Riding Out a Gale At Anchor!

By Rich

We are currently on a slow cruise back from Maine to Annapolis via Long Island Sound, and after dropping anchor in Stonington, Connecticut this past Sunday (September 27) we checked the forecast and saw this rather ominous graphical representation of the winds for Tuesday (September 29) night / early Wednesday (September 30) morning:

For those of you not accustomed to interpreting graphical wind forecasts let me summarize: that’s bad. Essentially the prediction was for winds of 30 knots from the south with gusts into the mid 40s. Because Stonington is very exposed to southerly winds, we needed to consider where to move and whether to re anchor or rent a mooring or a slip for the gale. Between a windy 2016-2017 winter in the Bahamas on our Sabre 42 and some fairly spirited anchoring conditions this summer aboard Rover, however, we’ve grown confident enough in our anchoring abilities to forgo a mooring or slip for this brief overnight gale. Instead, we decided to motor to the north side of Fisher Island, which lies just north of the eastern tip of Long Island and which would offer good protection from southerly winds and plenty of sea room to leeward should we drag:

As I type this, it’s Wednesday morning and I’m about to start the work day. The winds are down to 25-30 knots and I’m a little light on sleep but almost giddy to have had such an exhilarating experience overnight. The gale has passed through as predicted, and as forecast we had gusts well into the upper 40s before all was said and done. This buoy data from a couple of miles away shows a peak gust to 50:

The peak we observed on our instruments was 42, although the “damping” feature of these instruments means our peak gusts were very likely in the upper 40s.

Here’s how we prepared for the night. First, read this some background on our anchor setup on the Hylas. We set the anchor in about 15 feet of water and let out 80 feet of chain, plus 15-20 feet of our stretchy “yacht braid” snubber. The winds were predicted to begin filling in around 2 AM and were scheduled to abate around 8 AM, so I went to bed at 11:30 PM and the first gusts woke me up for anchor watch around 1:30 AM. I don’t set an alarm clock to wake me up for anchor watch in windy conditions since experience has taught me that the first gusts will easily make an alarm clock redundant. This time, rather than stay up in the cockpit all night as I did off of Chub Cay in the Bahamas in 2016, I simply rigged the starboard settee as sleeping quarters, got completely dressed, double checked my iPad-based anchor alarm, and laid down to doze. It worked great. Between being woken up by gusts well into the 30s, I got nice long stretches of sleep until the main portion of the gale hit. I sleep much better knowing I am dressed and just a few paces away from the helm station should the anchor drag or a portion of the ground tackle fail during the night.

By 4:30 some of the more serious gusts came through and Brian got up to stand anchor watch in the cockpit. From there until 7:30 AM or so we got what we expected – exciting conditions that brought the whole crew into the cockpit to enjoy the experience. A couple of ventures up to the bow during the night showed everything to be secure with our ground tackle and confirmed that we had no chafe issues. Here is some footage of the experience just after dawn:

And here are some still shots:

(Zoom in on the wind reading on this one):

And just as we’d hoped (and expected), our 40kg Rocna held firm. Here are the GPS plots from our anchor alarm:

I feel a little awed and humbled by some of the experiences we are able to have living aboard the boat, and last night would be one of the high points.

Now to get through the work day with the help of a little coffee. The winds are gusting back into the lower 30s but I have work to do, and by this point we figure the Rocna has dug itself half way to China…


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