How We Broke Our Anchor Chain And Lived To Write About It!
28 February 2016 | 20 44.78'N:105 21.80'W, La Cruz, Banderas Bay, Mexico
(Peter from s/v Penelope with a cheshire cat grin on his face after grappling our anchor)
We had a pretty exciting day on Friday, and not the type of excitement that boaters like!
We were anchored in the open roadsted anchorage of of LaCruz, a small town on the North Shore of Banderas Bay, near Puerto Vallarta. It is definitely not our favourite anchorage, but is the only one in this area. Everyday the thermal winds build up to 15-20 knots which is great for sailing, but crappy for anchoring. In general, it is just uncomfortable anchoring in the 1-3' chop, and not dangerous as long as your anchor is set well.
However, on Friday, the thermal winds coincided with a 6' long period powerful swell that was generated by a storm up in the North Pacific.
It was pretty impressive watching the large swells move through the anchorage, but they didn't seem dangerous as they stayed low and long. We were in 20' of water so a 4-6' swell doesn't really build at that depth. We had 160' of 5/16 s/s anchor chain deployed along with a nylon snubber from each bow. All this was attached to a large Delta 65b anchor.
We were off to Costco in the morning for the first of our big provisioning trips. The shopping went well and we added the first $1000 of groceries onto the boat. Frankly, it was mostly beer and rum! We want to have about four months of basic provisions on the boat and this trip made a good start.
When we got back to the marina I loaded up the dinghy with the first load and took Dee back to Speakeasy as well.
All was fine on board. The swell seemed a big bigger, but it was not even close to extreme in the anchorage. I dropped off Dee and unloaded hundreds of beer along with lots of food! Then, I zipped back to the marina for another load of groceries.
Just when I was about to exit the marina for the 2nd time, things got exciting! A huge set of swells rolled in, much bigger than before. In fact, these waves were so big that they were breaking all across the marina entrance. I was glad that I was still behind the breakwater or I may have been swamped in the dinghy. Looking out to the anchorage I could see that several of the boats that were anchored in shallower water were almost in breaking waves! "Feet", another cat, was heeled way over as one hull was on top of a nearly breaking wave.
Then, I noticed that Speakeasy's bow was no longer pointing up wind. This is never a good sign! My first thought was that we were dragging fast. I waited for the huge set of swells to stop breaking in the channel and then gunned the dinghy at high speed towards Speakeasy.
I had to be very careful as I was shooting up and over swells so high that I couldn't even see the boats on the other side. Full throttle up the swells and then less throttle over the top so I didn't launch myself and a load of groceries into the air.
Several boats were now in trouble. I saw a panga pulling a boat away from the shore and at least one other boat was already getting assistance. Feet, the catamaran I mentioned earlier, wanted to pull up here anchor and get into deeper water but it was too rough for him to do anything at that time. Everyone was already on edge because just last week another boat, RAGE, had gone ashore and was a total loss in weather like this.
I didn't have a radio so I didn't know it at the time, but the alarm had gone out to the fleet that Speakeasy was adrift. Heads were popping up and skippers were discussing who was going to get into their dinghy to assist with the rescue.
I was back to Speakeasy within minutes and quickly got on board and started the engines. We were extremely lucky with our timing so we had only drifted a few hundred feet and there were no boats behind us to drift into. Dee drove the boat forward while I went to the windlass to bring up the anchor.
Imagine my surprise when after pulling up about 70' of chain the bitter end just rolled onto the deck with no anchor attached! I was missing not only my anchor, but about 90' of chain.
Peter, my friend from s/v Penelope had heard the call on the radio and was at Speakeasy within minutes. He stood by until we set our backup anchor, further out this time in about 30' of water.
Peter than got his grappling hook and we headed back to where we were anchored to see if we could find the anchor. I was pretty sure I knew exactly where we had been, and with nearly 100' of chain attached to it, there was lots to hook up on. Sure enough, on the 2nd pass we hooked the chain and were able to recover everything. Woo hoo! We didn't lose the boat and we got all of our chain and anchor back!
Now, Dee and I could take a deep breath and think things through. Our pulses kept racing for hours, but we realize that we got off really lucky! Things could have gone very badly. After things were settled, we just collapsed onto the settee, had a few drinks, and let it all sink inÉ
Now that I have had a few days to inspect the ground tackle and the boat, I am pretty confident that we did not have a week link in the chain and that there simply was a huge momentary snubbing load. The strong wind likely had the chain stretched out pretty tightly. Then, a monster swell, much larger than the others most likely stacked up steeply putting a huge snub on the ground tackle that had to give somewhere. Our anchor was not going to let go and the dual snubbers took all they could. The chain has a breaking strength of about 8000-9000 lbs and with a 20,0000 lb boat, it is quite likely that this limit was reached. The chain hook that connects the snubbers to the anchor chain was bent and the towing eye on the starboard bow, where one of the snubbers attaches, had cracked the fibreglass slightly. Nothing structural or serious, but all this is evidence of a huge momentary load.
Things are back to normal on Speakeasy now. We are back on our primary anchor and the backup anchor is ready to go if needed. The wind was up again this afternoon, but this time it is not accompanied with a big swell. As well, we are in much deeper water where any swell will not be as big a deal.
Interestingly enough, the drama continues for others today! I had to interrupt the writing of this blog to go and help rescue a boat, without the owner on board, that was dragging through the anchorage.
The fun never ends!