Anchor drama – or how to earn a nice bottle of wine

Our boat was sailing on a piece of silk, the water so calm it looked like one massive piece of glistening cloth.

The boat rose and fell as though the ocean was breathing. No faster than a walking pace we inched further away from Canet de Roussillon and toward our planned escape. For the past seven weeks we shared our home with relatives, this had been grand but now it was time for just the two of us.

The plan

Our intent was to sail three days in the best direction of the wind, heading towards Spain. But most important enjoy some one-on-one time with our boat.

Although the wind was minimal, we had a full day to sail 14 nautical miles to our first planned stop and we were in no hurry. As long as we reached our destination by nightfall, it would be a great day on the water. Plus we knew stronger winds were forecast for the evening.

I was happy. I should have remembered how quickly things can change.

When the wind speed was reading 0.00 knots we took turns jumping into the water from the front of the boat and floating back to the stern. The Captain thought now would be a good time to have his first nude swim. I declined the offer. French appear to be very casual about dress codes on the beach, if I had gone the nudie rudie I would not have been out of place and I was several miles out to sea. Each to his own.

Our destination was the sandy harbour of Paullies. Well known for safe waters, easy walks, beautiful scenery and safe sandy bottom.

Most important to us, it offered protection from the ever regular north westerly winds, anticipated for the evening.

As we travelled south there was only one other boat on the water in our vicinity, a small monohull struggling to keep the spinnaker working, as they too attempted to move in the winds on offer.

This lack of vessels was a strange phenomenon.

For the past eight weeks the French waters and towns have been occupied by sun-seeking holiday makers on masse. In France it seems that everyone, except bakers, hoteliers and restaurateur’s, take holidays at the same time. For the month of August the entire country seems to soak up the sun in an act of solidarity in sharing the sand.

Not this day.

It was like the water and weather were joining us by taking a deep breath from the recent rush. It felt like summer was nearly over.

Arriving at Paullies

When we were about five nautical miles from Paullies the wind picked up from the NE and was now blowing a healthy 25 knots.

The Captain delighted in tacking our boat from one side to the other solo. We even sailed past the entrance to Paullies and continued sailing further on, before turning around arriving at dusk.

It had been a great day. Well, great until it was time to head into the wind and bring the sails down.

It is my job to steer the boat into the wind, at the same time release the main rope that holds the main sail up, allowing the sail to fall in a controlled manner. The job of my ever patient Captain, is to assist the sails descent at this time from atop of the bimini.

Problem was, on this day I was doing a pretty crap job of holding into the wind. The Captain was not happy. Like a bottle of champagne under pressure, he popped!

He lost it.

My Captain had gone completely over the edge. If only for a minute or two he was doing it in style. I was surprised and rendered speechless. I could only stand there and listen with my mouth agape, with a shocked look on my face.

The reason I am sharing this meltdown moment is not to name and shame my Captain. Far from it. This is very uncharacteristic behaviour from my ever-patient man. The reason I share is this extreme of emotion is relevant, it’s part of this new world of sailing. Most times we have normality and calm, but the regular touching of the extremes is what is different. Sailing seems to take you to personal challenges that are easily avoided or must be sort out in day to day life.

I recall reading about couples who shout at each other during anchoring and I remember clearly thinking I doubt that would be us. Who you think you are and what happens at sea are not always the same thing.

We soon got over ourselves and got on with the business of being settled safely for the night. Next morning, the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm. Our location perfect.We sat outside over breakfast and discussed the night prior.

We both agreed that a weekend staying put in beautiful Paullies was perhaps the best course for us. Our boat was to be our shack for the weekend. A chance to be kind to each other and kind to ourselves.

Our only dilemma was we planned to buy more wine further down the blue highway in cheap Spain, therefore for two nights we only had one bottle of wine. A minor sacrifice for calm and serenity.

Our anchoring was fine

We know this because we did it by the book, then we checked with a hard reverse and final swim down to make “sure for sure”.

Our Saturday consisted of all those things people have imagined we have been doing 100 per cent of the time since we left Australia: waking late, swimming throughout the day, eating, drinking lots of tea and reading, listening to music and being glad to have the company of each other. Thus far this has been only a small percentage of our time. We are working hard to address this percentage.

Meanwhile, in the bay, it was getting busy. As the morning progressed, more boats joined us. It quickly went from four boats in the bay to over 30.

Near the end of the day it was fascinating to watch the motor boats move out and the overnight cruising yachts move in. I was watching each anchoring procedure with great interest, seeing how others go about the business of making their floating homes safe. Some boats rush in, drop and the deed is done. Others take their time in selection and the putting down process.

At some point in the afternoon Captain was reading his first book in France and I was working on my computer. Both out the back so we had front row seats to watch Little Nina come in, only one boat across from us.

Little Nina was interesting from the onset. A brand new 50 foot Dufour, she was a sleek polished cruising boat. The couple aboard where dressed in sailing attire complete with sailing gloves, a rarity thus far on our trip.

Besides looking the part these guys appeared to know what they were doing. Once the anchor was set they reversed back hard to get a good hold on the earth below. When the anchor was set, they got into their dinghy to lay a marking buoy to show other boats exactly where their anchor was positioned.

