Thursday, January 7, 2016

El Derecho

The photo I took just before we sat down to dinner
Bruce’s Story:  I was eating a cold cheeseburger and beans when the winds picked up.  I got up and started closing ports.  I could hear the enclosure rattling… something wasn’t right up there.  I went up into what used the be the enclosure.  The zippers on the front panel had ripped out. I tried holding them together to keep the spray from coming in.  

The boat then swung to port and heeled over to about 20° and I thought “we might be in trouble”.  

For probably the next 10 or 15 minutes I was just trying to shield the interior from the spray and then Tammy came up on deck.  

The cover for the generator went zooming out of the cockpit.  The next thing I did really was trying to take things out of the cockpit and get them downstairs.  I unzipped  the enclosure panel and removed it.

Jezabelle was lying on the port settee.  

Tammy had trouble getting the instruments to light up so I fixed that.  

Why didn't I take the cloud bank on the other side.  That's the one that got us!
Tammy started the engine up and tried to maneuver us between two sailboats.  The one on port appeared to be dragging.  For the next hour or so, basically that held as a pattern… us trying to avoid that boat on port.  

I don’t think we ever got close enough to really worry about the boat on starboard.  The nice thing about that boat was that it let us know that we weren’t dragging, or weren’t dragging badly.

I remember shining the flashlight into the water of the back of the boat to make sure that our dinghy was still there after hearing reports of other boats losing their dinghies.  It was still there.

I remember looking up and I could see stars.  There was no rain, just wind.  I thought it was a squall and would be over shortly.  But Chris Parker indicated on his report the next morning that he though that it was "straight line winds". 

On moment in time.  41 knots with gusts to 76.9
One of the weather stations reported 109 knots.  The one here reported 76.9. Basically it was just a process of endurance. There wasn’t much to do.  Tammy was doing most of the work.  I held a flashlight for her after some of the instruments lost their backlighting so that she could tell where the rudder was.

I think the only time I was really worried was in the beginning when the boat heeled.  After that, my worry was that we would drag. And then we realized that a boat larger than us seemed to be heading our way.  

Thoughts of “what are we going to do if that boat drags into us?” ran through my mind.  I could hear reports on the VHF of other boats that were tangling their anchors.  

We know we got 50 knots of wind.  I’m amazed that everything that was on the deck stayed with us.  Everything was tied down.  

I did NOT want to go outside the enclosure.  Tammy asked me to go down below and get our offshore life jackets. I thought she was going to try and get me to go outside the enclosure!  

Tammy’s Story:

Beautiful and Peaceful just before all hell broke loose.
I was already in bed having just finished dinner and was settling in to do some reading, when it began to gust.  “That’s weird…” I thought.    Within seconds it went from weird to HOLY CRAP!  Bruce went up into the cockpit to take a look around and we got a gust that rattled the enclosure violently and knocked the boat sideways.  Things crashed to the floor but suddenly there was no time to think about that.  Bruce turned on the instruments in time to catch a gust to 45 knots but I knew that one gust that knocked us sideways was more!  That is when I realized this was for real!  

We were dragging...
I grabbed the iPad and turned on the tracking.  I needed to know if we were holding or dragging.  I watched tensely while Bruce held the enclosure together topside.  I didn’t want to go up.  

The cat left her spot on the bed and began to vomit while the boat bounced and jerked wildly.  Bruce called me to come up.  I went to the companionway and peeked out beneath the hatch cover.  It was wet and wild and I didn’t want to go up there.  I needed to confirm or deny my suspicions about dragging. 

I went back to the bedroom and put on some shorts. If this ended badly I didn’t want to be found in just my t-shirt and panties…  Then there was that moment when I pulled myself up and decided that there was nowhere to hide from this. I had to go up and be a big girl and deal with it.  

I took the iPad, making sure that the waterproof cover was closed, and mounted the companionway steps into the fracas.  I took my place at the wheel and started the engine.  Bruce removed the front enclosure panel to reduce windage and the side panels flapped violently.  

