Sunday, 1 July 2018

A New Lesson in Anchoring

Is there anything more frustrating than doing a thing "by the book" and still running into trouble ?

We thought we knew everything we needed to know about anchoring : Minimum chain-to-depth ratio of 5:1, put the motor in reverse to dig in the anchor, and use a snubber on the chain to take the strain off the windlass. Our trusty Rocna anchor has held us through 30-knot gusts in all types of holding.

So imagine our idignant surprise last week when, despite having a 10:1 chain-depth ratio in sandy mud noted in the guide as excellent holding, we managed to drag our anchor and ended up stuck on a shallow mud bank.

We had been anchored out for 3 days in light to moderate winds that turned slowly in all directions. We even joked as we dined in the cockpit that we had a 360-degree panoramic restaurant.

On the 3rd day an afternoon storm kicked up with gusts up to 25 knots. We were on board and not at all worried. We had out 10:1. We had a Rocna.

I was working in the cockpit when I looked around and noticed that the stone dike around the beach looked much bigger than before. Much much bigger. I called down to Patrick to turn on the navigation instruments and come up fast. The depth sounder showed 1.1 meters, the exact depth of our keel with the centerboard up. We noticed we were perpendicular to all the other boats in the bay and to the wind. We were clearly beached.

We tried to use the motor to push ourselves out but all that nice excellent-holding mud held fast to our rudders and keel. At least this is an advantage of having a boat that can beach – we were simply stuck, but stuck upright, whereas a keel boat would topple over sideways.

We tried pulling and pushing the nose with the dinghy and the boat motor, but 2.5 horsepower vs 20+ knots on 10 tonnes is just not good odds. We knew we had to call for help before the winds pushed us even further up onto the mud bank.

We called the port closest to us where we had spent 4 nights. They were only 200 meters away. They informed us that they were not allowed to intervene and we had to call the mooring assistance service in the major port of the bay. A tragic-comic mélé of vhf and telephone calls ensued in french, italian, and broken english, where we finally had to take time out from our crisis to look up how to say "stuck in the mud". Three cheers for google translate.

A small coast guard vessel showed up for what we can only interpret as moral support. They informed us that the mooring assistance service had to help us but that they were currently out helping another boat. When the MAS arrived, they realized that their boat was too big to safely approach us in shallow water and went back to headquarters to get a shallow-draft vessel.

Once everyone was in place, the actual rescue only took 3 minutes. They tugged and we pushed, a boiling cauldron of mud exploded around the boat, and we were free. (Note : very important to clean the water filter and flush the engine with clean seawater for awhile.) We re-anchored in deeper water, the storm having passed, and then had to take our dinghy to the main port to fill out paperwork and pay the 85 Euro fee.

Lessons ? We suppose that the constant slow piroettes of the boat over 3 days must have "unscrewed" the anchor in the mud. When we pulled it up, there was a large hard ball of clay filling the spade, which would have made it very difficult to dig in again. I guess we’ll have to either dive to verify the holding or pull up and reset the anchor periodically when the boat turns 360s.

Fortunately, we were on board and no other boats were in our path, we have a lifting keel boat that settles instead of topples, and we were pushed onto mud and not rock.

But the best lesson, something we already knew but saw confirmed once again, is that there is a solidarity among the sailing community that warms the heart. As soon as it was clear that we were in trouble, two other dinghies showed up to offer help. Even with 3 small motors pushing, we didn’t solve the problem, but their presence cheered us as we waited and their stories of their own similar misadventures made us feel less stupid. That’s worth 85 Euros any day.