There are certain guidelines for securely anchoring for the night, but sometimes things just don’t work out. When they don’t, it helps to get good pictures.
Attend to the Tide
Enroute from our Fort Lauderdale vacation back to Beaufort SC, we were pushing hard to make as many miles as possible each day.
We left Jeckyll Island Georgia at 6 AM, though the tide was low, and consequently got into some very shallow water at the north end of Jeckyll Creek. I grounded us briefly where a smaller creek flowed in, so Tom (who has more experience with grounding the boat) took over and maneuvered off the shoal. All in all the going was far slower than we wanted. Though the scenery of south Georgia was beautiful.
I’d lobbied for a day offshore. The forecast was for a south east wind and I thought we could sail as fast as motor, stop the noisy motor for a while and make much more distance than if we stayed on the meandering ICW. But once we were out in the ocean – at least an hour later than expected – the wind blew east north east, a headwind that was not enough to be helpful, just enough to make the ride uncomfortable.
After motor sailing hard all day against wind and current, we made Wassaw Bay Inlet just before sundown, with the wind finally picking up – from the wrong direction.
We had to head in as fast as we could or continue on overnight. We weren’t prepared for the latter, which would have brought us to our destination, Port Royal Inlet, in the middle of the night, so heading in at Wassaw as planned was our only option.
The tide was at extreme low again and about to turn. Using Navionics and the depth finder, we felt our way across the very shallow (6’9″) bar between Red nuns 2W and 4. I fought the side current to stay in the deepest water possible, avoiding shrimpers and their dolphin entourages while Tom took down and secured the sails.
Waiting for the tide to turn and give us a boost, we crossed the bay. I acted as a glare block, positioning myself to keep the blinding setting sun out of Tom’s eyes as he headed up the Wilmington River toward the anchorage at Turner Creek. It was slow going but we made the mouth of the creek while there was still light, and promptly got stuck again on the 4 foot sandbar.
The tide was coming in now, so we didn’t have to sit there long, but we lost yet more time. We decide that we didn’t want to be stuck inside the bar the next morning, we wanted to be on the move at first light, so had to find another anchorage.
As we re-floated and turned out in the river again the light was disappearing and exhaustion was setting in. That’s when our communication skills misfired.
Tom said, “Let’s go to the next anchorage.”
I took that as meaning, the next anchorage up the river, and directed him toward that one, a mile away. The depth there was better and we shouldn’t have any trouble. Except with the darkness that would be complete by the time we got there.
Halfway there he said, “It shouldn’t be this far, on the chart it was right next to the creek.”
“You said go to the next one, the next one is Herb River, a little farther up.”
“I meant the next one, as in nearest one.”
The tenor of this conversation was not as friendly as it appears here, laid out in simple words with no inflection.
Survey Your Surroundings
He swung Sunshine around in the gathering dark and headed back to the anchorage in the river just outside Turner Creek. In the dark, it took some doing to find a place that wasn’t too deep and seemed far enough from docks and shore. We finally decided on a bight between the dock of a defunct hotel and the house next door, dropped and set the anchor and hit the sack.
The current was swift, but the wind was calm, so we didn’t worry about Sunshine doing her dance around the anchor. That only happens when the wind and tide are opposed.
Early the next morning, I woke when Sunshine spun 360 degrees. Obviously she’d wrapped the anchor line around the keel after all. I raced to the companionway, ready to start the engine, afraid she’d sever the line or pull up the anchor. But she straightened out and came to a stop at the end of the line. Heart thumping, I checked the time, 5:10. The alarm wasn’t set to go off for another 20 minutes. I went back to bed.
I should not have done that. When Tom got up twenty minutes later he found us listing slightly.
I jumped out of bed and tried to spring into action, but it was too late. We were well stuck and listing more every moment. Clearly, Sunshine had struck the mud bank at the same time she reached the end of her anchor line. If only I’d noticed how close she’d swung to shore I might have been able to start the engine and drive to deeper water. But groggy with sleep, I wasn’t that observant, so now we were in a bad situation.
And when things go wrong in the anchorage:
Listing away from shore is worse than listing toward shore. If the incoming tide doesn’t lift the boat fast enough it can swamp it. I was very afraid. As the angle got more acute, things began tumbling off the chart table and the shelves and shifting in the refrigerator. I couldn’t sit still. I wanted to be doing something to fix this situation, take some action to forestall disaster.
Tito was almost as afraid as I. After yowling a few times, she went to hide in the tumble of cushions in the aft cabin. I got my phone and the Towboat number and went looking for a way to take a line to shore. My idea was to tie the mast to something solid to arrest the lean and give the hull a chance to re-float. So I tested the mud to see if I could walk to shore. All I got out of that foray was some mud stained clothing and an endorsement for Crocs. The mud tried to pull them off my feet each time I took a step, but I was able to pull them out using the strap. Boots would have filled with mud and disappeared. Love my Crocs.
Be Realistic, but Be Positive
Tom was being very stoic and zen about it all. He kept assuring me that the physics were in our favor. Sailboats are meant to lean over and then right themselves. Everything would work out. He manages his fear better than I do.
I had a very hard time being passive and waiting for nature to take its course. I was seeing images of every beached wreck we’d passed along the ICW. An awful lot of them were leaned toward the waterway and filled with sand.
The tide was only an hour from extreme low. Which was some relief – it would be coming back in soon. But also a worry – it was still going out. She could roll quite a bit farther. Plus, we knew that not far from where she sat, the bottom dropped away sharply, we hoped it was far enough away.
With a couple of hours to wait and unable to make anything better, I tried to adjust my attitude and see this as one of those opportunities life gives us. A chance to slow down, relax, smell the roses. Yeah right.
Grumbling to myself that we should have gone on the the “next” anchorage, I rowed around in the dinghy, ready to call Towboat if things looked bad when the tide started to rise, and took pictures in case this was the last of Sunshine.
Rejoice in the Happy Ending and Vow Never to Do That Again
In the end, Tom was right. The tide lifted Sunshine quickly and smoothly. As she righted herself, Tom tightened the anchor line little by little to keep the water from swinging her stern closer to shore, and before long she was upright and floating free.
I have never been so happy to hear the sound of the engine as I was when I started it to drive on up the Wilmington River.
Friends who have lots of experience on the ICW say you’re not really grounded if you don’t have to be pulled off. Though we let the tide do the work this time, I’m not so sure we didn’t qualify as truly, madly, deeply, grounded.