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Adventure in the Anchorage Print E-mail
Written by Jeremy Smith   
Sunday, 01 March 2009 00:00

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Somebody once told me that sailing consists of “long periods of boredom followed by brief moments of sheer terror.”  After sailing over 14,000nm between New England and the Caribbean aboard a 57’ Beneteau sailboat named “Splendido”, I could not possibly agree more. In the past two years I have seen furlers jam, props foul, wind generators explode. Many times I experienced that characteristic bang of the keel hitting bottom.  Sometimes it seems like every conceivable event has alreadyoccurred.  That is, until something new happens…

One of my most exciting “adventures” occurred while I was captaining the boat during a charter in New England.  Anchored in Block Island, Rhode Island, an identical model boat came and anchored very close to our bow.  To protect those involved, we will call the other boat “Windborne.”  The harbor in Block Island is very tight, so boats regularly anchor inappropriately close to each other.  I did not say anything to the owner, an acquaintance, but kept an eye on the situation during the day.  Luckily, the boats swung apart before sunset and were adequately spaced for the night.

The next morning when it was time to leave, my guests went up on the bow to use the windlass while I stayed in the cockpit.  I operate the boat without crew, so often guests help while anchoring and docking.  The chain was rising well, and we seemed to be moving just about parallel with Windborne’s starboard side.  Suddenly, the windlass began really straining.  I tried driving both forward and back on the anchor to break it loose, as I assumed it was simply stuck in the mud, with no success.  Something was quite wrong.  I glanced over toward Windborne’s bow, and was not happy to see her chain vibrating as we tried to hoist ours.

Obviously, the two anchors were tangled, something I always feared, but never actually experienced.  Before I knew it, we were in front of Windborne, with the bows pointed directly toward each other.  Nearly 15 knots of wind pushed us right toward them.  As Murphy’s Law would dictate, there was nobody on board the other boat, so I found myself essentially single-handing and fully responsible for not one, but two, 57’ sailboats! What now?  I tried backing up, thinking that maybe fate would be nice to me and the anchors would untangle themselves.  It became apparent that was not going to happen when the Windborne very happily started following as I reversed!  Clearly it was time for Plan B.  I asked my guests to put fenders out while I gradually swiveled Splendido with her bow attached via the anchor chain to the other boat. In a miraculous maneuver, with some help from the bow thruster and a little bit of luck, we successfully rafted up on Windborne’s port side without putting a mark on either vessel.

Once secure, I did not want to untangle the anchors without assistance, since I didn’t know if the other boat’s anchor was still set.  Are the anchors hooked on each other?  Are the chains wrapped, or both, or worse?  The last thing I wanted was to watch two 57’ yachts drift through the crowded anchorage while tied together. I called the local harbormaster, who subsequently called a local towing service to stand-by in case we ended up with a runaway raft.  Once assembled, we lifted Splendido’s anchor the rest of the way and found that it had indeed hooked the other boat’s chain.  A friend backed down on Windborne’s anchor using her engine and found that it was luckily still set.Finally, I thanked everybody for assisting and we motored out of the harbor to continue the charter.

What can we learn from this situation?  Most importantly, never panic! No matter what the event, panicking and screaming always makes things worse.  Especially, because I was working with no crew, and there were guests on board, staying calm was of paramount importance.

Secondly, everyone should practice thinking “outside the box” and get creative while trying to resolve issues, especially in a marine environment.  Purposely bringing the two boats together and rafting them up is counter-intuitive when you are actually trying to do the opposite; get them apart.  However, in 15 knots of wind, the boats needed to be secured before they damaged each other, or worse, somebody was injured.

Finally, learn to use available resources when necessary and think ahead.  If there is any question that you might be “over your head,” then call for help. This keeps injury and damage to a minimum.  In retrospect, I might have been able to untangle the anchors on my own, but at the time I had no idea what was lurking beneath the surface.  Any number of complications could have easily occurred.  The harbormaster is there exactly for things like this and was more than happy to help.

Try to remember these tips and apply them to your working life, no matter what position you hold.  You will be amazed how much it may help you get out of these sticky situations that we all regularly encounter.


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