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We watch weather fastidiously. We plan passages around the weather, choose anchorages according to the weather, we even run errands based on the weather. But sometimes Mother Nature throws us a curve ball, and we end up somewhere we shouldn't be. The trick is knowing when it's time to get out of those situations before they get worse.
At the end of a trying 3-day passage in the Caribbean, we finally dropped our hook one morning off Cariacou. Once the boat stopped moving we all kicked into gear. I was washing dishes and heating water for a shower before we went to clear into Grenada. Dave was putting on sail covers, and the kids were turning Eurisko back into a home instead of a sailing vessel. One of our oldest son's jobs was to dive on the anchor. When he popped his head out of the water, 100 or so feet in front of us, he gave a thumbs down. Dave motioned him back to the boat so we could discuss exactly what that meant.
"Do we need to back down on it more?"
"It won't do any good, Dad. It's like a parking lot down there. I dove down and tried to set the anchor by hand. There's about 3 inches of sand on top of rock."
With a tropical wave passing us the next day, Dave didn't feel comfortable staying there. So, before I even finished dishes he said, "Let's go. Everybody on deck. Connie, get the anchor. We're leaving."
"We can't sit here through a wave. We'll just run down to Grenada."
The 4 of us moaned, but we knew better than to complain any more vocally than that. When the captain says we leave, we leave. Whether we would have been OK in that anchorage is not relevant. The only thing that matters is how we FELT there. And we felt vulnerable. Rather than worrying, it was a lot easier to simply up anchor and sail all day to Grenada. Cruising can be stressful, so we try to alleviate any stress we can by doing all we can to keep us and the boat safe. Some call it overly cautious. I call it prudent.
The following year, while outwaiting hurricane season in Chaguaramas, Trinidad, we got bored and decided to anchor over to Chacachacarie, near the leper colony ruins. The boys explored the remains, climbed the hill, and snorkeled the shoreline. For two days we felt like we were on vacation, though we were only a few miles from the mooring field. About dinnertime one night, an odd swell overtook the boat.
"Must have been."
"Way out there, I guess."
"It felt odd."
A few minutes later, another "wake" came through. This one lasted a few seconds longer. It took about an hour of this for us to realize, as the "wakes" got closer together and lasted longer, that these were no wakes. It was a swell. The wind had shifted out over the ocean, and, though we didn't have any wind at all in our anchorage, it was pushing a gnarly swell into the cove. Putting us on a "lee" (wave) shore. Just as the boys were getting ready for bed, Dave said, "Everybody up. We're leaving."
"That swell. It's getting worse. Haven't you noticed?"
Honestly, I hadn't. But once I climbed out of the V berth to talk to him in the salon, I noticed I could hardly stand up. What had started as an odd feeling "wake" had turned into a dangerous swell.
"Think you can get that anchor up in this, Connie?"
"I'll have to."
"Don't get hurt. Nick, go stand by in case she needs you. Take a flashlight. David, turn on the spreader lights. Garrett, watch the dinghy painter. No time to load her. We'll have to tow."
With every swell Eurisko's bow rose until she was 10 or more feet off the water, a height I'm not accustomed to seeing while raising the anchor. Thankfully, the windlass behaved, the bottom was soft, the anchor came up no problem, and our mooring was free when we got back to the harbor. We're not always so lucky.
