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.
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.
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.
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.
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.