aka – “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.“
Boating, like most other outdoor experiences is often at the mercy of the weather. Sailing may be more so than many others. Consequently, it has become our habit to tune into the VHF weather reports read twice daily by the volunteer Coast Guard (thank you, your efforts are greatly appreciated). At each report one of us whips out a mobile phone and the forecast is recorded to listen to again later.
On the morning leaving Pearl Bay we missed the scheduled report, I think because we were busy repriming the water cooling pump. But weren’t too perturbed as the forecasts had been repetitive and things weren’t changing a great deal. Both of us could recite the current synoptic situation that we’d heard over and over for the previous few days.
We’d arrived at Hexham Island just after lunch, had a relaxing afternoon on board and had settled in for the evening. The afternoon forecast took us by surprise. Instead of fresh south easterly winds there were to be strong north easterly winds with showers. This meant that the winds would blow across the anchorage and not offer the protection we’d hoped for. We had anchored here two years ago and knew the holding was good and we had faith in our anchor to hold in strong winds – it had held us before. It was getting dark so shifting now was mostly out of the question. As the evening wore on the sound of the wind grew stronger. It was decided to set an alarm to get up in a few hours for an ‘anchor watch’.
Just after 11pm Michelle responded to the alarm and got up to check. All seemed ok. As often happens at anchor the rocking of the boat sometimes lifts the chain and you can hear it rattle as it settles back down. This time there seemed to be extra noise which sounded a lot like scraping on rock. Later when I went to check the spotlight appeared to show the rocks behind us to be so much closer. We had dragged anchor. ‘Mild’ panic set in as we tried to gather our thoughts and decide what to do. There was really no option other than to pick up the anchor and reset or move out. The engine was started and our position on the chart-plotter determined.
In almost total darkness, bouncing decks, strong wind and driving rain I went forward to begin the lift of the anchor whilst ‘Shell drove the boat forward. Of course, as soon as the anchor chain started to shorten the winds drove us further astern. Communication between us was non-existent as the sound of wind, rain and engine blocked out anything that could be said. In no time we banged against rock. We aren’t sure if they were “Cathedral Rocks that were astern of us or if we had driven forwards onto other rocks around the little bay.. I can now say with experience that it is an extremely scary feeling to feel and hear your boat against rocks. There is always the thought of being scared for your own life, but I didn’t feel that. In this case I was more scared for others. Scarred for Michelle and for my family I have left at home. Realistic thought kicked in and it seemed the worst case was that we were right at an island and could make it to shore and just lose the boat.
‘Shell did a marvellous job steering us off and away from the rocks but there was still lots of uncertainty about which direction to go. Because we had travelled and arrived in daylight the compass light had not been turned on. We knew open water was to the north so as soon as that was turned on it was make our way out.
It was a hasty decision to make our way towards the Percy Islands. They were 20 miles to the north-east with no other islands in our way. So just after midnight in almost total darkness, driving rain, 25 knot winds and 2 meter swells we began motoring towards Middle Percy Island. After frequent checks of the bilges and in most compartments where I could see the inside of the hull it was decided we weren’t taking on any water so the hull was still structurally ok. It was going to be a cold, wet and uncomfortable six hours ahead of us.
It was around 4am when the masthead lights of other boats at anchor in West Bay became visible. Although the anchorage is reasonably clear we wanted to wait for better light so turned and motored south and then north again in a holding pattern waiting to make a safe anchorage. Seeing the lights and knowing we’d arrived at Middle Percy Island was an enormous relief. From there anchoring was a routine exercise. It was only in the light of day that I noticed a large piece of dead coral caught up in our anchor flukes – maybe it didn’t let the anchor bite properly as we swung at Hexham during the night.
Once the boat was settled and engine turned off I began stripping off wet clothes in anticipation of a hot shower. We only get hot water when the engine has been running and after six hours it should be nice and hot! Standing naked in the cockpit in the fresh breeze of the morning ‘Shell then tells me that we had no water. In all the commotion and rolling of the evening something may have slid against the tap and bumped it on slightly. We had full tanks – 500litres, at Yeppoon only four days beforehand. I easily could have cried.
At least there was some fresh water in our drink bottles and in the kettle so at least I got a hot coffee to start the day and get the tender ready to go and beg, borrow or steal some water from the facilities ashore.
As the old adage suggests, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Whilst it was an extremely scary and anxious experience, we have taken lots from the night and learnt from it. Hopefully never to need the lessons learned.