Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Big Bad Bertha

I walked out to the clubhouse in the morning to find everyone fussing about tropical storm Bertha. I thought I'd be getting through a few chapters of my required continuing education; I had bought a course on the internet, but fate seemed to have something else in store for me. As it turns out, the marina that we are staying at forces everybody to remove their boats from the docks in the event of a storm. Well ain't that nice to know! My first reaction was to refuse, but one of my neighbors explained that waves from the storm would wrap around from the ocean, into the seemingly protected marina, and would just bash my boat against the concrete docks. Where would I go? The weather was already building up, and heading out to sea in search of better cover was not an attractive option. Ponce harbor is just riddled with private moorings that take up most of the usable anchorage. There are simply no clear areas left. Now, Bertha is no hurricane, just a tropical storm, so I decided to take my chances in the crowded harbor.

Ponce Harbor is very crowded.
We spent the day securing everything on deck. We removed the Bimini top, and lashed everything that wasn't bolted down. Some neighbors were moving to a less crowded harbor, about 15 miles away, but not being familiar with the area, I didn't want to take any chances on such short notice. After scouring the harbor, I thought that I had a fair spot to anchor in. As soon as some of the larger boats left the marina, I made my move. I was worried about steering in a crowded harbor, and thought that giving Marie the helm would not work. I sat Marie and Hadrian down and explained our goal for anchoring. With everybody on the same page I took the helm, and proceeded to move off the dock. We were hopelessly unsynchronized from the get-go. Hadrian completely released the front lines and jumped on the boat while Marie was still tied up, and standing on the dock. What the heck! We were able to recover before anything happened. I approached the selected area, and yelled to the crew, "release the anchor". All I heard was screams of pain, and chaos. The boat was stable enough to give me a minute to run forward, and assess the situation. The anchors are just too heavy for Marie and Hadrian to handle. Marie had pinched her fingers on the chain, and was bleeding a little. I got in and finished the release. As we dropped back the anchor grabbed hold. We set a mark on the GPS, then sat down to see how well the anchor would hold. This harbor is difficult because it's so deep, and so crowded. Moorings and anchors are not a good mix. We were in 25 feet of water, and there was no way to let out the proper amount of scope around all the short scope moorings. Scope is the proportion of anchor line that is let out, and the depth of the water. A 5 to 1 is usually recommended, but in 30 feet of water that would mean 150 feet of line.  As the wind changes direction you would swing around with it and hit anything inside that 150 foot circle. Moorings usually have very short scopes, like 1 to 1. We sat there a few hours till we had a little confidence in anchor's set. We then set a second anchor to compliment the first anchor. It looked like we were in good shape.
Too close for comfort.

