It’s 1:00 am in the morning. Tornados have been seen ten miles away. There is a two knot current. The wind is gusting to fifty knots across the current. Boats are dragging onto the reef.
What are you anchored with?
These were the exact conditions that we experienced in West End in Grand Bahamas. Tropical Storm Anna had just skirted north of us, and we were hurrying to make an anchorage before dark. We had heard that tornados had been seen just ten miles east of us at Freeport. Unfortunately, we had too far to go, so we ended up arriving at the West End anchorage in the dark.
Anchorages in the Bahamas can often be challenging. The current is frequently very strong, 2-3 knots, and the anchorage can be narrow. West End is a prime example. There is little room and the current is fierce. Get it wrong and the reef is 100 yards away waiting for your hull.
We set our Spade anchor, trying to back down hard with the current, but against the wind. With a 10′ depth, we had a scope of just 5:1. Any more and we would have been too close to other boats. We couldn’t see the bottom wether there was sand or rock. We did our best and then went to bed.
Sleep didn’t last long, as a major storm passed right through us, vestiges from the tornados. The wind climbed to 30, then 40. Then it started gusting to 50. I had been able to let some bridle out, taking us to 6:1 scope. I hoped it would be enough. The current was holding us slightly sideways to the wind, so we had more windage and more strain on the Spade anchor.
The boat behind us dragged, we could see a headlamp at the bow as the captain struggled with his anchor. By that time, it seemed clear he was on the reef.
After an hour, the wind died down to a “mere” 30 knots and we felt we could go back to sleep.
In the morning we awoke and looked to see if we could help the boat that dragged. Unfortunately, by this time, the tide was out and he was heeled over on the reef.
This scenario, along with others, has convinced us that the most important bit of gear is your anchor. The Spade anchor we are using for our trip back to Vermont has been outstanding. It punches through difficult bottoms, and holds us secure with much shorter scopes than we are accustomed to using. This has been a great advantage in the crowded anchorages of the Caribbean.
You can see from the image below showing our track during the night, the wind and the current made us twist and turn all night. The anchor was continually having to reset itself many times, and did so perfectly without the slightest drag.
Our experience at West End was an extreme one, and our Spade brought us through. I still see people with Bruce’s or CQR’s on their bow and I know directly from experience that a modern design anchor such as a Spade is a definite improvement. It’s the best money that can be spent, and I don’t understand why I still see these older anchor designs.