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February 3, 2003
Yet Another Lesson on Dragging

Ten months into our cruising adventure, we've dragged our anchor once just a short ways, and we've dragged our anchor once a rather long way. Enough to give us a healthy paranoia about dragging. And enough to give us a healthy paranoia about boats dragging into us… though it had never happened. And throughout our adventures here on our boat, Curt's always griping about the idiot charter boats, and how they don't know how to anchor, and so therefore we opt to anchor as far away from them (and most any boats as a matter of fact), as we can. So I was surprised to return to Curt and Force Five after a trip to customs with my cousin and his fiancé to find that a boat was anchored a few feet in front of our bow.

So wait a second. Let me back up a moment. We had arrived in Cane Garden Bay on Jost Van Dyke (home to the original Soggy Dollar Bar- originator of the "Painkiller") to find a beautiful bay protected by a sliver of reef with three small breaks to enter in. The one end of the bay by the bar was filled to the gills with day charters and Sunsail boats, so we headed to the (then empty) other end, and anchored in good sand, in about 15 feet of water. And (as is our custom)… Curt dove the anchor to be sure it was dug in. Perfect. "We'll sleep well tonight," we thought. Curt stayed with Force Five while Greg, Heather and I went over to White Harbor to clear-in with British Customs. So I was perplexed to find a handful of boats around us when we returned. A white sloop in particular, called Forever Young, was practically on top of us when we got back no more than an hour later. This guy was awkwardly close. Like you could comfortably have a conversation between our decks without raising your voice- perhaps even pass someone a beer. What's up with that? I had to ask Curt.

"They came in, dropped their anchor, and left before I could ask them what they're thinking." After some discussion, we reasoned that they appeared to be a cruising boat, they didn't want their boat messed up anymore than we did, and that as long as no one's anchor moved, we should be okay. When the wind picked up at about three the next morning, oh how we regretted not having made a stink and asking them to move!

Greg and Heather were able to see firsthand that night why we often prefer to offer our guests our v-berth accommodations while we sleep in the salon. We're often up at least once or twice in the night peaking out the windows to check on our anchor, or check our neighbors', and if the weather is bad, we're up even more. Once the weather picked up on this particular evening, I didn't sleep again the rest of the night. The winds were 20-25 knots, and gusting 35. Rain was pouring down in buckets, a reef was twenty yards behind our stern, and aside from the three enormous Mooring catamarans to starboard, we had our lovely friends on Forever Young directly off our bow.

I was up in the cockpit, trying to get our bearings- trying to get those of the boats around us. The winds would gust and shift everyone this way and that, making everything unclear. Our anchor hadn't moved, but the white sloop looked like theirs had, but then again- I couldn't be sure. I'd sit and watch them until I was starting to get drenched, and go below, telling myself that I was being paranoid. Up and down I'd go- laying on the settee for as long as I could force myself, and then with a big gust, I was back up in the cockpit peeking at Forever Young from under our sopping bimini. Even if our anchor was holding, it didn't mean if theirs dragged it couldn't foul ours, or that they couldn't hit us at a good clip in these winds. But as I looked around at the other boats (their windows dark) seemingly no one else was worried. Curt was quietly tucked in his berth below. Greg and Heather slept in front. I chastised myself and laid back down on the couch and told myself not to worry.

But in one of my weaker moments of succumbing to my paranoia by going out to the cockpit, I saw that Forever Young had slipped to a position beside us - impossible if their anchor hadn't moved (since the wind hadn't shifted). My heart pounded in my chest and I yelled out over the wind that "HEY!" they were dragging! I was at once feeling timid and not wanting to make a spectacle, but at the same time saw them sliding further back towards the reef. Curt was in the cockpit immediately and saw it too and he started to yell as well. When the roused couple got to the cockpit to hear us yelling that they were dragging, they seemed quite annoyed and said that their anchor was still attached to the cleat- they couldn't have moved at all… as if they thought they couldn't move if the anchor was still attached to the boat. If they're worried that they anchor was going to break loose off their boat altogether, then we've got a bigger beast to fear than if their boat might merely drag her anchor!

My heart was still pounding when they motored forward and re-anchored back in front of us again. Curt looked incredulous, and bleary eyed Greg and Heather had now joined us in the salon to see what all the commotion was about. We all clucked our tongues about our neighbors and for once, I felt glad that I'd been out in the cockpit worrying. Danger had been diverted one more day, and perhaps now I could rest easy. But of course, this wasn't so.

