The weather reports we get have been, as a rule, quite accurate. When we're underway, we get GRIB files and listen to a great radio net run by a former meteorologist. When we're able to, we check a number of weather related websites as well.
So, it was a little exciting to realize that we could still be taken by surprise...
After a delicious meal onshore with Piko and Dilligaf, we enjoyed a dingy ride back to the boat in flat calm. Reflection from anchor lights on surrounding boats twinkled in the water, mingling with bioluminescence and our gentle bow wake. Moon. Stars. Calm. I love dinghy rides like that.
About midnight, the wind started to kick up to about 20 knots, along with some spectacular lighting displays. When we're underway, lightning totally freaks me out (I don't understand why we wouldn't get hit since we're sitting under a 55 foot lighting rod with nothing around for miles...), but when we're anchored surrounded by taller masts and land masses, I actually kind of enjoy weather like that.
I'd normally have no trouble sleeping through 20 knots, but the wind had shifted such that rather than being abeam of Piko with a comfortable distance between us, we were now in front of them with only a boat length or two separating us. Practically speaking, this meant that if we did drag our anchor, we'd have basically no warning before we bore down on them.
In the course of the next hour, the winds built to the high 20's. For those who don't know, the wind force is exponential - 20 knots produces 4 times the force that 10 knots produces, and 40 knots produces 16 times that force. So, the difference between low 20's and high 20's is actually pretty noticeable.
As the winds built, I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep with Piko so close behind us, so I sat an anchor watch and decided to play the "watch the instruments and see if it gets to 30 knots game". It's fun - I came up with it myself.
Our anchor held perfectly, and sometime around 2AM, I started feeling a little silly being on anchor watch. Just as I was thinking about calling it a night, the main force of the weather system hit. The light rain became torrential, and Britannia swung 90 degrees, sailing at anchor as the wind came roaring in at 40+ (we talked to many people that saw consistent wind in the mid 40's). The boat heeled as violently as it ever has underway, and I invented a whole new game called "see if you can fill the water tanks in 40+ knots."
Because we'd changed directions, I was a little less worried about falling back onto Piko. We had our dragging alarm on, and I was amazed that we weren't budging, just swinging in an arc behind our Rocna. As I fought my way to the bow through rain drops that felt more like bullets, the anchor line was bar tight. Between the wind and the heavy chop that built in the anchorage, Britannia was bucking pretty hard and I chose not to try and compute the snubbing loads she was generating.
Since I no longer had to worry about dragging into Piko, I chose instead to worry about dragging onto the reef that was directly behind us with this new wind direction. We hadn't been facing this way when we'd anchored, and I wasn't sure what the radius of our swing circle was, not to mention any movement we might have if we started dragging.
|The reef at dawn, just a few boat lengths behind Britannia|
The next time I looked over at Piko, I got a sinking feeling in my gut. She was heeled 35 degrees, and eerily still. Not swinging in line with the other boats, and not responding to the wind or swell. When I saw a corner of the jib come out, I knew they were in trouble, and had to be hard on the reef behind us.
I got in the dinghy, leaving Amanda with the dragging alarm on and the engine running. Arriving at Piko, I was struck by two things in particular. The first was how calm both Laurens were - I was expecting total chaos, or at least some serious stress, but they were responding to the situation perfectly, remaining calm and focused. It was impressive, and I can only hope we'd react as well. The second thing was how unnatural the motion of the boat felt as it lay on the reef. Sometimes the chop would lift her off just enough to pound the boat back down again and even standing off the boat in the howling wind, I could hear the crunch. It must have been both deafening and heart wrenching to hear that below deck.
Lauren Boy and I had a quick conference on the bow and decided that the best plan was to put out a secondary anchor and attempt to kedge off. We loaded up the dinghy and I tried to place the anchor appropriately between Britannia and another boat to our starboard side. Piko's windlass is the stuff of legend (she's been described as a windlass cruising around on a hull), but grinding down until the deck lights dimmed and the windlass stalled wasn't making a difference. There didn't seem to be much else that could be done. At this point, they'd been aground for about an hour or so, and the bilge was dry and the tide was rising. It was fair to hope that the situation wouldn't worsen, and there wasn't much else that we could think to do in the dark and the wind. It felt weird to leave them, but winds were still in the 40's, more weight on Piko wasn't going to help anything, and I was still worried about Britannia.
As the winds subsided, the direction shifted 90 degrees again, and Britannia was now directly over Piko's kedge anchor. We could actually hear the rode grinding on the hull at times. If Piko came off the reef, it was likely that the secondary anchor rode would act like a big rubber band and send her right into us. There was still only a boat length or two between the two boats. I got back in the dinghy and Lauren and I set our secondary anchor as yet another kedge. Piko's bow was starting to look pretty tangled in a web of rode, snubber and chain.
The wind was in the low 30's at dawn as Piko came off the reef. The feeling of relief at seeing the mast pointing up and boot stripe comfortably above the water line was huge. We gave a big cheer and started feeling like it might be time to think about relaxing. As we watched though, Lauren Girl looked back from the helm and I could just make out her yell of "we've got no power" over the wind. That was weird - the bilge had remained dry... I couldn't figure out why they would have lost power. That meant that they no longer had a VHF or a windlass. I got back in the dinghy.
So did Jake from Hokeulea and Bill from Dilligaf. Good thing too, because as we approached Piko, Lauren said "now the engine's died too!". Piko was totally dead in the water, 100 feet in front of the reef that they'd just escaped, in a gusty 30+ knot winds . Lauren Boy had managed to get the second kedge anchor up, but the first kedge was still set (though not placed appropriately to keep them off the reef or off of us), and their primary was still on the bottom somewhere.
We used the dinghies as tugs, keeping Piko in place, while Lauren Boy dove to clear what turned out to be a fouled prop (the rode from the secondary kedge had wrapped on the prop shaft). It was a relief to hear the engine start back up and feel like the immediate prospect of disaster had been diverted. For reasons unknown, Piko still had no power, so Lauren and I raised the primary anchor by hand and buoyed the primary kedge for later retrieval.
|Piko unanchored and without power|
Bill had scouted out an available mooring ball for Piko to pick up. Once she was tied on, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. It had been a long adrenaline filled night.
As it turned out, Piko's master breaker had tripped - they had the radar, all instruments, computers, VHF and the windlass all on all at once. I guess they'd just never used that much power before. A quick dive of the boat showed just how tough she was. There was a good chunk of glass missing from the rudder skeg, and a few gouges in the keel, but other than a good deal of missing bottom paint. The boat was basically undamaged. It was a good practical lesson in the value of a skeg hung rudder. If they'd had a spade rudder, it almost certainly would have been badly damaged.
The biggest lesson for me was not to get complacent in my trust of the weather forecasts. If you anchor every time knowing that there's always a possibility that severe weather could come in, you won't be caught by surprise. Britannia could have easily been in the same situation as Piko that night. After all, we're basically the same boat, with exactly the same anchor, in the same wind, in the same holding. We will never know how it happened. Did we drag? Did they? If they did, why didn't we? I'm thankful that this lesson learned wasn't as painful as it could have been. May God and lady luck always be so kind.