Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dragon Tails (Draggin' Tales)

The Anchor Dragon
Sailors always have sea stories, and every cruiser I know has at least one sea story in the category of "anchoring."  So here are two anchor-draggin' stories, and they both arise from hasty incorrect assumptions.  One case in which the guy assumed he was dragging, but wasn't; and one where he assumed he wasn't dragging, but was.

This story came via the crew of s/v Outrageous.  We met them underway south of Charleston, SC last spring while discussing overtaking, discovered we were both from Michigan, and shared wine and cheese in an anchorage that evening.  It seems they had a friend who was a bit of a blowhard, and proudly announced that he never, never, dragged anchor.  One day the two boats were traveling together and came to a medium-size anchorage surrounded by crab pots in the shoals, where they decided to spend the night. Outrageous anchored behind and to the side of Blowhard.  During the night the tide turned, Outrageous was now in front, but they decided they were too close to the crab pots that were now behind them.  So they moved to a new spot, and because of the way the current had reversed, this new spot was again behind Blowhard.  By morning, the tide had turned back again.  Outrageous was now in front, and in the morning light Blowhard saw how close he was to the crab pots that Outrageous had moved away from during the night.  But wait!  When Blowhard went to bed, Outrageous was behind him, yet now Outrageous was in front, and Blowhard was close to the crab pots.

"For the first time ever," Blowhard told Outrageous, "I have dragged anchor! I see where you are with respect to me, you were in back and now you're in front! I can't believe it, but it has happened!"

Outrageous quickly saw the error their friend had made and took the opportunity to have a little fun at his expense.  "No, no," Outrageous said, "it must just be a trick of the shifting currents, I think you're okay."

Blowhard shook his head in bewilderment.  "That's a gracious thing for you to say, Outrageous, but no.  I still can't believe it, conditions weren't bad last night, but I must've done something wrong, because I dragged anchor.  That's the only way you could be in front of me now, when you were behind me when we went to sleep last night."

Outrageous said he finally 'fessed up about 10 years later, and they are still friends, although Blowhard is a lot more humble these days.

= = = = =

This second one happened to us, this autumn in Wrightsville Beach, NC.  We'd been in the popular anchorage for several days when a pair of big trawlers, "Saltwater Cowboy" and "Scrimshaw" (not their real names) came in together late in the evening at low tide.  They set anchor rather quickly, but well away from us.  I noticed that the closer boat, Scrimshaw, had a gold Great Loop cruising burgee.  The gold color is a mark of accomplishment; it indicates that they have completed the roughly 3,000-mile Loop at least once.

During the night a small squall came through.  I dimly heard horns and commotion, but secure in our holding (after all, we'd been there for several days without moving and the anchor had had plenty of time to settle), I was unworried.  Then suddenly we heard a knock on our bow.  We scrambled topside in the wind and rain to find people with flashlights on the decks of the 4 or 5 boats closest to us.  Both trawlers had moved, and the stern of "Scrimshaw" was like a wall directly in front of our faces.  That knock we had heard, was the trawler hitting our second anchor still on the bow!

"You are dragging!" Scrimshaw accused us as he started his engine and motored away.  "My anchor alarm never went off, so I didn't move!  You must be dragging and you hit us!"

"I'm calling the Coast Guard!" someone else yelled.

"I've been here for three days," I replied, "and I'm still right where I was.  You are upwind and upcurrent from me, Scrimshaw, and your stern is hitting my bow. That makes it rather more likely that you are the boat that is dragging."  Dude, I'm thinking to myself, I don't care about your bleating about what your electronics are telling you, what do your eyes tell you? You dropped anchor across from the hotel, now you are near the bridge.  How do you think you got here?  And gravity?  It usually makes things fall down, not up.  Duh! So much for your vaunted experience in completing the Loop once already!

As Scrimshaw and Saltwater Cowboy moved away (far, far away) to re-anchor, I heard them talking to each other on the VHF, asking each other if they had had any damage.  "I have a bent stanchion," replied Scrimshaw.

Next morning the sky had returned to blue and calm.  I had been chatting on the VHF with one of the sailboats near us and the moment that conversation was concluded, Scrimshaw hailed us.  "Well?" he asked.  "Did you figure out if you dragged last night?"

"Unfortunately [for you!] Scrimshaw, I have confirmed that I did not.  I recorded in our ship's log the lat-long where we dropped anchor three days ago, and we are still well within that watch circle."  (And, I thought to myself, gravity still doesn't make things fall uphill!)

"My anchor alarm never sounded," Scrimshaw repeated.  "And the wind wasn't forecast."

Thank you U.S. Navy for excellent seamanship training we got back in Annapolis!  I know what really happened to you, Scrimshaw -- you hadn't been paying attention.  You put out enough anchor scope for the depth of water at low tide when you came here, but it was high tide when the squall hit, and you just flat-out got caught unprepared because you forgot to account for almost 5 feet of tide.  Simple, really.  But because your anchor alarm never went off, you "assume" it couldn't be your error?  Over-reliance on technology, anyone?

= = = = =

Ass.U.Me, my fourth-grade teacher the inimitable Mrs. Cohen quipped to us, as she taught us a cute mnemonic for spelling the word.  "When you assume, you make an ass of you and me."

Last spring we met our friend and fellow blogger Octopussy in Charleston, and she told us one of the best stories about "assume" that I've ever heard.  Seems that early in her Navy career she was on a warship that was on a nighttime training mission.  She had been told that as part of the exercise there would be flares fired off in the ocean and was instructed that when she saw the flares she was to turn the ship toward them.

Sure enough, after a few hours of gazing into the dark nothingness, she eventually saw some dim, ethereal white lights, shimmering on the horizon.  Hmm, she told us she thought to herself, that's really not what I expected those flares to look like, or quite where I expected to see them, but hey, there's nothing else out here, so I assume that must be the flares.  And she gave the order to steer the ship on the new heading, toward the wispy lights.

And the closer they got, the weirder the "flares" seemed ... until the real flares showed up unmistakably on the horizon, and she turned back toward them and finally understood that she'd been steering not toward an unusual style of wispy white flare, but toward a sailboat that had lost its navigation lights and so was shining their flashlight to illuminate the white sails in the dark night.  I can't imagine what it must have felt like being on that sailboat, unable to communicate, and with a huge warship making directly toward them.

In the debrief after the event she said she learned a principle which she never forgot -- and now, after her excellent illustrative leadership story, neither will I.  "Don't assume it away if the details don't quite match up," her mentor told her. "Make sure you get enough information to really know."