Safety at Sea: When Fury Overtakes a Cruisers’ Safe Haven
Anchoring lessons are learned, some the hard way, when a freak winter storm blows into Mexico's Bahía de Banderas.
Thirty minutes later, the storm hit at near full force, spinning Ceilydh, our Wood’s Meander 40-foot catamaran, 180 degrees and placing her at the head of the fleet, with a lee shore astern. The massive noise of the wind drowned out the thunder, but bolts lit up the sky all around us. While Evan monitored things outside, I kept an eye on the GPS and turned the radio up to full volume. It was clear that things were going very wrong. Anxious disembodied voices on the VHF wavered in and out. A voice reporting a dragging boat faded into other frantic voices: “Close your through-hulls!” and “Mayday!” and “It’s blowing 77! Now 82!”
|The author and crew of Ceilydh, a 40-foot cat, fared well in the storm.|
Our anchor held, but the two 100-foot steel fishing boats immediately upwind were dragging toward us—and the rest of the fleet. I called a warning over the VHF while Evan turned on the engine. But because of the line around the prop and the force of the wind and seas, we weren’t sure it would help. We made a plan to slip our anchor and sail out under staysail if we couldn’t avoid the fishing boats. I got Maia into her life jacket, and I mentally prepared to lose Ceilydh.
The fishing boats dragged past, eerily close, one on each side of us while their crews struggled for control in the driving winds, pelting rain, and turbulent seas. They didn’t hit anyone else because, unknown to us, all the boats around us had dragged away.
Ceilydh came through the blow relatively unscathed—a situation that may have been due more to luck than skill. Our bow roller was damaged, requiring replacing, and our anchor line partially chafed through, but that was the extent of our damage. But we were curious to learn how the other boats had fared, wondering if we really had just been lucky or if there were clear lessons to be learned. So several days later, we invited the crews of five other vessels to share their experiences and tell us what they learned.