A hellish night in 'Paradise'

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Tue 19 May 2009 22:39
The Turks and Caicos are a tropical 'Paradise'  So say the marketing brochures for the expensive beachside real estate or for the high class gated holiday resorts adorning parts of Providenciales. A hellish night in Paradise on the other hand is one that has us running round on deck worrying about the boat when most sensible people are tucked up in bed in their expensive beachside villas or holiday chalets. Well, last night was one of those nights. A hellish night in Paradise!
We have experienced a lot of unsettled weather during our passage through these islands with not one real night of calm water under the boat whilst at anchor. But a routine exists and sleep is possible whilst the boat performs a bouncing Captain Pugwash-like movement , with the waves sloshing between the hulls. But last night at around 0100 we were woken by what seemed like someone on deck with a brilliant white flashlight flashing on and off continuously.  Reality quickly kicked in,  this wasn't someone with a searchlight, it was the continuous flickering of lightening, just like one of those war films of the western front bombardment when the balloon 'goes up'. Now we like a good thunderstorm on an English summer's night when you lie in bed and gradually hear the thunder in the distance, meticulously counting the time interval between the flash and the crack of thunder to determine the proximity of the storm. A bout of heavy rain relieves the humidity of the night and an hour later the thunder rumbles away into the distance and you resume your slumbers. This was different! It was pointless trying to count the space between lightening and thunder as the lightening was almost continuous, lighting up the whole anchorage. Then the rain arrived, and what rain we had! It's impossible to describe how hard it fell except to say that we had to shout at each other to be heard. The lightening seemed to be all at cloud level, thank goodness, although it didn't stop the skipper running round collecting anything of electronic value, satphone, handheld GPS etc and stuffing it into the microwave next to the almost equally valuable loaf of bread we store in there. On Ajaya the Faraday's cage theory is alive and well - with us anyway. A direct lightening strike on our mast could wipe out thousands of pounds of electronics, plotter, autopilot, computers, VHFs that couldn't be isolated so easily. Besides we only have one microwave on board.
The torrential rain continued to fall without hesitation so now we could see no further than 50 yds or so around us except for the vague anchor lights of the other boats in our close vicinity. Our shore reference was getting harder to monitor and we were now looking closely at what was going on around us. Nobody seemed to be dragging as we weren't,  so, with the microwave now full of electronic gadgetry we went back to bed and buried our heads under pillows to try and shut out the constant flashing of lightening that assaulted the eyes even through tightly shut lids! Shortly after, a huge gust of wind hit the boat - its difficult to say what speed - 30-40 knts possibly and then all the lights went out ashore, or so we thought. In fact the boat had violently swung to the gust pointing us away from shore lights. The gust died quickly to our utter relief, but it had been enough to wrench our anchor clean out of the seabed and unknown to us at that moment Ajaya was now dragging slowly through the anchorage. A sixth sense made us look out of the galley window and we were shocked to see another yacht just yards from us. That was impossible surely as none of the boats were that close to each other before the storm started. "Hey, you're dragging" was the call from the other yacht, a Canadian registered sloop. We were upon deck immediately to try and assess the situation. The rain gods had fortunately called a short time-out on the torrential rain for just long enough for us to be able to look around the anchorage and get our bearings. Sure enough we were not where we had been and we were now on the way to somewhere else, albeit slowly as you do towing 40 metres of chain and a 40 lb Bruce anchor. It still didn't make any sense as we were only anchored in 10ft of water and we were still in 10 ft of water, in this soft sand the anchor would have generally re-set. But this was no time for speculation as we were too close to the Canadians for comfort - ours or theirs. Nikki went forward to get the anchor up at which point a clap of thunder almost overhead nearly saw us jump out of our skins. The rain was on the ascendancy again and if it resumed its torrential status we would have real difficulty in seeing where we were meant to be re-anchoring. When the anchor finally broke surface the probable cause of our misfortune was hanging off the anchor flukes- a large black plastic bin liner which Nikki quickly cleared as we headed back towards the spot where we had been at the start of the evening. The lightening had continued throughout the time we were on deck and I was reminded of those Hammer Horror films where the hapless couple stumble upon Dracula's Castle on a wet and stormy night. The scene across the anchorage was just like that - all that was missing was a castle and somebody looking like Peter Cushing on the next boat.
The storm died as dawn appeared some 4 hours later, although we sat an anchor watch until it was light but there were no more challenges for us. Our hellish night was over at last - until the next one that is!