The Long Night
30 March 2016 | Man o War Cay
It was bound to happen sooner or later. I misjudged the weather forecast and put ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The day began beautifully. Sunny, gentle breeze out of the south. We motored out of Hope Town Harbour for Man o War Cay. It's a charming cay that is often overlooked by cruisers. For one thing, it's dry, no alcohol. The business is boat building, so the waterfront is mostly taken up with industry and industrious men and women at work. The harbor is tight and unattractive, which is why we chose to anchor outside on the Sea of Abaco. We dropped hook off a rocky shore. Winds were forecast to be from that direction, so we would have good protection. Seas were flat. All looked good.
What I didn't know was that the Cold Front moving through was bringing some powerful thunderstorms our way. By dusk, I realized my mistake. By then, it was too late to move to a safe harbor. The storms created a powerful west wind, placing our cove directly at the end of a 20nm fetch. By dark, it was a white-capped, frothy landscape with breaking waves. Worse, the rocky shore was now a lee shore. We couldn't afford to drag, yet I didn't dare let out any more anchor rode for fear of swinging into the shore.
Meanwhile, another problem was brewing. I had pulled the dinghy up into the davits as I do each night, engine on the dinghy. In the pounding seas, I could see the davits pulling on the pushpit, and I grew concerned about the whole thing breaking off into the sea - solar panels, dinghy, davits along wth half the stern pulpit. I needed to get the dinghy into the water right away.
Getting the dinghy into the water in the dark in these conditions brings its own set of risks. Once the spring lines are released it begins to swing uncontrollably. Working with Tammy in the driving rain, we quickly got it in the water and released from the davits. It immediately went crazy, crashing back and forth with each breaking wave. The davits was safe, but now I was afraid of losing the dinghy. I found a rubber snubber I use for docking Aria and put it on the dinghy painter. I also looped a second line through the dinghy and attached it to Aria, in case the painter or D-ring failed.
Then began anchor watch. Sleep was impossible, as Aria was pitching around. If we began to drag, we would have to move quickly to get the engine on and motor off the lee shore. I was nauseous with worry, self-recrimination... and the pitching motion. Band after band came through. Winds rose to 35kts, with some 40kt gusts. We held. Winds turned NW then N then NE. The rocky shore was no longer behind us. What's more, we were now getting some protection from the shore. By midnight, the storms had moved through. We fell into our berth and dropped immediately into sleep. We slept well.
More storms forecast for today. No time to move. The first bands are hitting us now. We are below, blogging and working in our cozy refuge - with one eye on the sky, of course.