As much as we were enjoying the hiking, swimming, and vacation parties of our Abbey Road Anchorage, we couldn’t stay long. Not one, but two Cyclones were building themselves up into a fuss in the sea between Indonesia and Australia. While they are not forecast to come up our way, they are a low pressure area of weather that sucks all the wind from here into there. It seems to be building itself up earlier than planned, and scheduled to last longer than planned. Even as Andrew and Leslie enjoyed their last few last hikes, they watched the wind blowing the feather light grasses along the hillside and rain squalls marching across the sea.
Forecasts say we will have a week+ of 35-45 knot winds. This is not Storm Level: Butt-Pucker, but it is at least Storm Level: Nerve Wracking. We have to get to a more protected anchorage where we can lay down my trusty Birthday Anchor and hide. So, we made a quick day sail to our storm anchorage. You could hardly tell we were on the run. The sea calm, the sky sunny. We were visited by dolphins, a school of manta rays and four sea birds riding a log.
When we arrived at the anchorage there wasn’t another soul around. We lay my anchor in a giant patch of sand, settle in and look around. Captain Andrew isn’t happy with this spot; so, we pull up anchor scoot forward a little bit and go through the process again. Leslie isn’t happy with this spot, so we pull up anchor a second time, scoot to the left and forward a bit more, and set the anchor again. Andrew jumps in, swims over the anchor and looks down. Even in twenty feet, the water is so clear he can easily watch the anchor dig in from the surface.
Captain Andrew gives Leslie and me the “hard reverse” sign. We slowly bring my engine up in reverse until Yanmar is growling at 2000 RPMs. I pull and pull on my anchor and chain, testing to see if I can yank it up or if it will hold in the sand. Ten more seconds at 2500 RPMs, and we should be good to go. Andrew gives us the okay sign, and we are set. The birthday anchor has dug in good and tight, 5 to 1 scope on my chain laid out in a wide patch of nothing but sand. Now, all I have to do is hang on. I look behind me and see with satisfaction that the nearest reef is at least 50 meters of dragging distance away. We should be just fine.
Settled in, my crew enjoys the calm before the storm swimming in the clear water until the equatorial sun turns their white skin a little pink. "Out you go and put on your sun-shirts!" I tell them; I don't want them frying to a crisp!
That night, we watch the barometer slide off it’s usual high pressure location. Andrew flips on my wind generator, “may as well make power overnight!” He says happily.
Here we go.
The wind-phantoms come in great spurts. I sit in a dead calm, but I can hear the “whoooooooooo” of air rushing down the fingers of the mountainside. It reaches the beach and picks up whirls of sand. Then, the phantom flies over the water, sliding it’s belly along to ripple the surface. It hits me. My wind generator blades buzz like a dental drill until the gust is so strong they short out and let the power pass through them. The wind generator’s hum depends to a throaty howl with gusts higher than 36. The sound adds to my tension; I deepen my focus and brace myself.
If the phantom hits me straight on, it splits in two and slides around the sides of my hull in equal measure. I close my eyes and feel the air rush over my face and along my deck. More often, though, it hits me at just a slight angle. The pressure on one side of my hull causes me to sail right or left, depending on the side under pressure; then, another phantom rushes down the mountainside and hits me harder from the opposite direction. I sail to the right, almost sideways to the wind stretching my chain out in one direction, switching, and stretching it out in the other. Sometimes, I heel over so hard it feels like we are under sail out at sea. At these times, I worry most that I will pull the birthday anchor from it’s place.
Andrew has built a bridle of two ropes that lead down a few feet onto my anchor chain and tie off. This creates slack in the chain and puts the end pressure onto the ropes and my strong cleats rather than the anchor windlass. This system is far more comfortable than just letting me hang onto the chain. The ropes are designed with a little stretch so with each phantom that hits me, they stretch and soften the blow. Andrew starts the coil of rope short, leaving a large amount of rope on my decks available in case we need to lay out more chain. Every six hours or so, he feeds a few more inches of rope out so that the spot rubbing on my bow changes. We don’t want to chafe through the ropes; if they were to both break we would yank on the chain pretty hard, potentially causing it to break. Andrew is a great Captain. He always worries about how to keep me safe, so I love him.
