Sunday, August 19, 2007

August 18. Last evening was like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Just before sundown a guy came in, threw his anchor and about 60 feet of rode over the side. The water is over 25 feet deep here so he’s barely sitting at a scope of 2 to 1, totally unacceptable. At that moment there’s virtually no breeze so the boat’s just floating there with the anchor just sitting on the bottom. There are rain clouds on the horizon, which means probable wind, he didn’t set the hook and he and his party get right in the dinghy and head into shore.

Christy is somewhat of a body English expert and she’s sure that the woman and this guy are on her first “boat” date. Also on board is the woman’s 12 year old daughter. The girl, who is wearing a huge PFD starts to cry uncontrollably when its time to get into the dinghy. She was blubbering like an infant with a wet diaper. The guys been running around trying to save the “date” and off they go into town for hopefully better times. Just after they leave a light rain starts to fall, we look over and see that the companion way is open, as are all the ports and hatches. I figured they’ll be more tears later.

The rain only lasted for a few hours and we turned in at 2300 hours. There was not a hint of breeze or a ripple on the surface of the water. Thirty minutes later we’re both awakened by the most blood curdling screams anyone’s ever heard. Think of the most powerful screaming you’ve ever heard in a horror movie. This woman screamed non-stop for more than ten minutes, Lance Armstrong would have envied this woman’s lung capacity; it was horrible to listen too. We couldn’t tell how far away it was nor could we really determine the direction.

Christy called the harbor master and then we listened to the VHF, nobody seemed to know anything. It sounded like it could be coming all the way from Champlin’s Marina close to a half mile away, we just couldn’t be sure. We tried to rationalize what the problem possibly could have been. I figured if her child had drowned she’d be screaming for help or something like why, why? If her husband had had a heart attack she’d be screaming for help. If she was being attacked she would have screamed for help or her attacker would have shut her up. I envisioned a nasty fall with a horribly broken leg or something. It was a very helpless feeling and she never said a word, just wailed and it finally faded into sobs and then quiet.

The evening was not over yet, not even close. We get back to sleep and at 0100 hours the wind generator comes to life and starts to spin like crazy. I jumped up and threw on shorts and hoody and was on deck in less than 60 seconds.

I was a little disoriented as I was sound asleep only a moment ago and its pitch black. The wind has come in shrieking from the north. The “boat daters” and their boat are already gone, blown off into the crowded anchorage. There were a half dozen boats up ahead of us in the dark. I got complacent about my own rule of being the most northern boat in any anchorage. This place is a small pond in the center of an island, I figured how bad could it get, I got careless and now it might cost us.

Less than a minute after getting on deck one of the small sailboats ahead of us fly’s down our starboard side dragging their anchor as the couple on board fight to gain control of the situation. They’re close enough that I can see their faces yet they’re to busy to see me and then they’re gone, blown off into the dark void behind us.

I call for Christy to dress and get on deck, its time for teamwork. Christy said she knew it had to be something serious because I usually tell her to go back to sleep, that I’ll take care of it. Christy started the engine so we could dodge dragging boats and take some pressure off the ground tackle if we need to. There was also the very real danger of somebody dragging down and snagging our anchor and ripping it from the bottom taking us along with them. All hell was breaking loose all around us, air horns everywhere, deck lights coming on and people begging for help on the VHF.

We couldn’t see anything ahead of us, as its so damned dark, so I have Christy turn on our deck lights. It will destroy our night vision but we’re practically blind anyway. I was hoping that anyone who had broken free from the bottom might be able to avoid us if they could see us.

Getting to the bow was an effort as the wind was ferocious and the boat was bucking wildly at her anchor chain. Then it got worse…….

A deck light came on in front of us and revealed a huge ketch sideways to the wind and seas just ahead of us. She’s as big or bigger than we are, this could be ugly. She had started the evening about a hundred yards ahead of us and now she was about 60 yards away and steadily dragging. With the glow of her light ahead of us I can also see the size of the waves that are ripping through the anchorage and the boats breaking free off to both sides of us. Then it got a little bizarre for me. I was crouched at the bow and the scene in front of me became almost surreal. The winds noise and ferocity faded away, the danger was put aside and I started to watch the guy on the foredeck of the big boat in front of me. It was like watching the climax of an action film; I could see his boat rise up on the crest of each wave and fall out from under him all the while with him fighting valiantly to gain control before they dragged down on us. All of this was illuminated by his deck light and it looked as if his struggle was under the spotlight on a sound stage. It was a battle between man and nature, good and evil, it was epic, it was amazing to experience.

