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For the Want of a Shackle

June 13, 2016

Though I am frequently reminded that I am a bit harsh and more than a little intolerant of those who do things "differently," I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. When "different" constitutes unseamanlike behavior, a lack of preparedness, and downright ignorance of the challenges of the lifestyle you've chosen, well then, expect to be ridiculed.

Weather forecasters had been predicting a westward wind shift with increased wind velocity for a week. Even those boaters who get their weather from the local cruiser's net knew about it. The entire harbor was buzzing with "Where are you going?" and "What are you doing?" and my personal favorite, "What should we do?" Two days before the blow, we sailed to town to load up on water and food. The day before the wind, we sailed into the spot we had picked out 6 weeks earlier, when we had first sailed into the area, as where we would go in the event of west winds. (We have spots picked out for every possible wind direction. It's what we do day one in a new area, or even before we decide to sail there. If we go, and the wind does this, where will we anchor?) We poked our way in, a bit uncomfortable with the 2 feet of water under our keel, but confident in our ability to see the charted coral heads and avoid them. We circled around like a dog, looking at what lee the different spots would provide and what would be to our lee in the predicted winds. We always assume there's a chance we'll drag, so we like to know what we'll likely hit. In this case, we picked a high (at least by Bahamian standards) bit of land to what would be windward, and cays to leeward with shallow enough water between us and them that we would run aground on soft sand before we crunched into iron shore. We hung from 7.5:1 scope (90 feet of chain in 8 feet of water plus 4 feet to the bow pulpit from the water). Because our secondary chain can be a handful to get out of the hawsepipe if you're in a panic (i.e. dragging) we flaked out the 60 feet of chain on deck, and cleated the rode after that so even if all we could manage was to kick the anchor overboard, at least it was cleated.


Our lee shore

With all our preparations completed, we dove on the anchor, went for a swim, snorkeled the nearby cays, and had a wonderfully relaxing, sunny afternoon. Over our tea on deck after dinner, we looked at the dozen or so boats still anchored in a not so pleasant spot.
"I wonder why they're still there?"
"Maybe they don't know it's coming."
"They have to know. That's all anyone has talked about for a week."
"Maybe they think they'll be fine there."
"Oh, I'm sure at least most of them WILL be fine. But there's a huge difference between "fine" and "comfortable." It's going to be unpleasant there tomorrow at the very least."
You didn't have to be a weather geek to see that.


Some of the shackles onboard Eurisko

We never got the wind strengths that were predicted, with winds only reaching 35 knots. Because there were supposed to be nasty thunderstorms, as well, Dave had disabled all our electronics. He removed the fuse from the AIS and unplugged the VHF and the stereo. (That's the extent of our "electronics" so it's really not that hard to do.) We usually leave the VHF off, but a singlehander friend was anchored nearby, and we'd promised to keep the radio on in case he needed anything. So, with the pouring down rain, with nothing really to do, we decided to listen to the harbor chatter on the handheld VHF. I was completely shocked by the multiple draggers. Really? It's blowing 35 knots, out of a predicted direction, you've had a week to prepare, and you STILL can't keep your boat in one place? You did nothing to prepare during the beautiful weather a few days before the storm, and instead, choose to wait until it's nasty, squally, windy, and rainy to do something to protect your boat (and those poor people around you).

There were too many exchanges to share them all, but here is my favorite. You'll have to imagine "Dragging Duck" (DD) as a frantic, jazzed on adrenaline, running on overdrive woman's voice. "Cool Cat" (CC: chosen for his attitude, since he was a monohull NOT by that name) is a calm, direct, no-nonsense man's voice. Though there wasn't necessary any CONTEMPT in his voice, there was definite exasperation. By the way, he is anchored BEHIND her.
DD: Cool Cat, Cool Cat, Dragging Duck.
CC: This is Cool Cat. Go ahead.
DD: I was wondering if you can tell if we're dragging. Do you think we're dragging? Because we really can't tell if we're dragging or not. I don't think so, but I mean, really, how can you tell? (nervous laughter) Right? So can YOU tell if we're dragging? I mean, does it look like we're dragging to you?
CC: No.
DD: Oh, well, OK, I didn't think so, but it's really too hard to tell, you know? I'm still just not sure if we're dragging. Are YOU dragging?
CC: No.
DD: Oh...well...we saw you put out a second anchor, so we thought you might be dragging, but we couldn't be sure. We're not even sure if we're dragging....
CC: I didn't put out the second anchor because I was dragging. I put it out because it seemed like the prudent thing to do.

Cheers and "Attaboys" onboard Eurikso. Dave said, "I don't know who this guy is, but I like him!"

DD: Yeah...well...right....We'd love to put out another anchor, we're just not prepared to do so. I mean, we have the anchor and we have some chain, we just don't have a shackle. We haven't gotten around to getting a shackle for it yet.

Really? You are "cruising," and you've somehow made it this far down the Bahamian island chain, with the attitude of "Meh, we'll get that shackle later. Ooo, but look, a brand new piece of electronics that will make my life easier! I won't have to learn about seamanship if I just dish out enough money for enough stuff."

The radio was instantly alive with people (most likely those DOWNWIND of Dragging Duck) offering the use of their shackles.

DD: Well, thank you, but we're just not sure if we need it. I mean, I'm not sure if we're dragging...

I had to turn off the radio. The lack of shackle bothered Dave, but it was the "I mean, how can you really tell if you're dragging" that got to me. Maybe it's because I feel like a teacher who has said the same thing over and over for years and no one is listening. Does she not know how to use ranges? Have they not gathered any seaman skills over the past few hundred miles it took them to get here? Did they not TRY to learn anything about the lifestyle, or did they just turn the key and go? Harsh? So what! They may be anchored near us some day. And all their gizmos and gadgets and big boat toys won't be able to keep them from dragging. Possibly into us. All for the want of a shackle.

MONDAY we'll share another make-it-yourself project, as only Dave can do it.

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Connie McBride's work has been published in Good Old Boat, Sail Magazine, Small Craft Advisor, Cruising World, All at Sea, and Blue Water Sailing. As a full-time liveaboard cruiser for over 15 years, she has written several books and in her spare time, well, who has spare time?

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