Ba-boom, boom, boom! The report was deafening, bone-shaking, as though it came from inside of a thunder cloud. I practically jumped out of the V-berth on my Catalina 34 as she lay just south of the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
“Well, hell’s bells!” I yelled into the dark saloon. “What is it now?” The crossing from Florida had been a rough one. My brother Dan and I had been in a rush to meet our families for Christmas and took on an angry Gulf Stream—not a smart idea, I know. We struggled upwind through large waves, past giant ships, the two of us seasick and regretting our decision.
Halfway across the VHF shorted out, after which we began receiving electric shocks when touching any metal part of the boat. Turning off individual breakers on the electric panel we discovered that the running light circuit was also shorted out, so we shut it down. I looked at my exasperated brother and advised, “Whatever you do, don’t ask what else can go wrong!”
After we transited the south end of Gun Cay, clear skies and the salubrious waters of the Great Bahama Bank stretched out before us. I smiled at Dan. “What a relief,” I said boldly. “Now we can motor the remaining 100 miles and be there by tomorrow.
I shouldn’t have said that. The following morning we started the engine and discovered that a cable on the steering quadrant had parted. Can you imagine what that would have been like in the Gulf Stream? The emergency tiller worked, but provided little leverage against the cumbersome rudder, and holding course in the wind and waves was tiresome.
Nonetheless, somehow we made it to Nassau the night of Christmas Eve and had a happy reunion with our wives and kids. After a luxurious week together, I put everyone on a plane and returned to the boat.
The repairs were vexing. The “technicians” spent two hours installing a new steering cable only to discover that they had put it in backward. In all, the repairs took the better part of a week to complete and cost $600, leaving me in no mood for any more surprises.
The cannon shots continued unabated, and the portlights glowed with the blinding flashes. I looked at my watch—it was just after midnight. And then it hit me, it’s was the New Year! I dashed up to the cockpit and was treated to the finest fireworks display I had ever seen. The Atlantis was giving all of New Providence a wonderful show, and I had front row seats.
The glistening water around Ukiyo sizzled with spent shell casings, and I carefully swept ashes off the bimini. It’s not often you feel like you’re actually inside a fireworks display. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
With ringing ears and happy heart I checked the anchor rode and looked around the anchorage before turning in again. The wind had been blowing hard all day from the northeast, and I was concerned about dragging in such a crowded place. But we had held our position for over 18 hours, and in Nassau Harbor, with its strong reversing current, that’s about as good as it gets.
One by one the lights went out on the neighboring boats. What a wonderful place and what a great way to start the New Year, I mused. The boat was full of fuel, water and provisions. In the morning I would head east to the Family Islands. I turned in for the night feeling positively sublime.
And you know what’s coming next, don’t you?
It began as a dream in the pre-dawn hours. I was being yelled at by a phantasm, and the volume and irritable nature of the voice persisted until I realized it was no dream. “Monsieur, get up, get up! Come get your boat away from us!” I flew up to the cockpit and though groggy eyes saw all I needed to know: the tide had changed and we had dragged down on a sailboat from Quebec.
[advertisement]In intense situations I find you remember the oddest things. The man and woman who were frantically pushing on my boat’s stanchions were both stark naked. Both wore LED headlamps that illuminated their bodies. It was a bizarre sight I’ll never forget.
I started the engine and threw it into gear, put on the autopilot and trotted to the foredeck to retrieve the anchor. My heart sank when I pulled on the rode. With the change of tide it had wrapped around the wing keel, and the anchor had re-set. Hercules himself could not have pulled it free. Back at the helm I put the engine in reverse, attempting to break the set, but the boat bumped again into my neighbor, evoking more frantic shouts. As calmly as I could I explained to them what had happened.
His response shocked me: “Then cut your anchor line!” Followed by some words I don’t think are in the French dictionary. I told him firmly, “No, but I’ll slip the rode. Standby while I prepare.” By now most folks on the boats around us were awake and following the drama. At least two had hoisted anchor and were moving away. I wondered why my friend from Quebec couldn’t have done the same.
I tied a fender to the end of my rode, uncleated it, and off it went along the waterline—right around our rudder. For just a fraction of a second I envied my friends back home with their golf clubs and fantasy football leagues. Surely, there are better ways to have fun than this.
Donning a mask and fins I plunged into the clear dark water and pushed the rode and fender down off the rudder. Our boats drifted apart, and I motored off into the pre-dawn light, leaving the cantankerous Canadians behind. Finding a spot far to the west of the anchorage, I dropped my spare Danforth and collapsed into my bunk.
In the morning I glumly surveyed a deck full of bent stanchions, scratched fiberglass and missing gear swept overboard. Downhearted, but all the more determined to carry on, I patched my boat back together and prepared for the crossing to Eleuthera.
What We Did Right
I didn’t anchor in the harbor until the helm, lights and radio were repaired.
I monitored the anchor for 18 hours before turning in for the night.
Slipping instead of cutting the anchor rode allowed me to retrieve it the next day.
I kept calm throughout the ordeal.
What We Did Wrong
I should have considered moving to a less crowded part of the harbor before dark.
I should have been aware that we were down current for the fireworks. Sooner or later the tide would turn and put us up current from the other boats.
Robert Beringer’s first ebook, Water Power!, a collection of marine short stories, is available at barnesandnoble.com