14 June, 2005

A First Long Night of Many More to Come

Perhaps it was around four in the afternoon. A calm day, a little blustery southerly breeze, blue skies and sunshine. I was sitting down below reading a Rushdie novel. My boat softly rocked to the southerly swell. I was tied well to a mooring buoy in the northern bay of East Sound. This being the exact spot where I went aground two months ago, due to mooring ball failure, a rare thing, I thought it propitious to also drop an anchor over the side as well—just in case, fate being what it is. I am a lover of redundancy in general.
From the county dock not more than fifty yards, perhaps less, a heard a faint voice. I went on deck and I saw a man calling to me. On asking him to repeat himself, though I heard him the first time, I learned that he was asking me to move my boat. He claimed the mooring was his and he had company coming that evening to use it. It certainly wasn’t my mooring, and it was unmarked, so I found myself in no position to argue.
The wind was now blowing a more consistent ten – twelve knots. I had rocks around on all sides. I had always been a bit skeptical of this place as an anchorage, but I had a boat next door for a few days, just next to the mooring, and they weathered out some good blows, from both the north and south no less. So I figured it safe to take their spot. The only question was its proximity to a small island just to the lee of the spot. Perhaps I could stay just to the side of it.

I weighed my kedge (secondary) anchor and cranked the engine. (How wonderful it is to have an engine that will actually start reasonably again—hurray for the old Farymann.) I was double-tied to the mooring as well (redundancy on top of redundancy—I am wary of this anchorage, I tell you). With a little throttle, I blew the last knot and start motoring forward and a bit to the starboard, which was west, into the wind.
I had tried to visualize in advance where exactly I should be when I dropped. I had taken reference marks on surrounding rocks and trees and the dock in particular. When I reached where I thought I should be, I idled back the engine, put her in neutral and went forward to the bow. I needed to wait till my forward momentum had stopped before I hove the anchor over the side. As we started a drift back, northwards, I started panning out the chain, fifty, one-hundred, one-twenty-five to start. I let it set.
Seeing how the wind wasn’t blowing so hard I decided to back down on it to test just how firmly set it was. But how hard? I realized there was a fair bit I didn’t know about anchoring. Till now, I’ve been mostly a harbor resident. Anchoring is the most important part of the sailing business—where most accidents actually occur. It frustrates me that the standard for anchoring is one good anchor off the bow. In mountaineering, one anchor is never suitable (with the exception of extreme circumstances). Redundancy is the rule. This is the margin of error that keeps a climber alive. In sailing, it is still the rule, but less often the case in practice. Throwing two anchors can be a chore. On a mountain when an anchor fails, you die. When sailing, you simply run aground. Not the same.
As I slowly increased the throttle in reverse, sure enough, I hear the chain pop and we start to move astern. The anchor had tripped. But it wasn’t long before it dug in again and this time in earnest. I may not have given full throttle, but I gave it a good little tug. Satisfied, I sat and made land sights to mark my position. I also marked it on the gps and set a drag alarm. So long as the gps was on, if I traveled more than 55 ft, it would set off an alarm to announce our potential drag (or swing).

In part due to the newness of the skill, its importance, and the ominousness of my location—I was feeling wary about my situation. The wind picked up a bit more as I watched for any drag. We were set well. I went below and started reading up again in my books about anchoring.
The reading, though sparse, verified my concerns about my anchorage, essentially an open horseshoe opening toward the south. With a south wind, like I was experiencing, the bay had miles of open water in which to generate a good swell. The wind and swell had open passage to blow me on to the rocky shore behind me, as it had done two months ago. A northerly wind would be a different story—the harbor would then be somewhat protected, no swell, and only open water behind to drift safely if blown off your anchor.
Also, I didn’t know much about the bottom. All I knew that someone else had safely anchored here. Not much. So I had no problem with throwing my kedge anchor over the side as well.
We laid well all evening in a soft breeze.

I awoke at about one-thirty a.m. and heard that familiar howling noice. The boat was rocking firmly now. As I came to, I recognized that the weather had gone for the worse. I dressed and pulled on my slickers. On deck the wind was howling at about twenty to twenty-five knots, the seas running like white maned horses. The anchor snubber line was stretched taught. The swell wasn’t helping any as we were blown from side to side. According to my landmarks, the ones that I could still actually see, we had moved, but only a bit, and I felt sure it was due to the increased tension on the chain.
The night looked all to eerily familiar to one I had experienced here two months past. That night I had gone to sleep and trusted all to a untested mooring. Not tonight. I refused to go back to that beach. I would take ever precaution availible to me. I went forward and panned out what I had left of my two-hundred feet of chain (In twenty feet of water, that was a 10:1 ratio—pretty good). I tensioned and set by hand the kedge anchor to take a bit of the load.
What would I do if we did drag? Would I sit with my motor running all night slowly de-stressing the anchors? Would I leave altogether? Would I reset them farther from the rocks of the shore?
I won’t drag both anchors, I thought. No way. It wasn’t blowing that hard. It was blowing up to thirty knots, I think, a good blow. But I will surely see much, much worse. But anchoring is all about feel and experience, knowing how a set feels and how a boats sits on it anchor. This comes with time.
I had all the controls on so I could start the engine in an instant. I had to question my engine: it is only a eight horsepower. It really isn’t strong enough to motor into weather like that. My anchors needed to hold. If they didn’t I’d drop my ”tank”—my big storm anchor.

And so I sat. I sat on deck for an hour or so. I watched the gps. I went below and ate some leftovers. I checked for chafe on my lines. All was well. It wasn’t long before the sky began to get light. I knew it wouldn’t be long after that the wind would ease. I laid down and listened and thought. I slowly became more and more comfortable. She was fine. She would make it. The winds started to ease. The gusts lost a little of their sap. I napped and then would look out. The sun started to rise.
The winds continued into the morning but only at a part of what they had been. I went to the bunk in earnest.

I reawoke later in the day to some beautiful gusty weather. I was psyched about being on anchor. This is how it will be from here out. It is the anchor I have to trust and love, not some random mooring. This was how it needed to be.
Who ever was supposed to come and use the mooring never showed up anyhow.

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