A Dirty Week-End in Husvik

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Wed 10 Feb 2016 23:46

It all started Friday night. 

The forecast for Saturday and Sunday was for winds around 40 knots, dying off by Sunday evening. We had planned to head off up the coast but decided to stay put in Husvik, a good anchorage, until Monday. Windora and Kestrel were also staying a few more days, as was Braveheart, the charter ship for an international team of amateur radio operators trying to break a world record for most radio contacts from a remote island. They were operating 24/7 from a bright orange dome tent on the beach. In the afternoon, Braveheart had dragged its anchor and had to re-anchor.

We'd spent the day on the boat doing jobs and in the evening paddled over to Kestrel for dinner. Windora had wined and dined us all in Grytviken and we had cooked curry for everyone a few nights ago.

Party on Kestrel, left to right: Isolde, Franco, Bernie, Linda, Phil and Gabor

It was bedtime, the wind had increased considerably and it was pitch black. We set off in Arnie (our dinghy) but weren't making much headway. Gabor offered to give us a lift back to Caramor in his motorised tender which we gratefully accepted and left Arnie tied down on Kestrel's deck.

The next day, Saturday, was windy, around 35-45 knots and we were expecting stronger winds over night. After lunch, we decided to deploy our second anchor as a precaution. At the third attempt it stuck. 

By Sunday morning it was even windier, blowing 40 gusting 70 knots. The bright orange tent on the shore had been flattened during the night and the five radio operators had had to be evacuated back to Braveheart at 1:30am. We were all looking forward to the wind calming down. 

Phil radioed to say he'd just taken some good shots of Caramor and give us some cheek about our dinghy being tied down on the wrong boat.

Caramor weathering the storm (photo Windora)

Events developed rather fast soon afterwards. Braveheart called up Windora to inform them that their sail cover was flapping, Kestrel radioed Windora to warn them that they were drifting. Windora replied that they knew. Phil deployed more chain, but still she dragged. They started the engine and were winching in their anchor to re-deploy.

Then we heard Bernie on the radio "we have no engine, we are drifting, we have no engine, we are drifting". We watched in helpless horror, beautiful Windora being blown relentlessly towards the reef. Surely Phil would pull something off at the last minute to save his boat? 

Linda over the VHF: "We are on the rocks.” 

Windora aground (photo Kestrel)

We were ready. There was nothing we could do to help Windora but would be there for the crew, if they took to their dinghy. If the worse came to the worst, we would ditch our anchors, buoyed, so that we could retrieve them later.

Windora asked Braveheart for assistance. A RIB was launched but in the strong gusts, it couldn't even get near. The stricken yacht was heeled over but wasn't taking in water. Braveheart couldn't help, the skipper was concerned for the safety of his own ship, his anchor wasn't holding either. Phil, Linda and Bernie would had to find their own solution. As the tide went out, Windora stopped rocking, at least no more damage was being done. The tide never stays out for long and Windora would have to get off the rocks before high water at 7pm, or risk being driven on even further. The trouble was the wind wasn't due to ease until 10pm.

Franco and I had spent the morning in the cockpit, keeping watch. At anchor you set transit lines, for example, you line up a particular rock with a groove at the top of a cliff. If the distance between the two marks appears to get bigger, something is wrong, you could be drifting. Franco told me that his marks were no longer lined up. Mine were, so I suggested it might be because the tide was out. Soon afterwards I had to admit that he was right, our anchors were slowly dragging.

We weren't in any danger. There were no reefs downwind of us but we needed to get the anchors up and make sure that our drift continued between the reefs, not towards them. Braveheart was on our starboard quarter and needed avoiding too. Our main anchor seemed to be the culprit but of course as you haul one in you put more pressure on the other. Kelp is a nightmare in these waters. On one hand it can provide precious shelter from the swell but on the other it grows everywhere where the water is shallow, sometimes up to 30m tall, turning would be ideal anchorages into untenable underwater jungles. Anchorages are either full of kelp or very deep. The weed envelopes the anchor and can make it so heavy that it becomes impossible to raise it. Both our anchors were clogged with kelp so we were having to use the slow gear on the windlass. By now Braveheart was reporting 40-50 knots, gusting 85 knots. To give you an idea, winds above 64 knots are hurricane force. These are the strongest winds we have ever been in, in a yacht.

Getting the anchors up after dragging (photo Kestrel)

Up she came at last, just as we were clearing bar rocks, the terrible reef that was holding Windora. Franco steered us through the gap while I lay on my tummy hacking kelp of the dangling anchor with our machete. Everything felt calm. I looked up from my endeavour to feel the sun shining on my face, the wind had died completely! We looked back, in Husvik, less than a kilometre away, it was still blowing all bells. 

We motored round to Grass Island, just off the point that separates Husvik Harbour from Stromness Harbour. We dropped the anchor in 15m to avoid the kelp closer in. Franco radioed Windora to tell them we would be back the next morning and, to our utter delight, Phil informed us that he had managed to get Windora off the rocks and his engine started again. He had taken advantage of a short lull to row out his spare anchor and they had succeeded in winching themselves off. We were ecstatic. 

Overnight the wind dropped completely. Caramor rocked gently in the swell (a most annoying motion). Early the next morning we returned to "Lake" Husvik, the water was so still that ice was forming on the surface. Windora, Kestrel and Braveheart sat peacefully at anchor, as if the maelstrom had been a figment of our collective imagination. Braveheart blasted its horn to say farewell. Its mission was over, the radio equipment had been too badly damaged in the storm and they were heading back to Stanley early.

Gabor and Isolde dropped our dinghy off and we all met up on Windora for morning tea. Phil looked, understandably, like a stunned duckling. "I never thought it could happen to me" were his first words. Neither had we. A fabulous and well-maintained boat, an experienced and knowledgeable skipper and the unthinkable had happened. The engine failure was down to four cable-ties perishing and the water inlet pipe dropping onto a part of the engine which holed it. All the coolant water had leaked into the bilge and the engine had overheated. Windora had done a lot of motoring recently and everything has been fine. Why does the engine fail at the same time as the anchor drags? There are so many stories like this at sea. It doesn't happen on land to the same extent; it's like if you are driving a car and the clutch cable breaks, simultaneously all four tyres deflate, just as an articulated lorry is heading your way. Windora and Kestrel would return to Grytviken to attempt repairs and we would head off up the coast. We said goodbye.

Caramor motor-sailed around the next headland and we dropped anchor in the beautiful Hercules Bay. A spectacular waterfall at the head of the bay disappeared into the shingle beach populated by fur seals and moulting king penguins. Over on the far right were two gentoo penguins quietly minding their own business. We could hear the familiar call of macaroni penguins from the cliffs. We ate soup for lunch, basking in the warm sunshine, it was nice to be able to relax again. We paddled out in the dinghy to watch the macaronis and were impressed by their rock climbing technique as they returned from fishing. Heading out didn't look as easy, the birds would waddle down the cliff only to be pecked savagely by those recently returned, then they had to launch themselves into the water and we couldn't help laugh at several undignified attempts.

Time to go, the forecast was for light winds and we wanted to get to Fortuna Bay by late afternoon.

We motored out of the bay and a breeze picked up, within minutes it was blowing 35 knots straight from the direction we were heading. The shore disappeared into a deep blanket of fog. We sailed with two reefs in the main while we discussed our options. Fortuna Bay is open to the north and has two glaciers, we doubted it would offer much shelter in the strong north westerly. The next good anchorage was a lot further. We'd had enough, we turned and ran for the relative safety of Grytviken and the company of friends.