Monday, September 29, 2008

Just when we were getting comfortable

September 30, 2008--I will begin this blog by picking up where I left off, but the best part is later on.

On Saturday night, we went ashore to attend a Tongan Feast and dance with about 60 other visitors. There were locals selling jewelry, baskets, tapas, and carvings. A man named Maka was there with carved masks as well as carved whales and other marine life. We had looked at a 3-face wood carving that he had in Neiafu but decided to wait and look around. He still had the carving that night, so Steve bought it. It is about 42 inches tall and carved out of palm wood and is quite heavy but a very nice piece. The dancing was done by one family with 11 children. The two boys performed some war dances while the girls performed traditional Tongan dances. The dancing style is again different from Polynesia or the Cooks or Samoa so it was interesting to watch. We then sat down at the table to sample all the different kinds of food. I cannot list them all and they were all fixed in very different ways, but usually the recipe included coconut milk. There was chicken, fish, pork, octopus, clams, crab, taro, breadfruit, banana bread, bananas, watermelon, and papaya. There were also small pieces of cooked dough made out of sugar, flour, and water and covered in a papaya sauce. Most of the dishes were served in half piece of bamboo or wrapped in banana leaves, and it was all very good.

On Sunday, we left the anchorage and made our way to an anchorage at the farthest eastern point in this group. We had to make our way through several channels in order to stay in deeper water; however, we had detailed way points to follow, so it was fairly easy. As we were pulling into the anchorage area, we did bump the ground, but we backed off immediately and continued on. We found a nice spot to anchor in 20 feet of water and got settled in. Steve dove on the anchor and found that it was completely buried, and he also checked the keel and found only clumps of sand stuck to it. As usual we got the boat put away, relaxed for awhile, and then we took the dinghy out to explore.

There are three islands in a line that are very close to one another. We went to the north end of Kenutu Island (the middle island) and were able to leave the dinghy and walk in low tide around the corner. There is a shoal or shallow area between Kenutu and Umuna islands where the ocean waves come through. The tide was coming in so there were spectacular waves hitting the sides of both islands and then coming through the shoal. Steve was able to get some nice photos of waves and spray without getting too wet.

The forecast that day was for some thunderstorms with 15 knots of wind. The guide book said that the holding was very good at this anchorage, and since Steve had checked the anchor and found it fully buried, we were confident that we were secure. The wind had been from the north, which is what was forecast. We enjoyed a very nice tuna dinner with rice and a tomato salad and were reading for awhile. We noticed lightening through our port lights, but the winds were steady. I had just stacked up the dishes to wash them when suddenly the boat was hit by a gust of wind and healed over some 30 degrees. It was amazing! Our GPS was indicating that we were dragging our anchor so we went into the cockpit to see what was happening. The GPS now said that we had drug some 500 feet, and now the four other boats in the anchorage were on the radio checking to see which of us was dragging. Unluckily, it was us.

It turned out that the wind had very suddenly shifted from north to south. With the 180-degree wind change and the high velocity--at 40+ knots--as the boat shifted position, it was able to gain enough speed that it pulled the anchor out of the bottom. At first we had a very difficult time getting our bearings. Using radar, the compass, and our GPS chart plotter, as well as the lights from the other four boats, we were able to get a fix on our position. Using our engine we motored forward trying to reduce the stress on the anchor chain. Then we continued to motor for over an hour and a half in order to hold a position, unsure if the anchor had reset. During that time, we had complete chaos on the boat. I found out that Corelle dishes do not only break but shatter when they hit the floor leaving very tiny shards to step on. The front of our sail cover was opened up. The rain was coming through the zippers on our dodger and the rain overwhelmed the canvas so that it was dripping into the cockpit from overhead. We had hoisted our dinghy to the side of the boat for the evening after, luckily, taking the engine off. Since we were yawing back and forth, when the wind caught our port side, it blew the dinghy up against the shrouds on that side.

I finally went forward to take down the canvas shade over the forward and center hatches, close up the sail cover, and collect four of my port light screens. I lost another one but couldn't believe that any were still on deck. Also, we were finally able to tie the dinghy up against the shrouds. Steve was also able to get the snubber off so that he could let out more chain. We were both soaked even with our four-weather jackets on. Steve had been out in the rain the most and was pretty wet and cold, so I made some hot chocolate--I hadn't used it in ages--and he changed into some dry clothes.

Our position was now stable so we just waited for the wind to die down a bit. We were focused on our depth sounder which was indicating that we were had 1.3 to 3.1 feet below our keel--a bit shallow for comfort. We did check the depth with our old-fashioned lead line and confirmed that we were in about 7 feet of water (we draw 6 feet) with LOW tide coming up around midnight. Around 10 o'clock the winds were down to a steady 16 knots so we were finally able pull the anchor and reposition ourselves. That was fine except that we again ended up on 8 feet of water. We pulled the anchor one more time and finally found a good position with good holding in 20 feet of water. It was now 10:30 at night.

We let the other boats know that we had reset our anchor and would be watching it. They had all been very helpful and supportive during the whole event. One other boat here did bump the bottom, and most of them had also turned on their engines to be prepared. Steve and I put on a 50-foot anchor drag alarm and went below. Our bed was damp from the rain, so we just lay down on the settees. Steve was so tired that he fell asleep almost immediately. I stayed awake as long as I could--probably until midnight.

When we woke up on Monday morning, the sun was shining and we were bobbing like a cork in very calm water. What a difference a day makes. One boat here said that they had seen 53 knots on their wind meter. We learned that in the main harbor two small docks had been sunk along with a 25-foot power catamaran with twin outboards. Boats in just about every anchorage had been hit, but it seems that everyone came out unscathed. Our only damage was to the hull, which we had painted last summer, when the dinghy gouged the paint and scratched up the wood caprail. That damage was minor compared to what could have happened.

We are recovered now and have discussed what we could have done differently and what we should do in the future. It was a good learning experience, but one that we both would rather have skipped. Right now we looked forward to a beautiful, sunny day.

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