Strong Winds And Small Anchors

Learning to sail aboard a yacht in the Adriatic Sea spending nights in idyllic island marinas seemed like the perfect way to unwind from spending a month aboard a construction barge.

The Dalmation Coast is teeming with rustic islands. The rhythm of life moving the same pace it has for many generations. Islands that make and imbibe their own wine and olive oil. Some with their own morning markets with fresh caught fish, freshly baked stone hearth bread and sun kissed fruit. Evenings in the marina were reserved for wine and song.

We were to spend a week aboard a 36 foot Bavarian Cruiser sailing yacht, intimately getting to know each other. My instructor, Martin, a management consultant in a previous life who retired to teach sailing and travel the world with his girlfriend. Martin, who spoke with an accent reminiscent of the House of Lords was a bon vivant and despite being in his sixties, stayed up later, drank more, sang longer and out partied any other person on the boat. Other crew members were Jim, a young bearded, lumberjack-looking building developer from the US who made enough bag to temporarily retire from the rat race. Helen, a blonde, statuesque Norwegian journalist outnumbered and surrounded by testosterone. Oliver, a young recent university grad who introduced me to grappa and acted as our translator. He could passably speak enough and understand other Slavic languages to remove any language barriers that arose from speaking with locals.

One afternoon as we were practicing tacking, gybing and trimming the sails, we received radio news of strong winds and swells coming our way. The day up to that point had been like any day we had during the week. Sunny, clear or scattered clouds. We decided to believe what we heard over what we saw. We headed to the nearest marina and found it full. Same with the next. Not good!

We decided to stay in Sesula marina. Without any place to moor we were going to drop anchor and spend the night on rotating shifts to keep watch over the ship and avert danger.

Once we were a safe distance from other boats, we opened the storage locker on the bow of the boat and dropped anchor. This anchor was plow-shaped and didn’t seem all that big or heavy. The anchor chains clanked until the anchor reached bottom of whatever was on the sea bed. We started the boat’s onboard motor and reversed to ensure anchor was lodged into the mud really good.

I have been out at sea in some heavy storms where massive barges would use multiple humungous anchors to hold fast in powerful gale winds. This anchor seemed small for the vessel it was supporting.

I was the second person to go on watch. Oliver had woke me from my cot in the earliest hour of the morning under the bow and he went to bed.

I climbed out to the ship’s deck. Half in a daze, I looked up at the starry sky and saw wisps of clouds beginning to form. Absolute, breathtaking stillness. It was as though the world had gone to sleep and anything I thought was deafening. I thought about a lot of things: my next job contract, my family back at home, what I should do with the remaining week in Croatia after sailing was done. I thought about old mariners.

I had been interested in stories from the Age of Sail. Explorers finding distant shores using wind for power and night sky for navigation. I still to this day have visions of sailing off into the sunset aboard a blue ocean sailing yacht headed for tropical destinations.

Once my watch ended I roused Jim from his half conscious sleep. I told him what he needed to know for handover and went to bed. I rested without sleeping.

At some point in the night I began to feel the boat jarring under the force of the wind. The wind began to turn and I could feel the boat swinging in different directions in an arch as the wind howled with different intensities outside. I don’t think anyone slept although they remained stowed away like everything else on the ship that could move. Wondering if the anchor would hold up. Without seeing what’s happening outside, the mind plays tricks. You have no idea how or what the boat is doing under the strain of the wind.

In the morning, everyone woke up, bleary eyed, surveying the surroundings to see what happened from the violent winds last night. Nothing. Just a quiet, serene peace as we casually sipped our kettle boiled instant coffee and poured our cold breakfast cereal. Like the seasoned salts we were, we planned the passage for that night and discussed the exercises we would cover that day.