Friday, February 20, 2015

Anchor Drills: Keeping One's Humility in Check

Sometimes a view like this doesn't come easy!
Life afloat offers many moments when you kick back and think, "THIS is the life." These moments usually involve a spectacular sunset, a perfectly calm anchorage in a beautiful bay, and, more often than not, are accompanied by an adult cocktail of some sort. Yes. Cruising is full of moments like these where you truly cannot believe how lucky you are to be living this life. A-men.

But cruising is also full of moments when you curse your choices and would do anything to be back amidst the convenience of land, away from the rigorous challenges that boat life offers in spades.

Those moments are too many to list, but one such instance is when you try - over and over and OVER again - to set your anchor only to have it drag. Every. Damn. Time. Mix in an audience of fellow boaters, throw in a couple of screaming kids, and you have yourself a one way ticket to the nut house, my friends.

Let me explain...

Anchoring, for the most part, is pretty straightforward; find a spot, drop anchor (with appropriate scope), back down on said anchor (to dig it in nice and solid), check that anchor (we usually dive it) and relax. Scott and I consider ourselves pretty okay at this drill... I mean, we've never ever dragged (touch wood) and we have a rather robust ground tackle set up, so at anchor, we sleep well. We don't fancy ourselves experts at anything, but after having anchored hundreds of times - we sort of feel like we know what we're doing in this department. Until we don't. 

The other day we returned to our quiet and peaceful Hansen Bay to rejoin our friends, and went to "drop the hook" as it were. We got the babies in their seats, pacified them with fig newtons, and Isla and I took our spots on the bow (she likes to be up there to "help" me, she stays very clear of the windlass). Typically, when the sun is shining overhead as it usually does in these parts, it's easy to find a nice sandy spot by the color of the water. On this day, however, it was overcast making identifying the bottom difficult at best and, we later learned, the bottom of this bay is sort of famous for being a mixed bag.

It was about 4pm when we arrived which meant the babies would be squawking and wanting some dinner in an hour. No biggie, we had time. We found a spot we thought looked good, I dropped the anchor, letting our our initial 3 or 4:1 scope, snubbing the chain and giving Scott the hand signal for "okay to back down". Under normal circumstances, this process takes all of five or seven minutes. Scott backs down, the anchor holds fast and when we are sure we are secure, we let out a bit more scope (5:1) and snub off our line for good.

This time, however, when Scott backed down, the anchor just skipped along the bottom. It'd grab for a second, and then start skipping along some more. I gave Scott the signal for "skipping across the bottom" (which is basically me making a wavy motion with my hand, very official), and then told him we needed to go for it again. Luckily, we have a windlass (which is a mechanical drum to raise and lower the chain) so the process of re-anchoring is no where near as laborious an effort as it is for some (Note: we LOVE our windlass). Up she came. We motored around some more. Scott and I discussed where to try next. And we got into position. I dropped the anchor, let out the scope, Scott backed down, the anchor once again skipped happily along the bottom.

Okay. Deep breath. No biggie. Third times a charm, right?

Wrong. Skippy McSkipperton again.

By now the babies were starting to pipe up and the fig newtons were doing nothing to quell them. Isla, too, was growing impatient because she had seen her buddies on the beach and was demanding in a whiny voice to go "RIGHT NOOOOOW" to be with her friends. Have you ever tried to reason with a toddler? It's not effective and utterly frustrating. "Mommy and daddy need to anchor, honey" I told her in a very strained but calm voice, "We can't go to the beach until we anchor so mommy needs you to be a very good and quiet girl right now and sit still." She did not get the memo and maintained her position of defiance. I ignored as best I could and tried to focus on finding a new spot.

"Did you see any sand," Scott yelled up to me, the annoyance starting to find it's way into his voice.

"Not really, it looks a little scoured out and rocky," I yelled back doing nothing to hide my frustration.

