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Day 0 | Flotilla to Alaska

“We lost our ground tackle!” is an ominous subject line to read from a flotilla participant a few days before departure. I looked to the right and saw the time stamp: 2:17 a.m. Hmmm…

As I read further the story became clearer. Cassidy, a 40′ Nordhavn on this year’s flotilla to Juneau, arrived in Anacortes from San Francisco the week before. After attending to some minor boat issues, they headed out to the San Juans on the Thursday before our Saturday meeting at Roche Harbor. It was a beautiful day—warm, calm, partly sunny—and they decided to anchor near the UW marine science facility in Friday Harbor.

The water was grease smooth all afternoon, but overnight the wind built to 20 knots. At 2:00 a.m. something went bump in the night. A 60 footer had dragged anchor and was now pinned against the bow of Cassidy. In order to back up and try to free themselves, owners Dougal and Jen (along with 7 year old daughter Cassidy) had to pay out more and more anchor chain. Eventually, all 400′ of chain was released, and only a short length of line was connecting the anchor and chain to the boat. Then the line snapped, leaving 700 pounds and $3500 of ground tackle on the bottom. Thankfully, though, this freed them from the other boat and allowed them to motor over to the customs dock to spend the rest of the night.

Most importantly, nobody was hurt and neither boat suffered any significant damage. But Cassidy suddenly needed to either find their old ground tackle or a store that stocked the appropriate sized anchor and chain.

Dougal, Jen, Laura, Kevin, and I all sprung into action on Friday morning. Given our time constraints, we approached the problem from two directions. Dougal focused on finding a local diver who could search for the anchor. The rest of us tried to find 400′ of 3/8″ chain, a 40kg Rocna, and an appropriately sized swivel. The only place with everything in stock was Fisheries Supply. The logistics of getting the new ground tackle (remember, it’s 700 pounds!) were complicated. And the ground tackle was expensive.

Meanwhile, Dougal found a diver (Shane from Dockside Diving) who thought he could find and retrieve the existing ground tackle, but he wasn’t available until Saturday morning. If Shane couldn’t get the ground tackle, the Cassidy crew would have to scramble (that’s an understatement) to rent a car, drive to Seattle, pick up the ground tackle, and get back to Anacortes or Friday Harbor, all in a single afternoon.

Shane arrived on Saturday and started searching. Cassidy‘s GPS track proved invaluable for determining where to search, since it was obvious where they had dropped the anchor and swung.

Cassidy’s track

Despite poor visibility, he eventually located the chain, connected a line to the chain, and brought the line to the surface. Meanwhile, Cassidy motored out from the marina.

Cassidy with lines attached (by the diver) to the anchor chain!
Bringing the ground tackle back aboard Cassidy

Using the capstan on the windlass, Dougal and Jen slowly brought up the chain and then fed it back into the windlass. A few minutes later, they were underway for Roche Harbor and the first night of our trip to Alaska.

Of course, there are lots of lessons…

  • NEVER put yourself or anyone else between two boats. In the middle of the night, disoriented by darkness and frightened by having been hit, it’s all too easy to make dangerous decisions and try to put yourself between the boats that are banging into each other. Boats can be repaired or replaced much more readily than humans.
  • Dim instruments before going to bed and consider leaving a chartplotter on overnight. That way, if something happens in the middle of the night, turning on the electronics won’t ruin night vision.
  • Always have a GPS recording your track
  • If using an all chain rode, be sure there’s a length of line connecting the bitter end of the chain to the boat. This line should be sufficiently long so it reaches the deck and is easy to cut in the event the anchor needs to be released rapidly.
  • Keep spotlights handy

We’re hoping the rest of the summer will be less eventful! (Read MV Cassidy’s account of the event here.)

Roche Harbor

After everyone arrived and settled in at Roche Harbor, we got together on the dock in Roche Harbor for happy hour and dinner and to chat about the trip.

Nordhavn 40 Cassidy, Nordic Tug 37 Safe Harbour, Nordic Tug 34 Airship. Not pictured Nordic Tug 37 Fortunate and Ranger Tug 29S Rhapsody.

We’ve got a wonderful group of people this year and we’re expecting a lot of fun and great adventures. We’ll be trying to post every day (when internet connectivity allows) so you can follow along on our five-week journey to Juneau, Alaska.