Anchoring angst: What is the etiquette?

in Intracoastal Waterway / Life at Sea / Sailing the World
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anchor alarm HD

We were startled awake by foghorn blasts at 7:30 am in Cumberland Island, which I can now say is my least favorite way to be woken up other than having Charlie pee on me (which she does when her litter needs changing).

It took about four or five blasts for Ryan and I to realize that the horn was aimed at us, at which point I grabbed our iPad from the bedside and looked for signs of dragging. Our iPad has an “Anchor Alert HD” app that not only allows me to set very specific parameters for a dragging alarm zone, with an offset for our boat’s actual position, but it uses a satellite image to show me our anchoring position, and a GPS to track and record our boat’s movement throughout the night. So when this app says our boat isn’t dragging, it isn’t dragging. And according to our GPS tracks, we were almost exactly where we were when we dropped anchor the night before.

anchor alarm HD

Image capture of our anchoring position – the yellow shows the boat’s movement.

Yet the foghorn blasts kept coming, and outside our window there was an anchored motorboat floating so close that if the captain had wanted to see through our portholes that we weren’t wearing any pants, he could have.

So Ryan threw on some pants, ran up into the cold, windy cockpit and heard the motorboat captain shout, “You’re dragging!”

Ryan looked at me. I looked at the iPad and shook my head. Ryan shrugged and shouted back out of the cockpit, “No we’re not! We’re in the same position we were in last night!

I couldn’t hear the captain’s response, but it definitely wasn’t an admission of fault because the next thing I knew, Ryan was putting on all his foul-weather gear, grabbing the engine keys and anxiously asking me to help him figure out what the hell was going on.

By the time I got up to the cockpit to show Ryan the GPS anchoring tracks on our iPad, the captain who’d fog-horned us awake had left his enclosed pilot house and must’ve gone back to bed or something because he didn’t reappear or hail us on our radio, and he definitely hadn’t started his engine to try to help the situation.

“Who’s responsibility is it to move in this situation?” I asked. “I know we’re not dragging… how does he know he’s not dragging? And where the hell is he?!”

I was visibly annoyed, but Ryan reminded me that it was a good thing that we were woken up before our boats could touch, so if I got on the radio, I should be courteous and thank the captain for alerting us.

That made sense. Except I spent the next ten minutes trying to hail the motorboat in question on channel 16 while Ryan droveHideaway forward over our anchor to get as far away as possible from the boat, which was now perpendicular to us off our port side. And there was still no answer on the VHF. “Who blasts a foghorn and doesn’t have their radio on?!” I exclaimed.

But this wasn’t the only strange thing about the scenario – while rubbing our eyes and trying to figure out what to do, we scanned the anchorage and concluded the following:

  1. We were facing the same direction as the five other sailboats around us.
  2. We were in the same place we were in when we went to sleep.
  3. The motorboat appeared to be the only boat swinging in the opposite direction to the other boats in the anchorage.
  4. The motorboat had about twice as much anchor rode out as everyone else.
  5. The motorboat had an enclosed (i.e. warm) pilot house and a windlass.
  6. We had an open (i.e. cold) cockpit and no windlass.
  7. Points 5 and 6 meant it would’ve been way easier and more comfortable for Mister Motorboat to pull up his anchor and move than it would’ve been for me to haul up all our chain and our 44-pound anchor by hand just to drop it again a few feet away.
  8. The captain seemed to have concluded that this was our problem and not his, as he went back down below to drink his coffee while we froze in our cockpit, running our engine and scratching our heads.

Eventually, I saw the captain’s wife pop her head up into the pilot house, so I shouted to get her attention and mimed a telephone to my ear while pointing to the cabin down below. She appeared to get the message and disappeared below.

But instead of getting the captain’s wife on the radio, I got the captain. So I said, “Thanks for waking us up, Captain. I appreciate the warning. But we have a very detailed anchor alarm with GPS tracks that show we’re not dragging. It appears that either your boat is dragging or you’re getting pulled in a different direction because of the current. What would you like to do? Over.”

The captain replied, “Well, I’ve been monitoring the situation for the last hour. If you say you’re not dragging, that’s fine. You can stay there as long as you monitor your position. Otherwise you’ll have to move. Over.”

Ryan’s eyes got wide and he started pointing at the motorboat and shouting, “WE’LL have to move?! Why doesn’t HE @#$-ing move! We both arrived at the same bloody time last night! He’s in there drinking coffee in a t-shirt in his pilot house with a windlass and pointing in the wrong bloody direction from everyone else! I don’t mind him waking me up if we’re about to hit, but why am I the only one out here with my engine running trying to solve this problem?!”

I paused with my finger hovering over the VHF button. “Is it okay if I don’t say that?”

“Don’t say that,” Ryan said.

“Um, I guess we’ll monitor the situation. Over.”

And so we looked around us some more and weighed our options. We could move. Or we could wait with our engine on to see if the motorboat leaves. And if he didn’t leave, we could move then. But we had a really hard time anchoring the night before because the anchorage was narrow with a shoal marking the boundary, and because Ryan had cut the top of his thumb off cooking dinner in St. Marys. So I was the only one on board with two good hands to drop anchor with when we got to Cumberland Island.

And anchoring is not a job I’ve quite perfected yet. After resetting the anchor twice the night before because of poor positioning, my arms were killing me. So I was reluctant to pull up the anchor a third time if I didn’t have to. Plus, our plan was to stay another day and do some work online from the boat, so we weren’t planning to pull up anchor at all until the following day.

In the end, it turned out we couldn’t get a signal on our Verizon Hotspot at Cumberland Island, so we were forced to weigh anchor and give our motorboat neighbor his victory.

In hindsight, I’m not really sure what the proper anchoring etiquette is in a situation like this (I even Googled it and came up with some not-so-helpful threads on sites like Cruisers Forum), but I think we definitely learned that though it’s not nice to discriminate against motorboats (we know lots of lovely motorboat owners), it’s probably in our best interest to discriminate when anchoring.

Anchoring amongst your own kind (of boat) means you can better predict how the boats around you will swing, where they’ll settle and how they’ll react to the wind and current.

Next time, when anchoring in a tight harbor, we’ll be seeking out sailboats only for company.

Please share, what is anchoring etiquette? Are there rules?

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  • Becca September 8, 2016, 1:32 am

    We just finished 103 and had our first anchoring experience. Definitely will take some practice! That anchoring app sounds very helpful and your neighbor sounded just delightful 😉

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