Friday, July 31, 2015

'Tis the season - when wind hits the boat

It’s 8am on a Friday morning, Grand Cay at the top tip of the Abacos islands. The tiny harbour is abuzz with fishing boats of all sizes prepping for the day. Americans in neon shirts emblazoned with pictures of regal jumping fish, sipping coffees and supervising local guys with massive carts of ice bags down the docks. The freezers are being loaded, awaiting today’s catch.

Though the sky is uncharacteristically grey and cloud mottled, and there are distant thunderous rumblings, there is no evidence of last night’s mayhem. All is calm. For now.
But this is the hurricane season and squalls are whipping through and can do so at any time.
8 hours ago, night had descended on Grand Cay. We’d just returned to the boat from supper onshore and left the tropical rhythms of the beginnings of a street party behind.
We knew there was rain on the radar and we expected it’s approach.
But what came next can never be expected. A delicate calm gave way to distant thunder. And then we were smashed with a solid wall of wind. The boats in the nearby marina groaned and the vicious wind howled and shoved at us with all it’s might.
JW and I scrambled to get the wind instruments on so we could clock the speed. Immediately adrenaline levels rose. Rain began to pelt us, an assault carried on the wind. The waves below us started to build and rock and slam.
And we stood huddled in the cockpit and watched. And then it happened. The wind was winning and the buildings alongside us were sliding out of view. We were dragging! Behind us only feet away, our buddy boat Alleycat loomed closer by the second.
Engines revved on and up, black smoke billowed out behind us as we pushed forward with all the power Shiloh has. And still we barely moved. I shot a blinking, soak-eyed glance at the wind meter. 45 knots. Slamming. Us. Hard.
I realised in that moment that I had never faced such a force, such an intense, barely manageable emergency. A situation that required more than my full attention, but something extra. Something I found with glee that I had inside me.  
I actually smiled to myself amidst it all, thinking of my earlier whining about insects and anchor watches.

Of course we didn't get a picture last night but here's about what it felt like!

We managed to pull away from the boats and the nearby jetty with 60 feet of rusty chain and a heavy anchor somewhere below us, scraping along the thin sand layer of sand and shale.
As I held the boat as still as possible, turning carefully back and forth so as not to get caught on the side and blown out of control backwards, JW shouted from the bow,
“We need to get this anchor up!”
It was far easier said than done. I blinked the searing water from my eyes and glanced around. All the boats on anchor were careening around as if on ice. We were all skating in circles with little control.
Alleycat had their anchor up and were powering toward the dock with an audience of power boaters jumping and running about and yelling as they approached.
With a near miss of a large pole, they managed to get onto the dock.
We were on our own now out here – time to really focus. I needed to not only hold us at bay from imminent disaster, but actually find and hover over our anchor amidst utter chaos.
The next 15 minutes was an hour. The rain, the wind melted away into insignificance. It was just the prevailing condition and what had to be done was not going to wait.
We got the anchor up and though we were far from out of trouble, I shivered. It was a high.
Some choose bungee jumping; some of us lounge around drinking rum in exotic places awaiting the unknown storm that will require immediate action, skill or blind determination – no panic.
Both are an adrenaline not to be matched. 

The wind dissipated to a mere 30 knots and I held Shiloh still, powering with full force, each engine while JW and Alan on his dinghy below us, pondered and shouted against the weather, where we should try to pull in. It was decided that we could get into the fuel dock.
Al climbed aboard and we ran around grabbing lines and fenders from the locker below while moving past the docked boats and growing audience onshore.
We got close enough, JW jumped from slippery boat to slippery dock and managed to get the bow line tied off. And an immediate calm fell over the world.
We were ‘safe’. IF the dock could hold us and IF the wind stayed at a manageable level and didn’t shoot back up to 45kts or higher.
I don’t know if it was still raining. Was there thunder? Were the waves bashing us against the docks, asking so much from a few inflated fenders? Who knows. Adrenaline is a high maker that alters time and sensation.
30 minutes later I realised I was drenched and peeled my clothes off for a shower.
We spent the night checking the lines as the tide rose and fell, and in between I slept the best sleep I’ve had in ages. I felt alive and secure in the knowledge that nothing is actually secure. That when shit hits the fan, or wind hits the boat, you have to step up and handle it. And that’s when you know you are really alive. 


  1. Another day in paradise UH? Well done.

  2. Beautifully written and great story. However, I did have one thought while reading this and I hope you don't take offense. I'm not sure what you have for an anchor/rode, but if it's not holding the boat in 45 knots of wind - perhaps you should rethink your set up. Thanks for the read. :)

  3. Thank you skipper for pulling off the fuel dock. Appreciate the courtesy ...S/V Mystic Lady...palm city FL