Cruising

Alone in gale conditions Page 2

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The Bruce dug in well without my backing down on it, and after an hour of watching the trees ashore I began to relax. It was a bit rolly, but I was well away from the shore and, better yet, the wind wasn’t increasing much. I learned later that the approaching front had stalled, but four days later it did hit the coast with winds of 60 knots. So I was lucky.

When I went below and inspected the transmission cable I saw the wire had frayed apart at the lever and and was too short to be reattached. With no spare and with the wind and waves building in the approaching darkness, I wasn’t going to attempt a repair in the confined space below. I hadn’t eaten all day, and I was very tired. And I felt terribly alone.

I spent a lonely and anxious night, but when the dawn finally came the wind began to drop. An hour later it had dropped so much that the boat started to swing around and the rode began to foul the marker buoys. I reduced the scope and used the engine to try to drag the anchor away from the marked channel. But I quickly saw that since there was no way to shift into neutral, I risked wrapping the rode around the prop. I dropped a stern anchor and tried to kedge the boat away from the marker buoys. But Eidos insisted on swinging back into them.

I finally decided to reanchor, even though there was now little wind to help me set the hook. As I pulled up the rode, it became clear that the anchor had caught on a marker buoy chain. I put on a snorkel and mask and went into the water to get a better look. Sure enough, the Bruce was hooked on the buoy chain. Back aboard, I continued the long chore of retrieving the anchor. Pull more chain, then cleat it off and rest. Repeat…

Nearly an hour later I was exhausted, but I could see the Bruce, with the buoy chain in its fluke, hanging just under the surface of the water. I mustered enough strength to reach over, grab the buoy chain with my hands, and get it clear of the anchor. Somehow I managed to finish hoisting the anchor, and then I reanchored a safe distance from the marker buoys. Or rather, I dropped the anchor and hoped it would dig in on its own.

At noon I heard the marina calling boats on the radio to announce they now had space available. Hooray!

Somehow I got the anchor up one more time and then motored to the harbor. When I finally approached the marina I saw a dock with a lee side that was relatively clear of boats. As I got close, I shut the engine off and hoped I had enough momentum to shoot alongside. But it wasn’t quite enough, so I restarted the engine for just a second. As the boat again lurched forward I turned the engine off; the burst was just enough to let Eidos slide alongside the dock. Finally my ordeal was over and after a very long 24 hours I was once again safe. But there was one more thing I had to do. I had to find and install a new transmission cable.

Hindsight

What I did right:

  • I paid close attention to the weather reports and knew strong winds were coming.
  • Though I probably waited too long to get an answer from the marina, once I saw that I had to do something I thought carefully about where to go given the expected conditions and the time left.
  • I had two more anchors on board in case things really deteriorated.
  • Although it wasn’t easy at times, I remained calm and carefully thought out every move.
  • What I did wrong:

  • I didn’t have the main ready to go up at the first sign of trouble.
  • When I had to wait two hours before calling back about dock space, I should have dropped one of my lighter anchors near the marina instead of powering around and shifting gears constantly.
  • I should have had a power windlass to help manage my heavy ground tackle. It’s now on my list.
  • I could have anchored with the engine off and then taken the rode to the stern, restarted the engine, and set the anchor in forward gear. I had done this in the past, but my anxiety prevented me from thinking clearly.
  • I didn’t have a good storm anchor. I now have a 35 pound CQR.
  • Barbara Molin has been cruising and living aboard for the past 13 years in British Columbia, California, Mexico, and the Bahamas. She crossed the Atlantic to Europe in 2004, and has been sailing in the Mediterranean ever since. Eidos is now in Greece

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