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When in Doubt, Anchor Out!

by John Jamieson on 1 Mar 2013
Anchor out to repair rigging Captain John Jamieson http://www.skippertips.com
Imagine that you approach the harbor entrance to a major city on a calm, but black, starless night. You strain your eyes through binoculars to search for the line of buoys that mark the approach--and see nothing. No flashes. No lights. You sweep to the right and left to look for the city lights--and see nothing. No signs of life anywhere. What do you do now?

The answer lies in this true anecdote told by Captain John Jamieson, veteran coastguard officer and master training specialist in navigation and seamanship.

Our weary Coastguard crew tied up to the pier In St. Pete, Florida late one September afternoon. We had been underway for three blazing hot weeks working aids to navigation from Tampa Bay around the Straits of Florida to Miami. And we had one objective after we moored - get her cleaned up and head home for some much needed rest and relaxation.

After securing our 133' coastal buoy tender, we shuffled down the gangway and made our way home. And then the phones began to ring. I could tell by the sound of the ring-tone it was serious--little did I know just how bad it would be...

'Recall! Recall! Emergency Recall! Pack your stuff again -- you're underway in 2 hours! They need your help to the North.' South Carolina had called. They'd just received a visit from a nasty guy named Hugo.

This hell-raising hurricane had left death, destruction and devastation in his wake. And tenders were being called for help. Could we handle it? You betcha! Midnight - 'Underway as before' read the log entry.

It was a two day transit to Charleston. Since I had experience as a search and rescue coxswain in Charleston in my younger days, the skipper asked me to take her in. Our estimated time of arrival at the sea buoy was around 1am. It was going to be dicey going in...

Ghost Town of the Mid-Atlantic?

I posted double lookouts on bow and flying bridge and watched the radar like a hawk. Never had I seen such blackness. No lights, dead calm, the sky dark and overcast. The blackest night I can ever recall.
And the radar? I held the chart next to the radar scope and glanced from chart to scope and back. Nothing made sense! The land profile was all wrong. Something wasn't right. None of the buoys were showing up on the radar. No blips where they should be blipping. 'All Stop!'...

I held my position just outside the jetties and called the Captain. We both scanned the horizon with binoculars and checked the scope on all scales. Nothing...Nada...No horizon, no lights, absolute blackness. Only one decision made sense -- anchor and wait until morning. And that's just what we did. We moved out of the 'channel' - at least what used to be a channel -- and dropped our hook. And when the sun rose that morning, we saw a sight out of one of those catastrophe movies.

Utter devastation. Astronomically high tides covered most of the jetties. Buoys lay atop the remaining jetty stones like beached whales. We pulled up our anchor and cautiously picked our way through the chaos of debris. More buoys had been tossed onto the beach, scattered like seashells here and there.

And so it was with the city. Complete loss of power. Yachts in the middle of highways. Unbelievable. For the next few weeks, buoy-tenders from all over the mid-Atlantic worked sunup to sundown - repairing, replacing and re-positioning every aid to navigation in Charleston harbor, its tributaries, and the adjacent Intracoastal Waterway.

October 1989: 'Underway as before' -- read our log entry. Looking astern that beautiful fall evening was a sight to behold. From horizon to horizon, every light was brightly lit in both city and harbor. The courageous people of Charleston had rallied and won. And we were glad we could help!


Want to develop the mindset of a master mariner to handle a situation like this? First, make your main bow anchor plus a second anchor ALWAYS ready to deploy in an instant.

Seven Reasons to Anchor for Sailing Safety:


Use those anchors without hesitation if you need to:

* Stop your boat in an emergency.
* Wait for fog or bad weather to blow over.
* Prevent your boat from grounding.
* Help unground your boat into deeper water.
* Repair an engine or sailing rigging.
* Wait for daylight if unsure of your position.
* Get rest or sleep when you're tired.


Prepare your boat ahead of time as much as practicable, to deal with those unforeseen events just over the horizon. Keep you and your sailing crew or partner safe and sound on the waters of the world--wherever you choose to sail or cruise!

John Jamieson (Captain John) with 25+ years of experience shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need for safer sailing worldwide. Visit his website at www.skippertips.com. Sign up for the Free, highly popular weekly 'Captain John's Sailing Tip-of-the-Week'. Discover how you can gain instant access to hundreds of sailing articles, videos, and e-Books!

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