Suselle sailing to the bahamas
hit by ketch dragging its anchor  

Getting hit by dragging yachts is, unfortunately, quite common among cruising boats and possibly the greatest risk on a voyage.

I was anchored in the small basin on the Chesapeake Canal on the way back from Chesapeake Bay. There were many cruising boats anchored in the basin though we all had swinging room on one anchor. I positioned myself, as usual, as far as I could from anyone else.

That night, a storm blew and it was expected to give strong winds through the night. The holding was reported as fair and I did not seem to be having any problems, even testing my anchor with full power in reverse. I went to sleep but in the middle of the night I was woken by a light bang on my bow. I rushed on deck and was horrified to see a 40' ketch swinging around on its anchor just a few feet in front of me. The wind had not changed direction so I figured it must have dragged down on its anchor. He had a dinghy in davits on the stern and some part of it hit my bow. The ketch swung out to my right and then seemed to drag backward about a boat length so that it was about level with my boat. I knew on his next swing back he was going to hit me broadside.

But worse than that happened. A very strong gust caused the ketch to pivot on its keel so that it was pointing bow first straight at my boat and was moving rapidly straight for the center of my boat. I was just not going to have time to let my rode out, or take it in, to avoid being hit. I was absolutely sure I was going to get creamed. Incredibly, at the last instant, another gust twirled the 40 footer, probably aided by pulling tight on its rode, to swing so it was parallel to my boat, but it still kept swinging toward me. Being careful not to get my hands or feet crushed, I sat in position in the middle of my boat with my legs up and out to try to minimise the impact of the ketch hitting me. I managed to actually stop the hull from hitting mine with my feet, and it was my, much lighter boat, that got pushed sideways. I had horrors thinking about him going off in another swing and coming straight at me again so this time I clung on to the boat so that I would go with it and hopefully avoid a violent collision. My big fear was that anything on the ketch catching my stays would tear my mast down in an instant (that is frequently what happens in situations like this.)

This idea of holding on to him seemed to be working. The fender I had out for my dinghy was keeping the hulls from scratching each other and it was not taking too much effort to keep my boat moving in synchrony with the ketch. I banged and banged on his deck, and shouted and shouted, trying to awake who ever was below to get off their butt and motor the thing back to re-anchor. The owner/crew must have been sound asleep.

The ketch seemed to be still slowly dragging backwards so I let my boat gradually move forward relative to his. After a few minutes I was able to push it away and I ran up to my bow and pulled in my anchor as fast as I could. His boat was now safely behind me. I could not see his rode so it, too, must be far enough back for me not to have to worry about it.

I wanted to get away from the out-of-control ketch as soon as possible, before the wind might change and blow it back into me. I started my engine and pulled in the rest of my anchor and carefully made my way between the boats to a safe spot on the other side of the basin.

When I left next morning I saw the ketch aground in the mud in a shallow corner of the basin in the lowering tide. At least now it was not a threat to anyone.