And a Long Night

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Wed 12 May 2010 23:54

Position: At anchor (sort of) Puerto Tamar
Wind: North west F6-9 strong breeze to strong gale.
Weather: overcast, rain, short sunny patches, drizzle, cool.

I turned in for the night on the settee berth, the sea bunk, as it is much easier to jump out of in a hurry if needs be, and which need arose at 5 this morning. I had fallen asleep to the sound of the anchor chain regularly dragging across some rocks but awoke to some very strong wiinds howling through the anchorage and the sound of the anchor dragging across the rocky bottom, a distinctive lower pitched clunk, clunk, clunk noise rather than the higher pitched rattle of chain. I immediately jumped out my bunk and checked the GPS. Sure enough we had dragged another 60 yards. Not having seen the anchorage in daylight yet I had no real idea of where we were or how much room we had. I quickly donned foul weather gear as it was raining, very windy and cold. On deck I started the engine without even looking around, and started to motor up wind to take the strain off the cable and hopefully to stop us from dragging any further. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dark I could see dark shapes, rocks, to port and a larger dark shape, a small islet, rising directly astern. I shone the spotlight on them, it was hard to assess their distance in the water filled air, all I could hear was the wind and when I tried to look ahead the rain and spray just drove into my eyes. I bent my head down and just concentrated on the compass card, attempting to hold the bow into the wind and taking a quick glance at the echo sounder every so often. The depth was down to five meters, this definitely was not good. But I didn’t know what to do. I was stuck at the wheel figuring if I just steered upwind we must be heading in the direction from which we had come when we dragged. Often in the big gusts the engine could not hold the bow up, I increased revs and put full wheel on. I noticed as we paid off to port the depth would drop dramatically down to 4 meters and as we went to starboard the depth would increase to as much as 20 meters. We must have a sharp ledge off to port which made sense with the rocks I could see. I was glad I had taken the time to don foul weather gear because it was obvious I was going to be stuck out here for quite a while. I couldn’t reset the anchor as I couldn’t leave the wheel without fear of the anchor continuing to drag in the continuous gale force winds. Eventually I found that if I kept the engine at 1500 rpm and the wheel over to starboard that Sylph would hold herself in the deeper water for quite a while, presumably the wind, the anchor and the engine were balancing each other out. I am not sure how long I had been at the wheel at this point, a bit over an hour I guess, and my feet were getting very cold as I didn’t have time to pull on my thick woollen socks before hauling on my rubber sea boots. I took the opportunity when Sylph was in one of her balanced moments to duck below and put these warm dry socks on. I also grabbed the hand held GPS into which I had entered our anchorage position last night for such an occasion as this. I turned it on and waited for it to acquire satellites. On a regular basis Sylph would lose the point of balance against the weight of wind and anchor chain and careen back to port and into the shallower water and closer to the rocks. I would increase revs and put the wheel hard over to starboard to try and bring her head back up before dragging further backwards or going too far to port. The little GPS unit eventually came to life and showed that we were holding our position and gave me something to steer for rather than just into the wind and away from the rocks. Then the batteries went flat and I had to change them. Again a little foresight came in handy as I keep the little GPS unit in a small plastic container along with a couple of spare batteries, as part of my abandon ship kit. Looking down below I could see Bob Cat sound asleep on the settee where I had left him, totally oblivious to the drama happening around him, I laughed and in some way found this picture of tranquillity in what was at times complete mayhem comforting.

Two hours later, just before 7 a gloomy dawn started to break and the wind also started to ease a little. The rocks to port and the islet astern began to define themselves better so that I could see how close we were. I shook my head in disbelief, the rocks to port were about 25 meters away, the islet astern about 100. I was almost relieved that I didn’t know how close we were to these rocks otherwise I would have been even more frightened than I was. As it was we were extremely lucky we dragged anchor down alongside this ledge of rocks and not straight back onto it.

As it grew lighter so that I could see what I was doing I slowed the engine and allowed Sylph to drop back onto the anchor and see if it was going to hold. It did and I wondered whether I had been doing any good through the last few hours but at least for the moment we were safe. I then considered what was to be done. I looked at the chart to get a good idea of where we were and where I could manoeuvre. There were starting to be significant lulls in the wind strength. I knew we had to weigh and re-anchor but I didn’t want to be half way through weighing with insufficient chain out to hold and then have a gust take us onto the rocks. At 20 to 8 I commenced weighing. I motored into the wind for about a minute then put the engine into neutral and walked briskly to the bow to heave in as much chain as I could before Sylph fell away from the wind and back onto her cable. I kept repeating the procedure, each time getting in about four or five meters, until we started to drag, then I gave Sylph some extra revs and motored out into deeper safe water trailing the anchor. Once clear of the rocks I could continue recovering the anchor as we were blown downwind. Once again every now and then I would dart back to the cockpit and motor a little way to windward and into relatively safe water. Once the anchor was inboard I inspected it for damage, all looked good, and then motored back to the anchorage area off a stony beach whichoI could now see. I motored in quite close to the shore to a depth of about six meters, and at 9 o’clock, four hours after this episode had begun, let the anchor go and paid out 50 meters of chain. I then made myself a hot bowl of porridge and a cup of tea while I monitored our position to make sure we weren’t going to drag again.  A nice piece of kelp lay close by as a good reference point. Once satisfied I gently shoved BC to one side and crawled into my bunk, setting an alarm for an hour later just to be safe.

Later in the day a Navy patrol aircraft flew overhead and spoke with me on the radio. I was glad that they were there. While from their perspective everything looked trouble free and under control, I knew a few hours ago things were very different and it was a comforting thought to know that if we had ended up on the rocks they would have known about it quite quickly.

We have now been at anchor without dragging for ten hours, and conditions seem to be moderating. While it is still very windy it is definitely a lot better than it was late last night and early this morning.  Hopefully conditions will only get better. In fact looking at the weather fax for tomorrow we should be getting favourable winds, perhaps even southerlies, but I think we will wait and see what tomorrow brings, for now I will be very happy with a good night's sleep.

All is well (but a close run thing)

Bob Cat:

Not a bad day today, our abode has remained upright and not played its silly antics dancing around and throwing me all over the place, the skipper kept me warm for a good part of the day, though I would have been quite satisfied with the heater, and some tuna for dinner, not enough of course, but sufficient to put me in the mood for a good … zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.