As the winds gusted and the rain poured outside our boat, I tried to lay on the settee and sleep. Unfortunately however, now all my worrying felt horrifically vindicated. Before tonight, it had been for naught and I could remind myself that my worrying had done no good. But what if I had gone back to sleep earlier? What would the outcome of the night been then? So now as I tried to keep the worrying at bay, there was no reasoning it away. The storm outside continued, and I tried to lay there and sleep - thinking only that surely this little incident would leave them startled enough to keep watch of their own anchor the rest of the night.

The adrenaline surge must have rattled Curt too, because now he was taking his unspoken turns standing in the cockpit assessing the anchorage as well. But of course, wouldn't you know - it was on my turn when they dragged again? I had resigned myself to just sitting in the cockpit rather than feign sleeping, and as a gust of wind raced through the bay, I watched them come flying directly towards our beam! I called for Curt - they're dragging again! He was in the cockpit in a flash, saw that they were perhaps twenty feet off our starboard side and still moving, and he started blowing the airhorn.

Again, the wife emerged in a flurry half asleep- "What, what, WHAT?" she squawked. We yell over the wind that they're dragging again at which she seemed dumbfounded and which I can't believe at all since she's right next to us and we used to be behind them. She shouts to, "Eddy!" below (since they're next to us now, we can see clearly into their cockpit that whoever Eddy is, he's still not awakened by all this) as we tell her to start her engine. By now Curt has ours on as well, Greg and Heather are up, other boats' lights are on too, and we're on the bow telling them to just please their move boat away from us for goodness sake! This is ridiculous- we can't get any sleep because they're putting us in danger, even if we could see fit to quit worrying about them! There were no words of apology or anything else from them- they merely motored off to re-anchor.

Now we have our deck lights on, and Curt and I are on our bow with flashlights standing there in the rain… seemingly to stake out our territory and making it clear that we don't trust them to get lost and anchor somewhere else. We run through our options: re-anchor ourselves (trying to avoid the reef and other boats in the dark), try to pick our way through the channel markers and just leave to sail on to Culebra as we'd planned for tomorrow anyway. Or institute an anchor watch system, where one of us stays in the cockpit to be sure all is okay until daylight when we can leave safely. This last seems to be the only reasonable option- and since my heart is pounding through my chest, and my temper has got me all worked up, I figure it might as well be me.

As I sat there in my yellow raincoat watching the sun take its sweet time coming up, and watching the other boats swing on their anchors with the gusting wind, I realized that it was no use. In my state of mind, they all looked they're dragging to me, and I was just working myself up into a frenzy. Curt took over and I lied below trying to sleep to no avail.

When the sun finally did rise, we could see that the sky was filled with slate gray clouds as far as the eye could see. From where we lay at anchor, we could see where an unidentified crunching sound we'd been hearing had been coming from: the three Moorings catamarans were literally clumped together now, banging up against each other with the swell. I merely shook my head in wonderment that these people don't know- or worse, don't care, that they're smacking against other boats? I guess that's the difference if you rent a boat for the week versus take out your own home on such adventures. We sat in the cockpit and tried to decide if we should still make the thirty mile passage westward to Culebra or find another anchorage here in the BVI? Perhaps this would blow over soon, and we'd have a lovely sunny downwind sail? We knew we wanted to leave in any event… so we started our engine, zipped up our foulies (foul weather gear), and headed out.

As we motored past Forever Young, we saw that the wife was on deck having a cup of coffee (assumingly on anchor watch?). Curt asked where they're from and she replied, "Here" (wherever that is meant to be exactly). In the light, we could see that they had all the telltales of a true cruising boat: wind generator, jerry jugs on deck, topsides a bit tired. She timidly relayed her apologies for the previous night's mishaps. "The shackle broke off our anchor chain. Looks like we'll have to go diving to look for it this morning." Of course, we weren't sure if she was referring to the first or the second time they cozied up to our starboard toe rail, but it left me feeling even more insecure than ever. It's not just the charter boats we need to keep our eye on after all I suppose, but fellow cruisers as well. If there are boats out there that can't even manage to keep their anchor attached to the boat, than the cruising world is a far scarier place than I'd ever imagined it could be!

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