February 23, 2013 by Last Star blog
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OK, maybe the waiting was not the hardest part…
Well the boat was all set, the entire sailing community was in “weather over-drive” and all itchy on the radio in regards to the pending front. I think this winter has been so calm here that most have taken the good weather for granted and don’t recall that these blows are a bit of the norm this time of year.
We waited ALL day for the front to arrive as each forecast (thanks to Houligan for his broadcasts over the VHF) shifted it a bit later into the day so naturally it would arrive at nightfall. Is there any other way to go through these damn storms? So Patricia and I are sitting in the boat after a day of roasting in the heat, exploring the DECCA ruins and scouting our near section of the Cay looking for shells and sea beans; I found a couple of buoys to use as chafe guards against the concrete bulkhead. We made some fine tuning to the boat and are now ready, watching the clouds approach and sipping happy hour drinks. Some fellow comes on the radio with an “urgent report” that his radar indicates a large band of clouds moving rapidly with rain. Now this ignites a firestorm of radio calls that everyone now has to put in their anecdotal evidence of their observations. Let’s review the original transmission regarding the radar. This guy does not give his location, the scope of his radar, distance the clouds are from him, which direction the clouds are moving. Totally useless call as one could look outside and see the sunset was trashed and the clouds were coming. Maybe next time he can come on and tell us what DVD box set of HBO re-runs he’s watching; equally useful.
Now while we are waiting for the impending wind and rain we decide that while we are running the engine to heat water we can also use the engine to provide a bit of thrust to offset the surge from the waves and ease tension on the lines. I glance out the back of the boat and I see something that is not from the ocean and it is just hanging around the back of my boat waiting to clog the cooling raw water intake or wrap around the prop shaft at the worst possible time. I call the Admiral over to glance at this monstrosity and get her 2 cents on what it might be. WTF is that thing? It looks like an old rug with some sort of organic material clinging to it. I tell Patricia it is some sort of animal, she says it is algae….hah. I take the boat hook and try to “shoo” it away with a current and make some futile attempt to get it away from the boat. No matter my efforts it comes closer to the boat the next time so finally I decide to grab it with the boat hook and drag it off the best I can. Well no luck there. I touch it with the boat hook and it disintegrates into pieces! I think that it was the hide from a dog, maybe a golden retriever and that is all that the marine life left. It was nasty, all gooey and with red hair. I have no idea what happened to the bones and such, it was just hide. So now I have 3 major pieces of this crap floating around the back of the boat. Lovely!! What next?
OK, so in about 10 minutes we go from happy hour drinks to shit-storm. The clouds were impressive, you could see the wind below curling them up and making odd formations. The rain thoroughly rinsed the boat of ALL salt and she desperately needed it. The humidity that was plaguing us for the last 2 days both inside and outside the boat was gone in a flash. The wind was still out of the SW so the boat was getting pushed to the right and the anchor line around the large bollard and the rear lines on the bulkhead were tight like piano wire. The rain was still coming down in squalls and the visibility was fading fast. The rain and SW-erly wind went on for about an hour and the waves were coming in the small inlet/pass off our nose. Thankfully that didn’t last too long and the wind went to north westerly and we did not get many waves coming at us. Even with the rain we could tell the wind was clocking as the line on the bollard went slack and the anchor line on the starboard side as well as the lines at the stern all went tight. Now the wind picked up in earnest and the boat was beginning to list from the pressure. Normally a boat is not tethered at four points; it should swing freely from an anchor or mooring ball at its nose so it can “streamline” into the wind. Not for us for the next few hours. The wind probably peaked at about 35 knots; our anemometer is not well calibrated in my opinion and I use it primarily as a wind direction indicator.
We ate leftovers in the cockpit in the dark with the wind howling around us. The anchor line was bucking and heaving and the rear line holding the stern now looked like dental floss from where I was sitting. It had gotten way dark so the Mag-Lite was the only method to see anything. We tried putting on the spreader (flood) lights but they only reflected off the screens and you couldn’t see beyond them. I had the GPS and wind-indicator as dim as possible and could just make out the out-line of the trees at the DECCA station for a reference: they were staying in the same location in relation to the boat and me. By around 9:00 PM we decided it was time for bed. We discussed me staying in the cockpit and Patricia going below to bed. At this point sweatpants and a hoodie were needed. I grabbed a pillow and my kindle and settled in.
It was a miserable night. The bow of the boat shifted about 15 degrees to the port side from the pressure of the wind. We suspect that the anchor chain that appeared to be hung on a large rock the day before either jumped it or broke the rock so some additional play was introduced. The anchor or the line did not fail but we seemed to give up quite a few degrees/feet to the wind. I slept in little fitful spurts or 20-30 minutes throughout the night. Each time I awoke I would reset the GPS to see how many “feet” we moved and seeing the timer would let me know if I slept a bit. The boat was not drifting but just bucking and jiggling on the lines and today’s GPSs are so good that it will add that up for you as you float to and fro on the lines.
