Black Swan

Ohmygod, ohmygod, OHMYGOD we just got our butts kicked. 

To briefly set the scene, we knew we had a trough sitting right over us, our anchorage had actually been used as the expected dividing line. On one side of the line the winds would be from one direction, on the other side the opposite. Basically we had a 50-50 chance on the forecast for the night. We are in Rock Sound which is fully enclosed from all directions but is about 3 1/2 miles by 1 1/2 miles so you must anchor on what ever shore you need protection from in stronger winds. We just couldn’t figure out which shore that should be. What we saw during the day wasn’t matching ANY of the forecasts so which shore to go to became a total guess. Adding to the confusion the winds during the day had decreased to nothing.  In fact it was sinisterly calm. Not a breath, not a ripple. It was supposed to be blowing a good 15 knots from somewhere. We nervously joked “the calm before the storm?”.  We decided to stay where we were, the anchor was well set from the blow we sustained all night the night before and besides there wasn’t a breath of wind to hide from anyway.

I had a large pot of bean soup on the stove and fresh bread in the oven and the sun had just set when we felt the first tiny whisp of wind.  Then a stiff gust.  Then a solid blast of wind slammed the boat over-and from there it did nothing but increase.  Within seconds we were racing to lash the dinghy down in the davits and turn the motor on, ready to take the strain off the anchor or worse to be ready if we drug the anchor.  Our bow was pointed out into the open bay and our stern was pointed towards the much, much closer rocky shore. We were definitely on the wrong side of the 50-50 gamble. Keith and I looked at each other and said “I hope this doesn’t last long”.  The seas were building so quickly and so steeply with the long fetch it was a thrashing mess within minutes.  I made it down below to throw my soup pot into the shower, there was no way it was going to stay on the stove gimbals or not.  The cans inside my lockers were slamming into the backside of the doors I was afraid they would break the latches and come flying out.  Kai put up no resistance to going into his kennel under our bed. On deck the waves had built to the point that they were solidly coming over the bow and on the stern they were reaching up and slapping the dinghy motor up in the davits.  The waves were so close together that it felt, as our friend in the anchorage described, like a bucking bronco ride. I wish it had lasted only 8 seconds. The steepness made for very violent, jerky movements. Several waves hit the dodger windows with such force I was sure they were going to come crashing through. I was clenching onto the rails and braced in with my legs. Keith and I looked at each other again “this can’t last much longer right?”.  Squalls don’t usually last that long.  Thunder and lightning were all around, it looked like a squall but felt different than any one I’ve been in.   We had lots of scope out already from the night before and were prepped for a squall, but we were not expecting this.  This wasn’t ending and this was intense!  And, most unfortunately, we didn’t have the protection we needed. We were constantly staring at the GPS, iPad, and shoreline trying to make sure we were staying in our spot.  We were also watching the other boats, especially the one in front of us.  We could see that one boat’s jib sail was coming unfurled and we could see that another boat had obviously drug anchor was doing its best to motor away from the shore line.  I climbed down below to check on things when  I heard a VERY LOUD bang and a jarring jerk-so much more intense than the others.  I was screaming “something broke!!!”  Keith raced up to the bow and I raced to the helm, we had broken our snubber line and without a chain-stop the entire jerking load was being placed on the windlass.  The chain was jerking with all the weight of the boat against the metal windlass as the bow was slamming four or five feet with each wave.  The bow roller was going under the water with the waves while Keith fought to tie on a second snubber.  There was no way he could get more chafe gear on the line with the load of the boat pulling on it. With the first one failing in less than an hour with heavy chafe gear, he prepared and tied a third and fourth snubber on behind the second.  The whole time I couldn’t see him working on the bow in the rain and we hadn’t pulled out the harnesses. This, I’m sure, was the peak scariest moment for me. I started running scenarios of what would happen and what to do if he fell overboard. I was on the wheel trying to ease the load on the rudder as we tugged back and forth in every direction and I was trying desperately  see him working on the bow.  He crawled his way back into the cockpit and we looked at each other “this can’t go on ALL night right?” The night before had been windy all night-not this kind of windy and of course from the other direction, but it still started crossing our minds. The idea was terrifying. I had so much adrenaline pumping that I was shaking with my whole body, Keith was shaking from being soaked.  A squall is a squall, it comes hard and goes fast.  This felt like there was no end in sight.  You know when you catch a fish trolling and it starts flopping and skimming the surface over the waves when you bring it in, it kind of felt like that.  The wind would lay us down and the waves just pounded on  and over the hull. Within only 15 minutes of attaching it, we had chafed through the second snubber and were on the third.  Thank God Keith had already tied back ups. Still, Keith was back up on the bow trying to keep us secure. Thankfully the anchor was holding.  Oh, how dearly I love our Mantus.  The fact that we hadn’t dragged a foot was about the only comforting thing I could find in the situation.  But still, I began getting really nervous about how long we could really keep it all up.  It was the waves much more than the wind that was killing us.  And the time.  It felt like the never ending squall from hell.

