We’ve had a totally uneventful sailing year except for high winds, frisky sails, our anchor chain wrapping around a log, and getting our dinghy painter wrapped around our prop while anchoring. But this last week of sailing (March 12 to March 15, 2015), one of the dreaded things happened to us… our anchor dragged in high winds!! We made mistakes along the way that potentially could have been prevented.
We timed our departure from Victoria to go with the current around Race Rock and into Juan de Fuca Strait towards Sooke (left on March 12, 2015). The currents were so strong around Race Rock that we had to cut the engine down just so that we did not go any faster than 7 knots.
Sooke Harbour was one of the trickiest entrances we had to go through; the harbour is protected by Whiffen Spit which completely blocks the entrance. The channel, with a dog-leg is marked with two sets of range markers to assist boats traveling in and out of the harbour safely. You have stay almost completely in line with the range markers to avoid going onto the rocks on the starboard side, or onto the sand on the port side. Rob was at the helm and followed it as close as possible while I kept an eye on the chartplotter.
We anchored in an area just on the other side of Whiffen Spit based on positive reviews by two cruising guides stating it to be a good anchorage spot; however one guidebook noted that the area has been used as a log dump in the past. We followed our routine of setting the anchor with Rob at the bow lowering the anchor while I backed it into place ensuring it set properly and solidly. I was a bit nervous about the location so we had a 4:1 scope initially, when many sailors we’ve met have told us that a 3:1 is more than enough for the areas around British Columbia. To make sure that we did not loose the anchor to any stray logs on the bottom, we even put in place a red buoy with a picking up line attached as an anchor marker.
We decided to drop the crab trap as there were a few in the area already and one of the guidebooks also mentioned that the area was a good spot for crabbing. While I was dropping the crab pot, Rob noticed that a fishing boat was circling around our anchor marker/buoy making Rob a little nervous. I was coming back to our boat when Rob started shouting at the lady on the boat as she was starting to pull on our anchor marker. A shouting match ensued between the two boats with them shouting at us that it was their crab trap buoy and Rob shouting back that it was our anchor marker (enough though our buoy was marked ‘BT’). After a few back and forths, they looked at each other, passed some words, shrugged, let go of our marker and went to another buoy that looked very much like ours but was much further away in the bay and very close to shore. Luckily it appeared that no harm was done, or so we thought. After that little adventure we settled in for the night enjoying our quiet anchorage and a lovely view of Whiffen Spit and Sooke. The anchorage was a bit rolly though from the passing fishing boats but we couldn’t complain too much when we had such a great view!
The following morning we decided to stay another night, not because it was Friday nor because it was Friday the 13th; actually it was for both these reasons we decided to stay. As a sailor, it would be considered extremely bad luck to sail on a Friday and even worse on a Friday 13th. Were we being superstitious or were we being silly? We will never know and we still talk about our decision to stay instead of leaving and wonder if we made the right choice at the time.
Following our decision, we checked the crab trap (nothing) and headed over to the town dock. From the dock, a beautiful boardwalk was installed along the shoreline that we followed towards town and to a very good coffee shop we discovered when we were in Sooke in January called Stick in the Mud Coffee House. Following coffee, we picked up a very large burrito at the one and only Mexican restaurant in town and another favourite (The Lazy Gecko).
Back at the boat, we prepped things for a next day departure, but after checking the weather forecast we decided to stay another night as it was predicting gale force winds (35 knots/hr) for the evening and following morning.
The evening and night went uneventful; no strong winds or bad weather arrived, but when we got up early the next morning (March 14) the wind started picking up. As we were having breakfast, and getting things ready below, Rob went into the cockpit with his coffee and watched as the wind pulled on us at anchor. He was gaging the pull and return on our anchor rode by watching a park bench located on the spit parallel with our boat and inline with our cockpit. The waves were getting rough and Rob also noticed that our marker was bouncing up and down violently with each pull on the rode. Suddenly, Rob watched the park bench go flying by our boat towards our bow; the bench wasn’t moving, we were, which meant that our anchor was dragging, or we’d lost it!!
As soon as the anchor started to drag, Rob shouted to get me to turn the engine on while he went forward. I stayed at the helm as Rob tried to pull the anchor up while we moved towards the harbour entrance, shallows, and rocks. The difficult part was trying to ensure the engine did not get wrapped around the line that was attached to the buoy that we used as the marker. The line was kept from being dragged to the aft of the boat only because we were drifting backwards into the channel. My job at helm was to ensure we didn’t get dragged onto the rocks within the channel or get the line wrapped around our propeller. Rob’s job was to pull the anchor rode in (90 feet of 3/8″ chain and rope) and the anchor (45 pounds) back onboard.
I had the engine going at approximately 2700 rates per minute (rpms) just to keep us in the same approximate location within the channel and/or over the anchor to make it easier for Rob to pull it onboard; any slower and we were ‘competing’ with our anchor being pushed by the high winds. After 2 hours of struggling and dragging, Rob was finally able to get the anchor onboard (he thought at one point that we would have had to cut the rode and let our new Rocna anchor go!). We estimated we only ‘dragged’ about ½ kilometre from where we initially anchored, but it was far enough to fray our nerves. We are also very thankful for the fisherman that stayed with us while we were fighting to get our anchor onboard and ensuring that we were safe. We never found out who he was, but thank you!
We were a bit exhausted and spent after our adventure and afterwards slowly motored over to the Sooke Harbour Marina to see if there were any spots available to dock for the night but the location of the marina was in such a shallow spot that our keel would most likely have hit bottom by low tide, not something we wanted to experience after our recent ordeal. After motoring a few times back and forth through the deepest section of channel of Sooke bay (which at some points were only 2 boat lengths wide) looking for any dock to stay at, we finally settled for a space at the fisherman dock at the Sooke Harbour Authority. The manager found us a spot between the fishing boats and we enjoyed a very restful night at the dock.
Later that evening, I dinghied over to see if our trap was still there and of all things, it never moved and we had 5 crabs inside to enjoy! What a great dinner and way to end our evening.
The following morning on March 15th, we left the dock and Sooke with nether a farewell or backwards glance (sort of), travelling back the approximate 24 nautical miles to Victoria in rain and fog-a true west coast ending to our adventures in Sooke!
Overall there were a few lessons we learned with the major ones being;
First, we should have rechecked or reset our anchor to make sure it was set solidly after our anchor buoy was pulled on several times by the other boater.
Second, the buoy rope used might have been too short for the purpose as an anchor marker. As soon as the wind picked up and the waves were causing it to bounce up and down, potentially unsetting the anchor, which could have led to it dragging.
~Sophia & Rob