Waiting it out

Sam Llewellyn seeks a safe anchorage as wind and rain begin to clatter on the deck.

A yacht sits at anchor

Nuisance, wind, we thought. 

The barograph trace was dropping like a black run in a ski resort, an inky blanket covered the sky to the southwest, and a swell sent in from a big disturbance somewhere in the Atlantic was bursting on the rocky islands at the bottom of the sound. Offshore, we would have been putting in reefs and seeking sea room. Here, the reefs were a good idea, but the sea room was not available. 

There was, however, an anchorage. It was reputed to be bulletproof, but our knowledge of it was founded mostly on rumour. The approach to it was a lane of slaty sea, fringed with white water that crawled an unpleasant distance up the granite slopes of the offlying islands before collapsing with a series of sullen roars. The paper chart said it was there, and so did the pilot book, and the plotter confirmed their view. Still and all, as we hammered down the lane of water under half-rolled jib and mizzen it was possible to lose faith. 

There was the offlying rock, awash, sending up a white tree of spray every time a swell came down on it. Beyond it was a granite cliff. Teeth gritted, we persisted. As the rock came abeam the cliff revealed itself as two cliffs, separated by an entrance not more than twenty yards wide. Down went the helm. Out went the sheets. Into the entrance we glided, and found ourselves in the centre of a small calm green disc of water hemmed in by walls of pink granite.

Round up. Roll up genoa. The anchor plunged five metres, made contact with a white sand bottom. The boat fell back twenty metres as we nervously eyed the marks on shore, stopped abruptly as the anchor dug in, and came up on the chain. Silence, broken first by sighs of relief and then by the whistle of the kettle. Tea. A buzzard mewed as it raced the clouds across the sky. We sat there and luxuriated in the calm and cursed the wind.

It was not a relaxing night. The tide turned and the wind backed, and an evil little robble penetrated our oasis. But we felt smug enough in the excellent holding, listening to the wind shrieking among the crags and watching the barograph trace bottom out. At four o'clock in the morning the line on the graph was heading uphill and the shriek of the wind had moderated to a howl. Then rain clattered on the deck. First the wind and then the rain, you haul your topsails up again, we told ourselves, and pulled the sleeping bags over our ears.

Next thing we knew it was daylight - not the grey murk that passes for daylight in a gale, but the real thing, featuring sun, assisted by blue skies and stately white clouds sailing by like Nelson's ships of the line. The anchorage was calm again, and so were we, for the wind had moderated to a mere force five and backed westerly, and the day's course was due east. 

We ate a hearty breakfast, trying not to look too hard at the seas crunching on the rocks beyond the anchorage's mouth. Then we started the engine, hoisted the usual rags of sail, pulled up the anchor and proceeded.

The seas walloping the scatter of rocks to the south of the anchorage were the size of buses, but only single-deckers. We held tight and crashed through them into the channel. The navigator provided a course. We furled the mizzen, pointed the nose due west and commenced sailing, hull speed under genoa only, the swell rolling down from astern. Visibility was the best part of twenty miles; there was no other boat on the whole broad white-capped sea.

Good thing, wind, we thought. 

Sam Llewellyn, Editor of The Marine Quarterly