Saturday, December 18, 2010

An Accidental Careening

With our time in the Biminis drawing to a close, we eagerly awaited the predicted break in the Trade winds that would allow us to press onward and eastward across the Grand Bahama Bank.  A cold front was to pass over us in the night.  Winds would spike but, once it had moved on, fair northwest winds would trail behind to carry us to Nassau. 

The night was indeed rough.  The wind was pushing one way on Strolla's rigging and the flood tide was pulling the other way on her keel.  All night long she thrashed about in the starlight, sawing confused and tormented circles around her anchor.  She tugged fiercely on her anchor, struggling to break free, fighting the chain that held her like a marlin on a hook. 

Down inside, we four lay in our separate berths, eyes open and unseeing in the dark, listening to the grind of the chain dragging over the rocky ocean floor, feeling the sudden shudder run through the hull each time Strolla came to the end of her chain, wheeled about, and then raced off in the opposite direction.  

Every so often, one or the other of us, overcome with fear from the terrible scraping and groaning and creaking of the boat, would climb up into the cold night wind to have a look around.  The rest of us lay where we were, awaiting their return and the whispered assurances that all was well and holding fast.

"Its not the noise or the violent rocking of the boat that should concern us," I counseled.  "Its was when they stop because then, we will have finally broken free and be drifting calmly and quietly with the wind and waves to our doom."  Sage advice, I felt and, with a certain poetry to it.  With a sense of smug pride,  I made a mental note to write it down in my journal next morning.  During the cold, predawn hours, the grinding and bucking stopped.  In the sudden quiet calm we all fell immediately asleep.

My alarm went off early.  After the short, stressful night, I hit snooze several times before getting stiffly out of bed and going on deck to pee over the stern rail.  With bleary eyes I peered through the weak morning light.  The docks on shore looked a lot farther away then I remembered.  I looked down at the bubbles I was making in the water.  The rippled sand and clumps of sea grass under the water's surface looked a lot closer than I remembered.  Its amazing how quickly early morning grogginess can clear away, given the proper motivation.

I called all hands on deck.  We were hard aground.  It was just past high tide.  Time to work.  Mark and Nate rigged the dinghy while Becca and I prepped a kedging anchor.  We'd dragged our main anchor in the night and drifted sideways onto the side of a large, shallow sandbar.  The winds and currents had pushed us hard up and now the water was dropping.  when the kedge anchor was set, we ran the anchor rode aft from the bow to the starboard winch to try and manually crank ourselves back into deeper water.  It was no use.  The boat didn't budge. 

I didn't know exactly when we'd run aground but it seemed unlikely that it had happened in the one hour  or so between high tide my stumbling up on deck for a pee.  That meant we were aground at high tide and so would not simply float free when it came in again.  Getting free and floating again might be a close thing.  I had a few little tricks to try, all theoretical, read about in books but never actually put into practice.  Until the tide was high, there was no point in trying.  That would come in about twelve hours.  We would be spending at least one more day in the Biminis.

The day was spent idly, sitting on deck, reading, watching the boat fall further and further over until she rested fully on her side in the sand, wandering around in the ankle deep water looking at star fish and chasing sting rays.  With burning faces we waved away the offers of help from passing boaters.  

"Come back at high tide," we said.  I took the opportunity to inspect and clean the starboard side of the hull.below the water line.  We schemed and planned and consulted Chapman's Encyclopedia of Sailing and Seamanship.

As the waters returned and the boats rose slowly back to an even keel, we prepared a second kedging anchor.  The finalized plan of attack was rehearsed, tasks and duties assigned.  When high tide arrived, we once again went to work.    It took three tries to set the second kedging anchor.  Mark finally had to dive down on it with mask and fins and bury it by hand.  I winched both anchor rodes in tight and then we ran madly from one side of the boat to the other to try and rock the keel free and break the suction with the settled sand around it.  Nothing.  

Nate circled the boat in the dinghy to create a wake that hopefully would aid in breaking the boat free while we continued our desperate dance on deck.  Still nothing.  We shifted all our water and fuel jugs and canned goods and spare chain and rope and whatever other heavy objects we could find over to the starboard rail, then hung from halyards out over the edge to try and angle the boat enough that the keel would break free.  Meanwhile Mark, still in the water, worked at digging holes in the sand down along the keel to allow water in to break the suction.  More nothing. 

I untied the rode for the second kedging anchor and took it amidships and bent it on to one of the mast halyards.  I took the other end of the halyard around the winch.  Because of the angle at which it came out of the pulley at the top of the mast, we couldn't get much more than the slack out with the winch for fear of breaking something.  So, Nate swam out to where the line entered the water and began climbing it, hand over hand, back toward the boat and the top of the mast.  

By the time Nate was six feet out of the water, the boat was heeling hard to starboard.  Becca and I were still perched on the starboard rail amid our pile of possession.  Mark was still in the water digging away at the sand around the keel.  Suddenly, his head popped above the water.  

"It moved!" he shouted.  Becca and I jumped to the winch.  The anchor rode was slack.  With Becca tailing for me, I winched it in tight as a cello string.  

"It moved again!" Mark shouted from the water.  Nate swung happily from the mast halyard.  Becca and I kept up tension on the anchor rode.  Then, just like that, Strolla was free, pivoting towards the kedging anchor and swinging out into the current, Becca and I taking in the slack line as fast as we could.

Floating safely in the deep water once more, we de-rigged, stowed all our things back in their nooks and crannies and compartments and then motored back over to our old anchorage for the night.  The wind was steady and light but we set two anchors anyway and all checked on them regularly.


  1. I guess you wouldn't have such entertaining stories if you had SeaTow. Sounds like a good workout too. Keep safe and happy.

  2. if it happens again don't worry about using the main halyard and really cranking it. It will get you off the bar every time and with that short rig and three side stays on each side, you aren't going to do any harm.