Squall in the an­chor­age

Nan Scrim­geour We­ston finds fel­low­ship dur­ing an ugly night on the hook

SAIL - - Cruising Undersail - with Tom Cun­liffe

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 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.


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

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