Friday, December 01, 2006

Black Cloud Day

Matanzas River, N 29 48.456 W 81 17.140

I'm not superstitious and I don't believe in horoscopes, so why do bad things seem to save themselves up to all happen at the same time? Here's my sorry tale.

Coming into Saint Augustine Harbor I lost my hat overboard. That hat has stayed on my head for a long time, so I did not expect it to blow off. This time however, the hat floated so we were able to recover it.

The Bridge of Lions opens only on the hour so one doesn't want to go through if unsure. We had to decide whether to anchor north of the bridge or south. That meant deciding whether to go outside tomorrow and sail offshore to Port Canaveral, or to stay on the inside. There appeared to be room for more boats to anchor on the north side, but I decided to go under the bridge. Wrong choice.

When we got the south side it was more crowded than we have seen it before. Looking for a spot to anchor a lady shouted to us, "Everyone has two anchors so they don't swing." Open spots were hard to find. We finally chose a spot and dropped one anchor, then put out a second anchor at a 45 degree angle. That's a half-ass way to do it. To not swing, the anchors need to be 180 degrees apart. I thought it would take me two or three tries to judge the distance between the two, and that we would spend the afternoon fiddling. I wanted to go ashore. We had errands to do. So I tried it the lazy way.

After an hour I decided that we weren't secure. We were in 20 feet of water, and there was 5 feet more of tide to come. We had only enough room for 100 feet of rode, whereas 140 feet would be needed to hold securely. Already the two anchor rodes had twisted around each other. The currents are very swift in this spot and it might be windy tonight. I decided to pick up both anchors and leave.

We motored forward to pick up the first anchor. I went to pick up the trip line bouy with a boat hook over the side, and I couldn't find it. Just then Libby said, "We ran over our line, the engine stopped." I looked over the side, and sure enough, there was the trip line wrapped around the propeller. Oh no!

I got into my mask and snorkel and bathing suit, and into the water I went. Fortunately, the water was nice and warm, not like in Maine. We recently bought some fishermen's line-cutting serrated knives for emergencies and I took one of those. The knife cut the line like magic and the float came off. Now it only remained to get out the turns that had jammed themselves into the shaft tunnel where the cutlass bearing is. I tied the fragments to a line and took the line up to the winch. I used the winch to keep them under tight tension. Then I used muscle to turn the propeller shaft back and forth and hacked on the bits with the knife. After half an hour, it all came loose.

Back on deck, I was disgusted with myself. I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. We brought up both anchors and I started to motor out of the anchorage. We hadn't gone 100 feet when bang; we were aground. There was a sand bar. It had moved several hundred feet to the east from where my charts and the GPS showed it to be. We were supposed to be in deep water but we weren't. Before we could launch our dinghy to kedge off, a man came along in his dinghy and offered to tow us. It worked. We put a line on the bow, and he tugged sideways, and soon we were off. We thanked him then sheepishly left the anchorage by a different route.

We were both very tired at that point, and we resolved to anchor at the first chance. The first chance seemed to be a place 5 miles down the river where our Skipper Bob book recommended a little deep pool off to the side of the channel. We motored down there and prepared to anchor again. We came to the right spot and I called to Libby, "DROP," according to our usual anchor procedure. Then I started backing and setting the anchor alarm on the GPS. A few seconds later Libby called out, "Don't you want me to drop?" Oh no. She hadn't heard the command. Before I could do anything more, we had backed too far and now we were aground again. Jeez. Aground twice in two hours?

This time there was nobody to help. We launched the dinghy and paid out 250 feet of anchor rode into it. I rowed out 250 feed into the channel and dropped the anchor. Then I returned to Tarwathie and we used the windlass to winch in the rode one inch at a time. It was very hard work and we had to winch in 100 feet of that rode before Tarwathie broke loose from the bottom. That's what is called kedging. By now we're way beyond dead tired.

So we tried to anchor again. This time the trip line for the plow anchor fouled on the dangling Danforth anchor when we dropped it. We had to pull up the anchor again, unfoul it and try a third time to anchor. Finally, this time it worked.

What a day. What a day. It was not my finest hour. Now I'm trying to clean off the blue antifouling paint from my legs, arms, shoulders and the hair on my head. I would leave it there but Libby reminds me, "That paint is the most toxic thing money can buy. It can't be good on you."

I always strive to not repeat errors. This time I recall making exactly the same error 27 years ago when sailing on Lake Champlain with my son John. Approaching a lee shore to anchor. John was standing by in the bow, I shouted "DROP." He didn't hear me and 10 seconds later the boat was right up on the beach. That time it took a tractor to pull the boat off the beach.

Now I think our luck has turned. Just after our successful and final anchoring for the day, David called from Kuwait. Poor David sounds very bored. Nevertheless, his call lifted our spirits.

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