At night, it’s scarier. I cannot see the gusts coming across the water, so I don’t know to prepare myself. I spend the entire time braced against the wind. Down below, you can hear my chain rubbing along the sand, like the Ghost of Jacob Marley dragging his chains toward Ebeneezer Scrooge’s Chamber. Andrew and Leslie do not get much sleep.
By day four, the wind has peaked, and we spend a full 24 hours with sustained wind at thirty knots, gusts to 45 or more. We aren’t sure exactly how strong the wind is because I don’t have a working wind meter. We can only gauge by the forecasts and the behavior of the wind generator, which is set to short out at 36. The sound of that generator makes me grind my teeth.
The anchorage is beautiful, though. There is a big white sand beach in front of me. Andrew likes to take Grin over and build beach fires. To my left is a big pile of coral and shells, deposited by storms during the South Easterly Tradewind season. Leslie loves to march through those shells, bleached perfectly white from the sun, and choose the pretty ones to bring back to me. I really don’t need to add more weight, but I appreciate the sentiment.
A few fishermen stop by during a day with a lull. They bring fish, clam and lobster to trade for a snorkel mask and four beers. Andrew and Leslie fry the lobster tail in bacon grease, make sides of mashed potatoes and island spinach. Yum, yum!
On the evening of the full Blood Moon, Andrew, Leslie and Grin venture off to make dinner in foil pods over a beach fire. I watch them from my post on anchor, they look to be having fun and this makes me happy. Andrew is stacking more and more and more wood on top of a bon fire, Leslie is picking through her new shell collection narrowing it down to just the best. Grin is….
....wait, what’s Grin doing?
As I look across the way, it seems Grin isn’t sitting on the beach as he should, but instead free floating in the bay. I squint, “Grin?” I say, softly at first. It must be a trick on my eyes, why wouldn’t he be on the beach? But then, I realize I’m right. Grin has wandered off and is free floating in the bay. No one, including Grin himself, is paying attention.
“GRIN!” I call out, hoping to get his attention. “GRIN!!!…….. GGGGRRRRRRRIIIIIIIINNNNN!”
“Oh shit,” I hear Grin say in response. He looks up from whatever world he was lost in and realizes he isn’t where he should be. He starts looking around in a panic. The wind puffs are pulling him sideways and out, out, out toward the sea.
Ooh…..what should I do, what should I do? I don’t think there is anything I can do but watch. I certainly should not lift up my anchor. I have one job: stay. on. anchor. Then, Leslie looks up. I can see her stand and point, Andrew looks up. Both of them sprint off the beach and take to swimming after Grin. He’s far away by now, and a short sprint of a swim it is not.
Each time they get close to him, a wind gust comes along and carries him a bit further away. “Grin! Face your bow into the wind!” I yell at him. Wild eyed, he tries to lean this way and that to get his bow to come around, but it just won’t. The wind gusts are too frequent and they just keep pushing him sideways. Kitty is silent, hanging uselessly off his stern.
Andrew and Leslie are tired, I can tell. Andrew has the lead. He has rolled onto his back, swimming with both arms windmilling together in big swoops. Leslie is sticking with the more traditional freestyle swim, running out of breath.
Finally, to my relief, Andrew grabs onto Grin’s painter and pulls the two of them together. He dangles on the side long enough to catch his breath and hoists himself aboard. Leslie catches up and boards Grin, too.
“Grin!” Leslie reprimands him and shakes her head, but she knows whose fault this really is. No one set his anchor. They just pulled him up on the sand, but as the tide came up the wind was able to blow him away.
They putter Kitty back toward the beach, climb out and firmly sent Grin’s anchor in the sand. “You’re not going anywhere this time!” Leslie says as she digs the flukes deep.
Later that night, Grin arrives at the side of my hull subdued and shaken. What if? “It’s okay, Grin, all is well. All is well.” I try to soothe him, but I know how he feels. Andrew ties him up to my stern with three different lines, and Osmond offers to take a Grin watch. This helps Grin feel a bit better. These things happen so fast, sometimes. We need to remain careful.
At sunrise the morning of the sixth day, the wind stops. Clouds of mist roll in over the anchorage, and a soft rain falls. The Birthday Anchor held, never dragged an inch. I’m in one piece, Grin and Kitty are still with us, and Leslie has finished Game of Thrones Seasons 1-5. All is well.