On a dark and stormy night   Leave a comment

Here’s a backdated post to tide you over till the story of our gulf stream crossing is finished. I wrote this a few days ago, Wednesday to be exact, but was not able to finish and post it at the time.

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Sunset our first night in Palm Beach.

Palm beach is starting to get old. The weather isn’t all that great. There isn’t much to do on land, not that we have time to do anything but frantically prepare the boat. The marina where we’ve been docking our dinghy and getting packages is a bit ghetto and the employees are less than helpful.

At least we have plenty of entertainment! Peanut island, site of JFK’s vacation bomb shelter, is next door and we’ve had some pleasant runs along it’s shores. The water is beautiful and warm enough to swim in. We got a glimpse of the local culture on the long, long bus ride to the airport, where we picked up a rental car.

As always, we have plenty of amusing boat neighbors. A a very friendly guy is alone on his 36ft sailboat next to us. There was a Hallberg Rassey here when we arrived and there are a couple big catamarans and various other sailboats as well.

Last night brought a little drama to the anchorage. A strong front moved in around 10pm, when Lee and I were about to go to bed. We knew it was supposed to be a stormy night but felt confident in our anchorage. As the first gusts hit, Pirat healed over dramatically and the rigging howled. At the time, Lee was on his way to the helm to turn off the engine (running for refrigeration). He saw all hell brad loose around us.

The single-handed boat seemed to pop it’s anchor free immediately and began dragging towards the nearby home-lined shore. It was dark out, of course, and rain started coming down in sheets shortly after the wind hit. Lightning occasionally lit up the monotone grey sky.

Instead of turning off then engine and going to bed, Lee put on his foul weather gear and went up on deck to make sure everything was secure. We decided it would be best to leave the engine on. If our anchor dragged we wanted to be ready.

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The Schooner at a dock after the day after the storm.

Back to our neighbor in distress: Seconds after his boat went galavanting away, the large schooner anchored behind him followed suit. It looked like the first boat’s anchor may have snagged the schooner’s anchor line. The wind, gusting to 35+ knots, pummeled both boats towards shore faster than I expected. It was like their anchors meant nothing.

We saw the single-hander pop up in his cockpit before too long and held our breath as we waited for him to drive his boat out of danger. The schooner was holding steady again but the smaller boat was beam to the wind and practically on the waterfront lawns. Finally the boat backed rapidly away from shore and the skipper retracted his anchor from the cockpit using an electric windlass. He eventually re-anchored about where he’d been before.

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Shore where boats nearly ran aground (the next day).

The schooner, however, was still in trouble. Strong gusts hit persistently and, before long, it was dragging again. We watched the helpless schooner, wondering if the guy we’d seen aboard earlier that day was there now. The Rachel B. Jackson, as the schooner is called, takes people on cruises from Peanut island. It really looked like she was aground and I was thinking about calling someone when I hear voices on the radio (I’d turned it on earlier because it seemed appropriate). The guy on the schooner was hailing the coast guard but his messages were very weak and garbled. The coast guard got the message, though, and dispatched a boat right away.

The little coast guard boat zoomed into the anchorage and over to the Rachel B. Jackson. We weren’t sure why the guy onboard didn’t just motor out of his predicament. Maybe he had engine trouble or something. In any case, Lee watched the coast guard boat help the schooner to the Peanut Island dock. I collapsed in bed as soon as the rescue started.

What a night it was! The storm was calming down when we both got in bed but the lightning was all over. I woke up hours later to complete stillness and silence. It was wonderful but eerie.

The night-time spectacle reminded me how tenuous safety can be on the boat. One second we’re safe at anchor, and the next we could be barreling towards jagged rocks. I realized that I wasn’t really scared that night. Lee has proven his anchoring skills in every situation and I knew that he could handle anything that might happen. That is, I knew we could handle it together. Lee had put out a second bow anchor earlier in the day so we had double security. At my suggestion, we tied fenders to our anchor lines after the front arrived so we could drop our anchors and get away quickly if need be. Lee stood on deck in his red suit through the torrential rain and wind. I monitored the radio and watched from under the dodger.

We survived. Everyone survived. It was just another night of boat life!

Posted January 29, 2011 by Rachel in Uncategorized

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