A Night of Terror!

Feb 18, 2016| 0 Comment

An oft repeated question we are asked is “what is the scariest thing that has happened to you on Avante?”  We do not know why this is, but almost all of our most threatening events have happened at anchor and not, as one would imagine, out at sea on a dark and stormy night.  

Wednesday, February 17th – The adverse weather forecast that all 17 or so of us boats were seeking shelter from here in Opunga Bay is for rain and winds gusting to 45 knots from the NE.  The rains came, but the winds all the day and into the evening were relatively mild here in our protected anchorage.  We had even been able to enjoy a Pipi Fritter and Lamb Chop dinner with 8 souls outside on the deck of Avante.  Our guests return to their boats.  The Captain and The First Mate are cleaned up and in bed by 10:00.  Tired we are.  It’s been a busy day.

Thursday, February 18th – Shortly after midnight, the anchor alarm starts beeping.  A check shows that the wind has changed direction, and we are getting wind from the west rather than northeast.  We and the other boats in the cove have shifted accordingly.  With uneasy concern, we note that all boats are now being blown in toward shore, but fortunately, the west wind is not very strong.  We re-set the alarm, and in about half an hour, it starts beeping again.  The wind had swung back to the predicted northeast direction.  Avante is back to her prior position, and now all boats are being blown offshore in the direction we originally anchored.  Feeling a bit better, we settle back to sleep again when suddenly we get hit with a huge blast of wind roaring like a freight train across the bay.  Out of nowhere in the dark of night, it feels like Avante has been slammed sideways with this blast causing the boat to tremble and roll on the water.  Startled awake, we are on the alert, listening, waiting and trying to sense, feel, what is happening out there.  As we move quickly to get out of bed, rain starts coming through a hatch that should only have rain coming in if Avante is stern to into the wind.  This should not happen at anchor.  Now we are running topside.  Something is definitely not right, and whatever it is is happening fast. 

The Captain, in his white cotton underwear, and The First Mate, in her cotton shift, have not reached the deck before the incessant beeping of the anchor alarm starts up again.  On deck, straining to see through the total darkness, the number of flash lights we see being illuminated tells us that other people are up and alert.  Though only pinpricks in the darkness, it is good to know everyone is on guard.  The wind is blowing over 30 knots, and it is raining hard.  In seconds, we are drenched.  The boats we can see are mere smudges in the darkness, and it is impossible to tell which way they are facing.  Worse still, we cannot see the shoreline which we know is not far away.

Assessing our situation immediately. The Captain, realizes that somehow, unbelievably, we are moving and beginning to move faster, not out into the bay which is the way the wind should have been pushing us, but toward shore and into the other boats.  This wind is coming from the west, not the forecast NE, putting all the boats on a lee shore, and since we are anchored furthest out, it is pushing us into the other boats.  While The Captain runs to the bow to try to see what is going on with our chain and anchor, The First Mate scrambles to the helm to start the engine enabling her to take control of the boat.  Before she can get Avante under power, we find that we are rapidly moving sideways into a small sailboat.  The Captain has to fend off the bow.  Fortunately, the other owner is up on deck.  He takes The First Mate’s spot in fending off the stern so she can return to getting steerage on the boat.  It is a good thing the other boat was a small, light one so we could push it away.  Avante, in those winds, does not get pushed by hand anywhere.  We make it safely past that boat, but are not sure whether we did not scrape it.  We heard nothing, but who could tell with the wind and rain pelting down on us?

Clear of that boat and all other boats, we make an abrupt turn because we know, though we cannot see, that we were getting close to shore.  We do not know how close we came to getting stuck in the mud, but it had to be close since we were only anchored in 22 feet.  Safely away from the lights of other boats and intuitively thinking we are heading away from shore, The First Mate is concerned about running over the anchor chain, but there is nothing she can do about that in the darkness right now.  While she motors slowly into the wind to hold position, The Captain has a moment to go below to turn on the chartplotter at the helm.  How we bless that Furuno chart plotter, for in the darkness, rain and wind, it was the only way we could tell where we were and where the coast was!  Like a blessing from Heaven, the screen on the chart plotter lights up and clearly shows the outline of the coast around us.  In the darkness, at the helm, The First Mate now can see!

Positive we are out of immediate danger, The Captain goes forward to the bow to bring in the anchor.  He gets to the end of the chain, and, shockingly, THERE IS NO ANCHOR!  The heavy-duty, galvanized shackle which connects the chain to the anchor had failed.  The safety wire ties are still intact holding the pin, but the shackle is bent and the threads are sheered.  With those variable winds just before that blast, which knowledgable locals estimated at 50 knots, we must have wrapped the chain around the anchor and shackle somehow, so that the sudden wind gust caused a sideways stress on the shackle.


The shackle was rated and was the largest one that would fit on our chain, so there should have been no issue.  We don’t know, and no one can figure it out other than blame it on the Chinese, for that is where it was made.


Anchor chain up, we motor out into the greater bay area where there are no boats because it is so open to the wind.  Though it is not a comfortable place to be in these conditions, we are at least away from other boats and not threatened by a near-by shore.  We give ourselves a short reprieve to get our dripping, shivering selves better dressed for the elements.  The Captain throws a rain jacket on over his wet underwear, and The First Mate strips off the dripping nightgown and throws on a t-shirt and her storm jacket with hood. 

Obviously, we can’t re-anchor until we get another anchor on the chain.  We do have 3 other anchors on board, but only one is readily accessible.  It’s on the side of the sail locker.  The other two are way down in the sail locker.  One is thoroughly lashed in place to secure it, and the other has been disassembled to enable storage.  The accessible one is a light-weight Fortress anchor that we use as a stern anchor.  Not sure if it will hold us, it is worth a try.  Well out in the bay, we drop that anchor, back down on it, and it holds.  Thank goodness!  However, neither of us is about to trust it, not in the ongoing conditions and our recent close call with disaster.  We will spell each other for the rest of the night standing anchor watch and making sure that we do not move.  As The First Mate heats water for tea, we change into warmer clothes to settle in for the rest of the night.

In the early morning light, The Captain digs out one of the other anchors.  We attach that and can finally motor closer to shore where it is a bit calmer.  The wind remains from the NW, not the forecast NE.  Thus, we are now anchored on the opposite side of the bay from the cove where we anchored yesterday.  Throughout the morning, the neighboring boats anchored where we were last night all move over to get away from the now leeward shore.

Fortunately, we did not hit the other boat.  In fact, we never heard which boat it was, and we could not identify it that night.  We had hoped to hear in the morning so we could apologize for the incident.  Several other boats did drag anchor that night and one did bump into another boat.  It was a mess for a while in that cove, as boats were swinging around their anchors.  With the usual mix of motor boats, catamarans and monohulls, boats were swinging at different speeds.  Thankfully, all survived to cruise another day!

Unfortunately, we lost a $1200 New Zealand Rocna anchor.  This never-fail anchor rarely does not set the first time and has never moved on us.  Obviously, it did not go anywhere that night despite what must have been tremendous pressure and weight on it.  We had the anchor position saved on GPS and returned there 2 days later with a diving friend, but the anchor could not be located.  Underwater visibility was only about arm’s length.  There was so much silt on the bottom and the mud was so soft that he could stick his arm up over his elbow into it.  Buried deeply in the mud, maybe someone will pull it up on their anchor one day in the future.  For now, we are content that all we have to do is buy another anchor.  It could have been far worse!

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