Winds are coming down.  We can breath a sigh of relief.
I yelled for him to put on his life jacket (we couldn't hear one another over the roar of the wind and flapping panels) and he resisted.  He said “WHY??? You aren’t suggesting that I go up onto the deck are you???”.  I just knew we needed to be ready just in case.  By this time I realized that we were indeed dragging.  I agreed to the offshore lifejackets for both of us and let go of the harness and tether idea... for now.  Time for that later I guess if the need arose.  

It looked like we were able to hold our position with the engine revved to different speeds depending upon the wind speeds and how we were doing on our anchor.  Speaking of wind speeds… When I first went up it was gusting to the 45-50 knot range briefly but holding sustained speeds in the high 30s.  

That doesn’t seem like a lot, but the waves were rolling and we could see nothing outside of the cockpit.  The shore lights and anchor lights of other boats were veering wildly.  I could see the big boat next to us looming… It would be very bad if they hit us… in any kind of fight, they were going to win.  I imagined our boats grinding together briefly but pushed that out of my mind.  

I finally got my bearings and picked some shore lights to watch for reference.  I played the throttle up and down, watching our track, powering up when we reached further into the shallows and throttling back when it looked like we were in danger of riding up onto our anchor chain.  

We had out about 100 ft of chain in less than 8 ft. of water and we were on our snubber bridle so there was not any jerking, but when we were repeatedly knocked off to one side or another by the gusts, there was a definite end to our arc which was comforting to me.  With the help of the engine we were finally holding.  

I spoke to Coupe deAmor on the VHF and took comfort from the knowledge that he had been dragging until he threw out a second anchor and had now stopped.  I expressed concern for the water depths and he seemed to think we were OK.  With the bounding waves I wasn’t so sure, but his reassurance helped.  Just having another soul out here in this with us was a comfort.  I continued to watch the depths and there were readings that should have left us we grinding our keel in the sand… maybe the water was churned up with sand causing false readings.  I hoped that was true.

It seemed like it would never end.  The wind gusted cold and warm alternately.  We could hear the big waves off behind us.  I would peer into the darkness and see a white line of froth now and then… Better not to look.  Some of them rained salty water into the cockpit.  I had brief moments of exhilaration with the wind on my face.  I know.  Strange, but it was exciting in a dark-and-twisty way... when I wasn't thinking of our eminent peril.  

Bruce brought our foul weather jackets up and I was grateful to put it on as I was beginning to get cold and could feel my jaws begin to clench.  My hands felt numb and cold as I gripped the wheel.  I couldn’t let it go as I had to continuously change directions to keep us head to wind.  I was getting tired of this and kept thinking that these things don’t last long, but dang, it needs to END!  

I was relieved when the winds dipped below the 30 knot mark.  They revived briefly then settled back into the upper 20s and began to fall.  The waves followed suit and before long I realized that we were riding up on the anchor.  I throttled back and locked the wheel in the center.  Time to see if we could hold our position without engine help.  

It's over...
The calls on the VHF were subsiding as well.  It felt like the entire harbour took a collective sigh of relief as it looked like it was finally over.  Our Net Controller, Sue, announced that she had received a report from Chris Parker and he confirmed what was happening to us and said that it should pass by 10 pm.  

My Ill-Fated Facebook Post
My thought was “Oh MY!  That’s a long time from now”… but it wasn’t.  It was almost that now.  I couldn’t believe that we had been at this for almost three hours!  In hindsight it seemed like only minutes but while we were in the thick of it, I thought it would go on forever.  Funny how things like that go…

Slowly my mind accepted that we could go back to normal.  The wind was blowing less than 20 knots now and the waves had calmed considerably.  We shut down the engine and removed the last few things from the cockpit.  We realized that the zippers for the center panel of the enclosure were broken.  I hope I have some replacements…  

Time for bed.  We went down below to survey the chaos.  Bruce straightened up things in the saloon and galley while I went into our bedroom to deal with the cat vomit.  Jezebelle had hit just about everything in our cabin.  I stripped the bedclothes and changed out Bruce’s pillow…  We will deal with this tomorrow.  We were both suddenly dead tired.

