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: s/v Stepping Stone, a Maple Leaf
Ground tackle: a 55-pound CQR with 250 feet of 3/8-inch chain
The Mayday heard throughout the anchorage was from Stepping Stone. Located in the center of the fleet, Elias and Sarah Anderson reported that they didn’t have enough scope out. “The anchorage was crowded, and we wanted to be near the dinghy dock,” Elias said. When the gust came, it knocked them over and spun Stepping Stone 180 degrees. “We went from one end of the rode to the other, and then just kept going,” he said.
“I instantly knew that we were dragging,” he said. “We were sliding sideways. I ran up to the bow to let out all my rode.” They caught for a moment, but then the shackle tethering the bitter end to the mast ripped free. Meanwhile, Sarah was trying to start the engine, a diesel with glow plugs that needed to heat up. “It was the longest 30 seconds of my life,” she said. “I watched us fly past six boats. I thought we were going to hit every time.”
The engine started, but with the boat knocked over, it was useless. “All I could do was get the centerboard up and wait to hit the beach,” Elias said. Sarah had their girls, Kimberly and Savona, in their life jackets and in the cockpit when the boat suddenly slammed into a rocky reef jutting out from the beach. “We were on our side,” Sarah said. “The mast was pointing at the beach. I could hear the boat grinding on the rocks. Water was coming over the coamings.” Elias turned the engine off and told his family that they’d done their best, but they were going to lose the boat. He had time to call the Mayday and secure things. “He even gave us a little pep talk,” said Sarah.
“Then a wave lifted us up and we were free,” Sarah said. “We turned the engine back on and couldn’t believe when the prop caught. We were motoring, on our side.” Elias thinks they must have caught a brief lull, “The wind sure hadn’t dropped yet,” he said. They made for open water, shocked by their luck but still not sure what was happening with the weather or when it might end.
After 45 minutes of sustained 75-knot winds, with gusts reported as high as 92 knots, the wind began to drop. After an hour, the wind was 35 knots and had clocked around to an offshore breeze. On the VHF, relieved chatter began replacing urgent radio calls. Boats that had broken free began limping through the confused seas, estimated at between 6 and 8 feet, and into nearby Marina Riviera Nayarit. There was a lot of damage to the fleet, but no boats were lost. Human injuries were confined to sprains, bumps, and bruises. The fleet consensus was that storm planning needs to come well before the wind hits. Leon Werner from Prism said it best: “If you didn’t do it when you anchored, you’re not going to be able to do it when it hits.”