Light winds anchoring dance or the day my fog horn saved a catamaran
Living at anchor can be like living on a constant limbo between strong winds that make us feel like we might be living inside a washing machine during spin mode, or light winds that make our boat dance erratically to the rhythm of the swell making us feel, once again, like living inside a washing machine but this time during the delicate wash program that gives one violent shake every once in a while.
If we’re lucky and there’s no swell the boat will just do an awkward dance, spin on top of the anchor and finish in a strange position in relation to any other boat nearby.
This strange way how anchored boats move under extremely light winds can cause all sort of different problems because it gets tricky to assess safe distances and anchor positions. And we’ve seen it first hand.
From boats that end up gently kissing each other, to fouled anchors and chains when a bit of wind picks up and some of the boats actually didn’t really set their anchors properly because the anchorage was already too full when they arrived.
We prefer to be at anchor with a light breeze that keeps us aligned with the swell and a stretched chain or if there’s no breeze and we have enough room to allow a safe distance from other boats swing we like to drop a stern anchor.
Of course, if some stronger winds are forecasted it seems that the few anchorages that offer all-around weather protection become dangerously overcrowded with the latecomers causing all sorts of problems.
As we say: you snooze you lose!
This last anchorage where we hid from some stronger winds (around 20 knots) and big swell (around 1.5 meters) before our passage crossing to Sardinia seemed to be just Murphy’s Law playground. All that could have gone wrong on those two days did in fact happened.
We had been previously in this anchorage, Cala Teulera in Mahón, Menorca, hiding from bad weather, so we already knew how crowded it could get.
We arrived early picked our nice spot and spent the night, the following day we went to town. When we arrived back at The Dream we were surprised with a 40ft catamaran anchored right on top of us and 4 old guys trying to change a halyard, we felt sympathy for them and decided not to complain about the proximity, clearly the catamaran belonged to one of them and it looks like they would care for their boat.
The morning after, very early, we lifted anchor and went to fuel up in preparation for our crossing, when we returned around 9am we re-anchored a bit further from our original spot to allow more space between the two boats. The catamaran couple was on the dinghy on their way to visit one of the other boats, the guy noticing we had moved forward waved good morning but the lady very rudely started complaining we were too close and that they had 40 meters of chain (they had 30, the gentleman confirmed later on) and that during the night they had swung all the way up to where we were. We politely replied that in case she hadn’t noticed this was the same boat that they had anchored on top of and we had spent the night there without any problems, in fact, we had adjusted our position further forward to allow more distance between the two boats. But we would keep a close eye anyway.
She carried out mumbling while the guy replied he loved our dog. When passing one of their friends' boat she screamed at them to keep an eye on us, we were dangerous and that we had no idea what we were doing anchoring so close to their catamaran.
(I guess she was a bit confused with the fact that they were the ones that had anchored too close to us and we had corrected that just now).
As always we dived on both anchors to confirm the anchors' positions and chain allowance. No matter where the wind blew the two boats would be clear of each other.
During the day other boats kept arriving and anchoring closer and closer to the shallows, we commented how close some of them were from the areas we considered were not deep enough to anchor, in particular, this one boat called Coconut.
Throughout the afternoon we watched the comings and goings noticing how high Coconut was sitting on the water, if only we knew the boat model better we could have noticed earlier that the boat was actually getting grounded. All of sudden it was clear Coconut was stuck in the shallows!
A few dinghies from the surrounding yachts went to the rescue, John included.
One pulling a mast halyard, another lifting the boat anchor and relocating it in order for the owner to pull it in with the windlass while trying to drive the boat out of the sand while 3 dinghies (including the one that had relocated the anchor) pushed the hull at full throttle. A few attempts, 10 minutes later Coconut was afloat again with a very shaken owner.
By now the anchorage was full and very little space available for Coconut to re-anchor safely and permanently. The only option was to help him anchor close to us in the hope that the Spanish charter boat in front of us would leave later that day.
That’s when we realised Mr Coconut spoke very little English, only French.
The guy was understandably shaken and having difficulty to think on how to anchor, so I polished up my best French and explained we would help him, all the rescue dinghies were relieved someone could actually communicate with “Monsieur Coconut”.
Two of the older guys that helped on the rescue directed Coconut from the dinghy while I jumped in the water with my fins to help with the anchor, Monsieur Coconut anchor was a CQR of reasonably small size and with the level of proximity he would end up from us we wouldn’t want to risk his anchor not being set properly.
