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!

Trying something new- Videos!

Ready to begin
Cavendysh at the dock in Dunkirk, NY, just before getting underway ahead of a nor’easter.

We are now well into 2013 and I hope that the new year is off to a great start for you.

I left off quite a while ago here with pulling Sirocco for a bit of a freshen-up and routine maintenance.  Quite a lot has happened since then!  I will get busy filling things in soon, but first wanted to try sharing some videos from my trip so far.  I will put links to the new videos here on the blog, starting with this one from the first day of my trip out of the Great Lakes in 2010 aboard Cavendysh.  

This first video was taken not long after leaving Dunkirk with a forecast nor’easter bearing down on Lake Erie.  I was in high spirits while taking this video, as we were making great speed and the lake was still pretty flat.  We made good time–covering 129 miles that first day out in up to near gale-force winds.  My stomach definitely protested the boisterous conditions when it got windy and rough overnight.


Surviving Hurricane Irene

Sirocco on mooring in Irene
Riding out Irene

I sailed to Massachusetts this summer to try to avoid the worst hurricane season.  I was counting on the fact that Cape Cod hadn’t been hit by a hurricane in twenty years, and the storms are usually considerably weakened if they do hit there.

The last hurricane to hit the area was hurricane Bob, back in 1991.  I was at the Beverly Yacht Club junior regatta for that storm and vividly remember many boats breaking loose from their moorings in Marion Harbor.  The boats that got free were washed high up onto the lawns of the ostentatious homes around the harbor.  They crashed up on breakwaters and were blown onto the grounds of Tabor Academy.  Some of the boats that stayed securely moored through the storm were heavily damaged when other boats dragged down on them.  Even the yards weren’t safe–I remember one row of boats toppled like dominoes after one large sailboat blew over and took out its’ neighbor, starting a chain reaction.  The memories of that hurricane and the resulting aftermath have made me always very cautious about properly preparing my boat for storm season.

Since I had acquired Sirocco just before hurricane season I hadn’t yet had time to outfit her with all of the heavy anchors and rodes that I feel are necessary to feel safe riding out a storm on my own gear.  My best gear was stuff that I had bought for my previous boat, a Contessa 26, which was 1/3 the displacement of Sirocco.  My two bower anchors are a 33-lb Rocna anchor with its’ 90 feet of 5/16″ high-test chain and 15/16″ plaited rode; and a 35-lb CQR on about 65 feet of 1/2″ BBB chain and a 3/4″ 3-strand rode–perfectly adequate for Sirocco in normal weather and even normal bad weather (up to about 40 knots), but I didn’t feel that the gear was up to holding the boat against a hurricane, even when I figured in my extra rodes, Fortress FX-23 anchor, two additional 22-lb Rocna anchors that could be used in tandem or all separately.  What was missing was at least one truly honking big anchor and rode that I could rely on as a strong-point for my storm mooring setup.

Now keep in mind that all of this gear is on a relatively low-windage 28′ boat, which may sound like a lot of gear to some.  But, I actually bought those anchors (except for the CQR, which came with Sirocco) for my previous 26-foot, 6,000-pound boat, and felt that my ground tackle was comfortably sized.  You could say that I am pretty close to being obsessed with anchors.  The reason for my obsession is simple–anchors are what let me sleep when I am not underway at night and I do so enjoy actually being able to sleep.  It makes me shiver when I see other boats out cruising, even if just for the weekend, with tiny, single anchors because I know that they might someday be anchored to windward of me and start dragging.

I want the heaviest anchoring gear that I can reasonably store and handle.  I want redundancy in case of breakage, loss, or tricky situations that require multiple anchors.  I want, no, need heavy ground tackle because when a front comes through in the middle of the night I want to be able to look around, see that the boat is holding fast, and then go back to sleep without worrying that I am going to wake up to the sensation of the boat sideways to the seas and drifting downwind because the anchor is not holding.  I sail alone quite a lot and need to be able to count on a good night’s rest if I am in an anchorage in order to be able to make good, safe decisions on the water the next day.

