It was a dark and stormy night at anchor.

After several days of traveling in sportier conditions than we prefer, we were more than happy to wait out the next cold front in Norman’s Cay.  The protection was o.k. and the holding was very good, so we spent a few days relaxing and playing in the water before the front moved in.

The cold front was predicted to arrive in the evening bring steady winds of 25-30 knots with gusts up to 40 for around 24 hours before “dropping” to 25-30 without the 40 knot gusts for another 12-18 hours.  There aren’t many good options for protection from westerly component winds in the Exumas, so as the day progressed the anchorage steadily filled until there were 23 boats that had joined us.

Boats were spaced apart pretty well so we were feeling pretty good until just after sunset when we took one last look out of the cockpit.  Where the hell did he come from?  A sailboat had parked himself a bit too close for comfort off of our starboard bow.  Hmmm.  Well, we had been there for two days and had gone swimming over our anchor earlier so we knew it was well dug in.  The anchorage had a reputation for good holding and the sailboat’s chart plotter was still on so we figured he was paying attention.  We decided to take a calculated risk by not moving.  Nevertheless, given his proximity we were going to keep a close eye on the situation.

Around 11:30 p.m. the winds really started picking up, so I got up to take a look around.  The latecomer was definitely closer and I could see someone on the bow with a flashlight.  O.k., he’s dragging but he knows it.  After nothing changed for a few minutes, Jeff shined a flashlight on his boat to get the boat name and I called him on the radio.

Our conversation went something like this (boat name has been removed to protect the privacy of the offending boat): “S/V _________, this is the sailboat behind you.  How’s your holding?  It looks like you’re dragging and the winds are going to get stronger.  Just wondering what your plan is?”  “I guess my holding isn’t that good.  I guess I’m going to try to move.” “Sounds good.”  Jeff and I looked at each other.  This had the potential to be a long night.

Now typically at this point an anchor would go up, the boat would move, and we could all call it a night.  What actually happened was we watched the owner repeatedly go back and forth between the cockpit and the bow, and nothing was happening.  Now we realized that he was singlehanding and either he didn’t have windlass controls in the cockpit, or he had a manual windlass.

After half an hour not much had happened except that now he was uncomfortably close off of our port bow instead of our starboard bow.   Jeff and I had been sitting on the side deck with boat hooks to fend off as best as we could if needed.  We would have gone to help him but we foolishly hadn’t put our outboard on the dinghy and with the wind and the chop it was not a good idea to try to do it now.

The radio crackled and he called us on the radio.  “This is S/V________.”  “How are you doing, S/V ________?  This kind of thing always happens in the middle of the night, doesn’t it?”  “Well, I wouldn’t know.  This is only my second time anchoring.”  Jeff and I looked at each other, mouths open.  “I’m single handing and it looks like I’ve run aground.”

What went through my mind was this: “WTF?  You’re in the Bahamas with virtually no anchoring experience and you decide to give it a try in a strong blow instead of checking into the marina 10 miles away???”  What came out of my mouth in the kindest tone I could muster was: “Oh man, this is a tough introduction to anchoring.  What are you going to do?  “I guess I’m going to wait until the tide goes up and then move.  I’m glad you called because it gave me that little push to do something about the dragging.”  More suppressed thoughts on my end.  This night was getting better and better.

We checked to see what time the tide would change since clearly he wouldn’t go anywhere until then.  Hoping it wouldn’t be for several hours, we were disappointed to discover we had 45 minutes, so we took a cat nap.  When the alarm went off I told Jeff I would take the first shift so he could sleep a bit more.  The owner was up again and now his running lights were on.  This was progress.  He moved a bit, moved a bit more, and then he ran aground again.  Now he was a few boat lengths in front of us with his beam directly on our bow.  For you non-boaters, he was the top of the T and we were the stem.  All I could do was sit and wait.

I heard his engine rev over the sound of the wind, then it revved again, and then I watched as his beam came closer while he shot forward as fast as he could.  I’m guessing he missed us by less than 5 feet.  I watched him fly well downwind, and with no one else in front of us I went back to bed after updating Jeff.