We directed Monsieur Coconut to the spot told him to drop anchor but he was so shaken by the entire situation that he seemed to have forgotten how to anchor. Very calmly we explained him to drop the anchor and give one gentle click on the reverse to set the bot moving backwards slowly, he explained he didn’t have a bow thruster so was worried about the swing, I explained that if needed the dinghy would help to prevent any incident.
He happily followed our instructions and after dropping some chain (not sure how much because he also didn’t have a system to calculate) I dived on his anchor and set it in the right position. After two dives to 5 meters depth, the anchor was now partially buried waiting for the final reverse of Monsieur Coconut to set it.
Monsieur Coconut was extremely worried about the proximity to our boat but we reassured him it would be fine, we would put some fenders and our dinghy on the side as protection for the afternoon and later we would assist him relocating to a better place.
Later in the afternoon after the Spanish charter finally left so we helped monsieur Coconut to anchor in his final position but before that happened I had to step up my game and direct the newcomers to the anchorage in 3 different languages (Spanish, French and English) because despite Monsieur Coconut being already moving to the new spot the newcomers were ready to steal the spot from him and after his terrible afternoon we couldn’t let that happen.
The following day we got up had our breakfast and got ourselves ready for the stressful day we were going to have, the winds were going to increase up to 20 knots and a lot of the boats recently arrived had not set the anchors properly and the night had been of light winds so some anchors might have been fouled.
The boats slowly started to align as the winds slowly increased, two boats that had been for two nights in the anchorage somehow ended up gently kissing each other, it was not a matter of bad anchoring or incorrect scope, just an unfortunate case of different windage that made them move weirdly and at difference pace, luckily no damage was done.
A bit later the first boats started to drag, one after the other in total almost ten boats dragged, some of these dragged a few more times during the day despite having re-anchored. Things got a bit crazier when boats that had previously been in the anchorage returned and tried to anchor in such crowded space, one of them must have tried almost 10 times and when they finally managed to set the anchor they saw that another boat had just left and a new boat was going to take that spot. They decided to partially lift anchor and moved at full speed in that direction dragging their anchor on the seabed and causing general panic on the nearby boats. At the same time a 68ft powerboat that had dragged multiple times during the day decided to join the race for the spot causing a near accident between the other two boats that were already on the move and a poor innocent small boat that was anchored and almost got run over by the 3 of them besides almost having the anchor fouled by the one that didn’t fully lift the anchor before racing to the spot.
After the near crash the newcomer decided it was not worth the risk fighting for the spot and went away, the powerboat followed ashamed and the one that had not lifted anchor completely tried to anchor on the vacate spot a few more times before giving up and successfully anchoring on the opposite side of the anchorage.
When we thought all was going to calm down our new friend Monsieur Coconut dragged also, after a long day of strong gusts his undersized anchor “unburied” itself but very quickly Monsieur Coconut managed to get his boat under control.
Never imagined myself screaming for “Monsieur Coconut votre bateau est à la dérive!” (in English: Mr Coconut your boat is drifting)
After this, there were no more strong emotions for the day.
But karma being karma the following the morning things got a bit out of control when a 50ft monohull arrived around 5am and anchored in front of the catamaran that had anchored on top of us and then complained we were too close. These guys didn’t really have space to set the anchor so I’m guessing they thought that because there was no wind it would be fine, but when we got up the monohull was really close to the catamarans bow and then in a blink of an eye they were even closer and still moving.
I ran to our bow screaming to call the catamaran guys attention and call also the monohull, the catamaran guy came out and almost had a “heart attack” when he saw how close they were getting to his bow. Both of us screaming calling the name of the boat and nothing, the crash was imminent I ran to the cockpit table grabbed the foghorn and woke up an entire anchorage with the first two blows, as for the monohull no signs of life, a few more blows and everyone on that anchorage was on their cockpit and the monohull by then was, it seemed from our angle, less than two meters of hitting the catamaran. Finally, four people showed up on deck, looked at how close they were from the catamaran shrugged their shoulders turned the engine on and avoided the crash on the last moment. They looked around to see if they could re-anchor but with an entire very full anchorage looking at them they decided to leave without apologies or any word.
We were just happy that these two crazy days didn’t end up with damages and that we got to help other fellow sailors as best as we could. Can only hope others do the same to us if needed.
And as for my foghorn stunt, well it was already 9am so people should be up for morning coffee if not, well, sorry about that. (Not really sorry)