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Aug.21, 02
This Now This REALLY Dragging

Grenada is typically considered to be south of the hurricane belt, and since we left Saint Maarten, Curt and I have enjoyed relaying that the only thing in our appointment book for the rest of our lives was to get to southern Grenada before a hurricane got to us. You see, most insurance companies only provide coverage south of Latitude 12 in the event of a hurricane. The southern tip of Grenada is just past this delineation. Knowing how insurance companies hedge their bets, this should give you and idea of the relative safety of our location. While it doesn't keep us safe from all harm, it somehow has provided me with enough false security to sleep a bit better at night.

From the first afternoon we anchored in Prickly Bay, the air has been almost unbearably still. The nights are beautiful with the water as flat as glass and the tree frogs serenading us to sleep. We found a tucked away corner near the shore and marina- no one in front of us to worry about dragging into our home. A super fast looking trimarin (boat with three hulls) was sitting on a mooring behind us that we've been carefully keeping ay eye on with each change in the direction of the wind. After some odd wind shifts, we found that Force Five had never been in danger of hitting anything, and so we slept well.

The morning started out hazy and warm, but as the morning passed, the haze thickened into clouds and drizzle. We had lots of errands on our to-do list for that morning but time slipped by and as the weather worsened, we were thankful to be on-board when the first squall hit us.

The wind picked up out of nowhere and rain pelted our decks. As we sat in our relatively protected corner of the anchorage, we watched gusts pull sea into the sky and send boats flying in all directions. A swell started rolling in, and masts were lurching from side to side as they were pitched about. Force Five held fast, but the gusts and swells only grew stronger. We had our VHF on, and began hearing anonymous voices call out, "Manely, Manely- you're dragging!" Or "Attention boats in Prickly Bay, red sailing vessel We Too is dragging." Sometimes you'd hear no response and other times the alerted boats would proclaim back, "Got it- thanks!" or, "Copy- we're having trouble getting our engine started." Just in case, we turned our engine on. Our anchor was holding, but if something did happen, those few extra minutes and having a warm engine would be of great help. All around us, clumps of boats were forming as the gusts pushed them together and many dragged. With the still growing swell, the boats rolling about in clusters looked as if they had to be banging into one another, but we couldn't be sure from our vantage point.

When the squall passed, the radio traffic developed into everyone checking in on each other's safety and exchanging recorded wind speeds. The fastest we heard was a gust of 55 knots. The swells continued after the winds had passed and I even started to feel a bit sea sick. The excitement in the anchorage had diverted our attention from eating both breakfast and lunch, and I don't think it was helping my stomach much. Curt donned his snorkel to swim down and have a look at our anchor after the squall- again… "just to be sure." As expected, we were still dug in. Now that the excitement of the morning was over, we rowed the dinghy to the harborside bar for a cheeseburger before getting on with our errands. The drizzle had just turned to rain as we locked the dinghy to the dock and scrambled under the patio cover. We chose a spot where we could see Force Five before we ordered our burgers. Our drinks hadn't even come before the wind started to pick back up and we noted the palms in front of us stretching over sideways. The sea once again seemed to be lifting into the air as Force Five swung with the gusts and was pitching over the swells. The squall was worsening quickly. We hesitated just a moment before Curt headed back to the boat until it passed. "Just get the burgers wrapped up and I'll come back for you as soon as this thing passes."

My stomach turned over as my gaze followed Curt walking quickly back to the dinghy through the rain. I stood up to get a better look at Force Five. She didn't look right. My glance shot back to Curt. He was running now. My heart started racing and I felt panicked. What do I do? How do I get to the boat? Had she moved- what was I seeing? My mind was racing faster than I could process things. I grabbed my things to run after Curt. I had the boat keys. He wouldn't be able to get in. What do I do? I ran to the edge of the water with the keys, leaving my things on the table. He was already half way to the boat. To row back for the keys and try to make his way again back through the wind- we might be too late. I ran back to the bar and prayed they had a VHF. "Behind the bar." I tried to sound calm as I hailed True Blue, aware that everyone we know would be following our radio traffic. I can't remember what I said, but it was something along the lines of Force Five wasn't there anymore, "I was at the bar, I had the keys, can John come take me back to Force Five?" When I ran back to the edge of the water, I could see John getting into his bobbing dinghy. In what seemed like the hours it took for him to reach me (I'm sure it was merely a minute), I noticed that dinghies had actually hopped out of the water from the swells and onto the dock around my feet. I launched myself into John's dinghy and we raced over to where Force Five was now bashing against the moored trimarin. Curt had wedged our dinghy between the two boats and was somehow in the water hanging onto our anchor chain while our bow was bouncing in the waves.

John dropped me off at the stern and zipped forward to help Curt. Though I was moving at lightning speed, totally focused on getting into the boat and the engine started, I felt like I was the fated victim of an ax murderer in a horror film trying to get the key in the ignition while my hands were fumbling for the keys. I tossed down my backpack, found the key, opened the lock, slid back the doors, grabbed the engine key to start the engine. It started. I looked around and flipped on the VHF to get our bearings. We seemed to be staying in one place. In the background, I noticed that the VHF was going crazy as boats were alerted they were dragging or others were calling for help.

