Syd’s rude awakening
Living on the hook has its many hairy moments and ‘dragging’ is probably the most disconcerting. Its OK if anchoring alone in a lonely bay, but in Marsh harbour, where there could be 200 boats all wanting to ‘swing’ about on their dug-in anchor at the length of their rode,(which at 10:1 – may be about a 60ft radius 6ft of water) so you need to be away from other boats and certainly not ‘on top’ of them, just in case the wind changes direction dramatically – as it does……..
It constantly amazes me how little sailors throw out when anchoring?? What’s the problem?? throw it out if you have the space, it’s better than leaving all that chain in the locker…. and then there is the anchor itself. In the Bahamas the Delta ‘quick-set’ is one of the best, even the smallest Delta can be fabulous at ‘holding’ in the soft sandy bays or the horrible thick mud of a well used harbour.
The angle at which any anchor wants to pull out is critical – too short a rode and it will simply pull-up and out and then the boat is on the move….too long and ‘swinging’ wide may allow boats to ‘touch’ (it’s usually gentle!!)….the ultimate test is when a squall starts up – usually preceeding a heavy downpour from a big black cloud, ‘dragging’ in heavy rain can be worrying in deed.
Syd had come over from Florida, at long last, after much cajoling and we were anchored in marsh harbour ready to shop before we left for cruising the islands nearby. We’d had a few drams and hit the sack, Syd in the Captains berth, me in the aft ¾…. Rum doesn’t have that much effect on my senses and on this evening (Syd’s first!!) a breeze was building just after midnight. I often get up when I realize ‘Daze Off’ is moving around and at 2am ‘Marsh’ is normally quiet…..I have noticed the wind changing direction quickly, above – the evening sky is a amancing deep black… Just as I was about the walk the deck, a MASSIVE (and I mean – massive) powerful squall swivels the boat to face the onslaught…..the canvas is flapping violently, we are leaning over very severely as the boat has not been quick enough to move through the radius to get into line with the wind (it has been that fast!!!) …
With my 1 million candle power floodlight, I am shining it to see what boats are likely to be a problem should they drag…..the BIG steel boat which was once behind me, is now in front of me and I am looking up his stern some distance away…..now the wind has built to 45 knots and Syd has woken from his deep sleep, he shouts above the noise “what’s going on Mike?” I shout back “we have a squall and it’s blowing 45 knots”….”holy crap, that’s a lot” and then I see the wind speed indicator building to over 55, then 60 to an unbelievable 67knots (I photographed it)…by now, Syd is hanging on looking pensive and I’m surveying the boats all around…the moving map GPS shows that although we have moved position about 100 ft, we are simply swinging in a huge radius on the Delta ‘quick-set’.
Most boats to be seen through the white horizontal rain are swinging violently, leaning over as the swell builds, crashing waves beat the hull and crash over their transoms. I can hear the radio pipe up with people in the harbour shouting that someone near to them is dragging on-top of their boat??…….5 loud blasts are heard, a boat is in danger!!!! but no-one would be able to get in a dink without risking their lives, all you can do is fend-off with whatever you have been lucky enough to maintain……suddenly I notice our neighbour – the BIG boat – is VERY near my bow (about a boat length) which also means he is over my anchor, I have to go forward and let more rode out……10, 20, 30 ft, the distance between us doesn’t decrease but there is nothing behind I need to worry about. Nothing can be heard when on deck, the wind howls past your ears almost deafening, I can just about crawl back to the safety of the cockpit when the wind STOPS abruptly…. a sudden quiet hits us all, the boats around are still moving but slowly their anchor sags from the taught angle dropping to pull the boats forward.
‘Daze Off’ has held, the BIG boat dragged about 50 ft, the captain aboard watched helpless as his huge mass moved slowly toward us – thankfully stopping when the wind calmed. On the radio there are calls for help, we gather that some boats entangled their anchor chains and some like the huge scout sleeper dragged all the way down the harbour missing all – but going aground in the shallows of his stern. ‘Backstage Pass’ had her roller furling head sail unravel and become entangled in the rigging. Syd and I went to help and I launched him high on a spare halyard into the mess to see if he could cut some free. Mary – the day captain (in the absence of Bill) – thanked us for what we could do and we went back to have another toddy before sleeping soundly………………