broken. We feel no shame and wave to everyone who waves to us. We’d rather not have to be towed in, but fully realize it’s just part of the game.

To those who’ve never been towed it’s a different vibe though. These captains keep their bearing straight ahead. They are in major serious mode. They are obviously embarrassed. They don’t look left or right and generally don’t wave, oblivious to those who do. They seem to have the attitude that their boat is somehow different than the others and it’s simply a fluke of nature that their vessel has broken. They, their demeanor says, are better seamen than the average bear and being towed in is somehow beneath them. They almost appear as though they have been betrayed by their vessel.

And, then there are those who are observing the tow. This group is composed, for the most part, of either those on the boardwalk or those on other vessels. Now, one will never be waved at by those on another vessel more than they will be by those watching another boat being towed in. As one approaches another yacht, most of the time everyone on the approaching vessel will wave…if they don’t wave one can absolutely count on every person on board lending a hard look. However, those watching from the boardwalk have a look of awe on their faces. They are much more serious and seem to just stare, not knowing whether to wave or just look.

We’ve come to think that those who wave at the disabled craft from their yachts are simply saluting in empathy. They realize that boats break, engines quit, shit happens and being towed in is just part of boating…they have been there, done that, and are waiting on the t-shirt to arrive. Those who stare blankly from the shore generally seem confused. They seem to have a great problem reconciling that gorgeous yacht that sailed out of the channel a while ago with great pomp and dignity…with the one now returning seeming somehow deflated and in defeat with a brightly colored inflatable, replete with official flashing lights, attached to its hip.

No sailor laughs at one who is being towed in…“but for the grace of God” is always in the back of their mind. Still, when we see another boat being towed we can’t help but think to ourselves how crappy it is to have to travel what we call the Channel of Shame.


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