Two hours later it began to break and we turned off the engine.  That doesn’t sound like a long time, believe me it was.  When you are prepared for minutes-hours are forever

I had access to the internet on the boat and later that night I got an update from our weather man, we hadn’t even gotten the worst of it and thankfully we had gotten the last of it. We had two hours of solid 35-40 knot winds and multiple gusts in the 50’s but in the Exumas there were confirmed reports of 2 hours of sustained 50 knot winds with gusts in the seventies and one anchorage had gotten gusts of over 100 knots! A 300 mile swath had seen these severe conditions over a substantial amount of time, even hurricane force winds over a wide area. Obviously the damages there were much more significant, we got reports of boats that had broken free and were on beaches and rock shores, we were hearing tidbits about boats that were a total loss.  We knew our friends on Saraid were in the thick of it  and we anxiously waited to hear from them.  Thankfully, they and their boat were safe but they sure had their own terrifying story to tell-part of it includes their dinghy twirling and summersaulting like a dancing kite behind their boat with the motor on.  This hadn’t been your average squall or frontal trough.  In the morning we checked on the other boats in our own anchorage, all the boats had faired without major damage or groundings.  We helped a couple whose dinghy was behind the boat upside down, the motor still on it. It seems many dinghies suffered the same fate. We found we had plenty of company in the broken snubber department, one boat couldn’t get a second one put on in time and all his anchor chain had run out.  He had to anchor with his secondary anchor in the storm and now has to go find his primary anchor and chain.  Everyone had been taken by surprise by the intensity and duration.

So what happened?  On the morning SSB radio weather report our weather man relayed more reports of the dramatic weather and explained that what likely hit us was the “Black Swan” of weather events- a Derecho.  Sometimes referred to as a straight-line hurricane. He, in thirteen years of Carribbean Weather service, had never seen one.  At least somebody was excited about it.  I’d like to never see one again! At least with a normal storm you can prepare.  I really, really hope they are truly rare. Wholly crap that was  NOT fun.

Sadly, even though at first we thought everyone had come through safely with only property damage and frayed nerves, we heard the devastating news that the boat next to us had lost their little Yorkie dog, it  had been swept away in the storm.  It was found in the morning but with the expected yet dreaded outcome.  Our hearts felt so broken for the loss felt by its owners and everything became so minor in comparison to their pain and grief. I can’t imagine the gut wrenching feeling they experienced and it was obvious that they were devastated by their loss.

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7 thoughts on “Black Swan

  1. I experienced what you were hit with once while in the Chesapeake Bay, on a 4 July weekend. We were at the mouth of the York River when hit, and we’re just off the beach on the Eastern Shore when it passed. 6 boats sank in that one. Glad you weathered it ok!

    1. A little different than the run of the mill squall-huh?!
      We are well and feeling very thankful as more and more reports come in about boats having been lost and sustaining severe damage. Several anchorages saw winds over 100k so we really didn’t get the brunt of it. Whew.

  2. Glad to hear that no injuries were had! It is impossible to be prepared for everything. The best you can do is all you can do! Get some meditation in to calm your nerves and keep living the dream! Sara and I will eventually meet you out there!

    1. Yes, but we learned a few lessons. Fire hose alone is not sufficient chafe gear! And to use some sort of chain stop. All is well, though. Still thrilled to be out here doing what we are doing! Can’t wait to see you out here too!

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