This spring, at the beginning of our Bahamian cruise, we were anchored off Frazier's Hog on Chub Cay for a few days. With an approaching cold front, we knew we would have to do the harbor shuffle. Frazier's Hog provided excellent protection until the winds came around, which they were forecasted to do about 9:00 a.m. We set our alarms for 7:00 to make sure we were ready to up anchor by the time the wind put the rocky shore to leeward. As frequently happens, Mother Nature didn't get the time schedule. The wind shifted and increased in velocity about 5:00 that morning. The lack of lee created a swell large enough to wake us up. I got up to see what had happened to the beautiful lee we'd had when we went to bed. Ah, yes. Predicted wind shift. A few hours early. By the time we were awake and dressed, the lee shore was looking ominously close, though I knew we weren't dragging. For the first time in 15 years, I wore a PFD to raise the anchor. As the bow dipped, I cranked the windlass handle as quickly as I could, stopping as the bow started her upward swing, letting the momentum lift the chain off the bottom for me. Dip, crank, stop, rise. Dip, crank, stop, rise. With a flashlight in my mouth, my legs wrapped up in the tether attached to my harnass, and my biceps burning, I raised the anchor, giving Dave signals as to how much chain was left and when the anchor popped off the bottom so he could give the motor the power it needed to keep us off the rocks. As we motored away, back to our &qout;regular" spot by Wee Cay, we looked back at the few boats still anchored on the lee shore. As we watched, one of them began dragging. Another boat was raising their anchor while blowing a horn and whistling at the dragger. Finally, once they were off the bottom, they circled the boat, shining a spot light in the hatches until he woke up. Only 100 feet from the dock. He got his motor started and re-dragged his anchor out until he could safely raise it. It was obviously time to go.
But even with all of our precautions, our weather eyes, our overly cautiousness, it finally happened. We got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. By the time we realized it was time to go, it was too late.
Crossing the banks last summer, we decided to sleep "for as long as the weather lets us." We don't like crossing the banks at night, mostly because you can't see the errant coral head. But we also knew there was a chance the wind was going to increase enough that being anchored miles from any land would be dangerous. We swore we'd leave as soon as it felt dangerous. We debated setting an alarm, but figured a swell would wake us up. Did it ever. At 4:44, Dave got up, looked outside, and said, "Holy shit. Connie, get up. We've gotta go."
"What? Really? Now? It doesn't feel much worse than it did when we went to bed."
"You've got 30 seconds. If you're not raising the anchor by then, I'll do it alone."
Dave is NOT the type of person to give ultimatums he doesn't mean, and I'm NOT the type of person to be bullied into doing something. I got up, grumbling, peeked outside and said, "Holy shit!" and ran to the bow. I was cranking on the windlass handle before he had the motor started. We had 4-foot rollers coming through at very short intervals. Once Dave go the motor running he came forward to hand me a flashlight, then went back to use the motor to help me with the anchor. I did my usual dip, crank, stop, rise routine. But this time the holding was better, the seas were bigger, and our boat was a decade older. Dip, crank, stop, rise, dip, crank, stop, rise, CRACK!
"What the FUCK was that??"
"Our bow roller."
"At the least."
"Connie, get that anchor up NOW!"
Dip, crank, stop, rise, CRACK! GROAN! SCREECH!
"Dave, the bow pulpit is breaking!"
We were shouting to be heard over the wind and seas.
"Get it up, NOW! There's nothing we can do until you get that anchor up. Do what you have to to the bow, just get that anchor off the bottom so we can get out of here!"
Dip, crank, stop, rise, dip, crank, crank, crank, crank.
"She's off the bottom."
"Oh, thank God!"
"What exactly do I do with the anchor? It won't set on the roller anymore."
"Just secure it somehow. Here's some string. We'll inspect it once the sun comes up."
I scooted on my butt back to the cockpit, my legs too shaky to be trusted to hold me. Safe on the cockpit seat, adrenaline got the better of me, and I burst into tears.
"Oh my God! I'm so sorry. I can't believe I just broke the bow pulpit..."
"Are you hurt?"
"Then who cares. It's a boat. We'll fix it. I'm just glad you didn't get hurt."
That afternoon, in Bimini, we discovered that the bow roller was broken, but for the most part, the bow pulpit was in good shape. We had snapped a bolt that holds the teak and stainless together, but the stainless bow pulpit didn't bend or break. And I didn't get hurt. Sometimes that's the best you can hope for when Mother Nature kicks you in the ass and reminds you to know when it's time to go.
MONDAY we'll discuss the freedom of being newbies.PREVIOUS
Connie McBride's work has been published in Good Old Boat, Sail Magazine, Small Craft Advisor, Cruising World, All at Sea, and Blue Water Sailing. As a full-time liveaboard cruiser for over 15 years, she has written several books and in her spare time, well, who has spare time?
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