March 8, 2010
A week ago Meredith hauled its tired abused hull and battered crew out of Rock Sound, Eleuthera. We had run into Rock Sound from Governor's Harbour seeking refuge from a forecast succession of two forecast cold fronts thought to be spaced roughly two days apart. It had been interesting.
Rock Sound offered near all round protection from waves. Like most of the Bahamas the island of Eleuthera lacks sufficient elevation to offer protection of any significance from wind. Usually this is not an issue. When anchoring you need protection from the waves and tidal current. Wind may knock you about a bit and rock you to sleep but at the velocities we face, ie 20 to 30 knots, the wind is not a hazard.
If anyone is interested it is our observation on Meredith that 1 knot of current is the equal of 30 knots of wind, ie. if you have wind of 25 knots pushing from one direction and 1 knot of current from the other our boat will follow the current. Having been in exactly this situation I can assure you that taking 25 knots of wind right in the cockpit is not as much fun as it might sound.
Unfortunately wind drives waves.
Great care was demonstrated as we set our hook. We attached our nylon snubber, which we keep on the foredeck with a handy stainless hook designed to be quickly attached to the chain. The purpose of the snubber is to act as a shock absorber. Being stretchy it absorbs the impact of waves and wind and saves the deck fittings from being subjected to repeated sharp tugs of several thousand pounds each.
Boat secure we dropped the outboard and went exploring. Rock Sound is one of the finest communities in the Bahamas. It is equalled only by the settlement of Black Point for friendliness and charm. This was our first opportunity to set up our cell phone and to share internet. We had a ball. Generally this is our opinion of the whole of Eleuthera Island. It is a real gem for cruisers, the more so as it tends to be ignored by most of the sailing public.
A few hours after our return the wind began to pick up and rain started. The cold front was knocking on our door.. No big deal. We rocked a bit at anchor.
The cold front passed without incident in the early evening. We had been invited for drinks on Dream Odyssey where the captain was celebrating his 60th birthday. By 8 p.m. the rain was still driving hard down and we radioed our apologies.
For those not familiar with the process the cold front, full of short duration fury with high winds of uncertain direction and often with thunderstorms, is not usually much of a threat. What concerns sailors is the sustained high winds that follow the passage of a cold front. Up north in the Great Lakes the winds may be a day or two behind the front. Not in the islands. Usually only hours and sometimes only minutes separate storm from wind.
A half hour cold front introduces 24 or 48 hours of serious wind out of the West/North West and then North as the associated low pressure, located somewhere in North Carolina or Illinois, moves slowly on its eastward path.
This particular night as expected the wind rocked us, gently for the most part, to sleep.
Sailors are all just students in the perpetual school of seamanship. Our knowledge is imperfect and sometimes we fail the test. We are foreced to admit that we misjudged the fetch over which the wind was blowing. By 3 a.m. we had wind at 35 knots without surcease and short choppy 3 to 4 foot waves on the bow.
Meredith was getting hammered.
Need I add what was happening to the cargo?
What do you do when the butter is being churned on your deck in a near gale in the total dark in an unknown anchorage with charted depths of 5 feet or less? Ride it out, that's what you do. There are no options that do not increase your risk of damage or loss. You ride it out and check the snubber line early and check it often for chafe.
Unusually the Budget Committee even found sleep, a rare event in these conditions. She did express concern on a couple of occasions for the snubber line and the forces it was being asked to bear. I assured her both that the snubber had a breaking strength of several thousand pounds and that if the snubber broke she would know instantly. We would be lucky in such an event, I pointed out, not to have the anchor windlass torn from the deck.
We travelled with a boat in 2004 that suffered exactly this fate.
About 10 a.m.. our snubber line parted. As I had assured her the Budget Committee knew instantly when it happened.
We were needed on the foredeck and we rose to the call.
The Budget Committee pulled out two new lines and I quickly affixed each to the anchor rode with a running hitch. We payed out more chain and took up the slack, balancing the tension on the two new snubbers as best we could.
Examining the old snubber line for evidence of what went wrong we discovered that the line had not chafed through, as we expected. It had separated near the point where it affixed to the hook. There was enough force on the boat from the wind and the waves it generated to pull apart a 5/8 inch nylon line.
The line, when it snapped, flew back towards the boat. It lay, the entire 19 feet of what was left of it on the deck. Like an elastic band when the line was pulled to the breaking point it had released all of the energy it had stored up in being stretched by that final fatal wave. It spent that stored energy in a final desperate slingshot back onto the deck. Luckily neither of us was on the bow when the line gave. That kind of force on a line can break bones.
That night the wind abated and we again emerged into the broader world. We again lowered the outboard, having put it up before the cold front to prevent it damaging Meredith, and set off to check in with our neighbours.
The birthday boat, whose cocktail party we declined at the last minute, on hearing our our experience showed us their foredeck. The cleat to which their snubber line had been connected was torn from the boat. Cleat and s'ronubber flew God only knows where. Only broken fiberglass and holes in the deck were left.
Guess we were lucky.