Aground!

Position: 37 51.593 S 144 57.789 E
At anchor off St Kilda
Wind: West F4 moderate breeze
Sea: slight Swell: nil
Weather: partly cloudy, cool

Over the last couple of weeks while in Port Phillip we have been swapping anchorages between St Kilda and Hobsons Bay, depending on wind direction. In general I have found the Hobsons Bay anchorage to be the more secure unless the wind swings into the south sou’west, in which case I high tail it over to St Kilda. Yesterday afternoon the wind was wavering between west, southwest and south sou’weest, but settled into the south for a bit so, looking at the forecast I decided it would be prudent to shift once more back to St Kilda. This proved to not be such a good idea for, contrary to the forecast, late in the evening the wind shifted back into the west. I had anchored close to the beach trying to get in behind the St Kilda breakwater as much as all the moored craft would allow, which put me a lot closer to the beach than I would normally have been comfortable with, but, given that the wind was supposed to stay in the south sou’ west and be relatively light, and that it was supposed to shift further to the south in the morning, I thought that this was my best option.
So last night, after a pleasant meal and a glass of red, my major essay largely completed, I turned in and listened to a bit of Moby Dick, from an excellent audio version a friend of mine had lent me. I was rapt in chapter 28, where Ishmael sights Captain Ahab for the first time. Melville’s description and atmosphere is wonderful:

“Nevertheless, ere long, the warm, warbling persuasiveness of the pleasant, holiday weather we came to, seemed gradually to charm him from his mood. For, as when the red-cheeked, dancing girls, April and May, trip home to the wintry misanthrope woods; even the barest, ruggedest, most thunder-cloven old oak will at least send forth some few green sprouts to welcome such glad-hearted visitants; so Ahab did, in the end, a little respond to the playful . . . “

BEEP, BEEEP, BEEP, BEEP . . .

I knew what that was. The anchor alarm! We were dragging anchor! I ripped the earphones off, leapt out of my bunk and rushed on deck. Sure enough the special mark which had been a few meters off our starboard quarter was now off our bow. No need to panic, we will just start the engine and motor up to the anchor, haul it in, and motor back into deeper water and reset the anchor . . . I thought. I went to start the engine, BUT, where are the keys? They should be in the starter panel, but they weren’t! I looked under the dodger, flinging the myriad bits and pieces that tend to accumulate there to one side. They weren’t there. Ah ha! I had gone ashore earlier for a few essential supplies. They must still be in my bag. I rummaged through the bag. Not there! I looked under the dodger again. No. I looked around the cockpit, maybe they had fallen there. No, could not find them. I looked frantically around the deck. Meantime the anchor had clearly decided that it was no longer on cosy terms with the bottom of Port Phillip and had decided to go its own way. We were lying beam on to the wind and drifting quite rapidly with only a few meters to the shore. The depth alarm started to sound. WHERE ARE THE KEYS? I rummaged through the bag I had taken ashore once more and there they were, buried in the bottom. Too late. We were aground. I started the engine anyway.

What to do? I put the engine into gear and lashed the wheel hard to starboard then went forward to try and shorten in the anchor cable to see if we could haul off. After hauling in a few meters I decided that shortening in the anchor was actually not such a good idea. If we were to get off the lee shore than I needed the anchor to hold. I needed the engine to be able to drive Sylph forward – where is the dinghy? - and for the chain to pull her bow into the wind and perhaps this way drive her off into deeper water. It felt like we were moving slowly. - I pulled in the dinghy’s painter, it was severed. – W e were not leaning over on our side. - The dinghy's painter must have been cut by the prop. - I watched the GPS closely. We were actually moving. – I cast around for the dinghy. Sure enough she was drifting towards the beach. Worry about that later. - Counter-intuitively I let out a bit more chain. We continued to bump slowly forward. After about fifteen long minutes – thank goodness the dinghy painter cut through and did not foul the prop – we slowly, slowly edged forward, the anchor was holding, the bow was slowly coming into the wind. The depth sounder was in slightly deeper water. I could feel Sylph bouncing just a little. Go girl, go! And we were off. Sylph slowly drove forward into deeper water, than the anchor snubbed. I allowed the bow to come around, then shifted into reverse, but the anchor was now holding and would not let us free. We were close to a moored boat. I stopped the engine, went forward and pulled in as much chain as I could. Back to the cockpit. Engage engine. Now that the cable was in short the anchor no longer held and we were able to motor clear of the moored craft and into deeper water. Hooray!

And old RC has earnt my respect. He decided through all this that it was all quite interesting. Despite my anxious moments, he perched himself in the cockpit just near the companionway where he could keep an eye on proceedings, and seemed completely nonplussed throughout.

Now we are safely back at anchor, minus one dinghy, but it could be worse, and I do not think the dinghy is going anywhere. I have set the alarm for 6.30 and will worry about it then.

I haven’t had so much fun since Sylph sat on a rock ledge in the Chilean Channels. We really need to seek another adventure as soon as we can. And RC has still to earn his mate's ticket.

Now ‘tis time for some more Moby Dick and a few hours sleep before we attempt to recover the dinghy. I hope I don’t have to swim for it.

All is well.