Patricia came to join me at about 3:00 AM as the wind had clocked to about 70 degrees off our starboard side. Even in the small DECCA basin there was enough water and fetch to create sizeable waves that now “SMACKED!” the hull down below broadside and were disturbing the Admiral’s sleep. When the waves hit it makes a huge noise below. Boats are made to cut through waves, not take them on their fat, flat sides. Patricia brought her pillow too and a beach towel for a blanket. We’re livin’ the dream. As she was now up and with me I turned on the radio to channel 16; the hailing frequency. We didn’t have long to wait. About quarter of 4 came the distress call. Some guy is “on the rocks” as his anchor “broke” and is there anyone out there that could pull him off? Don’t know if it was the weather radar guy but this call was not very useful. He doesn’t identify himself or name of the vessel, no location, no size of his vessel, none of the criteria the Coast Guard recommends in a distress call. Needless to say he was greeted with “radio silence”. Now in his defense suspect his ping-factor was through the roof. But if you need help you have to get the information out there to get help. Credit to Grant at Fowl Cay resort as he was up all night evidently and he made a call about 3:30 that he saw a vessel broken free and drifting through Great Rock Cut; he thought it was a sail boat, hard to see in the dark. Well this guy went on with his calls until dawn and eventually he got some responses. I was nowhere near him so I just listened but turns out he was a 64 foot Hatteras!! He was calling for a tender (fancy name for dinghy) to come pull him off from the stern as he was banging on the rocks. Well you need a good size tender to pull off a 64′ sport fisherman. Some folks went at dawn to try and help him. Props to the Hatteras boat company as when the boat came off today with help from a salvage company it floated and the hull was NOT breached. Even with the wind and waves pounding it for 3+ hours. Now for the Captain, great he survived but where was he when his anchor “broke”? Asleep? In a blow like this? This sort of weather is uncommon but when it comes you have to babysit the boat and put someone on watch. If you’re alone you are it and you sleep when it is over. Another boat told a story on the radio this morning that a large “mega-yacht” drug anchor and he had to hail them on his radio to come out and stop drifting down on him. Awful that a boat gets so close to you at night dragging that you can read its name on the stern and even worse that there was a “professional” crew of 5 on board and they were all asleep in this weather. One of the reasons I passed on other “good” anchorages is that in crowded ones boats start to drag. I learned a hard lesson when I drug in Georgia and since then have upgraded my anchor tackle and always go overboard on the scope. Better safe (tentatively) than sorry. I’m not aware of any other close calls from last night.
We sat up until dawn and then I went ashore in the dinghy (another challenge) to check the lines and make any adjustments. Everything still looked good even with us about 15 degrees to the southwest rather than west. Right now it is about 2 O’clock, the wind is still out of the north and we are waiting for a NE component so we can clock the boat into the wind and parallel the bulkhead and point our nose into the wind for tonight. Normally we’d tie up to the bulkhead using fenders to protect the boat but Patricia wants to stand off so the cats can’t get ashore on this island with the old ruins and unknown wildlife. We think Cooper ate a lizard in the Abacos and he was sick for two days.
The wind is supposed to last until Tuesday, we hope to leave on Monday if it abates a bit and head south to Black Point and eventually Georgetown. As the internet is so spotty and difficult to get here there is no telling when this will get posted so bear with us and keep checking in.
So of course, Captain Crazy’s description is accurate but I have to tell you, it was completely unnerving. It was a little bit weird in that I had written about the fear aspect of boating and the reliance of your safety on your anchor the other day…and here we are and were completely dependent on a few lengths of line to keep us safe. The DECCA station is concrete on two sides and various odd steel posts on the other sides. On a normal day, with normal winds, totally manageable for the Last Star. So prepping her with the ‘spidey’ look for spring lines, anchor lines etc was stressful and challenging. As the wind was whipping us around at over 30 knots and the rain was power washing the boat, I gathered a small ditch bag for what I felt was the inevitable trip in the dinghy to safety in the middle of the night. You know, a ziploc bag with wallets, passports, phone, cat food…the essentials. I think he just finds these impossible situations in an attempt to get rid of the cats, but I have news for him, I can drive the dinghy. Or maybe he is really in this for my life insurance? I did manage to sleep, after a few prayers and deal offerings to all higher beings. However, at 3 am with what sounded like the back cleat giving way and bad dreams of the entire arch being ripped from the boat, I was awake and up on deck. It was miserable, to say the least. We sat there in the darkness and watched the boat slowly lose some ground to the anchor and we were in awe of the ever mercurial and voracious changes of the ocean and Mother Nature. From one hour to the next: from peace to fear. Now tonight, we go again. But we have re-configured the boat, so different more worries ahead. They say this will slow to less than 25 knots on Tuesday. Let’s freakin hope so, as I am closing in on completely gray!