Friday, October 7, 2011

Nighttime adventures

One of the exciting bits of living on a boat is the constant sense of imminent disaster.

It is the rainy season in Cartagena, which means that we get afternoon thunderstorms, and occasionally something blows through during the night.  Regular stuff, you say.  You get thunderstorms, too.  Yes, I daresay you do.  But unless you live in a tornado zone or the hurricane belt, the drama of a storm means comforting an excitable dog, or maybe checking on a leaky roof.

Let’s imagine you live in a house in the city.  You look out the window, and see lots of other houses in neat little rows.  You are snugly packed, but still have space.  So far so good.  Erase about two-thirds  of those houses from your mind, so your street looks a bit like a checkerboard.  Now you have lots of room, right?  Okay.  Now.  All of those houses are tethered to the ground by a chain.  Some chains are long, others short.  You don’t know – the chains are hidden underground.  And now, the best part: a very windy storm blows up, and all of those houses in your neighbourhood start to move.  They blow down to the end of their chains.  And some, the unlucky ones, start to drag.

This was our situation a few nights ago (these problems only happen at night.  What fun would it be if you could actually see?).  Every bit of wind in a new anchorage is a test.  Is the holding any good?  Did our anchor set as well as we thought?  When the wind came up and the rain came down, Erik and I went through our routine of closing hatches and making sure the deck was clear, then sat in the cockpit to watch our windmeter and our little GPS to check for drag.  Our anchor held (hooray for the Manson!)... oh yes, we were fine.  But others were not so lucky.  We saw at least four other boats drag through the anchorage, silently streaming backwards through the rain.  All of which is entertaining at a distance, but one of those boats loomed ever closer to us.

Remember your house on its chain?  When other houses start dragging, you are pretty much stuck.  You can’t move your house much – it is on a chain, and boy do you not want to horse around with a well-set anchor in a blow.  But when another house is coming at you, what do you do?

The other boat slid alongside us, and stopped.  Curses.  That was a bad scenario.  If it had blown past before catching on something on the seafloor, we would have been fine.  But this boat sat directly alongside Papillon, sixty feet away.  We peered at the captain through the driving drain, and he peered back.  When the wind let up enough, he called to us that his engine was dead, so he couldn’t haul up the anchor and reposition.  He was stuck until he fixed it.

We looked glumly at each other.  The wind would catch one of us, and we would drift ever-so-close, then blow apart again.  We hunched in the cockpit, fenders at the ready, hoping we wouldn’t need them, and watched, and waited.  The minutes and hours ticked by.  Then the wind started to swing around.

As I said, the wind blows you to the end of your chain, bow forward.  When the wind shifted Papillon and our new neighbour were no longer side-by-side.  We were, inevitably, end-to-end, Papillon in front of the drifter.  As the wind shifted, he would barely eke past our stern, giving the dinghy hanging on the davits a light bump each time he passed.  Erik kept the engine on, moving us gently forward to keep us from crashing.

Around 2:30am, our new neighbour finally got his engine started, and left to find a roomier spot to anchor.  And we got some sleep.

So the next time a storm comes through town, you can sleep soundly in your bed, knowing that your house isn’t going to blow down the street.


Anonymous said...

Hi Amy: Love your accounts. Been There, Done That!!! BTW ... what happened with the Columbian Police Van??????

Ruth and Carl

Anonymous said...

aaaaa....on est bien sur la terre! :) Toujours le fun de vous lire!
nicolas t.