boat anchored in Isla Mujeres harbor

What a Drag

Saturday January 4, 2014

boat anchored in Isla Mujeres harbor

 You’re sitting pretty now, but little do you know, we’re going to come careening at you in a few hours.


The past few days on Serendipity have been quite boring. There’s a front blowing through the area, bringing clouds, rain, and lots of wind. We actually haven’t left the boat since we’ve returned from Cancun, not actually wanting to put ourselves out in that weather even for much needed groceries, and subsiding on a diet of sandwiches and lots of reading. The weather has brought our batteries back down as well, so of course, computer work is once again out. Yup, these have been quite boring days indeed. And if I was lucky, it would have stayed that way.

The winds yesterday were much more fierce than they have been today for the most part, only blowing in the high 20’s with gusts up in the 30’s, instead of yesterdays 30’s with gusts into the 40’s. During our after dinner relaxation time though, they began to kick up again. The wind would howl, rigging would clank, and we’d look up from the books we were reading, our eyes communicating to each other, ‘Wow, that was a big one’. At some point we began to step into the cockpit to glace around and make sure we were still in the same place, that our anchor wasn’t dragging at all. But with darkness, also comes confusion. It became much harder to tell exactly where we were because we were now surrounded by a sea of black with only twinkling lights from town and the occasional anchor light as a guide.

There were a few times that we’d pop our heads out, and I being the much better judge of measurements and distance, would mention to Matt, “I think these other boats look a little closer than they did before”. These other boats, meaning two that were anchored behind us. With the wind coming over the island from the east, we were at the front and center of the channel, with nary a boat in front of us, which is just the way we like it. We have a Rocna. It holds. We don’t have to worry about dragging, our biggest fear is of others dragging into us. So with these ‘slightly closer’ positioned boats, we weren’t sure if we’d actually moved or if our eyes were playing tricks on us in the dark. They tend to do that sometimes. Going back to our books we just said that we’d keep an eye on it, looking out again every so often to make sure these other anchor lights weren’t getting any brighter. Every 30 minutes after that we’d check again, and everything looked normal. I thought to myself ‘Even if we did somehow drag back a little bit, we seem to be still now’.

We were quite content with our situation and position while getting ready for bed around 10:30, when we heard our anchor alarm going off. Normally this doesn’t send us into a panic as it will sometimes go off even if we’re only rotating at anchor, but this time we knew to be suspicious. I stepped up on deck, and Matt was quickly behind, moving me out of the way because, as usual, I wasn’t moving fast enough. We looked behind us and though, ‘Ok, yeah, that boat does look a little closer’. Then we looked to our side and said, ‘Huh, we weren’t even with that boat before’. And then it dawned that we hand in fact dragged. And silly me, I somehow assumed that we’d caught again. We formulated a plan to move forward and re-anchor, and I went about finding a clip to pull my hair back so that it wouldn’t blow in my face, causing temporary blindness, and changed from my long yoga pants into shorts so that I wouldn’t trip on hem while out in the cockpit. Finally getting back out into the cockpit I realized that I should have been in much more of a hurry. The boat behind us was growing closer and closer….we were still dragging! And not very slowly either.

Since we had to deal with the new problem of having issues with our starter, and THANK GOD we figured that out earlier or we’d still be engine-less, just like we were when we went to charge the batteries this afternoon and found out it wouldn’t turn on; Matt jumped into the lazarette and manually started the engine as I was behind the wheel, quickly trying to unlock it. There had been no time for a discussion on exactly what was going to be done or any kind of planning for a course of action. This was a fly by the seat of your pants, get your ass moving before you hit the boat that you’re quickly coming up on, situation. I put the boat in gear, not sure of how much punch I should give it since I knew we still had to get the anchor chain up in the first place and I didn’t want to go roaring past it. So I kept us around 1300 RPMs. Until I looked behind me and saw that we were, I’m not kidding, about 40 feet from hitting the other boat. The wind was so strong that drowned out my cries of “Oh Shit!!” as I punched us up to over 2000 RPMs to get us moving. I kept at this pace until I saw the boat growing dimmer behind me, and finally, Matt waving his arms, trying to get my attention to slow down. So I basically brought us to a stop. Can you see where this is going?

Now my too slow speed was giving us no forward motion against the winds that were trying to hold us back, and the bow was turning to Port even though Matt was sternly pointing toward Starboard and I had the wheel fully cranked that direction. Scared, flustered, and frustrated, it didn’t dawn on me to give us enough gas to at least keep us moving forward until Matt had to run back and tell me. My heart sank a little more as I realized this is the only way we could communicate. There was no way we could hear each other over the HOWLING wind with him at the bow and me at the stern, and with it being so dark out, my beloved hand signals were now obsolete. I kept moving us forward at a slow and steady pace, unsure of where we where, or even where we were heading. The darkness made everything so disorienting and I couldn’t tell exactly how far away we now were from the other boats, or especially the channel.

Matt came back once more to tell me that it all started because our anchor had gotten caught on a BMX bike frame which came up along with it and the chain (wtf?!) and now to just keep an eye out,that we wanted to try and end up at the current position we were at that moment after the anchor was let down again and enough chain was let out, so to just get us a little further out. Which again, in the darkness, I had no idea how to judge when we’d gone another 100 feet or so. I just kept us slowly moving forward, hoping for some kind of signal from the bow, when I looked over to Port and thought, ‘Huh, that kind of looks like a mast’. Then I stuck my head out further around the dodger and realized, ‘Holy s%*t, that IS a mast!”. I guess in my rush to get us forward I had put us into the channel, and now we were coming up on another sailboat that was anchored on the other side. One which, instead of having a light atop their mast, had one glowing from the cockpit, perfectly matching the location of the lights on shore. I know a lot of people have these, so don’t take this personally, but I HATE anchor lights situated on the boom or in the cockpit. It does NOT light up your cockpit making you easier to see, it just makes an optical illusion that you’re much further away than you actually are. (Done ranting now)

Eyeing this new boat that we were now on top of, I quickly turned the wheel to Starboard and we began to follow the path of the channel. Becoming extremely aware of my surroundings now, I eyed the anchorage more closely and realized there were a number of boats that didn’t have any kind of light on. None. I could barely make them out through the blackness. Another pet peeve of mine. Yes, I know that legally it is not mandated that you have a navigational light on your boat at night if you are in a marked anchorage. But seriously people, do you not want to be seen?! I know people aren’t normally moving around anchorages at night, and if they are they should at least have radar on, but there are times (like this!) where emergencies happen, there isn’t time, and that’s not an option. (Whew, sorry about all this, if you can’t tell, I’m both a little stressed out and worked up right now).

Since I happened to instantaneously change direction, Matt came back to see what the heck was going on, where upon he got a full earful from me on all the things listed above. He was just as peeved too. Once we both took a few deep breaths and calmed down a little, we made a plan to keep our new course for just a minute, now putting ourselves in an area where no one was behind us, before slipping the boat into neutral and dropping the anchor once more. We settled into a spot that we’d hoped was just out of the channel, although I’m sure we’ll both be up with the sun tomorrow, ready to reposition. The winds now seem to be dying down, but my heart is still going a million miles a minute. I hope we don’t ever have to do that again. As I just mentioned on our Facebook page, THAT.WAS.SCARY.