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Fighting Fears

The Re-anchoring Dance

by Sherry McCampbell

Back to Fears
My friends think that I am pretty fearless.

My friends think that I am pretty fearless.

I don't get seasick, I LOVE to sail, and I'm comfortable at sea.

So many of the things that other women fear don't bother me at all.

However, there is one thing that will keep me awake at night, and that's the fear of dragging anchor.

Fortunately, we have an 88-lb anchor with really stout chain, on our 44' boat. And whenever it is possible, one of us visually inspects the anchor once it is dropped, to make sure it is well set.

So I don't worry about dragging often. We are experienced cruisers and know that if you set your anchor right, you sleep at night. So it's a rare night when I'm up worrying.

But once in a while...

Our boat SOGGY PAWS anchored in Tahanea

The most recent incident was when we were anchored at Tahanea, a lovely atoll in French Polynesia.  

We had been watching the weather and knew that a weather system was approaching that would bring a change to the wind, and we thought we were anchored in a good spot for the night.

We realized we had badly miscalculated when, just after dark, the wind started to pick up and clock around rapidly to a direction from which we were totally exposed to a 10 mile fetch across the lagoon.

Within minutes we had 4-5' waves in the anchorage and we were pulling on our anchor almost 180 degrees from the direction it was set.  

It was a dark night with no reference points on land, so we had our chartplotter turned on and zoomed in, watching our position on the chart.  

We watched our friends on another boat start dragging, and then watched them doing the 'anchoring dance' in the most awful conditions, thanking our lucky stars that we had our BIG anchor and it was well set.

But when we next checked our chartplotter--we found we had dragged a couple hundred feet, and our position was showing on the chart as being ON the reef!
I knew we must be perhaps only a boatlength at most from very shallow coral reef. We had originally anchored in 30 feet of water, and now we were only reading 10 feet.

Bad weather in Tahanea

Though it looked like we weren't moving any longer, we immediately turned on the engine, just in case.

Then we had a decision to make--try to pick up our anchor and move, or stay put.

Because we had anchored in coral, we had a couple of bouys on the chain to keep it free of the coral heads. This would complicate hauling the anchor, and even without that complication, the wind was still howling and the conditions were terrible.

Yep, I was scared to death--one more slip of our anchor, and we'd be on the reef.

But I didn't think we could pull the anchor without mishap either. Our big boat has a lot of windage, and it's hard as heck to keep it aimed into the wind at slow speed under normal anchoring conditions. I didn't think I could manage it under the conditions.  If we got sideways, we'd be on the reef in seconds.

So we watched and waited, engine still on, just in case. It seemed, thankfully, that we were finally in a stable position--the anchor was holding and the wind was not changing. All we had to do was hold on a couple of hours until dawn, and we could see exactly where we were and decide the correct course of action.

Our favorite beach in Tahanea.

About this time, my husband decided he was tired of watching and waiting, and as long as I was going to be up worrying anyway, he might as well go to bed.  

He wanted to turn off the engine, but I refused. I sat right there with my hand on the throttle for the next two hours. I could never have gone to sleep under those conditions.

As soon as the sun came up enough, we could see that we were indeed just shy of the reef. But fortunately our wayward anchor had finally buried itself in the deep sand on the upslope near the reef, and we were fine--the decision to stay put was the correct one.

I still can feel the gut-wrenching fear I felt that night everytime I think about it.

We learned to better predict the wind shifts.

We spent the next couple of weeks researching the weather patterns in our area, and learned to better predict the wind shifts in this new cruising area.

We never got caught like that again.


About Sherry McCampbell

In 2007, Sherry and her husband Dave set out from Florida on an around-the-world adventure on their CSY 44, Soggy Paws.  4 1/2 years and 17,000 miles later, they are in the South Pacific and still barely a quarter of the way around the world.  But they are having adventures... And are still learning.

Besides being an avid sailor, Sherry likes scuba diving, hiking, traveling and reading... all of which mesh well with her cruising lifestyle.

Sherry is a PADI-certified Rescue Diver, an ASA-Certified Sailing Instructor, and holds a 50-ton Captain's License.

In her former life, Sherry was a computer programmer, and still likes geeking about on computers while onboard.  She keeps all FOUR of Soggy Paws' computers humming.  She publishes both a website and a blog, as well as many useful regional cruising 'Compendiums'.

You can follow Sherry and Dave on their adventures at:


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