Chain of Fools

The other day we moved from the Dutch side of the bay to the French side.  Why? There was a kid boat: Moxie. A family sailing from London back home to New Zealand, and they had two girls on board, and sailing kids just belong together.  So we moved and anchored right next to them.  Super lovely family, but they left yesterday for the Virgin Islands.  So we decided we wanted to move back to the Dutch side.  A shorter commute.  We had to move because the Causeway Bridge, which only opens once in the morning and once in the evening was opening in fifteen minutes. 


We went through the regular ‘pulling anchor’ routine:

  1. motor the boat forward to the anchor
  2. remove the bridal that connects the boat to the anchor chain
  3. pull up the anchor

Steps 1 and 2 went pretty well.  But 3, not so much.  Alison shouted from the bow, “We’re stuck on something!”  A bit of context:  It’s $20/week to anchor on the Dutch side.  Pretty shishi.  But on the French side, it’s free.  So some of the boats on the French side are, how shall I say…rustic.  People live in some pretty rough piles of floating whatever.  End of context.  So I went forward to look over the  bow.  I saw a big long “X” floating just below the surface, and our anchor was caught right in the center of it.  “Okay, I’m going to dive on it.  Em, please take the helm.”  Emily took the wheel and I put on a snorkel mask.  I’d just radioed the bridge master and he told me to be in there in five minutes.  We had stuff to do on the Dutch side, so I wanted to get over there pretty bad.  I jumped off the stern and swam around to the front of the boat.  Diving down a few feet, I saw chains going off in four directions.

We were in about ten feet of water and it was pretty murky, so I couldn’t see where they went, but what I knew was that our anchor was caught where two chains crossed.  I went up for air and came back down.  I couldn’t get it free.  I told Alison to let out more chain.  I tried again, but it was still caught. The boat was drifting back against the new slack and was being pushed left and right with the wind.  I went back for air, told Alison to stand by with a life jacket in case I needed help, and began relaying instructions to Emily via Alison.  We moved the boat as close over the snagged anchor as we could.  Then I went for it. 

My big concern was that I would get tangled or snagged in the chain somehow.  If I was going to drown, I didn’t want it to be on the French side : )  Didn’t Popeye almost die that way?  Anyway, there where five lines in this mess: each leg of the “X” and then our anchor/chain going to the surface.  I got deep enough to plant my feet on dirt.  I worked as quickly as I could in the murky water, but stepping on the bottom wasn’t improving the visibility.  My hands were starting to tingle.  I finally got the anchor free and shot to the surface.  I gave Ali the ‘tally hoe’ hand signal and she pulled the anchor all the way up.  I swam back around toward the stern.  The engines were still running, so that meant spinning propeller blades in the water.  I shouted to Emily to make sure she knew where I was and didn’t turn the boat toward me by accident.  I swam around giving the boat a wide berth and climbed up on the swimming dock.  Man, that was not how I wanted to start the day.  But we were off.

I booked it as fast as I could to the bridge (booking it = 6 knots through an anchorage, which = ~6 mph).  A snail’s race.  The car traffic on the bridge was stopped.  They were about to open the bridge.  But then the car traffic started again.  I’d missed it.  Dang it.  I radioed the bridge master and explained our situation.  I asked when the next opening was.  “Fifteen minutes, Captain.”  First of all, I still get a little smile when anyone addresses me as captain.  I’ll try to not let it go to my head.  Secondly, I was relieved I’d misunderstood the bridge schedule.  Sixteen minutes later, we were on the Dutch side. 

P.S. The whole situation felt potentially very dangerous.  Murky water.  Chains.  Running engines.  I don’t aspire to be Houdini.  But I’m not sure what I would have done to be more safe, besides perhaps scuba diving, which would seemed to have been overkill.  Bad word choice.  Even if we weren’t trying to make the bridge, we would have to have had the engines running, to run the windlass (anchor hoist) and keep the tension off the chain.  We did the best we could, and it all worked out (except for a few scrapes from all the crustacean build-up on the chain).  That said, I’d love advice from anyone more experienced than I on this one.  Just glad I lived to so I could write this blog post : )