Today started with a bad harbinger.  It was another rainy, windy day, and when we got up I noticed our usually very trustworthy anchor had drug about 80 feet and we were too close to a channel marker.  After eating, we moved the boat up and re-anchored closer to the boats in front of us.  Just after finishing, we noticed that Matajusi, who were were now fairly close to us had started to pull up their anchor as well.  I was initially afraid that they thought we had anchored too close, so when they finished, I dinghied over to explain that we’d drug and say sorry if we’d moved too close.  It turns out that they had drug as well after their anchor had snagged and then broken a large piece of coral, so they were moving up as well.

Silvio and I were both headed into the water to check our anchors, so we met beside the boat.  He’s a good free diver, and I had thrown on the scuba gear from yesterday, as I still had some air in the tank.  When I took a look at the anchor, it seemed to be dug in well, but the cruising guide says the area doesn’t have good holding and I noticed that there were a lot of 3″-6″ pieces of rock, coral, and shell in the sand that seemed to make it difficult for the anchor to really dig.  I added a 30 lb. mushroom anchor about 4 ft. from the main anchor to help hold the chain down so that it was pulling on the anchor from the optimum direction, let out another 10 ft. of chain, and headed back down below.

We were checking our position every hour to make sure we weren’t dragging, but about 40 minutes after 5pm, I felt a really strong gust and thought about getting up to check the anchor.  Wes and Tiff had braved the rain to go into town, I was in our berth checking e-mail, and Lauren was in the salon Skyping with her sister.  A few minutes after the gust, I heard Lauren yell that we were dragging, and I ran up on deck.  A loud whistle from our friend Silvio on Matajusi had alerted her, and when we made it out on deck, we were precariously close to the partially awash coral heads.  There was coral behind us, heads awash only 50 ft. or so to port, and plenty of heads in the shallow water in front and to starboard of us that our anchor may be fouled on.  We were only in 8 ft. of water (our draft is 3.5 ft), and coral heads dotted the bottom all around us.

We turned the engines on, and Lauren took the helm while I ran to the bow to try to get the anchor on board.  With the strong wind pushing us onto the heads, shallow water all around, and almost no room to maneuver, it looked like pulling up the anchor and chain was going to be challenging and dangerous.  The wind was loud, but it was blowing from the bow to the stern, so Lauren was easily able to hear me when I yelled instructions for quick turns with plenty of throttle to try to get over the top of the anchor.  Luckily, after a couple of maneuvers I could see the anchor was loose and hollered back to Lauren to increase the throttle again and head out of the shallow water.

Matajusi had pulled their anchor up as well in the meantime and were headed out of the anchorage.  Lauren and I took turns at the helm so we could change from the wet shorts we had run on deck in to dry clothes and foul weather gear.  Wes and Tiff were still ashore, so we tried radioing and making a pass near the main dock, but then decided we were going to have our hands full getting the boat safely anchored before nightfall, so we motored off toward the south.  There’s a pretty exposed sand bank inside the lagoon that the cruising guide recommends for this type of weather, but I was hoping to find something more sheltered, so we tried the nearby bay just to the south.  Unfortunately, it’s a deep bay that doubles as a wind tunnel, and the rain felt like small stones (think sticking your head out of the car window when you’re doing 60 mph in the rain).  We made it halfway down the bay and then turned back for the sand bank.

It was dark, but Matajusi had already anchored there and gave us some good tips on where to try anchoring.  We finally got the anchor dropped in about 20 ft of water, put out 150′ of chain, and added some heavy-duty chafe-guard for the bridle.

While we waited to make sure things were going to hold, we made contact with Wes and Tiff over the radio and thanked Silvio for his well-timed whistle.  They had started to drag at the same time, and had noticed that we were moving quickly toward the reef.  Not knowing if we were monitoring channel 16 (we always do), Silvio used his ability to whistle loudly to get our attention.  We learned from Spica, the German boat we’ve seen a couple times since Panama and visited last night, that a French boat in the anchorage had also had problems.  Spica had been able to chase down their dinghy, which had broken loose, but they weren’t answering on 16 and no one knew whether they had moved or had headed offshore to ride things out.

Once it seemed like things were holding, Wes and Tiff headed back to the boat, and we’re taking turns doing anchor watches tonight, as the wind is gusting over 45 kts and seems to just be getting stronger.

There’s a saying that says sailing is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror.  We were never at any personal risk, so we didn’t break too far into the 1%, but the boat was one loud whistle and about 50 feet from having a really bad day, and that definitely got the blood pumping.