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Machete-ready Betty and the 12-hour storm

I knew it was going to be a good storm when I saw the lady standing on the bowsprit of her big sailboat and waving a machete at the guy on the boat that had just anchored upwind of her. Upwind wasn’t the problem. There was plenty of space.

There’s more than one way to deal with an interloper at an anchorage.

This lady had anchored well out in the open harbor, where she thought she wouldn’t have much of a crowd. Crowds during a bad blow are bad news in cruising harbors. But this guy had anchored so that his wildly swinging stern was just a few feet from the lady’s tightly stretched anchor line. And the rubber ducky dinghy was occasionally hanging up on it. I’m not sure how the lady thought she was going to reach the guy. It was a long machete, but not that long. At least she could attack the rubber ducky, perhaps to pop its inflatable tubes. The guy stared at her for a while but didn’t reanchor, even though there was plenty of room closer to shore.

Much closer to shore, another storm-fearful pilgrim was doing his thing. Actually, it was in a cove well within the shore’s outer beach. This cove had great protection and room for maybe half a dozen boats — that is, until Spider-Man buzzed in.

Spider-Man put down his first anchor carefully. Then he put down a second anchor far off the stern, letting out hundreds of feet on the bow rode. Then he got in his dinghy and put out four more anchors, to the sides, each with hundreds of feet of rode. This guy was locked into his web with anchors and rode extending 360 degrees. As other boats filed into the cove seeking protection, he screamed, “I got here first! Stay clear!” When they approached his web of lines, he yelled, “That’s my anchor down there! Don’t snag my anchor! You can’t anchor there!”

At the other end of the harbor, numerous sailboats and trawlers had anchored off what they hoped would be the lee shore. The ones that arrived first got what they hoped would be the best spot. It was closest to that coveted lee shore, and they rested, assured that no one would dare try to anchor inside of them. They didn’t count on poor seamen in a rich man’s boat.

The rich man wasn’t there. He was back in the States getting richer. But his moderate-sized megayacht was there. Most megayacht crewmembers are very decent folks. Some of these weren’t. As soon as the mega­yacht anchored closer to the beach than everyone else, it started dragging. Horns blew from downwind, and frantic voices came over the VHF radio. “Large motor vessel, you’re dragging!”

When boats drag, they seldom just slip gracefully in the water, stern first. They swing from side to side, often with their beams to the wind as the anchor catches and holds. They cut as wide a path of downwind destruction as they can, and it’s no secret that they’re dragging.

The megayacht captain got on the VHF and blithely informed the downwind boats that he was definitely not dragging. No, as a matter of fact, he confirmed that the downwind boats were all dragging upwind toward him, and he’d see them in court if they did him any damage.

As the other skippers scrambled to pull in their rodes and get out of his way, he yawed back and forth astern until he fetched up on the rocky bar across the harbor. Only then did he stop dragging.

Two of the heavier trawlers decided (and one couldn’t blame them) that they’d had enough of this foolishness, and rather than seek the coveted “good spots” for the blow, they’d go to a decidedly bad spot. At least all they’d have to worry about was the blow, not the shenanigans of a few cruising skippers.

They headed for the windward shore, totally unprotected for miles of fetch. They reasoned among themselves on the VHF, and to any of the jealous “other” boaters who would listen, that their boats were heavy and tough, and although this anchorage would be plenty rough and a bit uncomfortable, the boats could take it and they could, too. These were seasoned skippers, meaning, I suppose, that they’d applied many a grain of salt when they bragged in the bars about all of their experience. But this wasn’t one of those bar-bragging days.

A perfect anchorage can turn south when heavy weather sets in.

One of the trawlers had a beefy bowsprit over which his rode ran until it descended over the roller and dipped into the frothing sea. This bowsprit was soundly reinforced, as he often bragged. The other trawler had a somewhat less-beefy bowsprit, but the skipper expected no problem. He had a heavy eyebolt running through his stem, not far above the waterline. This eyebolt was backed with a large plate of heavy stainless steel. He had often said that this was hardly necessary because the hull was incredibly thick at the stem — certainly stronger than any other area. To this eyebolt he attached a good snubbing line, with stretchy nylon line and rubber snubber, so that the anchor chain’s lead would be close to the sea’s surface and the boat would ride well and without dragging.

You got it. Not even halfway through the storm, the heavy bowsprit crumbled, its supports bending like cooked spaghetti and leaving a gaping torn spot where it had fastened to the top of the stem. He was the lucky one. On the other trawler, the eyebolt pulled out, massive stainless backing plate and all. It left an equally massive hole in the stem, very close to the plunging waterline, which was often underwater. For the rest of the 12-hour blow his pumps kept up, as did the spasming arm muscles of his crew.

All is well that ends well. The trawlers didn’t sink, Spider-Man got entangled in his web when the wind shifted (and dragged ashore into the mangroves), Machete-Ready Betty didn’t quite get enough reach to pop the dinghy, and the megayacht crew, I heard, were fired when they told the only salvor around to buzz off because he charged too much and wouldn’t give them a kickback.

Most folks in the harbor snuggled in during the storm and watched the entertainment. At times they’d venture forth from their boats in their wildly bucking dinghies to help someone who was having problems. One cruiser from Ireland told fascinating folk tales on a then “obscure” VHF channel. Ladies shared recipes, and guys shared advice about engine gremlins. When the weather cleared, they gathered on the beach, glad to have survived the storm, glad for the beautiful evening, and looking forward to the next bloody day in paradise.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue.