Cruiser Stress: Stormy Weather
No matter how well-prepared you think you are, no matter how prudent your actions might be, sometimes there is no place you can hide. And then, there is not much you can do other than trust in your boat and crew.
This week, we’ve been dealing with a pair of issues: an engine that appears to be running hot, and a forecast cold front. The engine issue could have been major, since it not only drives the boat when we can’t sail (which has been often), but also charges our batteries and chills our refrigeration. The cold front means we need shelter from the forecast west and north winds, which takes some planning around here; most anchorages provide protection from the prevailing trade winds (easterly), but not necessarily north and west.
It was hard to leave this behind. Big Majors Spot features swimming pigs, pretty beaches, and great holding (and, yes, water spots on my camera lens).
This issues coalesced and led us to plan on taking a slip at Staniel Cay Yacht Club on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. As it was, after several conversations with our worth-his-weight-in-gold diesel mechanic in Annapolis, it turned out the engine problem was manageable. That meant we could chill at the docks, enjoy drinks and/or lunch and dinner, pick up some groceries, visit the Batelco store for a WiFi solution (so far, no joy), and rest easy tied to a piling.
The cottages at Staniel Cay Yacht Club (above, left), where were we’d stayed on a land-based visit — in the 2-story blue one. Sharks come whenever there are leftovers or fish scraps. And, of course, we had to leave our mark on the CBSA burgee hanging in the clubhouse.
However, any sense of protection from the storm at SCYC is illusory. As we knew, the docks are exposed to the west, and the marina kicks boats off the docks if the forecast weather is supposed to be bad enough. So far, they hadn’t kicked us off. But having spent one night at the dock – with lines creaking, fenders squeaking, waves slapping, and wind whining – this before the storm even arrived – we decided independently to cut our stay short.
On Wednesday morning, we checked out and motored to our Plan B anchorage (Plan A, behind the famous Thunderball grotto of James Bond fame, was already crowded). Plan B was an almost fjord-like notch between Big Major’s Spot (home of beautiful beaches and the swimming pigs) and Little Major’s. In brilliant sunlight and crystal clear water, we dropped the anchor; I could see that it didn’t sit right and when Rick backed down on it, it was clearly dragging. We tried again, and this time the Rocna stuck in white sand. In the meantime, SCYC had cleared their docks, and we were joined in the anchorage by a beautiful approximately 70-foot poweryacht that had been with us on the docks.
As the afternoon progressed, we decided that we were too close to the shallows for when Calypso would inevitably swing to face west, so we picked another spot in deeper water. Before doing so, Rick dinghied over to the poweryacht and told them what we were doing, and made sure they were OK with our new position. We dropped again on a field of starfish-studded sand and grass, and stuck hard. Just to be sure, Rick snorkeled over the anchor while I put the engine in reverse, and it didn’t budge.
Our safe anchorage looked pretty nice when the sun was still out.
Our new location was subject to surge, which would mean a bad night of sleeping even in good weather. But expecting bad, I passed on the sleeping pills I sometimes take, just to be alert if I needed to be. I couldn’t get comfortable, and couldn’t sleep.
At one point, the anchor alarm went off (we sent the GPS when we anchor, and if the boat goes more than a set distance away from where we initially anchored, an alarm goes off). We checked our surroundings, and though we’d swung, the anchor hadn’t moved. The alarm needed a more liberal setting for the swinging.
At about 2 a.m., the front roared in, like a switch had been flipped. These suckers seem to have some affection for the number “40,” because the wind meter read exactly 40.0 knots to start the show (as it did for the front we rode out at Compass Cay). The rain, which had started before, now became torrential, and with the wind howling through the rigging and the tide surging through the anchorage, it was very loud.
Not being able to sleep, and wanting to make sure we were safe, I joined Rick up in the companionway to see what was going on. While we were still secure in our spot, the poweryacht appeared to be on the move. And it wasn’t clear whether there was someone awake and in command of the vessel, because it was moving erratically. Clearly they’d dragged anchor. And now, they were bearing down on us, on a collision course with either us or our anchor line. Rick turned on the engine, in case we needed to move quickly. We turned on radio, but were at a loss as to how to communicate with them.
The poweryacht veered away from us, and then made a second, similar pass. This had the earmarks of a very bad situation, but we felt helpless to do anything in the dark, wind, and rain, and could only wait to see what happened. Finally, it looked like the poweryacht’s crew had gained control, although it looked like they were dragging two anchors, fouled on each other, neither of which they could raise so as to be able to re-anchor more securely.
They moved some distance away from us to deal with their issues, while the storm continued. Even though the risk of a collision had abated, the possibility of our own, or someone else’s, anchor dragging had not passed. Judging from the traffic on Channel 16, this scenario was being played out in other anchorages as well. We decided to keep an anchor watch – with me taking the shift from 4:30 to 6:00 a.m. The wind was holding in the 25+ range, with gusts in the upper 30s, and the seas in the anchorage were breaking. By 6 a.m., the wind was down to 15 knots, and I finally collapsed in my bunk.
This is what our chart plotter showed after our night of mayhem in the anchorage.
The morning after, it was cold and dreary. A good day to recover from the adrenaline hangover and take stock of what we did right, and what we might do better next time. Because I am certain there will be a next time.
We’ve now moved on to Black Point Settlement, at Great Guana Cay. It’s still rocking and rolling, and sleep is elusive, but the sunset was stunning.