Friday, July 13, 2007

40 Knots at Midnight!

Wahoo! The times that great bar stories are made of...

ALL the weather sources we had said that yesterday was going to be clear, light wind day. So we though it would be a good day to explore one of the 'settled weather' anchorages. Dave was hot to see the Pelican Cays. He had a penciled note in his guidebook that said "good fishing".

We got in about noon, after working our way in to a lagoon area surrounded by drying reefs and small mangrove islands. With a few waypoints acquired earlier from cruising friends, and good light, it was very easy. The only challenge was finding a spot SHALLOW enough to anchor. Depths inside the lagoon were mostly 60-80', with a few spots that were 2'. Sheesh. We explored around quite a bit and found what seemed to be the perfect anchorage. Almost 360 degree enclosed, right behind a reef that
would block the waves but not the wind, and we lucked into a 30' spot to drop the anchor. With a couple of passes over it, we dropped the anchor in the middle of the 30' spot and backed down hard. It SEEMED well set...

We went for our afternoon snorkel, but like Spruce Cays, the visibility was bad--about 10' at most, and the water was either too deep or too shallow. We did get some lobster though. A local boat came by wanting to trade lobster for beer. We only had one beer aboard, but traded a water bottle full of rum, one beer, and a box of crackers for 4 lobster and 2 huge crabs. We both thought it was a good trade.

On our way back from our snorkel, I finally managed to find our anchor (in 30', murky water), and it really wasn't well set. It was laying on its side near a coral head, and only the tip in a rock. I made Dave go look at it and he said "it's among big coral heads and good enough for this settled weather". (hear the foreshadowing music?)

About 6:00 (nearly sunset), we got our first squall. It didn't last long, we got some needed rain, and the wind only got to 25 knots. After dinner Dave and I sat on the foredeck admiring the stars and congratulating ourselves on the nice anchorage and great Seafood Gumbo dinner.

About midnight, we felt that cold breeze and a few rain drops... We hopped out of bed to monitor the situation. Our recording anemometer recorded gusts in that one of 34 knots. I sat on the helm watching the GPS (using the maplet and 'snail trail') and it was clear that we were swinging back and forth but staying put. Dave was on the radar keeping track of the storm cells. He went back to bed when the wind died down, but I couldn't sleep. I kept watching the lightning flashes ahead and could
see the big black cloud coming at us. We had an anchor that was not properly set, in a very deep anchorage surrounded by very shallow reefs, and a very very dark night. At least we had a big honking anchor out (88 lbs) and 140' of heavy chain. Dave optimistically said "if we do drag, we won't drag far". Sherry pessimistically replied "If we DO drag, we are totally screwed."

The next squall came about 2am. This one was really bad, darker and bigger on the radar than the other two, and visually much more impressive (black and lots of lightning). After the third or fourth 40 knot gust, I could tell on the GPS that we were moving. The boat was yawing so wildly in the guts that it was hard to see what was going on, other than via the GPS. Fortunately, we only dragged a little bit... maybe 15-20'. We seemed to hook up well and be swinging an arc just behind the previous

We slept fitfully the rest of the night, but thankfully got no more big squalls. However, the final straw was waking up to west winds. We were backed up to our 'protecting' reef. Fortunately they were very light and we were just swinging on our chain. If we'd gotten enough wind to stretch out the chain, we'd have been up against the reef. By then the sky was getting light. As soon as it was light enough to pick our way out of there, we left.

Other than a mention of a tropical wave over Honduras (120 miles to windward), there is no mention in any of this morning's forecast of the weather we are seeing.

We re-learned one of the first cruising lessons I ever learned... whatever it takes, ALWAYS make sure your anchor is well set. And never trust the forecast, especially during thunderstorm season.

We are headed for Placencia this morning for a more protected anchorage, a few provisions, water, and maybe ice cream!

1 comment:

  1. When was going out in a sailboat NOT an adventure? Even for a day sail --- as my friend Bill Shakespeare says: "Alls well that ends well"

    ps he also said always properly set your anchor - especially in the Thames (I am sure of it) LOL