At 5:00 a.m. we woke up to a familiar voice on the radio.  “This is S/V__________.  I’ve dragged and run aground, I have two anchors out that are tangled up, I’m single handing, and my windlass doesn’t work.  Anyone out there that can help?”  By now the wind was blowing a steady 30+ and we still didn’t have the outboard on our dinghy, so we waited and listened.  Another boat answered and offered to help once the sun came up.

By noon the original dragger was all squared away, and another single-hander was also assisted by two others in re-anchoring when a charter boat dragged and ran over his ground tackle, somehow causing him to lose his primary anchor.  Basically, it was a cluster fuck.  But out of 23 boats, 20 had stayed put so clearly the holding was good IF you had a good anchor and sufficient scope.

The next day the wind was still honking but the poor guy who had only anchored once before had clearly had enough.  He motored out thanking everyone on the radio, saying that he was heading for the Staniel Cay Marina about 30 nautical miles away.  Hopefully he’s learned a few things and he doesn’t let this experience dissuade him from enjoying a season of cruising in the Bahamas.  But we will be keeping a close eye out for his boat in future anchorages!

As for us, we absolutely love our Rocna anchor.  At 5:1 scope we had less out than we would have preferred, but our mistake (and lesson learned) was that after being there for a few days we hadn’t thought to let our more chain until the anchorage had filled up.  However, we knew we were well buried and we had ridden out 30 knots in Beaufort, NC with a 5:1 scope due to a crowded anchorage so we felt pretty confident that we would hold.  We set a tight anchor alarm on the phone so we would know quickly if we were dragging, but fortunately we didn’t budge the entire time.

Hopefully future anchoring adventures will be few and far between!

 

12 thoughts on “It was a dark and stormy night at anchor.

  1. Oh yikes. I do think there’s a downside to all the “easy” cruising stories out there, the YouTube videos and the like (plus the ease of GPS navigation and chart plotters and all) – and that’s that people don’t truly understand the challenges of life afloat. Glad you escaped the night with no scratches. Were you in the pond at Norman’s?

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    1. I think you’re right about that, Nica. The videos typically don’t accurately reflect what can really happen – albeit infrequently, fortunately. We weren’t in the pond because we thought it might take too long for conditions to settle before we could get out. We were on the southeast side (the channel with the sunken plane). Kimberly

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  2. Oh! Thanks so much for this Kimberly. You have given me magic words that I know we can use to great effect in all kinds of situations: “S/v X, it looks like you are [insert problem here]. What is your plan?” This is GENIUS!

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  3. Kimberly,

    When we read about the amount of scope that everyone uses in the Bahamas, we’re unsure what to think. In the pnw, and we’ve been doing the same in Hawaii, we, almost always, use 3:1 as scope with our Rocna.

    Because of the tides in Alaska (18 feet is common), we are generally anchoring in 50+ feet at high tide. At 3:1 this gives us a 300 ft swing circle. At 5:1, we’re at 500 ft.

    With 40 kn blowing through the anchorage (Haida Gwaii), we have let out more than 3:1, but I’ve always wondered whether it mattered. With really bad holding we have dragged with our Rocna, but scope wasn’t the issue.

    Btw, resetting in weeds with our Rocna is an ongoing problem. Have you, or your readers, had any similar problem?

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    1. Hi John – friends of ours that have cruised the Bahamas for over a decade told us once that the deeper the water, the less scope you need. So at 50+ feet, 3:1 would certainly make sense. Some explanation for it having to do with physics where I just heard “Blah, blah, deeper water less scope, blah blah.” 🙂 The only time we’ve really anchored in grass was in the Abacos and although sometimes it took a bit of effort to get it to dig deep, once it did we were all set. Of course it’s a lot easier to see how it’s set in 8 feet of warm Bahamian water vs. 50 feet of cold Alaskan water! Kimberly

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    2. We have a 88 lb Rocna on a 46′ cat and it struggles to dig itself in under grassy bottoms. Also we have seen it once pop out in the Berry Islands Bahamas with a large grass and sand ball stuck on top and in that state it will not reset itself. We had to lift it up to shake off the grass ball then reset it. On pure sand or mud it sets well everytime.

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      1. Hi Charlie – Yes, we are getting spoiled here with nothing but sand in the anchorages. We’ve had some trouble getting a good set in the Chesapeake when it’s silt over mud. That’s one of the only things we don’t like about that region! Kimberly

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