Squall in the anchorage
Nan Scrimgeour Weston finds fellowship during an ugly night on the hook
Darkness had fallen and the howling wind almost drowned out the voices coming over the VHF radio. “Lights on! Blow horns!” “Make noise to alert the crew!” “Shine the spotlight on the cat by the shore, it’s dragging dangerously near our bow.”
These were calls to action, not exactly in panic mode, but certainly more urgent than those usually heard.
The cat was now wending its way about the anchorage, its owners alerted during their cocktails and dinner aboard another vessel. “We just lost our dinghy!” was the next shouted exclamation. A short 20 minutes earlier, drops of rain had splattered on our hull, drops that quickly became heavy, thick splashes indicating a rising gale. We quickly closed the hatches and with the first flash of dreaded lightning made a dash to switch the VHF radio first to Channel 16 and then Channel 68.
Now the squall was truly assaulting the 50 boats anchored at Hamburger Beach, Georgetown, in the Exuma islands. Gusts were clocking at 60 knots. Adding deck, steaming and navigation lights to the anchor light—we wanted to see and be seen—I turned to my husband. “Well, this is a first for us.” His face had morphed from its usual relaxed expression to one of concern. He kept the engine idling in gear to keep pressure off the 125ft of anchor chain and 45lb CQR anchor. “Boy, am I thankful we chose this ground tackle when we outfitted the boat,” he said.
The captains on the boats next to and in front of us were also now doing the helmsmen’s two-step: once to port, turn, once to starboard, turn,
repeat, all with an eye toward avoiding a three-way collision. Their performance was admirable, as the wind, rain and radio messages provided background accompaniment.
The radio came to life again: “There’s a mayday report of a woman in the water.” Instantly, there was the reply: “She is safe aboard another boat.” More radio voices: two medical emergencies were taking place. “What would we do without our radios?” I said, not sure if I could even be heard over the sound of the whistling wind. Replies immediately came from three separate cruisers—an ER nurse, a doctor and an EMT tech.
And so it went for 90 minutes. The wind eventually settled back down again. The rain stopped. Slowly everyone crawled into their bunks to try and get some sleep, heartbeats still racing.
The day dawned with a clearing sky and benign seas. Stories were shared as we visited the neighboring boats. One couple described the fear they experienced during the squall as they set about re-righting their dinghy and retrieving their outboard from the sea—heavy rain pelting them throughout, soaking through their clothing. In their near-panic, they forgot to close the open hatch over their berth and spent the rest of the night wet and miserable.
As for the medical emergencies, the first patient had been taken to a clinic in town with a suspected heart attack. But it turned out to be a diabetes low blood sugar situation. The second patient had a kidney stone. Each came on the radio net later in the day to offer their thanks.
Such is the close-knit boating community. Looking out for each other is the unspoken creed by which we live. s
A QUIET SLEEP
A shipmate of mine describes spending his formative years sleeping in a drawer on his parents’ yacht. My daughter’s early experience belowdecks was centered around crashing out in a carrycot secured behind a lee cloth. Her son has been enjoying a better time of it by far, indicating that, despite undeniable evidence to the contrary, life is getting better. He turned up shortly before his second birthday with his own tented accommodation where he slept like the proverbial baby. With kids, it’s all about preparation. Plenty to do, lots of security and, as with malevolent dogs, parents must “never show fear!” Forethought makes for happy nippers and happy nippers mean dad can enjoy a quiet beer when the anchor’s down without being molested by screaming horrors.
FALL IN LINE
In the days before GPS, the best trick outside the book for finding a harbor in dense fog went like this: if it’s surrounded by rocks, forget it; if not, in you go, but never try to hit it by dead reckoning. This only really works, though, if you get lucky. So instead, inspect the chart and choose an unambiguous depth contour that passes close to the pier head. (In this case illustrated below it’ll be at 5 meters, with some extra typically added for tidal height.) Steer in from the offing onto the contour well to the north of the harbour. Then when you find the depth, you’ll also know the breakwater lies to port, so you’ve only to turn and run along it until the lighthouse materialises through the murk. This method is useful on the ocean too if you lose your timepiece and hence your longitude. (Latitude can be calculated via a sextant and tables: no time needed.) You’ve only to sail to the desired latitude on a known side of the destination, then run along it until your island pops up ahead. It worked for Columbus, and it still works now.
Cruising in traditional longkeeled craft as I did for years, I found that a good boat would often point higher than she would sail. You could strap in the jib until she almost stopped, then watch her point 40 degrees from the true wind and go nowhere except sideways. Modern yachts are less dramatic, but if you sail above a true close-hauled course the boat slows down, the keel stalls and you slide away to leeward in despair, imagining you’re doing really well until you find you aren’t. Unless the water’s mill-pond smooth, it’s usually better for a cruiser to go for boatspeed. Set up the rig, then bear away until you feel her heel and start to drive. If there’s a sea running, ease sheets a fraction and crack off 5 or 10 degrees. Speed climbs, leeway falls; you’ll be making good more ground and having a lot more fun. s
It was “Sonar month” at the Noroton Yacht Club in Darien, Connecticut, this past September, as it hosted not only the Sonar North American Championship regatta but the class’s team-racing Kirby Cup. Both events were also attended by famed Sonar creator Bruce Kirby, who is also a Noroton YC club member.
Winning this year’s nationals was the Noroton YC’s Karl Ziegler at the helm of Spitfire, making it his third time taking the title. Ziegler also won the Sonar world in 2015. Nearly 40 boats took part in the 2018 regatta.
Winning the Kirby Cup was a team from the New York Yacht Club, with Vineyard Haven coming in second and a pair of teams from the Norotan YC coming in third and fourth.
Just as interesting as the racing, if not more so, was what Kirby, now in his late 80s, had to say about the current state of naval architecture in an interview with the regatta’s sponsors, Jaguar and Land Rover.
According to Kirby, who also created the Laser and the Ideal 18 sloop: “Builders seem to be in a mad dash for speed. A boat is only better if it’s faster, like the new super multihulls and all the foiling hulls. I’d like to see new designs that don’t put owners lives at risk! I’m not sure the broad consumer market really values speed as much as current designers think they do. I don’t want to sound like a stickin-the-mud, and I’ve always tried to stay abreast of modern concepts. I just wonder if flat-out speed adequately replaces the splash of the bow wave and the gentle heel of the hull. Do we really want boats that require crash helmets and flak jackets?”
All you other naval architects out there, take note! For more on the two events, visit norotonyc.org.
A safe, comfortable toddler is a happy toddler
Sonar creator Bruce Kirby checks out a boat that got a bit too close to the competition
Nearly 40 boats took part in this year’s nationals