Friday, October 26, 2007

Rescue from The Black Hole

This graph shows the wave height during the past several days at the nearest bouy in the Atlantic. We access the NOAA bouy data all the time, since it is so useful.

Yesterday the wind switched from south to northeast, and continued blowing 20-30kts, so we remained here at Rum Point, in Atlantic City. This little bay has room for about 10 boats, and there are 5 of us here. There aren’t any other anchorages near here. Since the boat swung through 180 degrees with the wind change, I rechecked the anchors which weren’t in the most favorable positions relative to each other (only 10 degrees apart with 80 feet of chain and 20 feet of nylon rode each, in 12 feet of water) and the new wind direction, but looked good enough. Well, I have a different opinion now.

Mid-day, one of our neighbor boats dragged his anchor during the intermittent rain and strong winds. They powered up and drove back upwind, just before running aground, retrieved their Danforth anchor, and set it again. We kept the gps close at hand to warn us if we started to drag. It has an off course alarm which can be set to 60’, 120’, 180’, etc. During windy periods we sleep with it next to the bed, but rarely have it on during the day. Since our neighbor dragged, the bottom might be poor holding material, so we were on high alert.

At 2pm, we started dragging. Kathy started the engine and I began retrieving the 35 pound Bruce anchor. The wind blew us sideways and onto the mud bottom. The boat listed 10 degrees to starboard. We ran the engine at high rpm for about 20 seconds, but we were stuck too hard. This happened to be low tide, a favorable thing, since we had the possibility of floating off as the tide rose, but we had to hold the boat against the strong wind which was not at all certain given the wind and the fact that we had already dragged both anchors. If we blew further ashore, we could end up in a terrible position to recover from. So we called Boat US with whom we have unlimited towing coverage ($139/year). The nearest tow boat was in Ocean City, 30 minutes away (according to the dispatcher on the phone), with 8 foot breaking seas to plow through to get to us.

I reeled in the 45 pound Delta anchor with the windless, with no resistance on it at all. Both anchors came on board covered in slimy oily looking black muck. Kathy lowered the Bruce down to me in the dinghy, and I kedged it out as far as possible, then we did the same with the Delta. Using the windless, both anchors were snubbed as tight as they would go, and seemed to be holding.

The tow boat arrived an hour and a half later. I was pleased to see a huge 40 foot ex-Coast Guard boat arrive, rather than the small boats with outboard motors you usually see on the water. This baby had some power! My next thought was “Will Stardust’s cleats hold?” Our position had not changed; we were still aground and nowhere near floating off. High tide wasn’t till after 7pm and it would be dark then, so getting this situation resolved now seemed a good idea, especially to Kathy. But the two men pulled us back into deeper water slick as could be. I retrieved our anchors, we separated from the towboat, and re-anchored, setting the anchors 45 degrees apart. They pulled alongside for the paperwork, and I asked about their return trip home. The captain replied, “It wasn’t too bad getting here with the wind on the stern, but there’s no way we’re going back against it. We’ll stay here overnight at the Coast Guard Station.” Looking over the paperwork, our location was listed as “The Black Hole”. This name isn’t on the chart, so maybe it’s a local name, or maybe it’s what this skipper calls it. I almost choked seeing the $1640.00 tow bill. That’s right, 1600 smackeroos! If you are one of our boating friends out there, you might want to think about the unlimited coverage option. The usual tow coverage for Boat US membership is $50. I suspect that 50 bucks might cover a wave from the towboat captain as he goes by.

All’s well that ends well. I’m gunshy now, sitting here typing on the computer with the gps beside me, since it is raining and blowing 20kts. My hands are stained black after repeated washing using Goop hand cleaner. Black Hole is right! My back hurts from all the anchoring, but nothing Advil can’t cover. My yellow foulies are all cleaned up, and the rain is washing Stardust clean again. I haven’t seen any of our neighbors go ashore today (Canadian flagged vessels) as I’m sure they saw yesterday’s episodes. I won’t be leaving the boat until things settle down either.

The front has stalled over us and the bad weather has been extended through tomorrow (Saturday). Maybe someday soon we’ll escape from the Black Hole!


Blogger GW said...

I've had the 'unlimited' tow boatUS coverage since I started moving much in my boats. I've been lucky enough to not need it (yet) and your story helps justify to me the small added expense of the unlimited coverage. I'm sure that was NO fun!!
Stay safe you guys. See you in a couple of months.

5:32 PM  

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