We were ¾ of a mile upwind of the Bramble bank when the overheat alarm went off.
Glancing at the temperature gauge I knew we had no choice but to stop the engine and get more coolant into her.
But the waves breaking over the bank were a stark reminder that we’d have to be quick or end up as a statistic. We slowed then stopped the engine and she went beam to wind and started rolling in the South Westerly that was pushing us towards the bank.
To be honest, we’d been having slight overheating problems for a day or so, but with the all clear from the local engineer, we decided to head for Cowes. It was winter, there was a fresh gale on its way up channel and we pushed off from the Hamble in a robust South Westerly, trying to get over to the Island before the breeze came in later.
The anchor saved us
Looking back it was the anchor that saved us. That and the crew that were briefed to drop it once we’d decided that there was no option. The anchor’s one of the fundamental pieces of kit that is often forgotten in a safety brief, but knowing how to quickly get it to the seabed can be a lifesaver.
Back to the plot.., in 15 metres of water I asked for the anchor to be dropped. With little choice and just 50 meters of chain onboard, I knew it would be tight and we’d be lucky if it held, but it should slow our drift.
The anchor was deployed and the floor boards lifted, so I could get to the engine. The anchor touched bottom and immediately the boat turned from a horrible beam-on to a more comfortable head to wind position.
Rate of drift slowed down
Our rate of drift slowed significantly from two knots to half a knot and slowed more when we neared shallow water so the chain also added to the drag on the seabed. In 8 metres of water the anchor held tenuously, buying us valuable time to replace the lost engine coolant.
With crossed fingers, the engine started first time, so we raised anchor and sought sanctuary over in Cowes.
So consider when you get onboard a strange boat
- Check out the anchor tackle and see how to deploy it.
- If it’s usually lowered by electric windlass consider how to drop it manually.
- A manual drop often gets it to the seabed faster, especially if there’s a power failure.
- Brief the crew on how the anchor is lowered.
I was reminded of this recently, when sailing off Vilamoura in Portugal. I’d got a rope around the prop and had to sail into the harbour and up to the fuel pontoon to try to get the damn thing off.
As we approached the harbour in fluky winds we were worried about drifting towards the rocky seawall. The crack crew readied the anchor by; taking the anchor retaining pin out, put a quick release lashing around the anchor to the pulpit and eased the windlass brake off so the chain and anchor would run easily if required. In the end, we didn’t need it, but really felt reassured it was ready to go.
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