Here’s a little story to update and entertain you. As a good friend commented after reading this, “Sailing is the one thing I know that regularly has you fully engaged in complex problem solving at 3:30 am, with real stakes and with complete, ferocious, and callous disregard on the part of all the rest of the universe as to whether you do or do not make it through. It can be wicked scary in the moment, but to experience it, and live in the space that opens out from those moments, is nothing short of sublime…”
We anchored at Children’s Bay Cay in the Exumas, Bahamas. It’s a shallow area with a narrow channel along a pretty beach. One other boat was anchored there, and two more arrived later. The wind was light from the south, off the beach, and the forecast had it unchanged until the following noon, when a cold front would clock it around to north.
Small waves had formed in the open water west of the Cay, and they were bending around the point to our anchorage, hitting us sideways. Our Jaguar 36 catamaran is very stable, but the motion was uncomfortable. I put out a stern anchor to point the bows more into the waves, which helped. Hallie and I had a pleasant evening, and spent time gazing at the stars and being romantic.
At 3am I awoke; it was getting “bouncy.” The wind had swung to the west, as was predicted for noonish, on the way to the stronger northerly. Oh well, nothing to do but wait for daybreak and then move. With the wind shift the 2nd anchor line was now under the boat. But it wasn’t pulling hard, and it didn’t appear to be fouling the rudders or props, so again I thought best to wait for daybreak. I went back to sleep, but in the salon – sort of like being “on call.”
Heavy raindrops pounding on the deck woke me again, and I rushed out to assess the new situation. It was still dark. Within seconds it was pouring, and the wind blew 20+ knots from the NW. The new wind direction was pushing us toward the beach. The stern anchor rode was now drum tight, and our two anchors were holding us sideways to wind and wave. The added resistance of the sideways boat threatened to drag us the 3 boatlengths to shore. The depth sounder read 4 feet (which really meant 5, since we programmed in a margin of error, but then again the sensor was on the side away from the beach).
I had to get the boat pointed into the wind. I considered simply casting off the stern anchor, to be retrieved somehow in the morning. But it seemed to be holding nicely, and I thought conditions might be even worse come morning. I eased the line out until nearly the end. But our second anchor rode is relatively short, and the adjustment made no appreciable difference. I tied another line to the cleated bitter end, and led that line to the bow, hoping to end up with two bow anchors. I had to get this right, despite the darkness, pelting rain, howling wind, and my grogginess. If the line was fouled on a lifeline stanchion, for example, when I released the belay to the stern cleat it would tear off that stanchion.
I was pretty sure I had it right, though certainty did not seem possible in the conditions. Casting off astern, there was a moment of panic when I couldn’t get the rode to come to the bow. I thought it might be caught on our keel, but it was merely hooked on the horn of a side cleat. I still had enough line in hand to slack it quickly and get free from the cleat. I then easily brought the rode to the bow, so we had two well-dug-in bow anchors deployed. The lines were crossed, but we could sort that out later. Of course releasing the stern and letting the boat swing into the wind brought us even closer to the beach – about two boatlengths! The depth sounder read 3.3 feet – our keels were just a foot off the bottom.
Dawn was coming. There was a lull in the rain and in my frenetic activity. Hallie brought me a towel and dry clothes. We started the engines as a precaution, in case we dragged the short distance to being aground. We sat together for a few minutes so Hallie could have a short cry. We looked at the other three boats in the anchorage. Two were close to the beach, but not dragging closer. Time for some deep breaths, clearing the head, appreciating daylight, a bite of food, and thinking through next steps.
I expected the wind to continue to build as the earlier-than-predicted front passed through. But instead it eased, and then eased more to a near calm. It was eerie, but it was also an opportunity. I could easily uncross the two anchor lines and retrieve both anchors. Off we went, as the other boats were also getting underway.
We had planned to spend another day in the area, but with the surprisingly mild conditions we motorsailed the 20 miles back to the security of George Town, the cruising hub of Exuma. Enough adrenaline for now.