Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day 3 Sailing from Marshall Islands to North America (anchor drama)

June 29, 2014 @ 9:30am or (UTC June 28 @ 2130)

Day 3 LightSpeed Sailing from Marshall Islands to North America

Tags: Yellow fin tuna, Erikub atoll anchorage, turtle nests, anchor in a squall twice

Anchor position: 09 03.37N 170 06.09E

44nm day/153nm total

Wind 12 ESE
Max wind speed 30+ knots in squalls
Cloudy, with rain and squalls
Air Temp 81F

Seas: Calm with 1m ground swell
Sea temp 88F

Yesterday on the approach to Erikub atoll we landed a nice yellow fin in less than 10 minutes of fishing, then a school of dolphins escorted us to the pass. A nice welcome to a beautiful remote atoll and soon after we found a suitable day anchorage near 09 01.518N 170 02.394E in sand with isolated coral heads. We wasted no time heading ashore for a bit of beach combing as the tide was rising, plenty of fresh turtle tracks, but disappointingly quite a few human tracks in the vicinity of the turtle nests. The Marshall Islands are not CITES signatories and regularly kill and eat mature turtles at every chance, clearly egg thieves had been at work. Dave foraged in the bush trying to find a Japanese glass fishing float near the high, high tide line with no luck. With the tide nearly high at 4:30pm we headed back to the boat with the plan to move across the lagoon to what looked to be a fresh ship wreck on the SE corner. It was a 90 foot foreign steel fishing boat that was hard on the reef, I wanted to check out the interior, but there was no easy access up the sides of the ship. It was late in the day to be moving around the lagoon, so we hustled up to Jeldoini Island and found a decent anchorage that had the anchor in 30' of sand and the stern of the boat in 90'. Not ideal as we'd be pulling the anchor downhill if it moved from it's nice set. We did our normal procedure and backed down hard on the anchor twice to ensure it was set.

We had a nice sashimi dinner with the tuna and the last of our fresh spinach, watched a movie and were rudely awakened around 1:30AM when the anchor alarm started to howl. A big squall was lashing fiercely at our rain catching awning as buckets of water poured from the skies.

We were actively dragging anchor, but before we could deploy more chain we'd have to retrieve about 25' of chain to remove the chain hook on the anchor bridal. We were drifting uncomfortably fast toward unknown dangers in the howling squall and it was a relief when all the chain was deployed and the anchor grabbed the sea floor some 100' below.

Luck smiled on us as while we were dragging astern we avoided crashing into any dangerous isolated shallow coral heads that might have been off our stern, very likely with grave results for the boat. All said we'd moved fully 300 feet and now the anchor scope was now a tenuous 2:1. Attempting to move to a better location in the howling wind and driving rain and the zero visibility of this moonless squally night was not a good bet. We'd stay put and wait for first light to access conditions. Once the adrenaline subsided I reset the anchor alarm and went back to bed for a few restless hours until around 5AM the anchor alarm sounded again and we sprung to action in the still pitch black and stormy conditions.

This time our options were more limited, our 200' of all chain rode and 44 pound Rocna anchor were omni potent in over 130 feet of water. We'd have to retrieve the anchor and move blindly toward shallow water to reset the anchor. The only other option was to motor around in the dark waiting for sunrise and that was just too risky with isolated shallow boat wrecking coral heads in unknown locations. So, we retrieved the anchor and slowly approached our original anchorage utilizing all of our electronic wizardry, Goggle earth charts with radar overlay and standard low tech stuff like use your eyeballs with Kathy on the bow with a flash light in the driving rain and howling wind. We ever so slowly motored back toward the shallows at 1/2-1 knot, just enough speed to maintain steerage as we crabbed toward shore with strong winds buffeting the boat. I kept an eagle eye on depth sounder and watched it tick down slowly at first 117, 114, 104, 99, 97, 88, and 74 I knew we were getting really close to the reef now. Then more quickly 62,59, 56, then too fast 41, 33, 18 and now Kathy yelling now that she can see the bottom all to well. Engine in full reverse and anchor chain running fast off the bow, adrenaline pumping as I see as little as 8.9 feet on the depth sounder and sort of tense up waiting for a crunch, but we escaped into deeper water laying out chain as we went until we'd deployed all 200'. Anchor snubber on and then we waited as the howling wind swung us about 30 degrees and back toward the reef and the depth sounder went from 90 something back down to 64 feet before settling. Whew, not ideal anchoring conditions in the pitch black howling wind and rain. Having practiced this routine thousands of times, it was all very routine beside the 100% lack of visibility and far too much reliance on technology. I guess we could have tried to anchor again at a very marginal depth of 90' with a 2:1 or added more anchor rode to get to 5:1 scope, but that would have most likely resulted in permanently fouling our anchor in depths beyond our ability to retrieve it and the loss of our primary anchor gear. So, we decided to get close to shore and re-anchor. Next time I'd do the same, but go even slower on the approach.

Exhausted from the restless night I went back to bed and slept in until a record 9AM when I was awakened by a big thud. Oh, what could it be now? I jumped out of bed in a rush and looked on deck to see Kathy sheepishly smiling as she'd just slipped on the wet deck and landed on her bum. Whew, everything and everybody was alright. Hopefully, the remainder of today is less eventful.

That's it for now.

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