My First Dragging
Recalling a Close Call
We all remember where we were when a significant life-altering or historical moment occurred. My recollections when first learning of the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, the Neil Armstrong's stepping on the moon, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 9/11 World Trade Towers disaster, the OJ verdict, Hurricane Sandy or Katrina or the Obama's victory all rocked me to my core. Almost as if these events become etched in my psyche and locked in a time continuum, they have become so significant personally not just because I will never forget them but because of how they changed me.
We humans can't help but associate a place and a time with a significant event. Personal moments are like that...a marriage(s), a child's birth, a divorce(s), our loss of innocence...all impact our lives. At the very least our perspective is forever altered. And firsts are similar as well. First day of school, first crush, first date, first rejection, first love, first time, first car accident, first job, first paycheck or first death or injury. These all have lasting impressions on us.
My first experience anchoring a chartered catamaran
changed me and my boating habits forever.
Dropping an anchor is easy. Plop! Setting one well is a much greater challenge. And, of course, an anchor that doesn't hold well can be disastrous. And if you have sailed or "boated" long enough, you know what dragging an anchor feels like. It's a drag, yet it happens! Of course, experiencing the sensation depends on one's AWARENESS and TIMING. Early rather than later is always preferable. Soon after dropping it is preferable.
This scene of White Bay's beach and the cat to the right
is about the distance from the shore when our catamaran began to drag its anchor.
When I woke up from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, I discovered our catamaran's anchor dragging on our first night charter in the BVI's in 2005.
Now seemingly eons ago, my first day of my first ever one-week charter throughout the BVI's on a 38' Moorings Leopard catamaran with my son and daughter carved an indelible first impression into my memories. While in comparison to the whole spectrum of significant occurrences in one's lifetime, my account won't rank anywhere close to an earth-shattering world event, but it did startle me to my core and has influenced me ever since.
After a magnificent day of snorkeling and exploring the glorious waters and huge boulders on Virgin Gorda's Baths, we had our first issue with the anchor. Because there had been no moorings available earlier in the day, we had anchored out in deeper water. So we didn't have the luxury of tying up to a mooring ball. While raising our anchor, the windlass inexplicably stopped about half way from completion. The remaining chain, about 30 feet or so, was dangling as we drifted off our spot. At the time, I did not know that the location of the breaker switch for resetting the windlass was hidden in the galley behind the trash container. So instead of using engine power or taking the time to read about the breaker in the boat's manual, my 20-year-old son and I took turns using our muscles. Boy, was that ever a workout lifting a 50-pound anchor and chain!
Leaving Virgin Gorda, we headed northeast of Tortola to the west of Monkey Point. Within a few hours I had chosen a secluded cove, White Bay off the western beach of Guana Island which seemed well-protected from the steady 15-20 knot easterly breeze. Our location felt private and almost remote with no human housing ashore and a long stretch of sandy beach due east of us. Two other charter boats were visible but neither moored within 200 yards of us. So I decided to drop our plow anchor about 50 yards off shore in about 5 feet of water on a sandy bottom.
Our 38’ cat seemed secure since there was no tidal influence or no major current. Even with the wind blowing into the evening, there were only small ripples on the water's surface and the windage. The forecast for the following day was going to be a carbon copy of our day. My only concern had been a totally sandy bottom. As a precaution once our anchor was dropped, I reversed engines to assure the anchor was holding. And after I snorkel-checked the anchor's positioning, I was convinced we were secure for the evening. A factor I was unaccustomed to was that a catamaran has more surface area windage.
I had grown up anchoring with a 7:1 ratio rule...To achieve a secure anchorage, just multiply your depth by 7 and you get the scope of your anchor line and chain. The charter company had even suggested that 5:1 would be just fine in the BVIs. But I always play it safe and default to principle that longer is always better. Length matters in anchoring.
Around 2:00 am with some boat lights beaming their way through my starboard cabin window, I awoke. My subconscience sensed our Cat was also awake and moving. If you have ever sat on a train and watched another train right next to yours start to move, it creates the sensation that you are the one actually moving. So this was my initial reaction - some other vessel was passing awfully close to our starboard side because I thought we were securely anchored. But as I peeked out the porthole, I gazed aghast as a well-lit 100' luxury yacht slowly passed by us no further than 20 feet away.
I immediately shot up to the deck to realize that WE were the ones drifting backward.
I immediately started our engines and moved slowly away and woke both of my kids in the process. Realizing our anchor was dragging, I moved out to deeper water. Since I still had not figured out why the windlass wasn't working, my son and I again took turns hauling the 35-40 feet of anchor line up by hand. My daughter took the helm until we completed our task and we then found a mooring to tie up to for the rest of the night closer to Monkey Point.
Even secure at a mooring by 3:00 am, I did not sleep the rest of that night. My thoughts could not escape my head what could have happened if we had collided with the anchored yacht.
When I reviewed what happened, I concluded that the wind during the night had not increased or been much of a factor in causing the close call. It was actually my anchoring in sand and not giving out even more scope. I surmised that I was yet familiar with the type of anchor on board and that I should have chosen an even better location. (closer to shore, more firm ground and even more protected). Those were lessons learned. And since then, I have never had an anchor drag through a night like that. Yes, anchors do drag, but finding the right spot with the right conditions may be the best way to avoid a collision and a calamity. But taking all the necssary precautions is what is also necessary.