When I looked down I realized that while I was watching him, my hands were on their own and dumping chain in the water to increase our “scope” and thus our holding power. The guy in front of us was also dumping chain and he even dropped a second anchor to help stem his boats movement towards us. His boat finally recaught the bottom and danced wildly just off our bow. It also felt as if the wind was finally dying so I made my way back to the cockpit to see how Christy was holding up. The wind speed indicator at the helm said that there was still over 30 knots of wind but it felt so much calmer now that the worst was over. The radio was full of calls for help, people were frantic, they were overwhelmed, and you could hear the desperation in their voices.

One woman was pleading for help. Her husband was trying to maneuver their boat through the crowd after having wrapped their propeller in their own anchor rode as they were dragging. Now the engine won’t turn because the rope was tangled around the prop and the anchor was just skipping across the bottom as they bounce off one boat after another. They’re just being blown through the crowd with no means of control. Christy picks up the mic and in a calm voice tells the woman to deploy their second anchor. The woman says “oh my god, we forgot about it”. It was an experience to remember, Christy was calm, the guy in front of us was heroic and yet others fell to pieces.

There is one Boat US tow boat stationed in Block Island and one small Coast Guard boat. The tow boat guy was overwhelmed with calls as more than fifty boats dragged themselves into dire circumstances. Combine the pitch dark, the flashing rescue lights and the odd deck and anchor lights and it was an extraordinarily eerie scene. There were 5 boats tangled together all hanging from one anchor still firmly buried in the bottom right behind us. All the people on board were trying to fend each other away all night to try and limit the amount of damage. Anchored boats were breaking free and dragging through the mooring field, nobody was safe.

I sat up all night to keep an eye on things as the wind finally faded to 25 knots. Christy went below to try and get some rest but was able to get very little. As the light of dawn broke it was a scene of confusion that Christy and I surveyed. Every boat had a head or 2 in the cockpit, nobody got any sleep. In our immediate surroundings it was an amazing sight. We had gone to bed with boats all around us and now there were only 5 of us. Several boats ahead of us and every boat for a hundred yards behind us had dragged away.

As the sun came up so did the wind. Its back up to a steady 30 knots and boat are still moving about. Christy sat and kept watch while I got and hour of sleep in the cockpit. Once I was up, she napped and we kept a good watch until early afternoon when the winds finally slowed to 15 knots or so. One of the boats in the anchorage broadcasts that his wind speed indicator recorded a high speed of 47 knots. There were 40 foot boats up on the shore behind us. The big ketch in front of us was only twenty yards away and there were reports of several of the mooring balls dragging as well. I have no idea how people survive a hurricane.

During our morning “watch” Christy and I listened as a sailor called the Coast Guard and asked to be evacuated because they were taking on water. He gave a GPS coordinate, then said that they were 8 miles south of Cuttyhunk and then gave yet another coordinate. The Coast Guard started with their list of inane questions and after a few answers the guy yelled into the mic that “no, the pumps are not keeping up, we’re taking on hundred’s of gallons a minute” and then not another word. Nothing.

A commercial fisherman called in and said that he was 11 miles south of Cuttyhunk and the wind was blowing 40 knots with 16 foot seas. He was heading for the spot 3 miles away in an effort to help. The Coast Guard then realized that neither coordinate that had been given was anywhere near the spot near Cuttyhunk. Another fisherman was near the second set of coordinates and reported seeing a sailboat about 5 miles away in that direction. Long story short, the Coast Guard found the boat with the help of the second fisherman and airlifted 2 people away as it sank out from under them. The guy’s mistake in reporting their position almost cost them their lives.

What a day, I think tomorrow will be better.


Bud Elkin said...

Anchor drills at anchorages can be very entertaining!

Bud Elkin said...

you couldn't have written a better scene for an action movie! Anchorages are always a treat to experience. Great blog!