A Storm-Tossed Night

Idle Queen Onset harbor rainbow
Rainbow the morning after

Well, we are still afloat and Idle Queen is still in one piece after last night’s storm, which was a record-breaker for an October storm on this area. I saw a low air pressure of just under 28.9 inches before the barometer began to rise again. Winds measured ashore in the area were up to 90 mph. I saw 70 knots at deck level before I had to start dealing with a rapidly deteriorating anchor situation.

The wind began to pick up a bit after dark, and was really howling by 9 pm. IQ was riding well, and the worst wasn’t expected until after midnight, so I tried to nap. I got up a few times when flashlights played through my ports. There was only one other boat in the anchorage, a 46-foot catamaran. They were playing their lights on IQ to better see where I was in relation to them, so I assume that they were already beginning to drag at that point. The wind was gusting into the high 50’s, but IQ hadn’t budged and the catamaran was not directly upwind. I checked everything and then lay down again.

What seemed like a minute later, I awoke to the sound of revving engines nearby. I jumped up and headed for the hatch when there was a ban from forward. I could hear yelling over the wind. By the time I slid the hatch and got out to see, the catamaran was passing just feet from my bowsprit, already moving off to windward. I could see from their trajectory that I had missed observing the closest point of approach. It was a close one. We fell back on the heavy backup snubber that I had rigged. The moment of slack between the first snubber breaking and the emergency one taking up may have saved the boats from contact, but it brought its own complication.

I turned on the deck light so the catamaran could see me better, and had a look around. The scene on deck was wild, with the surface of the water whipped white and blowing over IQ’s deck in the gusts. IQ heeled 30 degrees and more in the gusts as we tacked back and forth behind the anchor. The chop was a couple of feet high even in tiny Onset harbor, with some waves clearly much higher. I had my kayak tied up vertically on IQ’s side, and it was alternately six feet above the waves or floating up along the shrouds depending on which way we were getting blown over.

Then, the anchor alarm sounded. The backup snubber had been rigged with some slack to keep it from chafing. It is rigged to the deck, instead of the waterline where the primary snubber was secured. When the primary snubber broke, IQ quickly gained momentum as she blew backwards taking up that bit of slack. She hit the backup snubber hard, stretching it about 6 feet until the chain finally straightened. Everything held, and I didn’t feel any shock, but a huge strain was put on the anchor at that moment. From then on, we began slowly dragging in the gusts.

GPS track showing how close we were to being on the beach or rocks.

Even though we were now dragging, it was slow and stable and there were a few hundred clear feet of room to leeward. I kept waiting for the anchor to find some firm ground and hold fast, but it didn’t. It was high tide, plus the extra 4 feet of angle to the new snubber conspired to drop the effective scope of the rode down to under 7:1. Maybe less than 6:1. The harbor was too agitated for the depth sounder to read, but I am sure the water was up even more than normal due to the storm.

The wind continued to strengthen. Now when we were caught sideways to the waves the chain was beginning to snatch as it stretched the snubber to the limit. I grabbed my dive mask and foul weather gear and went out to veer more line and chain. There was still a comfortable amount of room left to leeward to where the waves were breaking on the rocky beach. Suddenly, as I was just pulling my hood over my head, the anchor alarm sounded again. This time the anchor had finally been snatched free and IQ was now dragging quickly. I started the engine and glanced once more at the GPS. We were past the 5-foot sounding and still closing on the beach. There were also rocks in the water to each side of my position. The only thing I could do was gun the engine and bring the bow into the wind and try to take strain off the anchor.

Okay, that worked. IQ’s slide towards the shallows halted. But now what? We were too close to the beach to lie to the anchor even if it held. I motored off to starboard, as the rocks in that direction were a little farther away. With the engine running flat out I was able to keep IQ from tacking in the wind, and keep her from getting closer to the beach and rocks, but I now needed to re-anchor, and that meant hauling up the anchor before having a chance to get back out to a safe spot. I couldn’t get the spare anchor out to windward from my position in those conditions. I couldn’t leave the helm in any case.