Hoping nobody drags!
The Sea Tow guy came around to tell us that we needed to move our car as the parking lot was now going to be used for storing boats. "If you don't move it you'll be stuck there for 3 weeks," he said. He was nice enough to give me a ride to shore, and promised to bring me back. I took advantage of the opportunity, and did some last minute shopping. While I was at the market I received a call from Marie. She was quite upset that another boat had come up, and tried to take a mooring that was too close for his size of boat. He struck our boat in the process, and came to rest side-by-side with us. This was not a calm phone call. I hurried over to find the situation just as described, this guy was on top of us, and it was now dark. My crew was teary eyed, and my anchor lines ran directly beneath his boat, a large, wide catamaran. Thank goodness that this person was at least reasonable, and courteous. I was able to let out some line and drop back behind the other boat so that we could at least sleep the night, and delay moving til the morning. He was nice enough to offer to take the children home with him for the storm??? He meant well, the kids were suffering "post-traumatic stress". I really had to assure them that I was in control, yeah right.
The Sea Tow guy came around after he was done for the day (about 10 pm), and had a beer with me. He laughed as he surveyed my situation. "I'll help you in the morning," he said.
That night I slept out on the deck with a pole to push off the other boat if needed. I had to push the boats apart twice.
The next morning my buddy from Sea Tow came around and pulled the catamaran off to the side so that we could lift our anchors. This time Marie was at the helm, and Hadrian, and I lifted the anchors. I really need to buy a winch to lift my anchors. I have two 45 pound anchors with 100 feet of chain, each! When I grab hold of the chain, and start pulling I can feel my eyes wanting to leave their sockets. There is the lingering fear that in the middle of one of the herculean thrusts, I soil my pants. I have to lay down for two hours just to catch my breath again after I raise them. This was not the case when I was younger, what happened? It was really windy, and I explained to Marie that as soon as the last anchor was off the ground, she needed to steer her way through the maze of boats, and head towards open water. When the last anchor did come up, the wind was just too strong, and pushed the boat onto the catamaran. I ran back, and shifted the transmission into neutral before the propeller had a chance to tangle on the boat's anchor line. We held the boats off as best we could while the wind blew us past. We put a couple more scratches on the cat. As soon as we were past the other boat I put the Mirador into gear and headed towards open water. Again I gave Marie the wheel, and then ran up to finish raising the last anchor that lay dangling 15 feet deep off of the anchor roller.
We were left with no choice, but to head towards the more exposed mouth of the harbor. The further we went the more space we found between boats. We found a fair spot with good swinging room. This time Marie drove the boat, and I went up to drop the anchors. The anchors grabbed well on the first shot. We set the GPS to monitor any dragging, and sat down to recover from our ordeal. Just then the guy in the boat next to us came over in his dinghy , and asked us to move, as if there was somewhere else to go. I quickly told him that I could not lift my anchors, even if I wanted to. He told me that he had set a very long scope, wished me luck, and was on his way. We let out all the anchor chain, and about 40 feet of rope. To protect the rope from chafing we slipped a 6 foot long piece of fire hose over it.
About a half hour went by when another guy towing a small derelict vessel with a dinghy weaved his way through the boats harbor and picked a spot about twenty feet from us. What the heck, it felt as if these people were watching me just to trip up my plans. The boat that now laid next to us was not worth 50 bucks, so I told Marie that the moment it became an issue I would simply cut his anchor line.
It was not long before tropical storm Bertha reached us. The eye passed just a few miles to the south of us. On the radar we noticed that the worst of the storm seemed to sheer off to the north of Puerto Rico's central mountain range. Ponce Harbor is well protected, and it really took the bite out of the storm. The waves were small, and choppy, and the wind was a manageable 30 miles per hour. The effects were not steady, they came in waves with torrential rain. Mirador was impressively stable so if you could shut out the howling wind it was quit comfortable inside. Outside it was a little different. Mirador likes to swing at anchor like a race horse at the starting gate. The rain felt like bb's. At first the wind came from the north, and it slowing worked its way to the south over the next 8 hours, a complete 180 degrees. You can only hope that your anchors keep holding through the whole rotation. At about midnight brisk tradewind's from the east settled in, and we all went to sleep.
The next morning the tradewinds continued to blow. There was little if any activity in the harbor. As the day progressed it got hot and muggy. A plague of flies descended on the city of Ponce. There were hundreds of the little guys in the boat. These flies had no finesse, in fact they employed kamikaze tactics. They would swarm you and plop into you coffee or soup. While we tied to sleep, they would buzz up any opening they could find, nose, ears??!! We were tormented by the flies. Oh, we would put out fly paper. The flies were competing for space on the fly paper. We tried burning incense, and only succeeded in smoking outselves out. The flies really didn't mind the smoke. It was way too hot, closing the hatches was not an option. Eva demanded that I move the boat back to the marina, hookup to shore power, and run the air conditioner, but they had not lifted the curfew. As if my burden was not enough, the kids were screaming "I hate my life"...over and over again. The National weather service reported 7 foot waves although it was perfectly calm inside the harbor. The marina would not allow boats back as long as that forecast continued, and so we had to spend another night at anchor being plagued by flies.
The marina is almost empty.

We made some room to anchor.

A plague of flies!

Smoke didn't work.

This a fly nightclub.

The third day seemed much like the second. There was little life in the harbor. I watched the marina for signs of activity, none could be seen. At slightly before 3 pm I saw Sea Tow guy, and called him over. I asked when he thought the marina might be up again. He said they just lifted the curfew. In fact he was just on his way to get his boat. I was free to move back in to the marina. We were all elated with the news, and began to make ready to move the boat. With Marie at the helm, Hadrian and I went up to lift the anchors. Lifting the two anchors is so hard to do that it really inspires confidence in the whole setup. That being said, I have to figure out some way, other than brute strength, to raise my anchors. As Marie drove the boat forward I took up all the slack chain until we were right under the anchor. Then we had a short wait while the anchors peeled off the ocean floor like tacky tape. With the anchors up the boat fell back, and I had to run back to the cockpit to take the helm. We were just a short distance from the dock. The Sea Tow guy was the first one back to the docks and I was right behind him. As we came up alongside our dock, his mates helped us with our dock lines. We immediately ran our power cord to the dock, and connected to shore power. The security guard came running up the dock and began arguing with the Sea Tow guy. Apparently there was some difference of opinion as to whether the marina was open yet. Oh, for crying out loud, I could see this was a personal issue, and I was just collateral damage. There was no way I was going to move off the dock, and go through all the anchoring and flies again, only to return a few hours later! I just collected the crew, put them in the car, and made myself unavailable for the rest of the day.
What we needed was a good'ole civilized mall, with a food court! We enjoyed a day of sightseeing, and returned in the evening. The next day I was shocked that no boats were yet returning to the marina. It was not until the 5th day that boats started to repopulate the marina. All the big boats that were hauled out remain in the parking lot. Apparently, they do not want to go through the exercise of pulling all the boats out again any time soon.
Big Bad Bertha was a drill. She taught us what to expect, what to watch out for, and how to work together. I think that the next time around we're gonna look like we know what we're doing!


  1. How exciting - we miss you guys so much! Pier 6 isn't the same without you.

  2. Stay safe! And keep these great stories coming.