Sailing Sense: An Unforgettable Anchorage

Originally published in March, 2009It was a beautiful summer day, and my wife, Emily, and I were looking forward to a relaxing overnight aboard Ocypete, our Bayfield 32. We were heading for one of our favorite spots on the southeast corner of Beausoleil Island, in the Georgian Bay Islands National Park on Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada. Emily was at the wheel as we powered
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Originally published in March, 2009

It was a beautiful summer day, and my wife, Emily, and I were looking forward to a relaxing overnight aboard Ocypete, our Bayfield 32. We were heading for one of our favorite spots on the southeast corner of Beausoleil Island, in the Georgian Bay Islands National Park on Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada. Emily was at the wheel as we powered into a light offshore breeze, and when we reached the right spot I dropped the anchor in 13 feet of water and let out about 70 feet of rode.

Emily put Ocypete into reverse and backed down on our 22-pound Bruce, digging it firmly into the soft mud that forms the bottom of southern Georgian Bay. After we settled down, I took bearings on landmarks on both sides of the boat and wrote them down, just in case. Even though I’d thought about getting a larger anchor, I hadn’t done so; we’ve never had any problems in the two seasons we’ve had the boat, and I always take extra care to make sure we are securely anchored.

While at anchor we pay close attention to newly arriving boats. I enjoy watching boats in general, and I like to observe the anchoring routines of other crews, as I am always looking for ways to do things better. I pay particular attention, of course, to any boat anchoring in a spot that might threaten our boat.

After lunch I noticed that the breeze was filling in just as a smart-looking 36-foot powerboat passed close by our port side. I was concerned by its proximity, and my concern increased dramatically when the skipper turned the wheel sharply to starboard and anchored directly ahead of us at a distance of about 60 feet. I remarked to Emily that things might start to get interesting if the boat dragged, but I assumed the skipper knew what he was doing and had adequate ground tackle for the conditions.

Then I saw a woman, possibly his wife, hanging fenders along both sides of the boat. I wasn’t particularly happy at the prospect of our new neighbors entertaining guests. Sure enough, some 20 minutes later two other powerboats came alongside the anchored boat and tied up. The anchor of the middle boat was now holding all three.

I watched the boats raft up from the bow of my boat, but when it appeared that things had settled down, I retired to our cockpit to read a book. I’d read just a few pages when I heard Emily call my name. Her tone implied an impending disaster. I looked up and saw her pointing toward the bow of our boat.

Looking forward, I saw the raft of three powerboats slowly moving toward us. I ran forward, grabbing a boathook as I went, and reached the bow in what I think was record time. By now the raft of boats was little more than four feet from our bow. A collision seemed inevitable. Bracing myself, I placed the outer end of the boathook against the hull of the center boat and tried to keep it away as best I could.

I could see that the skipper of the center boat had scrambled forward to the helm and had started his engines, which was a good sign. But his wife was back in the cockpit, and she was not at all happy that I was trying to fend off her boat with my boathook. In fact, she tried to grab it and push it away from the hull of her vessel. It may have seemed to her that their boat was in danger of being damaged by my boathook. Call it pride of ownership.

Meanwhile, the two other crews seemed aware of the situation—at least, all of them were trying to use their arms to keep their boats from hitting ours. With the added weight of the three powerboats now pressing on my anchor, I wondered how long my anchor could hold without dragging. I was also trying to determine if any boats anchored astern of me might be affected if we all started dragging together.

The skipper of the anchored center powerboat now put his engines in gear and tried to move the whole raft forward, but the rapidly increasing breeze prevented this. The skipper of the boat to port of the center boat then noticed that Ocypete’s anchor rode was caught on the stern drive of the starboard boat. Fortunately, that boat’s engine had not been started. If it had, there was a good chance my rode would have been caught in its propeller, which would probably have put the propeller out of action—to say nothing of the damage to my line. The skipper yelled over to the center boat, and someone reached over the stern and cleared my rode from the stern drive.

Then he yelled over to me, “I don’t know what happened.” This gave me an opportunity to explain that what had happened was really more a question of when, not if. An overloaded anchor holding three boats in a rising breeze, I said to him calmly, was simply not equal to the task.

Once everyone was clear of my anchor rode, the skipper of the center boat gained control of the situation. He slowly pulled the three boats clear of my bow and then slowly powered toward the entrance to the main channel. When they reached open water, the three boats cast off and pulled clear of each other, then headed north together—toward another unsuspecting anchorage, I assumed. I can’t say I was sorry to see them go.

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