I left the tracker on at my bedside in case there was a repeat of this event.  I looked at the weather apps and saw a strong line of wind just past us, sadly I didn’t get a screenshot.  I also didn’t get any pics of the cloud that must have harbored this weather event… I don’t know how that happened.  It just looked so unassuming and the clouds heading southeast below us had looked so much more intense, full of lightning and raining buckets on someone…  

I had earlier posted on Facebook that I was glad the weatherman was wrong… boy was THAT premature!  Never again will I make such a comment…

This morning we listened to Chris Parker’s Weather Report.  He described what happened here as "some sort of  weather event". Ha!  Ya THINK!!!  He went on to say that it was about 300 miles long and moved over our area from NW to SE for about 18 hours or so.  Many others were effected here in the Bahamas by this.  He described it as possibly a Derecho and used the term Black Swan Event as it was “unusual and quite remarkable”.  

It seems that in our forecast there was some expectation of squally weather ending last evening.  Just what?  And precisely this type of event wasn’t mentioned.  It wasn’t a rainstorm at all, and that is the most amazing thing to me.  It was like a thunderstorm without the rain.  I am grateful for that because the addition of driving rain would have been horrible... but the bizarre winds were just that… bizarre!  

We are safe.  We lost only a couple of zippers for which I can sew repairs… We came through it remarkably unscathed and undaunted.  We are glad for the experience and for the way in which we handled the drama… calmly and with a sense of positive outcome.  We are sorry for those who were not so lucky and listening to the net this morning we realize that there are surprisingly few.  Those who did sustain damage are getting help from the community and that is a good thing.  

We hope we never see another Derecho again.  Checked that off our to-do list and we’re done!

Update:  One of my photos was used in the May, 2016 issue of Cruising World Magazine!  See the WebExtra Here!


  1. Ugh! That sounds awful! But here is a question: You were anchored in 8 feet of water. Is that just the way it goes down there? We have a 6 foot draft and I'm uncomfortable anchoring in anything under 15 feet. So my question is would there have been water enough for our boat there? And would that have kept us further away from the mooring field? I don't know why I ask, because it's unlikely we'll never see that part of the world from Galapagos. But that shallow water drives me nuts. I guess one gets used to it. Very glad you had the skills to weather that one!

    1. It is very shallow in the Bahamas and the Florida Keys. You might be amazed at how your comfort level expands once you get going. We have happily anchored in 6-7 ft without a thought. If you don't hit bottom it doesn't matter how much water is beneath your keel...unless you're in for a blow. Then it really really does matter.

  2. Great Job of boat handling and maintaining your cool....I went through something similar a few years ago...unluckily I had an in-experienced crew and they were scared to took all I had to keep thing s in order including a near miss of inches from a dragging boat....So glad that you are all well and safe. And now you know how to work a freak wind.

    1. We made the right decision to be away from the pack but most of it was just luck. You just do what you have to do.

  3. So glad things worked out well for you guys (with the exception of poor Jezebelle) -- 50 knots is no fun . . . and why does it always happen at night?

    1. I was wondering that myself. The moment it became dark it all fell apart.

  4. Sounds exciting. Just exactly where were you and what anchor did you have down? Also have you seen the Canadian motor vessel Absolutely. There are friends of ours and are in GT presently. You would like them.

  5. It was very exciting! 100 ft of chain and 45 lb Delta.i think we drug during the worst of it and would probably have been OK without engine help after that. But I was worried we would get into the shallow water. We anchored far out from the pack in 7-8 ft outside of Kidds Cove expecting west winds. This came from NNW. It seems like those anchored off Stocking Island got it worse and the three digit winds were recorded in the hurricane hole. We haven't seen Avsolutely, will keep an eye out.