I was stuck for the moment. To do anything but drive the boat meant the chance of being driven ashore. Once, I tried tying the helm down so I could go forward to try hauling in the anchor. The wind got IQ tacked over and heading for the rocks under power before I could get any chain in. I dove back into the cockpit and revved the engine to its limit in reverse. IQ slowly moved back against the wind towards the right side of the anchor with waves exploding against the quarter and showering the cockpit with spray every few seconds. A lull let me make a hard turn to get the bow into the wind again, but it was clear that I needed to drive the boat to keep her situation from worsening. So, I settled at the helm to keep things stable and wait for the wind to ease.

None of this was made any easier by the fact that I had to wear a dive mask to have any hope of opening my eyes against the wind-driven spray. The mask kept fogging and getting covered in spray, so I had to lick the lenses every minute or two to see anything at all.

After about an hour the wind began to ease. The moon was shining through breaks in the clouds that moved so fast I first thought it was flashes of lightning. Maybe there was some lightning as well. I could only see a foggy, fuzzy view of things half the time.

Lights shone on me from shore. I didn’t know at that time that some boats had broken free from their moorings and been driven onto the beach. There were lights flashing from emergency vehicles at the far end of the harbor. I still don’t know what happened there, but trees had been blown down ashore. There were fewer lights than normal as some power was out.

Another half hour and I felt like I could try again for the anchor. The wind was now gusting no more than into the high 40’s. I gunned the engine straight at the anchor, then put it in neutral and ran forward and quickly pulled in 25 feet of chain hand over hand, dropping it past the windlass 10 times faster than the machine could manage. Repeating this process we soon had a comfortable distance from shore, and the anchor was holding against the diminishing wind. Sometimes I could get ten feet of chain in, others only one or two before the bow was blown off again, driving the loads too high to make progress even with the windlass. It took a few minutes to unwrap the parted snubber from the chain, then I kept hauling. Suddenly, the wind dropped to only about 20 knots, a lull that was exactly what I needed at that moment. I immediately finished hauling the anchor and motored back out to a safe spot in the harbor. Whew!

With the anchor just going down again, the first strong gusts of a new southerly wind began to hit. The storm was passing, and I knew that the wind would veer around to the west. I set the anchor on 230 feet of chain (in 15’ of water at high tide) for the new wind direction, rigged two new snubbers with lots of slack in the chain, and retreated to the cabin. It was now almost 4 am.

There was no damage to IQ beyond the broken snubber and a slight tweak to the bow roller. The kayak was just fine riding on fenders where it was. A few things had slid around in the cabin, but IQ had been generally secure for sea, so no disasters there. I had a second anchor ready to go, but didn’t have time to drop it once we really started dragging. With some more room, I would have tried that, but I still think we would have been fine with just more scope on the first anchor, as we were holding fast before the primary snubber parted. As it was, I am glad I didn’t try to put the second anchor out once IQ really started to drag. If the second anchor didn’t catch, it would have been a nightmare to try to recover the extra gear when trying to get away from the beach. I’m also glad it wasn’t out when that catamaran dragged down, since the nylon rode is often clear of the water past the bow for 50 feet or more when it is stretched tight in strong wind. Again, two tangled boats would have been a disaster. My takeaway just reinforces something I already knew well: the fewer neighbors in a storm, the better!

Boat on beach. Bomb cyclone 2019, Onset Harbor
A few boats on the beach this morning. Lucky for this one to have found a sandy place to go ashore!

10 thoughts on “A Storm-Tossed Night

  1. Great recap of what happened Barry. It’s one thing to navigate you and your vessel through the experience. It’s a whole other thing to sit down – after the fact – and type out the blow by blow account.
    Great way to get this info out to others.
    Nice touch, the photos taken at not-so-convenient times.

    Bernie

    1. Thanks, Bernie. I started just writing it out for my logbook, but thought that it would make a good story to share. A little luck went a long way that night. I’m also very glad that I had rigged a backup snubber. In the future I’ll make my backup snubber a long line so I can veer chain without having to first haul in chain to disconnect the snubber—if I haven’t put all the chain out on the first place, that is.

  2. Glad to see everytjing is fine. Is it safe to assume you are in New England somewhere. My family is out on the Cape and they saw 68knts

  3. Few things are more sketchy than being stuck at anchor during a serious blow.

    It would have been heartbreaking to see all your hard work on Idle Queen come to grief… I’ll echo Drew here: very glad you were able to ride it out.

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