Monday, August 26, 2013

A Harrowing Tale from Cape Scott

One of the great things about going around Vancouver Island is that you can become connected to a group of other sailors that are doing the same. They are your cohort, so to speak, and you share a common challenge, which engenders camaraderie. On our trip around, our cohort consisted of about 5-10 different boats that we more or less kept seeing as we headed south down the outer coast. We considered that each week or so must have it's own cohort, and that each summer must have a handful of these. We knew none of our group before we began our journey, and only a couple of them knew each other beforehand. In addition to sharing advice and weather reports and doing some buddy boating around tough places, it is also fun to simply hear other good sea stories from fellow intrepid travelers.

This particular sea story I heard first hand from one of our cohort members, who will remain nameless, and it is among the most harrowing tales I can imagine on a trip around the Island. I think I have most of the details correct, but forgive me if someone with more knowledge finds errors. Be forewarned of the importance of solid ground tackle!

A group of three sailboats had begun their trip around Cape Scott from the nearby anchorage in Bull Harbor on Hope Island. The forecast was for strong winds, but the crew of this particular boat was experienced and they were on a large Bill Garden (like our Gulf 32) designed ketch that was over 45 feet in length. The winds were from the SE, which when you are at the top of Vancouver Island means they are coming from shore, and there is not much fetch to build large waves. As the day progressed so did the wind, and by the time they were within sight of Cape Scott the wind was a gale. This boat, along with the two others, decided to drop anchor in one of the small temporary spots near Cape Scott that are used for just these conditions. I think they were in Fisherman Bay.

So they dropped their trusty CQR on a large scope and proceeded to wait out the storm. Sometime during the afternoon, the wind picked up further, and was blowing snot right off the island and onto the boats. To their shock and dismay, the big ketch began to drag anchor. Now, every captain knows there are never good times to drag anchor. Whether because of current, or wind, there is always a lee shore or the open sea awaiting you. For this boat, they began to drag anchor and no amount of scope seemed to be helping them (more on the benefits of switching to a modern anchor later).

Making a bad situation worse, they were dragging anchor right toward one of the other sailboats! And to make it EVEN WORSE, the owners of the other boat had gone ashore despite the high winds and no one was aboard. As you might guess, they did in fact drag anchor right onto the boats rode, and soon enough had ripped their anchor right out of the ground too. Now, both boats are being rapidly blown out to sea, which in this case means toward Alaska, as there was nothing but open water between them and points much further north.

Because there was no one aboard the second boat, once both boats were out to sea they became locked in a death grip, with the anchors and chains of both boats twisted hopelessly around one another. Imagine you are aboard the ketch, and already distressed at dragging anchor, and then finding yourself responsible for dragging another boat out to sea without the owners aboard...Just picture that a moment, in 30+ knot winds and building seas.

None of their efforts to free the boats would work, as no matter how they motored toward the other vessel the wind would blow it away much faster, keeping the chains taught and tangled. The ketch was in full reverse, with her big diesel and prop working desperately to keep them closer to shore and away from the building seas further out. The owner reported that he was full throttle, and was still losing ground with the wind blowing on both boats so violently. In desperation, they decided to launch one of their crew back to shore in their luckily motorized dinghy. They did so in a desperate attempt to reach the owners of the other boat.

Fortunately for all, the shore party was able to find the boat owners and ferry them back to their sailboat. Once they were aboard, the boats were able to motor toward one another enough to remove the tension on the chains, and they were able to disentangle the anchors with a few mighty shoves of boat hooks and a few choice swear words to appease the nautical spirits who require such things. At the end of this saga, they were both back anchored at the same cove and this time stayed put.

So good work on the part of the ketch crew for mitigating what could have been an even worse situation, and thankfully the crew of the other boat was nearby ashore and were able to be returned to their vessel.

In my next post I think I will update my views on the Mantus anchor we've been using for the  past year. I had drug anchor several times in more benign winds when I still had my CQR, despite an all chain 3/8 BBB rode. Suffice to say I believe this whole situation would have been avoided with the use of an upgraded anchor, but one never knows and I'm just glad this situation was resolved without injury to crew or vessels. 


Kenneth Tobin said...

Hello Brian,

Looking forward to your write up on the Mantus anchor.

I'm doing a refit on a Rafiki 37 and picked up an 85 lb. to replace a 60 lb. cqr that came with the boat. I'm sure many would say this is overkill. :-)

I've come across one testimonial that I trusted on using a Mantus anchor, it was positive, and not on the Mantus website. If other sailors out there are actually using it they haven't been posting.

Fair winds and following seas

Ken Tobin
S/V Keith
Novato, CA USA

Unknown said...

Just out of curiosity, how big was your CQR?
All the Best.

Brian W. said...

Our CQR was 35 lbs and we use a 3/8 BBB full chain rode. The Mantus is also 35 lbs.