Into The Storm – Lessons Learned

You have to be living in a cave to still believe the climate isn’t changing at this point. I’m not arguing whether global warming exist or not, or what impact we as humans have on the environment. But the fact is weather is becoming stranger and unpredictable. Hotter summers, colder winters, stronger storms…sometimes even out of season.

Florida hasn’t had a hurricane in over eight years, yet in the four years I’ve been living here New Jersey is been hit by two hurricanes in two years. The last time New Jersey got hit by a hurricane I was hiding in my parents’ basement, playing with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader as the storm passed over.

sitting aground

Never Say Never

We were just leaving the grocery store when it started rolling in. Dark skies, winds starting to pick up, black clouds in the distance. “Don’t worry that’s just up here.” I said. “It’s fine back at the boat. Islamorada never gets hit by storms.” The Islamorada weather bubble is sort of a running joke down here.

Key Largo gets hit, and the Lower Keys get hit, but Islamorada seems to be in the in between area that dodges all of the storms. Even at the end of hurricane season it doesn’t rain in Islamorada all that often.

Back To The Boat

When we got back the storm that I thought was only up in Tavernier was already down here. We were the last ones to go back out, throwing groceries and a small dog in the dinghy as fast as possible, and racing to be on the boat before the storm hit. 2 of my neighbors out in the anchorage waved from the corner of the bar as we went by, with this “It’s been nice knowing you” look on their faces.

As we cleared the mangroves there was a very strong chop and wind were already blowing a good 30 knots. “Maybe I should have topped off the gas,” I thought, as we slammed into the waves not appearing to get any closer to the boat. After a wet dinghy ride, we were all safety aboard just before the rain started.

broken rudder
My broken rudder. It looks bad, but I should be able to repair it the same way I did with my last rudder repair.

Then The Real Fun Began

Once aboard the winds picked up even more and the rain started coming down in buckets. We were pointed into it and seemed to be riding the anchor just fine. We were dug in good and it was just going to be a very bumpy night I thought.

I started to put the groceries away, and it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes before I looked up and saw lights that I didn’t recognize. When I ran on deck we were already within 100 feet of a dock and dragging towards shore fast.

My first thought was to grab the secondary anchor, which I thought would be faster and a safer bet than starting the engine. Unfortunately it took me a few seconds to wrestle it out of the locker, a few too many. I had lost. The anchor had caught, but we were hard aground, parallel to shore, between 2 piers. There was nothing we could do but wait, and hope the anchor holds.

Damage Report

The following day I heard winds were in the 40s. One live aboard even claimed it was gusting up to 50. Unheard of for Islamorada, even late in the season, let alone this time of year. A total of 8 boats drug their anchors that night, 2 even in Little Basin which is more protected. For a few days following the storm the tides were really low, so there was no way for me to get out.

After a week of land sickness (we weren’t just aground, we were sitting on an incline) they were able to pull us out at high tide with the full moon approaching. Good thing for towing insurance…AGAIN! All things considered I was very lucky.

There doesn’t appear to be any damage to my hull, even though the one bow was sitting on a rock. There are a few scratches to the gel coat and one of the rails, a broken name plate on the kayak, and one of my rudders broke, but it’s nothing that can’t be repaired with a little fiberglass work.

Lessons Learned

When someone tells you an anchorage has really bad holding (even if they’re not a local) DON’T DOUBT THEM! Don’t assume your hook is dug in, just because you backed down. Even after being someplace for a few weeks without moving, if you’ve only seen light winds, you may very well drag in a real blow. Lastly anchor lockers are for your rode, not for anchors.

A secondary anchor doesn’t belong in the anchor locker. It should either be on a roller or some sort of bracket, so it can quickly be deployed when you need it the most. Thinking my anchor was set, assuming Islamorada wasn’t going to get hit by a storm, and having an anchor that couldn’t quickly be deployed all contributed to what could have ended up much worse.

8 Responses to Into The Storm – Lessons Learned

  1. Hey there Captain Chris

    What an insane story! I would have been freaking out for sure, and when you live on the boat…..I can imagine the things that must have been racing through your mind!!!

    You sure are living the dream, and an inspiration.

    Do you ever do longer trips with people to far off places? Or is that a future dream?

    Cindy

    • Yes Cindy, I had a real fear that there would be major hull damage, or that I’d have to pay for an expensive salvage.

      Like most people on boats the plan is definitely to get out cruising, even if it is just seasonal. I’m not going to be chartering, though. Although if we don’t have permanent crew at the time I wouldn’t be against taking on one or two just for the company, a little help, and to share in the costs.

      Chris

  2. Hi Chris,

    I guess it was time for Islamorada to get hit by a storm. I agree that the climate is changing. I have never seen so many unusual weather patterns. It must have been a horrifying experience to weather out that storm. You were lucky that you boat was reparable. I have never been in a hurricane when in Florida, but I have been in hurricanes when I was in New Jersey. Go Figure!

    • That’s right Bob. It amazes me that people still actually deny climate change. You make the exact same argument that I always make.

      I’m from NJ originally. Florida hasn’t had a storm in years, yet NJ has been hit twice since I’ve been down here. Last time NJ was hit I was in my parents’ basement playing with Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker as it passed.

      Also look at the number of >100 degree days in NJ in recent years.

      I’ve been in worse and longer lasting storms, but this was the first time my anchor didn’t hold.

  3. Hey Chris
    These adventures are scary at times. We once went to a waterfall in our village and it was somehow similar to this. It was so scary yet we had a lot of fun. Am sure the experience made you stronger judging by the way it looks. Thank goodness you made it through. Hope you stay blessed.

    • I’ve drug a few times over the years, but this was by far the worst. There have been a few more episodes since this one. In the months I’ve been here, I’m convinced this place has the worst holding in the world. I think I’m about ready to move on.

  4. Hoy Captain, I read your post like a thriller, so good! I too have a similar experience with anchors and super windy nights..either the anchors sticks to the floor like crazy and you have to cut it loose or it cruses around the floor like a crab..anyways..do you have any suggestions on what anchors does best on all types of sea floor?

    • Hey Kat! I’ve luckily never had to cut an anchor free, which is a good thing, since I have an all chain rode. The few times I have gotten stuck in a hard bottom, I just dove down on it, to pull it free.

      The Rocna, that I have is supposed to be good on all bottoms, although some people now are claiming that it’s over rated. I know a cruising couple who’ve gone much further than me, who switched from a Rocna to a Mason Supreme, which is a similar design. And most old timers swear by a big Bruce.

      If the holding is really that bad, I think just having a bigger and heavier anchor is more important than the design.

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