I was impressed and told my Captain so. I was surprised that they did not jump in for final check but maybe we do the overkill on checking?

Captain commented that their anchor chain had most likely crossed the boat next door and was too close to the steel boat. Me, on the other hand, wondered if they would like to swap some fresh homemade sushi for a bottle of wine. I did not bother Little Nina for the wine nor to discuss their anchor. It was a magnificent sunset. The crew of Little Nina watched it as did I, Captain was too busy reading his book.

Once the sun had set, the couple from Little Nina took their dinghy ashore. I took myself to bed to read. Soon the wind change arrived blowing between 25 to 30 knots.

The domino effect

The Captain called out but I could hear it clearly, the grizzly sound of a metal boat hitting another boat. It was Little Nina.

In this up close and personal position it was always going to hurt. As the wind gusted through the bay the steel boat would swing in hard and hit Little Nina. It was a sickening sound.

The Captain explained to me that the problem came from the two boats having their anchors too close to each other. This was OK when the wind was light, but once the wind strengthened and swung north west, Little Nina swung round and was now right beside the steel boat.

We stood there for a moment watching via our spotlight. Have the owners of Little Nina returned? If so, why are they not doing anything? There are so many boats here at Paullies, will anyone else do something? Was it up to us to do anything and what could we do?

The lack of action from anyone else seemed to make it our responsibility to assist as we were closest. Trusty Captain, lowered our dinghy as I grabbed our buoys and we went to assist.

Knock knock on her hull. Who’s there? No one at home.

Captain climbed aboard and placed buoys between the two boats while I stayed in our dinghy. Once I had handed him all the buoys I went back to our boat to grab the camera. I say now for insurance purposes, really I was thinking I needed at least one photo to share.

I was shocked as I went past one forward window to see little eyes reflected back at me. Had this couple a child on board, hidden away from view? Was there a greater mystery to behold?

Nope, on closer inspection I could see it was not one, not two but three cats peeking out trying to see what was going on above their heads.

Then, as I was taking a photo of six little eyes, the owners returned. At this point I felt a little ashamed of myself, caught taking a sneaky peek inside their windows. Once we explained the drama on the other side of their boat they forgot my camera.

This couple were in more trouble than the  early settlers

Instead of taking a breather, assessing, staying calm and smart they were into action immediately.

If I were to pinpoint the moment things went pear-shaped, it was this moment. Rushing in when in fact they now had time to assess why things had gone wrong in the first place.

In my Captain’s humble opinion what needed to happen was Little Nina had to get as close as possible to their original anchor position by motor and then retrieve their anchor from the same direction they came in. Instead they pulled their anchor straight away.

Not only was Little Nina’s anchor coming up, so was the anchor of the steel boat. Throw into the mix, a dark sky with no moonlight, winds increasing and high levels of stress. Was there shouting? Stupid question.

We thought it best to stay well away as this couple were doing what they needed to secure their boat and language differences made communication difficult. It took a while for them to untangle and release themselves from the neighbour. But Little Nina failed in her attempt to be under control once she released herself from the steel boat. Her dragging anchor soon ensnared another boat’s anchor directly behind the steel boat. Let me introduce a new 50 foot Beneteau called Antxeta, which has now joined this sorry opera.

I once again pulled out my camera, Captain would not let me film or take photos as he said it was tasteless and rightly so. I doubt I gave this scene the credit it deserved.

It was getting crazy.

Little Nina moved from the port side to the starboard taking the anchor underneath Antxeta. Soon it sounded like everyone was shouting.

I only know one swear word in French and it is a biggy. I heard it this night. The other word I heard most repeated surprisingly was English: “Stop. Stop. Stop”.

In all, this was a stellar performance watching anchoring go wrong and the shouting that accompanied the drama. It took nearly an hour to bring the whole sorry mess to a close.

At times it hurt to watch as “but for the grace of God go I.” I know first hand how quickly anchoring can go wrong. Every person on a boat nearby would have felt similar, I have no doubt.

Once it was over I kept thinking what was going through their minds. Did it shake their confidence, did they shout at one another in the privacy of their boat? Will they sleep well tonight? How about the three cats, what do cats think when humans have dramas?

It was finally over

Little Nina parked a long way from everybody once they got themselves organised. A bit like a dog licking its wounds after a scrap.

I did not blame them, I would have done the same. The drama seemed to go on for too long and was too close to home for me.

In the morning the crew of Nina came to visit and return our buoys. They were grateful that we climbed on to their boat with buoys.

My early assumption they were experienced proved correct, Paullies was a place they came to on a regular basis as they live not far away. They had been boating for years including racing. They told us this was a rare occasion to leave their boat at anchor and probably the last time.

This comment raised one of the big questions for me. We sail to destinations so that we can get off our boats and experience whatever it is on shore. This is why anchoring is such a biggy. On the end of a chain you have your life’s savings, home and security. You have to be confident to leave it otherwise what’s the point.

The irony of the visit was they brought over a thank you bottle of wine.

Maybe I should have gone over earlier on with the sushi/wine exchange offer and the whole drama could have been avoided because no doubt we would have talked about anchoring as well as wine or our lack thereof.

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