John now had Curt out of the water and they were working to keep us off the other boat. From the cockpit, I was trying to keep us as far away as I could without pulling our anchor any further. The swells were now pushing us dangerously close to a huge catamaran on our starboard side. Further to port, two boats were bashing into each other. While Curt and John were working on getting a second anchor out, I pulled out our fenders to hang them between us and the cat.

Once they had the second anchor out, I had a moment to look around. I could hear someone calling "Mayday, Mayday! This is sailing vessel Prism. We've dragged ashore in Prickly Bay." Realizing they must be near, I looked around, and behind us I saw a boat had washed up on the beach behind us. She was on her side with her keel facing the surf and waves were exploding over her hull. My heart was still pounding from our own predicament, but my chest grew tight at the site. She looked so utterly helpless, as the force of the waves pushed her further onto the beach. I could hear the woman on the radio still calling mayday and trying to hail the Coast Guard.

I forced my attention back to our own mess. I looked forward to see Curt and John being barraged with rain and wind and notice water pouring off the brim of my ball cap and onto my nose. Aft of starboard, our sweet Brazilian friend Teresena on Avillion is motioning for me to put a rain coat on. I don't know why this makes me laugh to myself, but it does. The gusts of wind had died a bit and now Curt was on the deck trying to figure out what to do next. With our second anchor deployed and Force Five holding her ground, John shot off to see if he could help Prism. By now, probably fifteen or so other cruisers had gone over in their dinghies to see if they could help the beached boat. The woman sounded so calm on the VHF as tried to explain to the Coast Guard where Prickly Bay was. "I'm in Prickly Bay, directly around the headland from your office! If you would just send a boat around the corner, you would see our boat with a tan hull on the beach! We can't be more than half a mile from your docks!"

Curt and I stood on the rolling bow to assess what to do next. Head out to sea to ride it out where we wouldn't run into anything? We seem to be holding. The second anchor was holding us away from the big cat. Where was the first anchor? It must be under the trimarin now, possible hooked to the mooring? How could we get our anchor back without moving the other boat? Do we try to move now, or wait in hopes things quiet down more? What if it gets worse?

As we were discussing our options, John had returned and Wilf from Avillion came over to offer his help. With their two dinghies, they pulled up our first anchor and reset it by hand while I kept us from hitting anything. They then pulled the second anchor. From the helm, I backed our engine down on the now reset first anchor, to be sure we'd dug in. We held fast, and now just waited for the rest of the squall to pass as the other boats tried to help the boat that had drug on shore.

We sat in the cockpit watching the flurry of dinghies gathering to try to help Prism off the beach (still the no Coast Guard). We could hear the VHF loud and clear as everyone tried to put a plan together to help her. Two deep sea fishing type boats had arrived to lead the effort. One of these took a halyard line from Prism's mast, and the other took a line from her stern. The woman, still on board, gave directions via the radio for the boats to gun their engines, lay-off, go right, left, etc. so we could hear the whole transmission as it unfolded behind us. It took nearly an hour for them to get through to the first step of just flipping Prism over so her deck was facing the open water and keel facing the beach and they would then be able to drag her off. Just as she'd be leaning upwards and about to flip, another wave would crash over her hull and send the big fishing boats careening backwards with force as Prism fell back into the sand.

It was growing darker now, the weather had settled, and the sun would be setting in less than an hour. If they didn't get this done before sundown, Prism would have to spend the night aground with the waves crashing over her and she wouldn't have much of a chance. When we'd nearly given up on her, they were able to flip her the right direction and not long after, drag her back out into the water. The play by play was like watching a championship basketball game in double overtime as two rival teams battle it out. The two fishing boats were pouring black smoke out of their exhausts, and you could hear the whine as the engines strained. Finally, as Prism slowly slid towards the water and popped upright with sea back under her keel, the anchorage went nuts with screaming and applause. There wasn't a dry eye in the anchorage as we all stood in our cockpits crying and hugging, and thanking God. Folks got on the radio with congratulations and thanks to the fishing boats that helped.

Most of us probably didn't know that boat personally, but we knew it could have been any one of us. We knew it was their home, and that housed in Prism's hull were probably pictures of children and grandchildren, mementos from the travels she'd taken her crew on, dishes that had made birthday cakes marking the years passed onboard, and a bed that the crew had slept in while Prism kept them safe from harm. In the end, we knew our experience with dragging isn't uncommon. It happens to most cruising boats at one time or another. But it wouldn't have taken much for the outcome to have been quite different. What if we had gone into town that day? What if our anchor hadn't reset? What if the trimarin had been on an anchor, not a mooring- would we have dragged them with us? When Prism was back in the water that evening, Curt and I both had tears in our eyes and couldn't seem to let go of each other. He was there, he was okay. I hadn't been hurt. Our boat was resting quietly in the anchorage. It was scary, but no one had been hurt and there was only cosmetic damage to Force Five. But thinking of the "what ifs" made us cling to each other with such tearful gratitude. I kept petting Force Five and telling her "thank you for taking care of us" and "thank you for not washing up on the rocks." I'm not saying I would ever wish for something like this to happen again, but I'm glad to've made it through the experience. We lived through it, and that means we can live through the next time something like it happens again.

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