August 7, 2014
Anchor position: 52 12.6 N 174 17.1W
Martin Harbor, Atka Island
Between 2AM and 2PM yesterday it was truly a wild ride. After a long nervous night of anchor watch, dawn finally broke and it was almost more scary to see the blasts of wind rip through the anchorage, turning the sea to a fury of blowing spray. Around 7AM a huge twanging snap was heard indicating that one half of our 1/2 inch three strand nylon anchor bridal had just parted. Luckily, it was the starboard side bridal leg and the anchor chain took half the load and we remained pointed into the wind. I added a back up snubber line using a chain hook to take the load off the windlass. LightSpeed was shuddering and shaking under the assault, but the anchor was holding under what must be the absolute upper performance limit. With sustained 35 knots and regular gusts to 50 and more than a few gust to 60+ there was no possible way to lay out a second anchor with the dinghy, nor recover a backpack full of tools that I'd taken to the beach to build a fish smoker.
There simply had to be a better anchorage than this, it was going to be risky to up anchor and maneuver out of our bay in these conditions, but we agreed it was far more risky to endure the onslaught of gusts, plus the NOAA forecast was calling for increasing wind strength. I fired up the engines and tested our ability to power against the gusts, all the while being careful to not build up slack in the anchor chain that might be the catalyst to jolt the anchor loose. We dropped the dagger boards increasing our draft from 2'-8" to 7' to help get a bite on the water to improve our ability to maneuver and reduce leeway as we turned through the wind to head out of the harbor. Stinging rain pelted our faces, making it nearly impossible to see as we pulled the anchor, I was wishing I'd remembered to grab my snorkel mask as I used this trick once before when we got hurricane force winds (64+ knots) during a severe storm event in Florida in 2009 on our old catamaran 'Pacifica'.
As the anchor chain came over the bow roller the wind was ripping bits of seaweed loose and hurtling them with a splat onto the pilot house door and windows with such force I was ducking for cover. It took nearly full power to motor up into the wind as the windlass strained to retrieve the chain. As the anchor slammed home, we bore away under full power making our turn for the harbor entrance. I glanced at the wind instrument and watched our apparent wind peak at 48 knots, as the quartering wind thrust LightSpeed to over 10 knots of boat speed. Conditions outside the harbor were little better, a significant and uncomfortable steep sea was running out of Deep Bay, rain and fog severely limited visibility and the wind was gusting with fury.
Plan A was to return to the previous nights anchorage in the lee of Island Point about 3 miles to the west. With Gale force winds out of the SW, heading west was pretty atrocious, staying close to shore seemed the best choice to limit the fetch of the waves, but bullets of wind hurtling off every mountain and down every gully were a sight to behold as they shredded the water, turning it into mist and spray and instantly larger waves. One extra evil gust blasted, snapping our lazy jacks, probably from a combination of the windage on the stack pack and the fact that the sail bag was pretty full of water from the many hours long onslaught of rain. The wind was now whipping the lazy jack lines and their small blocks against the deck and house making a terrible racket, Kathy donned her gear and went on deck to secure the lines while I held the boat in position behind a rocky cliff to partially break the wind.
As we approached our intended anchorage, it was nearly white-out conditions and it was quickly becoming clear that we had chosen poorly, it was even windier and definitely worse than what we'd left. We soldered on, heading directly into the wind as we made our way closer to the chosen spot. We were motoring with both engines at 2400 rpm when a mighty gust, literally brought the boat to a stop, I saw 5 knots of speed through water drop to 0.9 knots. I went to 3000rpm to maintain steerage.
We run a freeware program called NavMon PC, a cool program that provides many useful features, but at it's core is a fancy data logger. Looking back at the wind data, I can see that in the hour that we motored over to Island Point the wind gusted to 50 knots or more 22 times, and 60 knots or more 4 times. What came as a bit of a shock is the one gust to an incredible 75 KNOTS! It looks like that was the gust that stopped us in our tracks as we motored into the wind was 50+ creating an interesting data point about the windage of the boat.
We turned tail and went to Plan B toward Martin Harbor, a harbor indicated by the coast pilot to be 'All Weather'. Luckily, Martin harbor was at least off the wind some 20 miles further to the east. It was an incredibly rough ride and a focused effort to avoid patches of kelp as we navigated along the many off lying rocky hazards in near zero visibility. Martin Harbor was as advertised and remarkably calm with only a 20 knot breeze with the occasional gust to 30+. We happily dropped anchor near the head of the bay where the harbor is alive with jumping Pink Salmon and at least 12 Eagles.
That's it for now.
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