Anyway, with hurricane Irene bearing down on the Buzzard’s Bay area I felt woefully under prepared with the gear that I had on board.  I first tried anchoring in a small, closed bay next to Phinney’s harbor that offered good holding and limited 360-degree protection, but in a 30-knot southwest wind I could see that the waves were going to be a factor.  My next thought was to run north to Maine, where I could reasonably expect the winds to stay under 45 knots.  The problem with that plan was that I didn’t really know Maine that well and didn’t want to sail all of that distance north only to discover that I had chosen an anchorage that had a bad bottom, or was choked with moorings, or filled with other boats there running from the storm.  There wouldn’t be enough time to explore and find a good harbor if I didn’t get lucky with some good advice found through a guide or acquaintance.  With the hurricane only 48 hours away I decided to stay and secure Sirocco as best I could to a 5000+ pound mooring that was offered to me to use if I wanted.

I finally decided on using the mooring because I felt confident that Sirocco could survive the wind and wave action if properly secured to sufficiently heavy gear even though the mooring was located in an area more exposed than I would have liked, with a fetch of up to 3/4 of a mile depending on the wind direction.  Eve and I removed everything from the deck including the dodger, sails, boom, spinnaker pole, and even the dorade cowls.  I taped the chain pipes and hatches shut.
The next task was to secure the boat to the mooring.  New 3/4″ 3-strand nylon line was used to make two new 25′ mooring pennants.  With Eve’s help the ends were spliced with 12″ eyes on one end and thimbles on the other and the lines were protected with lengths of fire hose and reinforced vinyl tubing.  The eyes were dropped over the mooring bitts and tied down so they couldn’t come loose.  The thimbles were attached to the mooring with a 3/4″ shackle.  That was my primary connection.  As a backup I took 5/8″ braided nylon dock lines and led them from the forward mooring cleats to the mooring.  They were several feet longer than the pennants so as not to take a load unless a pennant broke.  A final safety measure consisted of two 35′ lengths of 5/16″ high-test chain shackled from the mooring to the bobstay fitting.  If all of the lines broke then the  boat would still be chained to the mooring.  Sirocco would have to drag the mooring ashore or else she would suffer major structural failure before breaking free.

The chain was purposely longer than all of the other pennants to allow the lines to stretch to absorb the shock of waves slamming into the boat.  If the load came to be on the chains I was relying on the 36″ mooring ball to absorb shock with its’ buoyancy–it would sink as more and more load was placed on the mooring system.  If I had planned on staying on the boat I would have attached the chain in some way that would have allowed it to have been released under load, but since I was not going to be aboard during the hurricane I opted for seized shackles since I would not be there to release it anyway.

As the wind built it became apparent that Sirocco was still mostly riding to the current rather than to the wind.  This was causing her to ride over her pennants at times.  I was glad that I had protected the bobstay with vinyl hose and duct tape, and made the chafing gear on the mooring pennants as long as the bowsprit.  Chafe is always the biggest enemy during a hurricane.  When the wind starts getting up over 60 knots even a very small harbor can build a nasty chop that will cause the boat to pitch.  The resulting motion will saw through the loaded mooring lines if proper precautions are not taken.  Sirocco‘s chocks are large enough for her oversized mooring lines to be protected with many layers of chafing gear.  I used vinyl hose and two layers of fire hose this time.  I believe that reinforced neoprene hose would have been better than the first layer of vinyl that I used.

Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it hit Buzzard’s Bay.  There were still some gusts of hurricane force recorded by nearby Massachusetts Maritime Academy, with some gusts up to 85 mph.  I recorded winds over 70 mph with a handheld anemometer while standing on shore near where Sirocco was moored.  Even during the height of the storm Sirocco rode quietly–not sailing about excessively or heeling very far in the gusts.   Sirocco is a low boat by modern standards, and that helps reduce windage, which keeps the loads lower on her moorings.  I didn’t once observe her put enough load on the mooring to sink the mooring ball.

The next day we went out to inspect Sirocco and were greeted by nothing worse than a lot of bird calling cards and some seaweed on deck.  Everything else was as it had been left before the storm.  On closer inspection there was some minimal chafe on the fire hoses, and a little chafe on the bobstay chafe gear, and some wear on the bottom paint at the bow where Sirocco had over-rode her mooring due to the current.  There was a noticeable settling of the splices in the new mooring pennants, which showed that they had come under heavy load at some point.  I was happy that all of the preparation had paid off.  Sirocco had come through unscathed.

I am currently shopping around for that big honking storm anchor in case I am not lucky enough to have access to a heavy mooring next time.