Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I learned about sailing from that: Be sure the anchor is hooked.

The year was 1986. We had our O'Day 25, Deja Vu III moored on the Chesapeake, at a marina in Tar Cove, not too far south of Baltimore, on the Western shore. On a week's vacation, we did a cruise, destination St. Michaels, on the Eastern shore. It was a great cruise, but this isn't a travelogue.

Upon arriving in St. Michaels, we anchored in the general anchorage, but at the very very far end, almost below a restaurant with outdoor seating, in quite shallow water, perhaps only 6 feet. The O'Day had a retractable centerboard, so shallow anchorages were accessible - she drew only 3 feet with the board up. The anchor was a small Danforth on 100 feet of 1/2" nylon rode.

After securing the boat, we dinghied to shore and the four of us (Jane, and I, and our two children Erica, and Adam) walked all around the harbor. When we had been ashore for perhaps 2 hours, I noticed that the sky was darkening, and the wind was freshening. Jane, ever the perceptive one, asked if I was concerned. I was. So we agreed that they would continue their tour, but that I would dinghy back out to the boat; I would watch for them to be waiting in front of the Whaling Museum, and I would come and pick them up. So, I went back out to Deja Vu.

The concern was justified. The sky turned black and the wind built. I sat nervously in the cockpit, watching. And then sure enough, in a gust the anchor broke out. Now, one of the problems with being anchored in such shallow water is that there is not much water behind you, between you and the big rocks on shore.

I had to do something. I started the outboard, and tried to keep Deja Vu pointed into the wind. But I couldn't really go forward, because the anchor rode, was up there - if I ran over it and got it into the prop, I would be well and truly screwed. So I sat there, steering the bow back and forth, trying to keep it in the eye of the wind, as the wind shifted and tried to blow us ashore. It was a delicate business, since if I got very far off of dead upwind, I didn't have enough horsepower to bring the bow up again. It must have been blowing 30 kt, and it was everything the 8 hp outboard had in it to keep us in place. Meanwhile, the folks having afternoon drinks right above me continued drinking and snacking, silverware and dishes tinkling - I was the afternoon show for them.

I knew I couldn't keep this up forever - eventually a wind shift would catch me out, the bow would fall off, and I'd be on the rocks. I needed to get away from the shore and out into deeper water. But that now useless anchor rode was up there, a trap waiting to be sprung, and I was back at the stern, 100% occupied keeping the bow into the wind. I finally came up with a plan: if I could get to the bow and snag a loop of the anchor line, I could return to the stern with it. Then I could retrieve the anchor, little by little, in the moments when the wind held steady.

Eventually, I got the chance - the wind slacked while holding steady. I bolted forward and brought back a loop of the rode, and got the bow back into the eye of the wind before it returned to full force. In the next minutes, I retrieved the rode, a little at a time. When I could see the anchor hanging in the water off the stern, I went to full throttle continuously, and without the risk of running over the rode, made it out to deeper water. When I was out there, I turned the anchor loose from the stern, and went forward to let out more rode. The anchor caught, and held.

There was applause from the restaurant.

I sat and shook, waiting for the adrenaline to flush from my bloodstream. I saw Jane and the kids on shore - they had watched the whole thing. Eventually the storm dissipated, and I went ashore and got them.


  • Use an anchor heavy enough to bite into the bottom.
  • When you put the anchor down, pull on it with the motor, hard. Be sure it is hooked. Do not leave the boat until you have done this.
  • Anchoring close to shore gives you very little time to respond if the anchor comes loose.
  • Keep an anchor watch in storm conditions - if I hadn't been aboard, we would have lost the boat.

Years ago when I was a kid, I used to read Flying magazine. I particularly enjoyed a long-running series of articles entitled "I Learned About Flying From That." Each article was written by a pilot, who humbly admitted to having made a mistake, and then having lived, told about it in the hopes that others would not have to make the same mistake. I thought then that it was a good format, and I still think that now. This series of postings is my attempt to recreate that article series with a new subject and new technology.

(If you would like to help others to learn from your mistakes, please send your article to: WindborneInPugetSound at gmail dot com)


1 comment:

audeojude said...

Anchoring is a never ending process of personal growth! :) I've been there done that in my little Beneteau F235 several times maneuvering in 25 to 35 knots of wind trying not to let it push me on shore while trying to get the anchor up or set one or the other.. Makes for great stories later if you and the boat survive :) maybe even if only you survive :) So far I haven't lost a boat though.

I learned the hard way to back down on my anchor with everything my engine will give to make sure it is set. Also always use an anchor one size or more larger than recommended. I still get caught out in different bottom conditions as I sail in to different geographical areas. Most of my anchoring has been in sand and mud so far. I'm sure I will have further stories as I get the chance to learn about coral, rocks deep water, etc... :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...