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.
Vessel: m/v OuttaHere, a Custom Trawler 60
Ground tackle: 121-pound Rocna with 250 feet of chain
John and Liz O’Cull first considered the approaching weather when the big fishing boats came into the harbor. “We’d been in La Cruz awhile, and we’d never seen them come into the anchorage before,” Liz said. She starting paying attention when “there was a big swell, and the wind—it just seemed different.” The subtle changes didn’t prepare the O’Culls for what came next. “The wind hit at 45 knots, then kept rising at a consistent rate. I could count off the numbers—46, 48, 50. It finally hit 85,” Liz said.
Located at the back of the fleet, OuttaHere was holding, but boats were dragging toward her. “In the lightning flashes, we could see them fly by,” John said. “Sailboats were in full knockdown position, with masts kissing the water.” His fear was that one would get tangled up in their still-deployed flopper-stoppers or snag their anchor.
“One boat did come dangerously close, but it missed colliding with us when the next wave picked her up and carried her away. We lost some canvas covers, but other than that, OuttaHere did fine,” John said. But the two cruisers were quick to point out that their experience was the exception. “We tend to anchor as far from everyone else as we can, so we were on the outer edge of the action,” John said.
Vessel: s/v Tynamara, a Spencer 53
Ground tackle: an 88-pound Delta with 300 feet of 3/8-inch high-tensile chain; 5/8-inch double braid secured the bitter end
For Jerry and Winn Brian’s Tynamara, the storm began with a hard gust. “The wind generator exploded while we were talking about putting the brake on,” Winn said. The next moment, a boat hit their starboard side and their two 1/2-inch anchor snubbers snapped with the force. Then the windlass let go, the anchor rode ran out, and the bitter end tore free. The couple got their kids up into the cockpit. “We didn’t have life jackets on yet, but the boat was getting trashed. Water was pouring in through open hatches and glass was breaking—we had to be in the cockpit,” said Winn.
With Tynamara heeled over at 45 degrees, Jerry was trying to get the prop to bite so he could steer the boat into the wind. “There wasn’t time to be afraid, but I thought we were going to hit the beach,” Winn said. Then the boat’s big engine started to move them forward. “That was when I knew we’d be OK,” Winn said. “Once we got moving, we got control.”
Disoriented by stinging spray and the lack of lights on shore, Jerry took Tynamara out through the anchorage and into the middle of Banderas bay to wait out the storm. “We didn’t even have the radio on,” Winn said. “We had no idea what was happening in the anchorage.”