All By Myself

February 24 – March 1.

We were anchored on the other side of Big Majors Spot for several days before the front. Greg did some snorkeling in a nice little reef with some elk horn coral near by.

I was alone. Very much alone. Hours earlier I had watched Greg board a plane at Staniel Cay. He was headed back to the States for the weekend to meet his very first Grandchild. Back on Blue Wing I sat on deck and watched every boat in the anchorage leave one after another until there was just me and the voices on the VHF radio, my only link to other human beings.

This wasn’t the plan. We planned for Greg to leave from Black Point, where I would have internet, be close to town, surrounded by other boats, and where we were friendly with several local business owners and some American expats living on the island. But apparently we forgot to share the plan with the weather gods who had scheduled a front (west wind) for the day before Greg was to depart.

If you read my 3 Things post, you may remember that sitting out a westerly in Black Point is one of the things I would like never to do again. So we changed Greg’s flight to leave out of Staniel Cay, where there are ample places to hide from a western blow near by.

We found a good spot east (the other side) of an island named Big Majors Spot. Our chart indicates that the holding (for anchoring) is poor in this location, but we didn’t find that to be true, as did the 8 or 10 other boats that joined us for the front. The day of the blow, there was hardly a sign of the contrary blow.

The wind was supposed to clock around Thursday night and turn east again by Friday morning when Greg was scheduled to leave. We decided to get up early that day and move Blue Wing to a more suitable spot for the typical east wind. But at first light the wind was still blowing southwest. Remembering the 12 hours of westerly that turned into 30 we had experienced in Black Point a few weeks earlier, we thought it would be best to leave the boat where she was. Our spot didn’t seem ideal for east wind, but we had no good choices.

Now, back at the boat after leaving Greg, the wind was out of the north, waves were churning up and the anchorage had become uncomfortable. All the other boats were leaving and I wanted to leave, too. Besides being alone in an uncomfortable anchorage, the dink ride from the other side of Big Majors into Staniel that morning crossed a particularly nasty current that threatened to carry us out the inlet. I didn’t want to have to repeat that trip when it came time to pick Greg up at the airport.

We had met a handful of boaters in the area, but didn’t know anyone very well. I considered calling one of these people on the radio and asking them to help me move the boat to a better anchorage. I thought about this for a while.

I thought — I really didn’t want to in convince anyone. I thought — it would be weird to ask a stranger for help. Who would be captain and who would be crew? Blue Wing is my (and Greg’s) boat and I felt uneasy about the idea of letting anyone else take over the control of her. I thought –what if it was an emergency. I really should be able to move the boat myself. And finally, I thought — what would Greg do? Would he ask for help?. I think not.

So I looked at the Windfinder report I had downloaded that morning while ashore. There was supposed to be a lull in the wind just after sunrise the next morning. That would be the best time to go.

Now, Greg and I had practiced what I needed to do to raise the anchor by myself and I pilot Blue Wing all the time, so I wasn’t worried about any of that, but I had never actually anchored.

Dropping the hook makes me nervous, especially in a crowded harbor. It is the one scenario where I am happy for Greg to just tell me where to go and what to do, which is probably why we never got around to practicing it. I got out Annapolis Guide to Seamanship book and read the anchoring chapter.

Then the wind died.

Here was my chance. I procrastinated a little. I did the dishes. I readied the boat. Still, no wind. I went for it.

The trip was short, but full of hazards. I had to helm through two narrow spots with rocks on either side and across that wicked current. When I arrive at the Anchorage there was a boat already in our usual spot. I decided to pass her, turn around and drop the hook behind her. I didn’t want to go too far out because this area is surrounded by a shallow sand bar. I turned the boat, put her in neutral, walked up to the bow and let the anchor drop. I fed out a little chain, cleated it off, and went back to the stern to give her a little reverse to set the anchor. Everything was going well. Back at the bow I went to let out the rest of the chain. As I uncleated it, it immediately started to feed out at a rapid pace. I imagined the shackle that held the chain to the rode smashing through the roller furling and destroying it with me and Blue Wing rapidly gliding back into the sandbar behind us. I grabbed the chain to stop it. My fingers smashed against the cleat as it continued to feed out. I put my foot on the rest of the chain in the anchor locker. It stopped. I secured it and walked back to the helm. I looked towards the other boat. I seemed an awful long way away from where I though I would be. I looked behind me. The sandbar seemed ominously close.

I marked my position on the GPS. I turned on the WiFi booster. We had a connection. With my swollen fingers I typed out Greg a long email. I wrote several other people emails. I made a post on FaceBook. Greg replied. I wrote him another email. I checked my position on the GPS, I hadn’t moved. I had done it!

That night was a rough one. The boat bounced and rocked. I slept little. I was sure I was bouncing because I hadn’t let out enough chain. I feared that when the boat swung with the current I would find Blue Wing aground on the sandbar. I was certain I would have to move the boat in the morning.

When it was finally light out I went on deck. All of the boats I could see were heaving and pitching. I felt comforted by the collective discomfort. I emailed Greg. He thought I should let the rest of the chain out.

This time I took precautions, cleating off the rode, keeping my foot on the chain in the locker and bending the chain in my hands around the back of the cleat as I eased it out. When Blue Wing came to rest, she was still at least a boat length or more away from the sandbar.

Sometime that afternoon I finally felt calm again. I could see other boats, I could see Staniel Cay, I had a connection to Greg and although I rather do it with my partner I knew I could take care of Blue Wing all by myself.

Here is a map of my route. It wasn’t a very long journey, but significant for me.

We heard talked to people who saw sharks in the area of this reef, but luckily all Greg saw were these colorful fish.

More elk horn coral.

Coral.

We also spent some time dinking around. The landscape in thiis area is amazing.

Didn’t get the story on this until later. In the afternoon a black DEA helicopter dropped six agents on Staniel Cay and hovered overhead for a while. The agents beat the bushes and did a house to house search. At dusk a USGC chopper hovered shining a bright light on the cay. The suspect was not found.

The view from Blue Wing at sunset.

8 thoughts on “All By Myself

  1. Katherine Dirga said:

    You’re so brave! I would have been terrified.

    • Duwan said:

      I was pretty scared, but when there is no one around to be scared with, you just do it and worry about the scared part later.

  2. Capt Rober said:

    All by myyyyyyself, don’t wanna live…that was Eric Carmen back in the 70’s. Yeah, I know those anchorages well. Holding sucks and strong current. Congrats to Greg. I’m still at Stocking Isle getting ready to move on to the Acklins and beyond. Hopefully I can find some crew down here to help me at the helm. Cheers

    • Duwan said:

      Hey! Maybe we will see you in the Aklins. We are shooting for the end of March to head that way. Happy sailing!

  3. Dian said:

    I think that deserves a couple of stripes on your arm matey! Congrats to grandpa! And you too !!

  4. Lynne Splinter said:

    Wow! Glad that is behind you but definitely an “outward bound” experience! However, I would never question your ability to do anything!

  5. John McDonough said:

    Bravo Duwan! Not like two years ago. You’ve come a long way.

    Congratulations. It IS your boat now too.

    And “Practice makes Perfect”

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