Oh Wow!

We hunkered down in this small and protected harbor because we knew “weather” was coming. Royal Island Harbor is small, roughly 1 mile from east to west and a quarter that north to south, and closed in except for a narrow opening game to the south.

The forecast models suggested that we would be right on edge of the nasty conditions, maybe a bit south of the worst of it. In any event, we knew that we didn’t want to be out sailing in winds forecast to be in the low 30’s. We certainly can sail in those winds but really prefer to avoid it if possible.

This morning was calm and clear. There were clouds off to the north, but nothing ominous. Most of the day continued in the same vein, and by the middle of the afternoon I was thinking we might just dodge this bullet. Not true…

We were hanging on the anchor in a very light south wind. A glance out the companionway showed a line of dark and scary looking clouds to the north. I suggested that Karen might want to get the drying laundry inside just as the first cold breath of wind arrived from the north with a spit of rain in it. The boat quickly swung around and pointed into the new wind direction, and the clouds lowered and darkened.

The wind started to pick up, and the world started to change, and not for the better. A hundred yards outside our snug little harbor the waters of the bay were whirling around in a circle as a large water spout started to spin up (that’s a tornado to you landlubbers).

It certainly doesn’t look like much in a still photo, but the rapidly rotating winds of an incipient waterspout/tornado are not something anybody wants nearby. Off to the right you can see the gray wall of rain.

Moments later, this was all that could be seen in that direction.

In 5 minutes the wind went from 4 knots from the south to 55 knots (!) from the northeast. Visibility was as close to zero as can be in drenching rain and blowing spray. The shoreline disappeared. All the other boats in the harbor disappeared. The bow of our boat disappeared. It was loud. It was, frankly, terrifying. Oh, yes, let’s not forget the lightening and thunder…

I started the engine so it would be ready if needed. During the worst of the blow I had the engine in gear taking some of the load off the anchor. I was at the helm watching the track of the boat swinging on the anchor as the GPS reported it’s position. We did not move a bit. That new—and bigger—Mantus anchor was worth every penny.

Right now, three hours later, we are sitting comfortably as I write with the wind still blowing at over 30 knots. After 55, 30 seems positively quiet and peaceful.

There are five other boats in the harbor: Three sailing catamarans, another sailing monohull of about 45 feet, and the 78 foot Cochise, the Dashew’s high end motor yacht. All of the catamarans dragged significantly, although none disastrously, and none in our direction. Before the front approached, Cochise had moved her position in the anchorage to get away from the crowd of catamarans in the eastern end. A wise move in retrospect.

We learned (and relearned) a few lessons. Most things we did right, and, as always, there were a few things we could have done better.

We chose a well protected place to wait out the weather, even though it took us a day or more out of our way to get here.

Whenever we anchor, we always prepare for the worst. We had our anchor set with enough chain out that we didn’t need to make frantic adjustments when the weather turned unexpectedly bad. Our anchor, chain, and snubber all did exactly what they were supposed to, in conditions worse than we expected.

In the case of bad weather the boats around you are likely to be the most dangerous things. Knowing the direction the wind was going to be coming from, we had positioned ourselves away from the crowd.

Winds over 45 knots really limit what you can do. You can’t see. You can’t walk upright. Improvising in case of a problem is really, really hard. If we had gotten in trouble and really needed to run, we should have had a buoy ready to clip on the anchor chain so we could drop it and recover later.

Overall, it went well. The boat, her systems, and her crew, all did well. Tomorrow’s forecast is for winds of 10 to 15 knots. Perfect for our next sailing leg.

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4 Responses to Oh Wow!

  1. James Alton says:

    55 knots is quite a test of ground tackle and personally I have often found the bottom in the Bahamas to not be the best for holding so I am impressed. I am glad to hear that your big Mantus kept Harmonie and her crew safe. That is interesting that the Mantus was a bit difficult to recover. I did not think that the Mantus was a burying anchor but maybe with enough load it is?? I am about the order the 85lb. version so maybe I will find out. Best, James


    • Bill Kinney says:


      We have found our Mantus, and our smaller Rocna, both tend to find their way quite deep into the seabed, with time and a bit of strain. If the stuff the bottom is made of is hard and sticky, the flukes of this kind of anchor can bring up a really big chunk of sea bottom. Having to finesse the anchor up out of the bottom is not at all unusual. We get the chain straight up and down, and wait a bit for it to break free.

      Royal Island Harbor where we rode out that blow, has typical Bahama flour-fine coral sand, and a good depth of it. We couldn’t see how deep into it the anchor was, but getting it free took some time with a vertical pull and boat jockeying.

      One place we have noticed the anchor behaving as if it is burrowing is in the Chesapeake, where the bottom is layered. The upper layer is very soft, gooey mud. Below that is a layer of harder packed, denser mud/clay. When you first drop the anchor, it starts in the upper layer, and really doesn’t get a good grab at first, but after sitting overnight it gets deeper down and gets a bite into the “hard stuff” and holds really well. Not sure if this counts as “burying”, but an anchor that stayed in that upper layer would never really hold well.



  2. jdkinney08853 says:

    Why does it seem waterspouts are more common than land tornadoes?  Less friction over the water?  And do they get just as powerful?  I.e can you have an F5 waterspout?Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone


    • Bill Kinney says:

      Hey Jim,

      I think there are two things going on. There are “fair weather” water spouts that are fairly common, and like land based “dust devils” rather innocuous. We’ve seen these and while they are cool to watch, they aren’t scary.

      Waterspouts that are associated with violent storms are likely more visible that land tornadoes, and so may seem more common. Because they suck up water, which is heavy, I doubt they ever get winds as strong as a good old fashioned Oklahoma style land tornado.

      Still… I’d rather not be any nearer to one than I was today to test that theory.


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