Anchoring Adventures-“Poor Holding in Sand over Coral”

Tobacco Range, Belize

So there we were …

On Monday morning over the Northwest Caribbean Radio Net, we heard our friends from s/v Litbe check in. We met them last March during the great rescue-the-other-trawler-off-the-reef incident at Spruce Cay, and they also opted to spend hurricane season on the Rio Dulce, departing in October.

They told us they were on their way out to the atolls – Lighthouse and Glovers Reefs – and we thought it might be a good idea to have some company for the trip. We agreed to meet up at the south side of a teeny tiny little place called Rendezvous Cay, where we would meet the folks from Sea Biscuit and Come Monday. The day was stern and grey, with northerly winds from 15-20 knots that we had to head into. The fur princess was unhappy again, but only for a few short hours.

When we got up to Rendezvous Cay, Torrey of Litbe was poised in his wetsuit, in his dinghy, with a handheld depth sounder, motioning us in like we were a 737 coming to gate E-11 – in this case to the port of all three sailboats, toward the western corner of the cay. We dropped the anchor, backed down, and didn’t hold. So we tried again. And again. Then read in the cruising guide that the anchorage is “poor holding, with sand over hard coral.” Hmmm. So we moved over to the east side of the Cay – starboard of the sailboats, and had no luck there either.

Now when we say a “teeny tiny little cay,” we’re talking yards long by feet wide, with a few scraggly pines and palms and a bit of a fringe reef running from either end.

Because it was 4:00 in the afternoon, edging toward twilight, Ole opted to dive into the line locker to dig out the spare anchor – a 65-lb CQR – to exchange with the Bruce that wasn’t setting. Now I’m not saying anything untoward about my captain, but it did make me laugh to see him on his hands and knees throwing things out of the locker, muttering to himself. I don’t know, it just seemed badger-like. When the anchor was finally uncovered, the question at hand was, “how did I ever get this thing IN here???”

By about 4:45, we found a place to drop the hook on the port side of the sailboats in 11 feet of water, and it stuck. Barbara over on Litbe told us not to cook – she had hors d’oeuvres and dinner all ready for us. We enjoyed homemade bread, great sloppy joes and beans –

Then it all went horribly wrong.

The wind suddenly kicked up to about 30, and within seconds, Torrey was up and out the door shouting something about dragging anchor. The folks from Come Monday were out the door and onto their dinghy in a blinding flash to check on their anchorage, leaving Ole and me and the folks from Sea Biscuit to help Torrey try to secure Litbe again, in 30-knot northerly winds, with a hand-operated anchor windlass and a 65-horesepower diesel that sounded like it had got up in a bad mood. Torrey and Mike were on the bow, which was pitching 6-7 feet straight up and down as they tried to haul up the anchor, and dousing them with green water on every down pitch. Ole manned the engine, Sue watched the depth sounder, and Barb and I manned the electrical panel and the ashtray from inside the warm, dry cabin. All I kept thinking through all of it was what could possibly be happening to Emma Jo.

I couldn’t begin to remember how many times they tried and failed, but after about an hour and a half, they were stuck enough to run us back to the boat in their dinghy. The good old CQR did a fine job, but we opted to stand an anchor watch throughout the night. We set the anchoring alarm on the gps, and over the course of the night watched the wind turn a complete 180° by 4:30 a.m., pointing our stern toward the shallow(er) end of the island. By about 5:00, we decided we’d sweat enough, so hauled up to find a secure place to get some sleep.

We headed for Sapodilla Lagoon, got there, anchored, and fell over at about 9:30 am, sleeping until about 2:00 in the afternoon. It was the perfect place – flat calm and quiet. On the net the next morning, Litbe called us again, inviting us to join him further north in the Tobacco Range, just spitting distance from Southwater Cay and Pass, making it possible for a direct jump out to Glovers Reef if the weather permitted.

So off we went, deciding to run the watermaker while underway, and discovering a cheap-ass plastic elbow fitting had broken, rendering the watermaker caput, and us with less than half a tank with no supply in sight. We arrived at Tobacco Range, a couple of mangrove cays shaped like offset parentheses, just about lunchtime, finding Litbe anchored in the windiest part of the lagoon. We shared our watermaker troubles, and Litbe and Sea Biscuit dinghied over with an assortment of fittings to Rube Goldberg a repair together.  Back in bidness.

Late in the afternoon, a family of dolphin cruised into the lagoon for a feed, but didn’t get close enough to us to photograph. Cameron and Jenny, a young couple of marine biologists aboard their sailboat Velela, were out kayaking and within 10 yards of the dolphin, just as the sun was getting lower in the sky.

For the kindness of watermaker help, we hosted spaghetti dinner with homemade focaccia for everybody in the anchorage – YUMMM. So far a record of 8 for dinner aboard – there were Torrey and Barbara from Litbe; Mike and Sue from Sea Biscuit; Cameron and Jenny from Velela; and us.

We hoped that the weather would improve enough to get out to Glovers Reef atoll – the sun came out, but the wind was cruising along at 20-25 knots. Upon reflection, looking ahead to getting to Panama by Christmas, we may have to curtail the Glovers Reef trip and head straight for the Bay

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