Last night, as we sat at anchor in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, the wind clocked west (a total anomaly) and a huge squall came out of nowhere that knocked us on our asses.
We’ve braved some gnarly weather at anchor before (I’m looking at you, derecho), but 3-4 foot waves crashing over our bow AT ANCHOR was definitely a first for us. Don’t worry moms, we got through it just fine – apart from our post-adrenaline spiked exhaustion.
Here’s how it went down:
We’d been watching the weather (for those who care: a combo of Chris Parker, the Barbados radar, WindFinder, and NOAA’s Caribbean satellite loop) looking for the right opportunity to leave for Martinique. Persistent rain early this week threatened to keep us in St. Lucia for a few more days, with the exception of a tiny, clear window just ahead of a big, scary squall that was looming offshore.
Being conservative sailors, we generally don’t gamble with such small windows of opportunity. Usually, we’re patient enough to wait things out. This time, however, for some no-good reason (we were getting antsy), we got it in our heads that it was time to go. Yesterday we woke up in the pouring rain, checked out with customs & immigration, paid our bill, and readied the boat to leave the dock and go sailing. We kept checking the satellite images, monitoring the squall’s progress. We noticed that it was moving closer to St. Lucia than we’d originally hoped.
By the time the rain stopped, we’d changed our minds about going to Martinique. In hindsight, this would have been the perfect time to march ourselves right back to the marina office and buy ourselves a few more days.
But, since we’d already checked out of the marina and the country, we chose to leave the protected inlet and head for the outside bay, just around the corner, instead. There, we dropped anchor and flew the Q flag (the yellow flag that indicates “I’m in limbo” between two countries). We carefully spaced ourselves away from other boats, and after two tries to get a good set in shitty holding, we put our trust in our Rocna anchor, which has never once let us down – touch wood.
A relatively peaceful day turned into night and as we were getting ready for bed, we felt the boat rotate 90 degrees as the wind clocked around to the west. Rain pounded on the deck. No longer in the lee of the island, the boat started pitching and bucking, tossed by waves that were coming directly at us. Laptops and silverware went flying. We suddenly felt like we were underway on a very uncomfortable passage.
Brian preemptively started the engine, soaked to the bone and poised for action. I ran for the life jackets. In the cockpit, we stuck our heads around the dodger and squinted through rain that stung our faces to watch the terrifying scene that unfolded all around us. Shadowy, dark figures of boats lurched along on a collision course with one another. Voices on the radio calling mayday! mayday! as they washed up on the rocks. One boat even lost its mast. All around us, wet, miserable crews wearing headlamps struggled to haul up their dragging anchors and avoid collision while struggling to stay aboard as the decks of their boats dipped down into the waves.
Please don’t drag, please don’t drag, please don’t drag.
We were lucky and came through unscathed. And after 90 wordless minutes, we turned the engine off. The rain stopped and the wind calmed.
And then we experienced a whole new kind of terrible. The swell, coupled with the goddamn west winds, had me clutching my emergency gallon-sized ziplock bag (don’t cheap out when it comes to barf bags – trust me on this), as we watched a second suspicious blob approaching on the satellite.
At this point, we paused to review our options:
A. Stay where we are. Pros – Anchor held great and would most likely continue to do so. Cons – A sleepless night, guaranteed. Lots of puking. High probability of having to weather another terrifying squall sometime in the wee hours of the morning. Good chance of another boat dragging into us.
B. Go back to the marina. Pros – Sleep. No worries. Cons – It’s risky hauling up the anchor in terrible conditions (the anchor may swing and damage the hull and/or I could be thrown from the boat while raising said anchor). We would have to pass through a narrow channel to get to the inlet and the marina, subject to surges of waves that could cause us to lose steering and hit the rocks on either side of the entrance. Potential hazards to foul propellor (tree branches and logs) caused by runoff from the land.
C. Haul anchor and head out to sea. Just no.
Ultimately, we chose option B.
Charged with shaky adrenaline, we mapped out and executed a plan which began with me preparing the fenders for docking and then raising anchor by sitting on the bow, straddling the windlass, and hanging on for dear life (please don’t jam, please don’t jam, please don’t jam – it jammed. I dealt with it). It didn’t bang into the hull. Then, Brian harnessed incredible focus as he set out towards the channel to the inlet, setting a wide angle to get a sense of the waves and his level of control before we surfed them through rocky channel markers of the dreaded entrance.
The moment we cleared it, everything went mute. Waves became dead flat, calm water. No wind. No fears. The chaos loomed a few hundred feet behind us as we glided into an empty slip and exhaled.
This morning we went back to customs and the marina office and explained that we’d be staying a few more days. It was painless and took about fifteen minutes of our time.