Episode 20. Anchored or not – that’s the question


Ben, Hugh and Duncan are more than halfway through their journey from the Philippines to Thailand, aboard brand new Mumby 48 catamaran Candeux.

Having made their way down the west coast of Borneo to Kuching dodging floating logs and unlit fishing nets, they are ready for the next leg.

We plan to depart Kuching and stop overnight at Pulau Talang Talang Besar, a turtle breeding ground and nature reserve, before our two-night, three-day passage across the South China Sea from Malaysian Borneo to the Malay Peninsula.  We make a 0545 hrs start (on the low tide) to go nine nautical miles from the Kuching marina down the Sarawak River to its mouth, then on to Pulau Talang Talang (40nm distant).  The winds are predicted to be five knots (with 10 overnight) from the NW with a NW swell.  The island’s eastern shore should be a good enough anchorage.

Checking the port propeller for damage

Ben and Duncan check the port propeller for possible log damage

Both Duncan and Ben dived on the port propeller in the Kuching Marina to see if the log strike we had en route, which we thought had caused some damage, actually did. They could find nothing obviously wrong so we now have both engines on.  With little wind and low seas, we are just motoring.  We arrive at 1600 hrs in the fading light.  The forecast has swells under a metre from the NW with lighter winds from the NW – and then W – later tomorrow and the following early morning.  We set about anchoring off the eastern rocky shoreline in 10 metres of water.  We cannot be certain about the nature of the seabed, but there is a lot of rock running off the island.  Ben has about 35-40 metres of chain out.  Hugh suggests that in 10 metres of water, in what is probably a rock bottom, we could do with at least a five to one ratio (50 metres).  Hugh also suggests that it would be better to anchor further out from the rocky shore (we are probably only 50 metres from the island).  Hugh observes: if the wind changes it could become a bad lee shore, and we won’t have much time for action.  But Ben believes that, with the current wind forecasts and us being comfortably snugged-in under the island’s lee, and believing that the anchor has dug-in, all will be fine.

After Ben cooks up a delicious Malaysian curry, matched with some good wine (he’s a very good cook), we all head for bed.  Given that we have come in close to the rocky shore, Ben sets the anchor alarm app on his phone.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t set at the time of dropping the anchor, but after we had dug it in, so its utility in a tight spot is questionable.  However, Ben sets a 100-foot distance for the alarm.  If we move more than that, we should hear about it.

And yes.  At 2300 hrs there is a piercing wail, and Ben’s phone emphatically lets us know that we have drifted.  Not good.  We rush on deck in the pitch dark to find that the anchor has dragged.  The weather has also changed.  It is now pouring with rain and, contrary to the weather forecast, we have about 10-15 knots from the SE with an increasing swell on what is now a lee shore about 50 metres away.  Oh dear.  We assess that this is a localised storm, and that once it’s passed the macro forecast will reassert itself.  Still, we are in it now.

The essential question is: are we still dragging?  The pouring rain makes it difficult for the spotlight beam to illuminate the shore.  Yes, we are that close.  Ironically, it is only the lightning which gives us a useful, if very brief, view of where we are and what is happening.  While we have dragged, it appears to be more northerly than west towards the rocks.  That’s goodish.  It’s pushing us along the side of the island, rather than into it.  We are grateful for small mercies.  It seems that after being dislodged, the anchor has now dug in again.  We stand around in the covered cockpit trying to get a sense of the situation and determine if we have to try to raise the anchor to get off this lee shore.  However, it seems that the anchor has reburied.  Although, given that the chart gives no insight into the nature of the seabed and that it has dragged once already……  Still, Ben seems confident that we are now well anchored.  He resets the alarm and then Duncan sets his and sleep draws them below.  Hugh is anxious in the cockpit and stays for a while to further consider if we are drifting.  With near zero visibility, it’s impossible to know.

Eventually, Hugh too returns to his bunk, however his dreams are haunted by the shrieking mythic wail of harpies calling from the rocks to lure sailors to their doom.  It’s either that or the anchor alarm.  Sensing that the harpies wouldn’t be outdoors on such a rubbish night, Hugh rushes back up on deck to find that we have dragged, yet again.  Oops.  The boat has turned 180 degrees and we are now noticeably closer to the shore on our starboard, and the tracking which Hugh initiated on the chart plotter shows us not just turning in circles, but that we have made a new circle closer to shore.  If this keeps up we could almost vortex our way to the rocks.  Fortunately, it is now obvious that the storm is abating: the rain has slackened, the swell modified and the wind seems to have dropped.  Again, we search for signs of further dragging, assess (again) that the anchor has dug-in, reset both anchor alarms and return to bed.

We awake to find that we are not dead, nor chained to the rocks by harpies feasting on our entrails.  Good news.  Next time, we really must plan for the worst, even if there is no sign of it.  The worst is a sneaky bastard.

Pulau Talang Talang Besar

Pulau Talang Talang Besar

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