By now our buddy Eben had paddle boarded over to give us his two cents on the matter. We tried to anchor closer to our friends at his suggestion, the logic being it worked for them, surely it would work for us? Eben had seen sand down there when he scoped out the area the other day. Anchor down, scope out, back down. Skipskipskipskipskipskipskip.

Okay. This was getting ridiculous.

It was now about 4:45 and the babies, still strapped in their seats, were pitching epic fits. Isla was non-stop whining about going to the damn beach and Scott and I were at each other's throats.

"What if we try over there?" I asked him pointing to a spot in between a couple boats closer to shore.

"Because over THERE we are too close to that other boat and those ROCKS, BRITTANY," Scott seethed.

Haven had kicked it up a notch and was now wailing. Have I mentioned how loud this child is? She is very, VERY loud. 

"Well, then, SCOTT, do YOU have any OTHER ideas?" I retorted. I went below, grabbed a baby carrier and strapped Haven to my chest doing the frantic mommy bounce to try and quiet her. It worked, for a while.

Back up on to the bow I went where we tried - and failed - yet again. 

Serenity now. Serenity now. Serenity now. Serenity now.

By now, the beach was full of onlookers, fellow boaters were watching from their cockpits and I think even a few snorkelers had popped their heads out of the water to see what the heck this stupid boat that was motoring all over the place was doing.

Babies were wailing. Isla was whining. Mommy and Daddy were beyond frustrated. The stress level was high.

"I'm going to get you one of those marriage saver headsets" Scott threatened, "this is NOT working."

I cringed. No! Not the headset thingies!! (Sorry to those folks who love them, they just give me flashbacks to my days as a sales clerk at Old Navy. Note: we *will* have those dreaded things by the end of the season.)

To say we were humiliated would be a huge understatement. 

Finally, after another heated exchange between Scott and myself about where the hell to anchor, he put the boat into gear and zoomed - and I mean zoomed - to a completely different area of the anchorage and yelled, "DROP IT."

I did, but not without saying a little prayer first.

The anchor fell, I paid out the chain, and we backed down. 

I held my breath.


He revved up the engine a little more and a little more in reverse.


It held! 

We were secure!!

Scott turned off the engine and jumped in the water to check and make sure our anchor was set. It was. I got the babies their dinner. Isla got a cookie. All was right in the world. Almost instantly, the mood on our boat returned to happy. Scott and I had a little chuckle about what a ridiculous drill that was and, within five minutes, it was almost as if the whole thing never happened.

We still needed those drinks though. BAD.

Such is the bipolar cruising life. One minute your loving it. The next, you are cursing it. And then you are loving it again. Love, curse, love, curse. And so it goes. Sigh.

Like golf or tennis, sailing is a game that can never be mastered - so it's best you remember that lest you find yourself getting a humility check in some tropical paradise too. Sometimes these views come at a price.


sailinglunasea said...

I'm totally stealing the wavy hand signal - for when I don't have on my dreaded headphones. I too thought they were horrible, but I have to admit it has cut down on the screaming/lookey-loos when we anchor/dock, etc. That's pretty much been our brief sailing experience as well - high/low/high/low/high/adult beverage.

Robert Salnick said...

A ha ha haa! That is SO the truth!

Anonymous said...

Since I had just been rereading Cap'n Fatty's piece about anchoring right before I saw your post, I thought it can't hurt to copy the link right here.

I'll never forget the time I was in the head while we were at anchor in the Caribbean, gazing out the port and suddenly realized we were moving- not the other boats. Man, did I move fast.

Genevieve said...

So true!Why the hell when it is time to anchor with kids going crazy.... it doesn't hold????

Unknown said...

Nice piece Brittany. All true. We provide light entertainment for our neighbours with some of our stern mooring routines. Just bought a 'marriage saver' for next season in the Med though methinks it may be yanked off in a fit of pique. :)
Good on you.

Whome1996 said...

Sheer vanity, and for each student you involuntarily wonder where to put your homework for this, I found myself a wonderful residency lor, where they do any written assignments.

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