Sunday, May 13, 2012

Anchor drag in a night storm

The dry season in Grenada this year has proven to be quite wet. And windy. The rain keeps our boat clean, washing off the crusted salt from time to time, the wind keeps us cool down in the cabins at night.
So, mostly the weather has been great. Except when it’s not.
Night. Deep in the heart of night. Darkness. Isolation.  I hear the wind begin a slow then rising howl and the gentle swell under Shiloh begins to slam and shove, her fiberglass and wooden bones creaking under the strain.
The deep grey sky opens above us and the rain comes with force, pelting the Perspex windows, pooling in the bimini and slamming harshly off in the next gust of wind. Clothes left out on the lines are beaten and battered. The pegs plead for mercy as they grip against the force.

Visibility is low. Night, where time stands still. Where all the familiar fades into the grey anger of clouds and rain and wind. I peer through the windows, trying to get our bearings. The friendly little beach on Hog Island is a blurred distant form. Our neighboring boats rise and fall with the water, they look small and vulnerable. Like us.
JW and I are awake, the wind’s howling now a prohibitive force to sleeping. We are crouched up on the saloon couch, trying to see what is happening around us, to us. We hear a strange clattering and a bang and a silence. One of our 5 gallon water jugs has been blown off the boat. The towels are still shaking and holding tight.
We begin to worry about our anchor. Are we in the same position? Where is that boat that had arrived earlier in the evening? We check our GPS coordinates against those we recorded when we set anchor days ago. I am shaking. I can barely read the numbers for some reason, and I close the book quickly. Yes! We are ok. Maybe I was willing it to be so. But it wasn’t so.
One boat to our port side begins to wave a flashlight at us, blinding me through the foggy wet window. And again. We wonder, are they out on their deck, looking at the situation? Then on the VHF radio a friend in a close by catamaran calls out:
“Shiloh, Shiloh”
We scramble to answer. It must be 2 or 2:30am.
“Do you require any help?!”
“No, why?”
“Well your anchor seems to have dragged quite a bit”.
NO! I motion to JW to tell him we haven’t moved We are fine.
Then I look once again very wary, afraid to read the numbers that would tell me we are floating out into the sea, so rough, with reefs and rocks behind us, awaiting an unprepared boat.
The numbers are wildly off. And the GPS does not lie as it blinks at me with it’s orange backlight, we are moving steadily south west, with the force of the wind.
JW and I jump up. No time for nerves. He opens the sliding door, and immediately the sounds of the night’s fury hit us. The rain pelts down and in the door.
We have to get out there, lift the anchor, get the engines running and motor against the wind. We need to try to set the anchor again.
I run down into a spare cabin to get the plastic raincoats and roughly throw one on. JW is already at the helm. He is soaked. I can barely see as I make my way around the front of the boat and start the anchor remote. The engines are fighting to move forward. Behind us, the huge motor boat is bobbing, and reminds me that my mistake with the numbers could have caused us to drift swiftly back and into the other boat. I shudder. I am already shivering with the rain in my face and down through the coat. The anchor is up. I shout to JW.
We move forward and let it down once again. My flashlight illuminates the sand just below us, and lets us know we’ve come quite shallow again. We drop more and more chain and are blown back quickly until we stop. Now we are just swaying side to side with the wind, but seemingly we are in one place. Our anchor has held.
I run inside and throw towels down to dry the entrance that is soaked. To dry us, to do something just to keep from giving in to my shakes. At this stage I’m not sure if it is the cold wet, or my nerves. My knees literally knock. JW stands at the helm, calm, checking everything.
Back to the GPS – I write the coordinates and check them every 5 minutes. Each massive gust of wind sends me checking again. The electronic instruments tell us the wind is reaching 41knts. That is 76 km. And a 35 kilogram anchor, dug into porous sea sand is holding us.
This amazes me. It scares me, and in this case, even after we’re sitting inside, dry and warm, it keeps me from sleep.
JW gets an hour’s rest until I notice once again we are moving slightly. He is up and outside, in the pelting rain again, motoring against the wind. One engine, then the other, to keep us facing the wind and not spinning around in the crazed seas.
The anchor holds. JW retires about 4:30 to rest. I try as well. But the rain on the window is calling me, warning me, threatening. The noises are sharp and hard and jolting.
I give up on the pretense of rest and sit alone in the saloon. Watching, wondering, waiting for daylight to bring that false sense of safety and sanity.
When it comes, it is not all sun and fun. The waves are still quite rough, the wind has not let up much. And we have to move the boat. The night moves only left us far out into the channel and not close enough to the safety of the land.
But we had managed to face the storm literally and that made me smile. I’d been through a first. In this case, the first anchor drag in a storm.
And I’d learned that Shiloh’s captain is a calm and confident skipper. That I can be called on to assist. That we can handle the bad with the good. And that in a way, we were not alone. Once again I marvel at the helpfulness and the empathy in the cruising community. Everyone was awake that night. Other boats dragged. Many cruisers were out in their dinghys in that weather, assisting. Amazing and inspiring.
Whatever first I next face, I’m sure I’ll shake a bit less and learn even more.


  1. Thank you for the very well written narrative of your cruise. We look forward to following your adventures and experiences from afar.

    1. Thanks Gordo!! Will continue to share the experiences - good and bad :) Where afar are you?

    2. 105 in Phoenix ocean in sight. We belong to a sailing club in San Diego, and usually charter elsewhere in the summer.

  2. Our first 2 months on board seemed to consist of nothing but midnight storms and we spent way too much time in the cockpit with our engines running! Dragging is scary but keeping on top of a situation really does make a difference. It sounds like your husband is calm and boy does that ever help!

  3. Thanks Laura - what changed after the first 2 months? Glad you made it through all the incidents without a major issue! It's definitely not fun during the situation!

    My hubby is as calm as you can get, yet very alert - without him I would not be out here! :)

    1. It's like reading a book ... a rollercoaster experience. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  4. Wow! So heart was racing as I was even reading it! Love it....

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