When you go sailing, there is always some form of unplanned excitement or incident and lately we’ve been having our share. Here are our accounts of a boat adrift, a near miss, and a capsized dinghy.
A couple of weeks ago we had our second set of guests in Culebra while Chrissy’s parents came for a visit and to thaw out from the great Canadian winter. On the second day of their visit we sailed out of Ensenada Honda around the corner to Pta Melones on the West shore of Culebra for some snorkelling. This area is environmentally protected and you have to use one of the existing moorings so as not to damage the coral or seabed. Chrissy motored us up to the mooring, I tied us off and then we prepared lunch.
After lunch, Chrissy and her parents prepared for snorkelling and hopped in the water and I watched my father in-law as he checked out the mooring. What I didn’t realize is he didn’t have his contact lenses in, but he didn’t give any indication that there was a problem so the 3 of them set off while Magnus and I took the dinghy half a mile north where there is a beach suitable for him to swim and play fetch.
While I was throwing the ball for Magnus, I looked up and thought to myself ‘that’s odd, I’m sure we were in front of the catamaran, not behind it’. That’s when I realized that Altera was adrift with nobody aboard. I scrambled into the dinghy with the dog and zoomed off as fast as our little dinghy will go while I replayed in my mind how I had cleated off the line securing the mooring, questioning how I could have goofed up. Thankfully, the water gets deeper as you drift from shore and the wind was blowing away from the rocks. As I reached the boat, there it was still attached to the mooring which evidently wasn’t attached to anything. I climbed aboard, started the engine, pulled the mooring on deck and headed back to pick up another mooring. While I was racing back to the boat, another boat was departing which in itself was irritating to know that they were just going to leave with my boat clearly drifting away. This is why I and most other boaters leave the key in the ignition, so that if there ever is a problem another boater can help out rather than just watch someones boat drift away, but I guess these guys weren’t up on ettiquette.
After securing the boat to the new mooring, I put the engine in reverse and backed down hard as if I were setting my anchor just to be sure as I no longer had a spare mask on board to swim on this one.
I later snorkelled over the site of the mooring that failed and found the shackle and pin lying side by side next to the big sand screw. It always amazes me why they don’t put a seizing wire in these shackles. Thankfully no harm done this time. I dragged the mooring ashore and tied it to a tree so the parks service would find it.
The boat stayed we left it when we moved over to Culebrita to explore and show our visitors the old lighthouse:
Then yesterday, Chrissy and I were having our morning coffee when we heard voices. We had gotten used to this with boats passing by on their way in and out of the anchorage, but this time the voices were particularly clear. Chrissy got up and started up on deck while I shimmied out from behind the table to follow. The boat that had anchored ahead of us the day before had just dragged anchor and were fending themselves off our boat. Thankfully they had just gotten everything under control and were pulling away. No tangles of anchor chains had taken place and the hulls hadn’t touched. The good news is that the night before had been calmer than the rest of the week, as otherwise this would have happened while we were all sleeping and no doubt it would have been worse.
Yesterday we also departed Culebra headed towards the west end of Vieques as that made for a nice leg on our route to Puerto Rico. As the winds have been blowing quite strong lately, we left with 2 reefs in the main and even had a reef in our working jib. We were zipping along between 6 and 8 knots when Chrissy who is watching behind us informs me that the dinghy just flipped over. As I turn around I see one of the paddles work free and the dinghy seat working itself free and a roll of Magnus’ poop bags unravelling on the surface of the water. Awesome. Thankfully I had taken the motor off before we left.
We turned hove to, but with the winds, that wasn’t going to be enough and I couldn’t get the dinghy to pull in, so we started the engine and furled the jib. Chrissy used the thrust of the propeller off the rudder to spin the boat so I could haul in the dinghy to the midship cleat in the lee of Altera. Meanwhile it is blowing 24 knots with gusts higher as we are now stationary rather than flying downwind. After securing the dinghy on the midship cleat, I scrambled for the spinnaker halyard with Chrissy releasing the jam cleat so I could hook this to the bow of the dinghy. I then winched up the bow high enough that I could then flip the dinghy around from the side deck. Then I cut off the dinghy painter and tied it to the secondary towing point for the dinghy, and we lowered it back in the water. Then we tied it off on the stern cleat as per normal. Now we were missing both paddles and and the dinghy seat bag which holds our safety gear, bailing pump, the dogs beach toys and our sandals, and were no longer in the same place as where the dinghy had flipped.
We were fortunate that we had our track showing on the chartplotter so we could see exactly where we had made our turn after the dinghy flipped. We headed just downwind of this position and with a lot of luck we saw the seat bag half submerged among the little white caps. We moved over to it and Chrissy held it along side with the boat hook and it then took both of us to lift the waterlogged bag on deck. The zippers had remained closed on the seat bag so we recovered all our contents. However, the paddles were nowhere to be found so that brings my lost dinghy paddle count up to 3 since we left.
What exactly happened to make it flip? I speculate that one of the dinghy towing points came unglued and the ‘secondary’ line that I had tied to the grab handles on the top of the dinghy pulled down on the bow digging it in and allowing a white cap to flip it over. Then the other towing point broke free as well. Otherwise I have no idea as we have towed it in much bigger waves without even a hint of it wanting to flip. In hindsight it would have been better if I did not have the secondary line as then all it we would have had to do was come alongside the dinghy that would have been floating free…
All in all, even fighting with the overturned dinghy was better than an average day at the office. Magnus didn’t seem to be too bothered by the incident and was quite content to go ashore even with no paddles as a back up to the outboard motor. Not sure how I would have explained to him if we had lost his frisbee.
Plus it is hard to complain when you end your day anchored on Vieques watching the sun set over Puerto Rico in the distance:
Today we made it it Puerto Patillas with minimal excitement and just have a short leg remaining to Salinas where we will likely spend a few days to explore and fix the dinghy.