Here are two good reasons for keeping an inflatable paddle board on the deck of your sailboat if you are a cruiser.
Paddle boards help you repair your boat when you are out to sea. We ran into a sea spider, a tangled mass of nylon line that wrapped itself around our propeller. We were motoring from Wardrick Wells to Staniel Cay, admittedly in fairly shallow water (about 20 feet) and relatively calm seas. Still, diving on your prop in the middle when you’re out to sea is not the easiest thing to do, especially when your dinghy is tied up to the davits and you can’t put down the sea ladder. It was easy to get into the water, but not so easy to get back on the boat, even with a boarding ladder on the side. Solution: put the paddle board in the water, just below the boarding ladder. This provided a platform for the tools Ryan needed (a line cutter and a heavy duty wrench) to clear the propeller, and also an easy step back on board.
Paddle boards help you tie up to mooring balls. I dropped our boat hook overboard while trying to pick up a mooring ball that did not have the usual float for the line that you pull on board and fasten around your cleats. Instead of pulling on that line, I hooked the line attached to the heavy cement block on the bottom, the weight of which dragged the boat hook out of my hands. Twenty-knot winds and waves quickly carried the boat hook into shallow waters that we couldn’t possibly navigate without running aground. As Ryan laconically observed while we watched it drifting further and further away from us, “a boat hook is a fairly important piece of boat equipment.” Yes, indeed, and there it was, way over there. What to do? Paddle board to the rescue! I threw the board into the water (after making sure that the painter was attached to the boat of course), got aboard, and paddled after the hook. After retrieving it, I muscled my way, upwind and up currant, of course, to the mooring ball, pulled the line out of the water (it was simply drifting!! with no float!!) and held on valiantly, standing tall on my board, like Alvid the Norwegian Pirate queen, while Ryan maneuvered the boat over to my side. Even had I not dropped the hook overboard, we would have had to put the board in the water. Sure, we could have dropped the dinghy, but then we would have had to anchor first, which is sort of stupid when you’re trying to tie up to a mooring ball. The paddle board was much easier, simpler, and faster. Efficient!
On January 6, 2016, we expected a “big blow” with winds shifting through all directions except Southeast.We took shelter in the very well protected harbor at Royal Island, near Spanish Wells and Eleuthera. Sophia is 36 feet long and weighs 13,500 pounds—pretty light in comparison to many bluewater yachts.We have great ground tackle—a 33 pound Rocna and 100 feet of 3/8 inch chain attached to 150 feet of a 5/8 inch nylon rode. We sheltered in the north west corner, in front of the biggest hill on the island.We set anchor, let out all the chain, set a snubber, dove on the anchor, saw it solidly in the ground, and kept a close watch all day.We didn’t budge an inch and felt quite relaxed when we finally turned out the light around “cruiser’s midnight,” 9pm.We were in for our first big cruising lesson.
“Bam!”“Bam!”Silence.I awakened at about 10:30pm.This was a new sound.“Bam!”“Bam.”Something was hitting our hull.Could it be waves? I wondered.“Ryan!do you hear that?” “What?”“Bam!”“That!”He bounded out of bed. The winds were screaming overhead the air was thick with electricity. I raced to the cockpit and could not believe what I saw.We had dragged about 200 feet, right past another boat, and stood 10 feet from the rocky shore with 1.5 feet of water under our keel. Our hull had been hitting either the sand, or rocks, or something else.Royal Island harbor is littered with old cars and other metal trash.
Sheer terror. Adrenaline shot through me, clouding my mind, making my hands shake.Think! I clawed open the stern lassarette and pressed the engine warm-up button, counting with ragged breaths—never had 15 seconds passed so slowly.The engine roared onRyan took the helm and drove us away from the rocks while I scampered up to the bow, shivering in underwear and tee-shirt.It was impossible to see, and we had to rely on flashlight signals to communicate about the operation of the windlass.I had to put down my flashlight to get the snubber off the chain. “I. HATE. THESE. THINGS!” I remember screaming as I urged the metal hook around and off the links.
Finally we got the anchor up and motored to the other end of the harbor. This was a terrifying journey, because not all the boats had their anchor lights on and we couldn’t see where we were going. My eyes were playing tricks on me. I saw two boats where there was only one—later I realized it was a ketch, and it was so difficult to think! Ryan stayed calm, fortunately, and shouted, “here! we’re dropping the anchor here!” We let out all 100 feet of chain plus an 25 feet of line, in 10 feet of water. We were far too agitated to sleep, and finally took turns watching until morning, which came slowly.
The weather got worse the next day.It rained so hard that the bimini leaked, especially right over the wheel and chart plotter, making it malfunction.We clamped a plastic Ikea bag over it, lifting up the edges to see the chart, and stayed soaked for hours while the storm raged around us.The wind roared at 40 knots per hour for much of the afternoon, and gusted above 50.A neighboring boat dragged a couple hundred feet.We sighed with relief when they stablized their position, not far from our stern.We monitored the wind gauge and our breadcrumbs on the chart plotter, watching, watching. My skin crawled with anxiety. It was impossible to settle down, even though there was nothing to do but watch, watch, watch and watch.
I attempted to calm myself by tidying and eventually felt comfortable enough to start a lasagna.Just as the sauce was starting to bubble, Ryan informed me, “we’ve dragged 40 feet.”FREAK!went my system.But I calmlyturned off the burner, put on my rain gear, and went above.It was time to learn how to set a second anchor.Our second anchor is a 23 pound Fortress on 30 feet of 3/8 inch chain and 200 feet of 5/8 inch rode.The Fortress is actually designed for the messy, slimy sand we were sitting on. Setting it seemed like a good idea, but only after a nervous discussion. By this point, Murphy’s law seemed to be in play—if it could go wrong, it would.We didn’t carry on for any length of time, as the winds were still wailing and the rain was still sheeting, thunder was booming, lightining was flashing, and we were dragging.By this point, we were fully suited up in foul weather gear with harnesses ready to clip into the jack lines.We set the second anchor.And we held.
And we held. Ryan seemed to relax finally, but I couldn’t unwind, even when the winds finally went away at midnight or so. I sat up reading and checked our position every hour or so. And we held. Finally, around five in the morning, I allowed myself to sleep.
Chris Parker wrote, “In 13 years, I don’t think I’ve seen an event like this in the Bahamas.He said it may have been a Derecho, essentially a “self sustaining linearly-organized storm.” As Parker explained, “A Derecho often starts as a series of outflow boundaries/gust fronts extending from squall/T-storms, advancing ahead of a pool of cold air aloft. Over time, these outflow boundaries/gusts can merge into a long line, and be self-sustaining.”
We learned a lot.In the long run, we were really lucky, much more fortunate than our friends.For a rousing, well-written tale about how awful this storm was for many folks, please read Neko’s blog.Some other people we care about suffered the worst loss that we know about.Their beloved terrier, who had sailed with them for ten years, washed overboard during the gale.We have talked to many cruisers who have sailed all over the globe for many years, and every one of them says that this was the worst experience they have ever had.