Monday, April 20, 2015

Fouled Anchor

We are anchored in our own private little bay at the north end of Big Farmers Cay, across the harbor from the settlement on Little Farmers Cay (map). We had a lovely cruise here yesterday morning from Rudder Cut via Exuma Sound, although we had a bit of excitement there in the morning and almost did not make it out in time for a favorable tide.

Final sunset at Rudder Cut Cay. That's Blossom to the left, who arrived in plenty of time to join us for cocktails.

The "Fouled Anchor" (or more properly, "Foul Anchor") is iconic in naval circles; it is the symbol of the British Admiralty as well as the insignia of a Chief Petty Officer in the US Navy, among other things.  But in real life, a fouled anchor is a problem, and depending on circumstances can be a crisis, resulting in a vessel dragging the anchor across the sea floor.

We were well set at Rudder Cut Cay, swinging in a tight but well-defined circle, so the last thing we expected to see when we weighed the anchor was this:

What's that on our anchor chain?  A stingray?

The chain was wrapped back on itself and doubled over the anchor. If you look closely (click to enlarge) you can see the chain wraps completely around the flukes, which form an "X" pattern with the shank, and a loop of chain continues down into the water at the left of the photo. This loop, in fact, is caught on a rock or possibly a coral head, holding us firmly in place.  We can neither lift the anchor nor move the boat.

In hindsight we might have expected this problem, as we seemed to be swinging in a circle a bit too small for the amount of scope we had veered out.What happened is that on one of the current reversals, possibly the very first after setting the hook, the chain wrapped around the rock, allowing it to double back over the anchor itself, catching one of the flukes. Successive reversals  dragged the anchor along the bottom, flipping it over the chain and essentially making a knot of the whole assembly. Our anchor alarm never sounded because that rock held us firmly in position for two nights and perhaps seven current changes, and our track on the plotter looked completely normal.

We had started to weigh anchor in time to be out the cut well before the end of the flood, to avoid the "rage" conditions we encountered coming in. With high tide rapidly approaching, we needed to work quickly to get ourselves free. At least the rock was keeping us from drifting toward the lee shore or other hazards.

Between me poking and prodding at the anchor with a boat pole, and Louise working the windlass up and down, we managed to flip the 110-pound anchor back over the chain and free it, whereupon it plummeted to the bottom, landing right back on top of the loop of chain. At this point it seemed there would be no way to free the chain from the rock while working from the surface, and I would have to don the hookah rig and dive the 20' to the bottom to free it.

With the tide now nearly at high, we resigned ourselves to staying an extra day, so we could disentangle the anchor without undue pressure. Just setting up the hookah and donning dive gear would take me nearly a half hour. With nothing to lose, though, I tried driving the boat around the rock in the direction I had guessed it wrapped, based on our plotter track. In less than a half circle we were free, Louise was able to weigh the anchor, and we headed for the cut just in time. We made it out right at slack, before the ebb could churn up anything serious.

Coming up to Farmers Cut we passed the Sound side of Cave Cay. We had anchored on the bank side of that cay on our way south, where we could see the entrance to the protected marina there, but we left via Cave Cay Cut and so did not see the "resort" buildings. My friend John likes to call the Bahamas a "parallel universe" where things do not often make sense; these modern-looking buildings include a restaurant that, as far as I know, has never opened. The marina, not unlike Emerald Bay (right down to the Bellingham docks), is perpetually unfinished and the restaurant is perpetually coming soon, or as is often said down in the Caribbean, "soon come, mon."

The never-opened resort on Cave Cay. It's a parallel universe here.

The unintentional late start put us into Farmers Cut once again in rage conditions, but now that we've done it and know what to expect it is No Big Deal™, at least inbound -- we suspect outbound would be much less comfortable, which is why passing high tide would have kept us at Rudder another day. I once again got my upper body workout on the big helm, and we made it through without issue.

We had picked out an anchorage on the southwest side of the island, near the approach to the airstrip. That involved some high-pucker moments navigating through an unmarked and skinny channel, where we saw only eight feet of water just after high tide. We made it just fine, but when we got there we decided it was, well, ugly -- not nearly as nice as this side of the cay -- and with winds now partly out of the south not as well protected, either. We flipped around and came back here.

The view of the gorgeous turquoise water between our anchorage and Little Farmers Cay. The lightest blue is a shallow bar.

There is barely room for one boat of our draft here, and we've had this little cove to ourselves since arriving. We are in a good sand bottom here, but just a few yards to our west the bottom is scoured from the high current running through the cut.  It's over 25' deep there, whereas here we dropped the hook in 12'. When the tide slackens we swing a bit into the shallower part of the bay, and as I type this paragraph we are aground, at spring low low water. We spent about an hour on the bottom yesterday and I expect about as much today; I snorkeled the whole area at slack yesterday to check our anchor set and there is not a single rock to be found, it's all sand with scattered grass, so no harm in touching bottom briefly.

Vector in her private cove, as seen from a hill on Little Farmers. I could not avoid the telephone line in the photo.

A quick glance at the hillsides adjacent to our anchorage tells the tale of strong current; at high tide you could believe these hillsides continue gently down into the water. At low tide you can clearly see that the scouring effect of the current, and the sand it carries, has undercut the land by several feet.

Undercut hillsides.  You can't tell at high tide.

There are a scattering of vacation homes around this cove; the closest and most elaborate is a 15-sided tower. The owner recently departed for home and looks to have done a half-finished job of securing hurricane covers to the windows. Another home is a geodesic dome, possibly dating back to the 70s when Buckminster Fuller was promoting them. None of them is occupied right now, so it is completely dark and quiet here at night, with only the lights of Little Farmers from across the harbor.

The pendedecagon house. To the right are the hills from the close-up above.

After we came back aboard from our swim yesterday and Vector was resting on the bottom, as I went out with the lead line to check depths around the boat I noticed someone else resting on the bottom, too. It was a nurse shark, who decided to get cool in the shade offered by Vector's hull. He was completely unperturbed by me dropping the lead line all around him; still I am glad we had finished our swim before he came by. It did not stop us from swimming again today, although I confess I jumped in with my scuba mask first to have a look around.

Nurse shark hanging out off our starboard quarter.

Angel's been looking around, too; she's been enjoying all the time we're spending on deck.  She regularly patrols the deck, occasionally looking intently through a hawse hole at who-knows-what. Just watching her can be quite entertaining sometimes.

Angel with a bead on something.

In the evening we took the tender into town for dinner at the Ocean Cabin and a quick walk around. When we arrived at the dock, one of the colorful locals was busy cleaning conch and feeding the scraps to a group of rays, turtles, and other fish who have clearly come to depend on these daily rations.

Rays and turtles being fed from the dock.

This inquisitive turtle came over to check out our tender.

Dinner was quite tasty; I had lobster and Louise had grouper. As with many restaurants in the islands, we had to call ahead in the afternoon to place our order; we were the only patrons. It was one of the best and least expensive meals we've had in the islands, and proprietor Terry was very informative. He also sold me the phone cards I needed to top up our data, albeit at a 20% markup. At that price I only bought enough to get us through a few days, and I will buy more at standard rates when we reach Black Point.

After-dinner sunset over Little Farmers Cay from our deck.

This evening we will return to town for dinner at Ty's Sunset Grill, on the west side near the airstrip. We have again pre-ordered our meal; as befits the beach location we're having burgers. Tomorrow we are hoping Steph and Martin will come up in their tender and join us for lunch, perhaps at the Yacht Club, where Vector berthed several years ago under a previous master. So far, this settlement is the most quintessentially Bahamian place we have visited.

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