We had been keeping an eye on the Belize forecast for a few days because it included 30 knots over one night: we hoped the forecast would ease but calculated contingencies in case it did not. This morning’s update still forecast 25 knots gusting low 30s so we decided to go to Tobacco Range. This area had 10-15’ of water for anchoring and reasonable protection surrounded by mangroves.
We had planned to anchor in the lee of the island or in the larger northern lagoon. But when the other boat in our “flotilla” wanted the smaller southern anchorage our skipper assented – it looked tight but doable to me.
Once we got in it was clear the anchorage would be a compromise: having little enough scope that our swinging room was sufficient and enough scope to hold well in the overnight blow. Our first set we put out about half our chain (100’) with 11’ reading on the sounder (~+5 freeboard ~+4 sounder offset). But the anchor pulled free of the bottom as we backed on it somewhere around 1500RPM.
Here we probably should have either moved to a better location or bitten the bullet and put out enough anchor chain to ensure strong holding even though that would require anchor watches to keep from swinging into the sides of the anchorage.
But we played optimists, dropped the hook in about the same place and let out about 140′ of chain. We got a good set which held against both engines reversing at 1700RPM.
I went about enjoying the evening. I wasn’t carrying the responsibility of skipper so I was determined to relax and enjoy. Before I fell asleep I activated my anchor alarm app and set my phone at my bedside.
I don’t remember my anchor alarm going off. I don’t remember rushing into the saloon. The first thing I remember is saying “good” as I climbed up into the helm station and the skipper was already there with the engines started.
“Good” was not an accurate description of the situation. We were about a boat length from the mangroves. The wind was howling – getting an accurate wind reading was hardly my priority but I saw 29 knots at some point. Another crew who had heard my anchor alarm and saw me jump out of bed was on the foredeck struggling with the anchor bridle being fouled with the chain and windlass.
With as close as we were to shore I considered pivoting the boat about the anchor: bringing the stern into the wind and getting us away from the mangroves. Not knowing where the anchor was and the difficulty seeing the dark anchor chain under the trapeze in the dark ruled that out for me. The last thing we needed was to foul the chain in one of our props.
So I held position. It was intense but went well, considering. The moon was out so I could see the surrounding mangroves and I was using our Dinghy Scout Track on my smartphone for reference. The shore to leeward was still a boat length or so away. I continually moved the wheel side to side figuring if it suddenly felt sticky a rudder was aground and I’d have to give a blast of forward to get it out of the mud. The wheel never felt sticky.
Our skipper shortened up the dinghy painter so we didn’t foul the prop. He brought up a spotlight. It took a few minutes but we got the anchor up. It was nice to be more than a boat length from shore.
After all that chaos resetting the anchor was relaxed and seemed routine. We calmly motored to windward further than before, dropped the anchor and let out all 200’ of chain. We didn’t back on the anchor to set it – we figured it’s stopping the boat in 25+ took care of that. Besides, it was understood that there would be anchor watches until things calmed down.
I reset my anchor alarm. I put on shorts and a t-shirt. I tried to take the first anchor watch but the skipper was too nervous to let me so I took the second. I went to sleep on deck to be nearby if needed. By the end of my anchor watch the wind was only gusting 20 and we called off the anchor watches.
The Skipper’s Account
Posted verbatim with permission:
TL;DR : Always brush your teeth before bed.
So in the anticipation of a pretty windy/gusty night we decided to go to Tobacco range which would shield us from winds. At the beginning, we were planning to go to northern end of the range and tuck ourselves in the enclave right at the entrance of lagoon but the other boat wanted to go to the channel on the south side instead in anticipation of crowded anchorage on the north side. Fine. The other boat went into the channel first they anchoraged at the north end of it before the shallow sandbar right on the east side of a mangrove islet. we have anchored a little south of them on the S-curve of the channel to give us more swinging room on each side. we couldn’t set the anchoring the first time around it dragged when we backed on it. we redroped and reset it again this time holding us at even we backed on it at 1700 rpm on both engines. it was around ~ 16°52.724N 88°5.620W and we called it good .. after spending the later afternoon, evening, night there and going kayaking/dinghying around the channel and the lagoon our anchor was still holding. it was late at night and most of the boat had already gone to sleep.It was blowing in upper 20s gusting to 29. I grabbed my toothbrush and toothpaste and stood at the starboard stern of the boat and started brushing my tooth.. I just looked ahead and noticed us much closer to land than we should be .. and I noticed that we were getting even closer to it and I just jumped back at the helm and started both engines and throttled forward to get away from the land. Apparently, in the meantime the anchor alarm in tj’s phone went off and they realized what was going on. Andrew just went to bow to take care of the windlass and of course Mr. Murphy struck and when all these ruckus was going on the anchor chain lock got jammed and we had to fight with it for probably 30secs which felt like an eternity while we were maneuvering the boat to keep her away from the land. We finally undid it and pulled up the chain and reset the anchor for the night and assigned anchor watches. Even though we had a pretty close call I can’t really fault myself or anyone else for what had happened. I believe we did all the right things to be sure of the anchor hold and picked a good location given circumstances and availability. I can totally commend on the quick thinking and reaction and doing all the right things for all of us in the boat crew though, it could’ve had worse consequences but we managed to get the boat out and reset the anchor and watch her throughout the night without even scratching her. Anyway , I wrote all this shit to get the lesson of… always brush your teeth before bed kids!!
Proper use of technology really saved us on this one. The anchor alarm alerted us as we were dragging before we were aground. If I hadn’t changed my lock settings earlier that day I would have reacted even more quickly. The Dinghy Scout Track was clutch! Without it I doubt we would have kept the boat safe while we dealt with rode/windlass/bridle problems.
The low tech solutions would have been even better. We were lucky the skipper was up brushing his teeth. We should have moved. Or setup anchor watches so we could let out enough scope to ensure solid holding. But we wanted to stay with our group and spend the time enjoying their company.
We might have put out all our chain and used a secondary anchor to ensure we didn’t swing into shore. Though after setting with both engines at 1700RPM I didn’t think we’d drag. And I reasoned that any swing/shift while blowing 15-20 would have been gradual enough that the anchor alarm would have alerted me. Only a slight shift was forecast and no shift occurred.
I dread the nightmare of trying to avoid fouling a second anchor a boat length from mangroves in the middle of the night. Moreover, any second anchor would have swung us toward a nearer shore.
When all is said and done, due in part to luck and in part to skill, it only cost us a few minutes of surging adrenaline and a good night’s sleep. Still, next time I’ll push harder for the better anchorage.