Close Call and Lesson Learned
It has been raining everyday for the past week and luckily the large system formed over Polynesia is taking a break for a few days until the next low pressure system comes through. This weather is a direct result of one of the biggest storms in the Pacific in recent history, "Winston" and has been sucking all the energy down from the equator and bringing with it all the rain and wind. Combined with this is the Sub-Tropical Convergence Zone (STCZ) and has created some very unsettled weather, that is almost unpredictable outside of two days.
Yesterday morning around 0700 I was awoken to some very strong gusts of 35 knots and sheets of rain. I did not think much of it, because it has been like this the entire past week and figured the forecast was just a little underestimated...how wrong I was though. After starting the kettle, I grabbed my camera to film the shearwater birds soaring down through the wind and waves as if they couldn't be having more fun. The rest of us through the anchorage and mooring field on the other hand, began to experience extreme discomfort as the wind began howling through the rigging and sending the bow of the boats from side to side. After realizing what was happening I quickly through the camera back in the dry box and had an uneasy feeling as I watched the wind meter climb to 50 knots, then 55 knots and soon topping off at the 60 knot mark, trying to go higher. I estimate that during this time the gusts reached upwards of 70 knots for a short while with sustained 50 knots for about 20 minutes.
This front that rolled through was strong enough to dragged my 5 ton hull and 200 feet of chain with a Rocna anchor attached through the sand and mud bottom; straight across the channel within minutes over to the mooring field. In a direct panic I quickly tried to feed out more scope but all I had left was the high-test line and was worried about the reef just 200 feet away from the original spot and if the wind backed (which it did 20 minutes later) I would have been on the reef that I was closely anchored to near the land. The anchorage is usually quite strong so was suprised to have Antares drag so quickly but the scope I had out was obviously not enough.
As I closed in on the mooring field I approached the largest boat out there but luckily had rubber siding and fenders out. I quickly made the decision the forget the anachor and line and loop a large bowline onto a post off the large fishing boat. As we approached within a few meters I quickly slung the line onto the post and pulled Antares in forgeting about any cosmetic damage that might occur and more concerned about losing my boat to the reef. After struggling to get stronger lines hooked up with the back up anchor I decided to feed two more lines to the aft cleat of the fishing boat and drift Antares behind her so they would ride on the same mooring. In doing all this the swim ladder that was hooked to the side of the boat smashed against the fishing boat and ripped up a large part of the teak, toe rail and put a large scour into the side, but didn't pierce the hull. All-in-all it was a bad situation with a good outcome, that could of been much worse.
After the wind died down I decided to cut my line and recover the anchor / chain with some dive tanks later. I moved over to a mooring with the assistance of the Marina boat and had to manually use the transmission becuase the throttle cable snapped just two days earlier (second time in one year!) Coming out of this truly unscathed and with minimal damage to Antares made me realize a few things...First, don't ever undestimate the weather and always have enough scope out incase the wind is higher then predicted, especially when you know the weather is turning. Had this happened just two hours earlier in the dark, I am not sure it would have been such a good outcome. Second is that you sould always have a back up plan in your head for such a situation and always be prepared for such an event. I had all my back up heavy line in the bow coiled up and was so tangled it took me almost thirty minutes to get it untangled while I was tied up to the fishing boat. It was a big mistake on my part to put myself in this situation including anchoring so close to a reef. The reason was that my dinghy engine has been acting up and have been rowing to shore the past week so didn't want to be so far from the dock, but I should have moved the boat away from such danger and paid attention to the approaching low that came through yesterday morning. It's a good lesson to have learned and will not let this happen again. Perhaps it would have dragged my anchor even with all the line out, but still not to the extent in which it happened.
On a happy note its finally sunny today and hopefully I will get to do some repairs on the wood and paint! El Nino is still kicking so will be hunkering down for next week's approaching low pressure system coming from the NW and preparing Antares for the next voyage west in April.