Skip to main content

Voice of Experience: Heading for the Rocks

We were halfway into a three-week summer cruise through the San Juan and Gulf islands in the Pacific Northwest. Aboard Hannah, our Hunter 356, were my wife Chantil, my 15-year-old daughter, Sierra, my 11-year-old son, Aaron, and our dog, Jack; also with us were my nephews Andrew and Zack, who are 13 and 12. Our vacation was going so well I jokingly considered calling work and asking for
  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

We were halfway into a three-week summer cruise through the San Juan and Gulf islands in the Pacific Northwest. Aboard Hannah, our Hunter 356, were my wife Chantil, my 15-year-old daughter, Sierra, my 11-year-old son, Aaron, and our dog, Jack; also with us were my nephews Andrew and Zack, who are 13 and 12. Our vacation was going so well I jokingly considered calling work and asking for a one-year sabbatical so we could continue hopping from island to island all the way to Alaska.

The long days rolled one into the next as we acclimated to our vacation schedule: waking late in the morning, sailing through the afternoon to our next destination, anchoring or mooring before dinner, then exploring until sunset. On the day in question we left British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island in the late morning after buying groceries and topping off our fuel and water tanks. We had a wonderful afternoon sailing 13 miles before a steady 15-knot southerly wind that delivered us to our next anchorage. When we arrived we found a handful of boats anchored peacefully in the cove.

We decided to anchor about 200 yards to the west of the other boats in a little spot protected from the southerly wind. We dropped our 35-pound Delta in 25 feet of tranquil water and anchored on 100 feet of chain with 4:1 scope. Over the next few hours I used the chartplotter and GPS to monitor our position, and set the anchor alarm to alert us in case we started dragging.

Chantil and Sierra went ashore to walk Jack and explore the many trails around the cove. After feeling comfortable our anchor was holding, I went kayaking with one of my nephews while the other boys played games onboard. We returned from the kayak trip to find Hannah as peaceful as she had been before we left.

By now it was late in the evening, just before sunset, and my wife and I decided to go for a short walk by ourselves. To conserve the boat’s battery power, I switched off the breakers to the instruments. The boat hadn’t moved all afternoon, and I figured we didn’t need the anchor alarm anymore.

After a beautiful sunset walk, Chantil and I were returning to the dinghy dock when I noticed a man and woman were hovering near our dinghy in a large inflatable boat. Upon seeing us they immediately asked, “Are you the Gills?”

“Why, yes. Is there a problem?” I answered, wondering why and how they knew our last name.

“Your boat drifted into the rocks! Come with us!” they exclaimed.

I immediately hopped into their inflatable while my wife stayed behind to retrieve our dinghy and outboard. On the way over to where we had anchored Hannah, I noticed that her mast was no longer poking up over the trees where it had been before. My heart sank into my stomach as I imagined what kind of danger the kids and our boat were in. I wondered, too, how these people came to be involved. The woman looked over at me and said, “You should be real proud of your daughter. She was the one who called the coast guard.”

After we turned the corner into the cove, I spotted Hannah and noticed there was a Canadian coast guard auxiliary RIB floating along her starboard side. Both boats were well into the rocky cove, at least 200 feet south of Hannah’s original position. I quickly boarded and noticed a coastguardsman was on the bow working at retrieving the anchor with the windlass. As I went up to assist him, I noticed the steady 15-18 knot northerly now blowing directly into our faces. The wind had shifted 180 degrees while we were gone and was building.

Returning to the cockpit, I noticed the diesel engine was already running, the instruments were all energized and the kids were standing by to offer any assistance they could. By now the coast guard boat had pulled our vessel well away from the shore.

“What happened?” I asked the kids. “Did our boat hit the rocks?”

Sierra explained they had noticed the boat was drifting toward the rocky shore. They yelled for help, but no one responded, so she called the coast guard on channel 16 of the VHF radio. When the coast guard answered, she reported, “Our sailboat is drifting into the rocks. There are four kids without any adults on board!” She also reported Hannah’s GPS position after turning on the instruments.

Related

Background-02

Notice to Mariners: A Blog from the SAIL Editors

As a teenager, I stumbled across a copy of Derek Lundy’s Godforsaken Sea in the back room of a used bookshop. I had never heard of the Vendée Globe and frankly found all the boat-speak in the first 50 pages a little difficult to get through. But Lundy’s storytelling and the draw ...read more

Screen-Shot-2022-01-13-at-9.26.59-AM2048x

VIDEO: Celestial Navigation Episode 2

Celestial navigation is an invaluable tool for all kinds of sailors. In episode two of the celestial navigation series, learn the basic elements of navigation and the sight reduction process using declination and GHA to determine the Geographic Position and navigate using a ...read more

Film-poster

Cruising: Year of the Sea Shanty

Along with other timeless pursuits, like baking sourdough and gardening, singing sea shanties surged back into popularity during the recent lockdown, thanks, in part, to the app TikTok and its “duet” feature, which allows singers from around the world create music together. By ...read more

Book-Cover-9780712353700

Book Review: Sailor Song

Sailor Song is the ultimate guide to the music of working sailors during the 18th and 19th centuries. The book includes lyrics and sheet music for 50 of the most beloved sea songs with fascinating historical background on the adjoining page. Chapter introductions provide ...read more

Screen Shot 2022-01-12 at 10.42.33 AM

Race Update: RORC Transat

With the fleet leaders about halfway to Grenada, the 2022 RORC Transatlantic is shaking out to be a tactically interesting one. The race, now in its 8th edition, began on Saturday with 30 teams ranging from 70-foot catamarans to a 28-foot JPK 1010. Early in the race, light winds ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG_1585

Experience: Fire Down Below

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, local racing had resumed with household crews only. My wife, though, while always up for a pleasure sail, was not up for this kind of thing, so, for the fifth time in what was any measure an unusual sailing season, I found myself singlehanding my ...read more

BestBoats2022-logo

Best Boats 2022

In case you hadn’t heard, the fall 2021 boat show season was one for the record books. If there was ever any doubt the sailing public still enjoys making its way to Newport, Rhode Island, or Annapolis, Maryland, to see the latest in boat design, those doubts were put to rest ...read more

01-LEAD-Dominique-David-2048x

Mulithull Show Coming to La Grande-Motte

After a year without boat shows, 2021 proved to be a blockbuster summer and fall for events around the globe, and the International Mulithull Show is looking to continue that trend in 2022. First held in 2010, the show, which takes place in La Grand-Motte, France, on the shores ...read more