9 December 2021: Another Day, Another Anchorage
9 December 2021
Savannah, GA, USA
Blackbeard's Creek, GA, USA
Cumulative Mileage (NM)
Crew on Board
Skipper, first mate, chef, entertainment and more; I guess that is solo sailing for you!
GENERAL WEATHER OBSERVATIONS
Not applicable, all I ever get to do these days is motor…
Started as foggy and stayed overcast all day long.
Neutral, not warm and not cold. Sweater and leggings weather!
Dry, thank goodness!
In reality I have nothing to complain it, if my worst problem in the world is that nothing notable happened that day then I am pretty lucky. Though I am finding it hard to separate one day from another. Even as I sit down to write my captain’s log in the evenings, trying to remember if what I am about to write about happened today – or was it yesterday, or the day before – is actually challenging my brain.
As I dash south to warmer weather and in preparation for the end of my allowed six months stay in the US that Canadians get, it is literally living day by day. Each morning I eat, start the engine and get going and even evening I anchor, eat, attending to any must do items and then in bed check the weather and plan my route for the next day. Occasionally I stay still to wait out some bad weather and I usually try and time that with groceries and fueling up.
However, in the name of looking at positives there is one thing that stands out as a positive of all this. With every single day pulling anchor and motoring and dropping anchor and choosing anchorages, I am learning A LOT.
Pulling and Dropping Anchor
When I was sailing with two or more people on board other vessels, anchoring always involved one person at the helm and one person at the anchor. Whether pulling by hand like on my old boat or with an electric windlass, there was always two or more people involved. And when you are dealing with pulling hundreds of feet of 5/16″ chain follow by a 44-pound anchor, it is nice to have someone slowly driving forward to take the weight of the boat off the chain as you do so, regardless of whether you pull by hand or just want to take the strain off of your precious equipment.
However, not only do I only have me on this boat (and I cannot be in two places at once, both on the helm driving forward and pulling the anchor at the same time) but this boat has a manual windlass. Though it is a major improvement from pulling the anchor by hand, it no less plagued my mind as I imagine scenarios of wild whipping wind and chaos. Sure that I would drift into other boats and hit rocks and all of those things that your imagination can dream up.
So when the first time came to do this on my own, it was a calm day and it was no trouble to just crank it up with the windlass. However, 30-odd separate anchorages later and 95% of those anchorage entered and departed as a solo sailor and I have experienced a few different conditions and successfully dropped and raised anchor.
First of all you really do not need two people to drop anchor. As there is always a brief waiting period to essentially come to a halt, which is the ideal moment to drop the anchor. Though this is not a science. If you are still moving forward at 0.1 knots versus 0.0 knots, it really is not going to make a difference. Therefore the perfect time to dash is somewhere around the 0.3 knots mark, and I briskly walk to the bow where I have previously readied the anchor in advance, and then I may wait a moment or two to hope I am closer to stationary and then ‘boom’ or ‘plunk’ or whatever sound is most appropriate. Once you have enough the anchor is on the ground, anything else I forgot to do like check the depth or the height of the tide etc can be done at that point. There is no longer a rush. The only advantage to having two people here is preciseness as one person would shout from the helm (“Zero” or “Now” or what have you).
A couple of times in current or wind or a crowded anchorage, I have unexpectedly drifted from the spot I wanted to drop in the time it takes me to get from helm to bow. But for those few times, I simply loop around and try again. And I am sure they will get fewer and further between as I get more and more skilled!
Raising anchor can be a little more complex as the moment between the anchor being on the bottom and the anchor being stowed away is not as instantaneous as dropping the anchor. Especially for deep anchorages.
The slow raise of the manual windlass means if your anchorage is 30 feet deep you have a good 5 minute delay where the anchor is just suspended in the water but where your boat is on the move. If there is no wind and current, no worries – you will mostly just hang out and can finish the job. However, that is not always the case.
Over the last couple of months in the various anchorages, I have experimented with just locking the helm to hold the heading or setting the autopilot to hold heading (both holding the compass heading or holding to a certain wind angle). On windier days or in strong current I have played with having the boat in gear with the lowest revs that make me almost stationary, with varying levels of success. And practicing in any of these conditions with more boats in the anchorage and with boat quite nearby as well has been good learning to hone my skills.
Though I am by no means perfect, it weighs less on my mind that I have handled all of these just fine with no major incidents! Touch wood! As I picture the much more crowded anchorages ahead of me and the various weather conditions that I could encounter, I worry less that it has all been manageable so far!
I am self conscious about my engine skills. I think the most annoying phrase I uttered regularly on the last boat, that drove John insane, as when he would be like “why didn’t you tell me the engine was making that noise” when he would come up to change shifts and I would respond with “what noise, it sounds like an engine”.
I guess that is the difference in exposure. Never have I relied on an engine so much and even on the last boat, I had the crutch of knowing that if I missed anything someone else with more experience was on board with me and would likely notice it.
However, now it is just me. So having two whole months with a quite a lot of motoring has been good for me to get familiar with the engine on this girl. What is sounds like when it starts up, how much steam or smoke is normal, how the oil levels change over time, how many leaks are normal, how much gas it consumes roughly, what it sounds like when at cruising speed and more. Though I complain about having to run the engine so much, it is really great to get to know it slowly and overtime. Especially given I am the sole person on board who might notice an unusual change.
This engine is my back up and a real comfort as a solo sailor. Should I have issues with sails or rigging or weather and need the engine, I want her running smooth and reliably! So I want to be sure to give her love!
Initially I pictured every weather forecast to be wind that I needed to be protected from, no matter how light: 5 knots from the north, I had better find a spot sheltered from the north. Now I know that not to be the case. With low winds the slightest bit of shelter has been sufficient. In reality in those really light winds, you can anchor almost anywhere and be fine (the real impact with no wind will be the current you are exposed to).
The other thing I assumed is that you need to be completely encircled to be protected. I still have a little bit of trouble deciding if something is exposed to weather or not, but reality has been much kinder than my imagination. I felt like I needed to be next to a mountain or forest to be protected, I really thought why does my sailing charts not tell me elevation that is how much I worried about it. But in reality, in many winds even the cat tails and marshy shoreline has been very protected and keeps the anchorages relatively calm. It just in windier conditions that I will worry more about anchorage choice. And deciding what point that is where I worry is still a work in progress, but I generally feel like 15 knots or less and nearly anything level of protection will do. And even under 10 knots and no protection is fine.
And as I choose an anchorage, I still try and like draw imaginary wind lines on the map with my mind from the direction the forecast is coming from to see if it would ‘hit me’ in that anchorage. And I certainly am not an expert! But in times where I am uncertain and there is bigger wind forecasted, I can check with other cruisers or with my coaches, Jamie and Behan from Sailing Totem.
I have also not gotten ballsy enough to do a ‘roadstead’ anchorage where you just drop the anchor and spend the night, to date I have always anchored where my charts indicate there is an anchorage. However, with time I am sure I will in the right conditions. It can sure save you a lot of trouble going out of your way to get to anchorage just to leave first thing the next morning.
The last of my struggles includes my inability to measure distance with my eyes. In my visual estimates what I think is a 75′ radius of a circle (if the length of the chain out was 75′ and I was to swing in a full circle should the wind or current swing), is actually probably a couple of hundred feet. So every anchorage seems to small or too narrow. I am getting better (the best tip I was given was that I know my boats is 38′ long, so a 75′ swing radius would just be roughly two of my boat) but I am sure I still over estimate. But better to be safe than sorry and have a little extra room than not enough!
“Land was created to provide a place for boats to visit.”
– Brooks Atkinson