Below: Chantal works on the snubber.
Chantal and I bolted upright in our cabin, the forward V-berth. The moon was 91% visible and shining in through the hatch at 2:00 a.m., and we could see each other’s faces. We both wore the same expression, a subtle blend of WTF and OMG that was not-so-subtly indicating terror.
We ran up on deck, naked, because the source of the sound was the anchor chain and windlass, and if that failed, we would be adrift, ping-ponging off other boats in the anchorage. The engine may need to be fired up. Lines hauled. Action taken. There was no time for sartorial considerations. To save our boat we would fight like Celts, bare-assed and wild.
The wind was howling. We were halfway through night one of a well-advertised three-day blow, known around the Windward Islands as the Christmas Winds. These winds built from the East-Northeast when the Bermuda High over the Atlantic sagged as weather systems moved off the Continental U.S. and out to sea. The sagging high compressed the atmosphere into a tight gradient that howled through the easternmost Caribbean islands, including the one we were currently hiding behind, Union Island in the Grenadines.
We were in Chatham Bay, an ice-cream-scoop-shaped beach of paradise tucked in the lee of Union’s highest peak. We had checked into the country the day before, at Clifton Harbour, then scooted over here in anticipation of the dreaded Christmas Winds, which I quickly dubbed Santa’s Flatulence. We had anchored in 8 feet of water over sand (8 feet!), paid out 60 feet of scope, then dove on the anchor, verifying that it was buried in good holding. It was.
The problem was the snubber.
Oh, you are probably saying to yourself about now, the snubber. It’s always the snubber. For those that don’t know, a snubber is a harness, attached to the cleats and paid out through the fairleads at the bow. Its center is clipped or attached in some way (there are about a million different ways to attach your snubber to your anchor chain) to the chain when you are finished paying it out. It takes the tension off the chain and windlass, transferring it to the cleats, making for a more pleasing anchorage. So, yes, smarty pants, it was the snubber.
The hook snapped off, causing the BANG! The anchor immediately picked up the slack, and the boat lurched wildly. See the beginning of this post to find out how we reacted: naked and afraid.
We immediately panicked and began screaming at each other:
“What are we going to do?”
“We are all going to die!”
“Where’s the rum?”
Actually, we scrabbled back down into the cockpit and located the Big Box O’ Shackles’N’Things that we keep for just such an emergency. Locating a workable shackle, we took a headlamps and went back to the bow. I hung over the prow, inverted, while the winds screamed like banshees. I tried to time the slackening of the chain with my attempt to fix the new shackle into place, but it was difficult. After several tries, I succeeded, and we paid out more anchor chain until the mended snubber picked up the force of the winds. Satisfied with our efforts, we repaired to the study where we braced ourselves with a good Scotch and made love until dawn.
Unnerved by the entire episode, neither of us slept. The flatulence continued unabated, sometimes gusting to 35+ knots. That’s some serious flatulence. The tiny ship was tossed. The skipper and his fearless crew spent the rest of the night jumping every time Camino was pulled on her anchor, springing back with almost whiplash efficiency.
But the anchor and the rebuilt snubber held that first, long night. And the second. And the third, and when the winds fell off to just 25+ knot gusts, there was an unclenching of butt cheeks that revealed a new crop of diamonds and pearls. Our nights were still plagued by the groans of the snubber riding the force of the winds, but we knew that we had seen the worse of this blow. Now we could look forward to a window for sailing, sailing that would bring us to Bequia and Christmas. And, hopefully, an absence of Santa’s Flatulence.