Ayuda!

Four hours!  We’d been light air “sailing” four hours on the Potomac and still were within sight of Colonial Beach, our home port.  Sometimes we made forward progress and sometimes we just spun in lazy circles with the current.  There was no hope of actually sailing to our original destination, so I finally threw in the towel.  I cranked up the Yanmar to motor across the river and up the Wicomico for an anchorage between Bluff Point and White Point Bar.

This was the very first overnight trip that my wife and I took with no extra crew and we were learning how to double-hand Kestrel together.  Two years later we are much better at it, but still learning.  Getting Kestrel out of her slip and underway was achieved with no drama. The sailing was frustrating but motoring over to the anchorage was uneventful.  A little drama ensued when the windlass, which had been working fine, decided to not deploy the chain.  There we floated, occasionally going into gear to reposition while I figured out what to do.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t at this point had the opportunity to do any work on the windlass and didn’t really know how to release the clutch manually.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyway because the handle that came with the boat was stripped so that I wouldn’t have been able to deploy or retrieve anyhow.  I could have just motored back the few miles to the marina, but I really wanted to anchor for the night.  I ended up cutting the splice holding the nylon rope to the anchor chain and tying it to the anchor after removing the chain. This bypassed the windlass and allowed me to deploy and retrieve the anchor by hand.  I felt pretty confident that the knot would hold in the light conditions, but it was a niggling worry in the back of my mind all night.

The rest of the evening after setting the anchor was quite lovely.  The temperature dropped to something comfortable as the sun neared the horizon,  I grilled some shrimp, we drank some wine, and later we were treated to a celestial display of a full moon and an arc of Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus all in the sky at once.  That was pretty amazing, something I‘ll not ever forget.

I haven’t developed the knack for solid sleep at anchor.  I’m better at it now with more time on the water in this boat, but then I was up every hour or two.  The anchorage I picked was in the general vicinity of a boat ramp and a bar.  There was a lot of boat traffic during the evening, but it mostly dropped off later in the night.  Occasionally a boat would pass by in the wee hours, but not too bad.  Not too bad until about 2:30 am that is.  I heard a strange noise coming through the hatches, a person yelling in the distance.  I made my way on deck to have a closer listen.  It sounded like someone calling a lost dog.  My wife called up to ask me what was going on and I told her to about the lost dog.  She joined me in the cockpit as the voice got more frantic.  All I could think was that they really missed their dog.  Then a voice came from the boat ramp, yelling back.  I thought this very odd.  Why would they be yelling back? About this time my wife tells me that the frantic party is yelling “Ayuda!”, the Spanish word for help.  The 2:30 am fog cleared from my brain and I realized that there was someone in the water somewhere towards shore.

I didn’t have a dinghy and my five foot draft wasn’t going to allow me to go into shore to help out, so I called 911.  I figured that I had a better chance connecting directly to rescue rather than going through the Coast Guard on VHF.  I was connected to a cell tower in the next county across the Wicomico, but after describing my location, they patched me through to the right desk.  They had just received a call on the emergency from someone else and had dispatched a rescue crew.  We watched as a boat arrived on a trailer at the nearby ramp and ran out to the flickering light in the water. About 15 minutes later, they ran back to the dock. Through my binocs I could see four people on the dock talking to the rescuers. I don’t know the full story, but it definitely added something to the trip. Safe to say it was a while before I got back to sleep.

The sun peeked in the hatches waking me up way before I wanted.  After the coffee and breakfast were consumed, we made ready to up anchor.  There was a little wind, but pretty light still, so I had no trouble hauling the anchor up by hand. It would have been a different story if there had been a lot of wind.  We actually got to sail back up the Potomac  to Colonial Beach and got back into the slip with no real trouble.

The next weekend I spent some quality time with my windlass.  There were a couple issues that contributed to the problems I encountered.  I’m not sure which one was the real culprit or if it was a combination of them all.  First, the circuit breaker was faulty.  It would trip frequently and that evening the reset lever just crumbled.  The windlass battery could have been low on charge because it was tired and I had the battery combiner switch set to the ALL position so it was being drained along with the house bank by the loads I had switched on.  Also, there might have been some carbon build up on the motor armature.

My remediation efforts included:

  • Replacing the circuit breaker and the battery.  I have since also installed a solar charging system to keep all of the batteries topped off while underway and at anchor.
  • Sanding all of the cable connectors from the battery to the windlass.
  • Removing the windlass chain wheel and running the motor in both directions with no load a few times to knock off any carbon that may have built up.
  • Re-splicing the nylon part of the rode to the end of the chain.
  • Procuring, at too much expense, a replacement handle that will allow me to deploy and retrieve the anchor manually.

So far, the windlass has been behaving just fine. I sure I hope I don’t regret saying that just now. Who me superstitious? Naw…

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