Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Second thoughts

So here we sit, as snug as the proverbial bug, nestled into the proverbial rug. Off our bow is 65 pounds worth of Mantus set hard in the bottom mud. Between it and the boat lay 80 feet of chain, snubbed by two 15 foot lengths of 5/8s 3 strand, properly protected from chafe. With a cold front in the offering we would have laid out 100 feet of chain, but No Name is a tight and crowded anchorage where thought must be given to swing room, with several other members of the cruising tribe sitting nearby.

This afternoon, while the crew of Kintala enjoyed some time on shore with friends from Skimmer, and visited new friends who showed us around their trawler, a really new looking Island Packet dropped anchor just off our port side and slightly behind us. We didn't see them come in, didn't talk to them, and never really thought much about them. They were big boys on their big boat and not upwind of us. The only concern was that they had given us enough room to swing past their bow. The front would pass with the winds clocking from south to north-north-west, twisting every boat in the harbor clockwise. Watching the radar this afternoon I expected a rather easy passage, but a pretty quick swinging of the winds. It would bear watching.

And so it was. Late evening the rains started and we closed up the boat. The rains got harder, the wind moaned in the stays, and the boat started to swing and sway as the confused gusts that come with a front swirled around. Looking out the port side ports it wasn't at all clear that we had the room we needed to have our stern clear the Packet's bow. Grabbing foulies I headed outside in the driving rain in case we needed to motor ahead a bit. Kintala swayed some more and started to swing quickly in a text-book frontal passage wind shift; fully 180 degrees in about a minute. I couldn't have turned her that fast using the engine.

As we swung it was clear that we were going to have plenty of room forward of the Island Packet. In fact there was way more room than expected. Indeed, there was way more room than there should have been. It was a bit confusing. (For those of you who haven't ridden out a cold front passage in a crowded anchorage, confusing is often the name of the game. Visibility is poor in heavy rain, it is normally dark, boat lights and background shore lights easily lead to illusions of motion that are not really there, and distances can be near impossible to judge. All it all it can add up to a few moments of shear excitement.)

As every other boat in the anchorage started the swing to the west and then north, the Island Packet stayed facing south. And that is when I realized they had drug away from us and fetched up against the mangroves and shallow water at the edge of No Name Harbor. No wonder there was so much room.

The rain faded away quickly. The maximum winds were probably less than 40 knots. Just about a non-event compared to what we have come to expect. Yet, somehow, that big old boat had dragged merrily away. A couple of us shone spotlights at the ports trying to get the crew's attention. Two from a nearby boat launched their dink and rowed over to tap on the hull. After a minute or two the Island Packet crew came up from below, having been totally unaware of their short drift into the trees. A couple of minutes later enthusiastic use of the bow thruster pivoted them off the shallow spot, they motored close past our starboard side.

Any damage?” Deb asked as they went by.

No,” came the reply, which was good to hear.

How much scope did you have out?”

(Here I must digress for a moment. Deb is the scope scoping-out master. 5:1 makes her very unhappy. Less than 4:1 will simply never do. 8:1 is fine, 10:1 is better.)

I don't understand what happened. We had 30 feet out”.

Thirty feet! That is less than a boat length. We use more than 30 feet of line to tie Kintala to a dock. How in the name of all that is wet and salty does the crew of a Island Packet 40+ footer think that 30 feet of scope will hold in anything more than a gentle breeze? It can't be possible that they knew nothing of the impending weather. It is even less possible that they knew of the impending weather and thought 30 feet of scope would do. That they were alongside and slightly behind us, and not upwind, is our good luck break of the month; maybe the year so far.

They stopped about a boat length off our bow, where I gently informed them that was no place to drop a hook. I suggested they move out by the inlet, set the anchor, and let out about 100 feet of chain. (Several boats left this morning to head to the Islands. We had moved Kintala well into the harbor in deference to the coming weather, leaving plenty of room at the far end for wayward Island Packets.)

The Island Packet is gone and hopefully set secure, far away from us. But we have learned via the grape vine that the sailboat now upwind of us, a monstrous looking thing with a massive amount of freeboard and a giant pilot house, has a broken windlass...and is riding to 60 feet of rode.

I sure hope the wind doesn't blow very hard tonight. And I am having second thoughts about some of the members of the tribe.


Robert Sapp said...

I read an interesting post once on another sailing blog in which an American skipper on a boat in the crowded eastern Caribbean said he was once accosted by a British skipper who asked "why do you Americans always put out so bloody much scope?" It went on to say that European boaters believe 4-1 or 5-1 scope is perfectly adequate, which causes problems in anchorages filled with international boats, as the American boats always need a lot more room than everyone else to swing with their 7-1 (or more) scope.

The best I can make of it is that most Europeans learned their skills in deeper water than US coastal waters. Once you get deeper than 20 or 25 feet, 7-1 scope no longer makes sense. Once you get over 75-100 feet, even 3-1 can be more than enough.

None of this, of course, applies to charter boats. Your typical charter boat can drag in 15 knots of wind with 10-1 scope since the chain is most likely sitting in a big pile on top of the anchor.

Rhonda & Robert
S/V Eagle Too
Pensacola, Florida

SV Pelagia said...

I don't know about Europeans (but have heard/read lots of stories), but here in BC and down in the Sea of Cortez we've seen many USA (and some Canadian) boats with << 3:1. Everyone is scared of charterers anchoring nearby (except, obviously, the charterers...).

It's not rocket science, yet it's clear some folks just don't read the books (or are remarkably hopeless with simple arithmetic).

On the other hand, many anchorages here in BC, are tight and much more than 3 or 4:1 will put one in shallows or on shore. Happily, these anchorages are often very protected with decent bottoms.

Personally, we strive for 4 or, preferably, 5:1, unless the forecast dictates more.


Tricia Wehmer said...

Glad you didn't have any unwanted collisions! We are hunkered down in Tarpon Basin waiting for a window!

Michael Robertson said...

I can also plead guilty to the fancy-boat-equals-knowledgeable-skipper assumption. We were cruising in Mexico, I was in my 20s and green as a captain of a cheap boat. A couple on a salty, beautiful 35-foot cruising boat entered an anchorage just as we were preparing to leave for an another anchorage, about a long day sail away. The winds were fresh, but they would be on our stern. "Don't go out there," the crew cautioned me over the radio, "It's nasty out there." I surveyed the white caps and didn't think it would be too bad, but I figured this captain must know more than me as he had white hair and a boat that cost 10 times what my boat cost. Fast forward three days and I'd gotten to know the couple and learned that they'd motored all of the way down from Seattle, never raising the sails. When we finally left the harbor for the same anchorage I'd been headed to previously, we did so together and it was a glorious sail for me and my crew, awful for them. Their sails remained stowed under covers, the tops of their masts traced big arcs in the sky as they rolled in the deep swells. "Put up a sail," I offered over the radio. "No," came the reply, "too rough for sailing."