Suselle sailing to the bahamas
violent thunderstorm in an exposed anchorage  

This experience was by far the most terrifying of my trip. It was a combination of a violent spring thunderstorm coming out of the blue, in an isolated place, occurring at a bad time, with the wind from the wrong direction and my boat unprepared.

I was making my way up from Long Island near the southern tip of the Bahamas chain to spend the early summer in the Abacos. I had anchored in an open, very shallow, large bay on a small island south of Little San Salvador. I had listened to the forecast on shortwave and there was no indication of anything other than settled weather. I had set just one anchor as it was about 10' deep with pure sand on the bottom.

At 2:00 am in the morning I was awoken by a horrendous bang. I had no idea what it was but leapt out on deck. I must have been in a deep sleep as the boat was already rocking quite a bit with large swells coming into the bay. The wind, to my horror, was coming onshore. It was pouring rain and the whole sky out in the ocean was lit up by lightning, almost continuously flashing. I went below and put on my foul weather gear and shoes and went on deck to let out more scope and see about letting the other anchor out. The wind had increased to at least 70 knots as I could barely make my way to the bow. The boat started pitching like crazy and with a tinge of panic I saw that the huge rollers coming into the bay were actually starting to break. I managed to let out another hundred feet of chain (fortunately, I had anchored well out in the bay just in case the wind did change direction.) I wanted to put out the other anchor but in these conditions it would be impossible to motor the boat forwards to place the anchors in a V configuration - the engine would never have enough power to go into the wind and breaking waves. I didn't like the idea of just putting down the other anchor in case the rodes interfered with each other. I went back and put the engine on and put the boat in gear to take some strain off the anchor. Under full power it did not seem to make any difference at all and I had to actively use the rudder to direct the flow of water from the prop as otherwise the boat careened around even more than it was doing already.

For one awful minute the boat went completely sideways to the wind and waves and I was sure the anchor was dragging. I braced myself for the boat hitting the beach (the only consolation to this was that I would be blown on a beach rather than coral.) Incredibly, the boat suddenly went straight into the wind again and seemed to be hold. I figured if the anchor did drag the boat would move so fast downwind that it would never be able to catch in the sand. All this time I was doing the utmost with the engine but I really don't think it was having any affect at all. The mast was being pushed down to 45 degrees at times and the motion was like being on a bucking bronco as the waves by now were breaking all the way out that I could see. The island was completely uninhabited and I could not see anything at all as the lightning had moved on. I had no idea how close to the shore I was. The wind was so strong I was huddled down in the cockpit, it was impossible to stand up, and dangerous as the boat was being smashed by huge breaking waves. I did check the depth sounder and was relieved to see the depth still at 10', even though in the troughs of these waves my keel may have been only feet from the bottom.

As I started to relax, relatively speaking, since the boat appeared to be holding its own, I became aware that there was a lot of light on top of the waves. The phosphorescence, with the whole bay filled with breaking waves, was brilliant. It was, despite the tenuous hold my boat had on not being smashed onto the beach, an amazing sight to see.

There had been one other sailboat in the bay about 1/4 mile from be but I could not see the boat, or its mast light at all. Either he had dragged, or I had, and I wouldn't find out till morning.

After about an hour and a half, the screaming wind started to just quiet down just a bit. Another hour it was gone. The waves still persisted but were not breaking anymore. A big relief. I endured the rest of the night trying to sleep though it was like being inside a washing machine. It was really not very pleasant. At daybreak I decided to get out of there.

I saw, in the dim light of dusk, that I was still a respectable distance from the shore but the other yacht, still about 1/4 mile away but a bit further out in the bay so I figured I must have dragged at some point. I went up to the bow and pulled in the anchor, until it was vertically below me - and I could not raise it. I could just make out the chain disappearing into the sand! I put the chain on my manual windlass and swung the long handle until my bow was pulled down a foot or more. The anchor would not budge. I tried everything with moving the boat with the engine but to no avail. I put on my mask and snorkel, took a stainless pot with me and pulled myself down the anchor chain to the bottom. The anchor was just buried deep in the sand. I used the pot to remove the sand around the chain and eventually hit the anchor after some digging. After a number of trips down I had at least a bit of the anchor exposed and with the windlass I finally managed to pull it out of the sand. How come the sailing books never mentioned this scenario?

I motored by the sailboat that was anchored out in the bay and they shouted at me that they recorded the wind speed at a sustained 90 knots before the anemometer was blown off the top of their mast!

It was nice to get underway again as the motion was finally much more pleasant under sail, though it was still quite rough.

Who would have thought yesterday afternoon sailing into that serene bay what was about to transpire. For the rest of my trip, no matter the conditions, I set two anchors out with lots of rode...