Preparing for the Day of Reckoning

Yesterday, Saturday was the Debacle, Sunday the Plan was made.  That gave me five days to sort out the windlass and get it working again.

First thing I did was get out the Ideal windlass manual for my ACW windlass.  I had two issues:

  1. As we were hauling the anchor, it became more and more strained, until finally it just stopped with the current protection breaker activating
  2. The wildcat hits the top of the chain stripper on each revolution.

Now this windlass is 30+ years old but is built like a champ and perhaps if I rad the manual more often, it will outlast me. Because there in ALL CAPS was a warning that the windlass should only be used with a load in the clockwise direction.

My not so straight Chain Stripper

Oops. Because I had anchored with my secondary anchor whose rode used the starboard anchor locker, I would wind the rode around the capstan and use the down switch to rotate the windlass counterclockwise. I had worked in the few times in the past I had done so, but the anchor was never very deep. With a little tap on the circuit breaker protection switch, I could reset the circuit breaker button and the windlass worked fine.  I even test it, by lowering the primary anchor and letting a couple hundred feet out on the harbor bottom, which is between 10 to 20 feet under the keel.

Hauling it worked fine, except for the chain stripper being hit and therefore bent by the wildcat.

The diagram from the Ideal manual

The diagram of the winch also gave me the information that the top of the chain stripper must be exactly 2.5” above the plate of the winch to fit into the groove of the wildcat which is about a half inch wide. Mine was clearly 2 and ¾”.

An image from the Ideal Manual

In the same manual, I found an old picture, which seemed to show that the chain stripper was perfectly straight. That was enough for me.

So, first stop Monday morning was to the big boat yard next to the dock, Superior Marine Services. There, Tyler, who was the bronze and stainless-steel expert, took a few minutes out of his busy to day to help little me (He is one of those big Alaskans that towers over me, like a brown bear!).

He suggested the big press. I mumbled ok since I was clueless. After all of 5 minutes and about a dozen pressings in different angles and parts, my stripper was as straight as new.

And typical of Alaskans, he wouldn’t take any money for his efforts, even coffee money.

I walked back to Dauntless, installed by stripper and it fit perfectly. I then proceeded to pull up the hundred feet of chain I put out as much to clean it an anything else and my little windlass worked like new.

Tides, currents and sunrise were all set. Now, I just needed the weather to cooperate.

 

 

After the Debacle

While I felt good about having the common sense to abandon the anchor and not try to lift 125 lbs. of anchor chain and anchor more than 150 feet (50 ft of 3/8”bbb chain x 1.65lbs/ft x  + 40 lbs. anchor = 122 lbs. plus rode), I had a sleepless night.

While I wasn’t sleeping, I came up with the plan for the week:

First, I had to get the windlass working. It had an electrical problem; it had no power and lastly the wildcat was hitting the chain stripper. None of that was good.

Second, Wrangell only has about 7 hours of daylight nowadays. While the sun never gets very high in the sky in any case, I needed to maximize our chances of seeing those stupid little shrimp pot floats. They are only 10” by 5” wide. No easy to see under poor lighting conditions.

Third, even as we abandoned the anchor, I was looking for the shrimp pot float that should have been very near the boat. We spent 10 minutes looking for it with no luck. I was now worried that the reason we couldn’t find, notwithstanding the whitecaps and poor light, was that the float was under water, pulled there by the strong currents in the area. In the upper part of the bay, I didn’t expect the currents to be that strong, but in the opening to the bay, where we left the first shrimp pot, the currents could reach a few knots. In 320’ of water, with a pot on only 400’ of line, a current will drag the float under. Plus, even worse, with such strong currents and a light pot, who knows where the pot would be a week later.

So, first thing Sunday, I went to my navigation chart to check the currents and tides for the coming days. Coastal Explorer does make that easy. I had to find the slack current times that occurred during what daylight there was. I quickly realized that our options were limited. The viable days were today, Sunday Friday and lastly Saturday (7 days away).

Today was out since the windlass problem was not yet solved. Also, we were all tired. I didn’t want to have any more problems or issues, otherwise I may be writing about Mutiny on Dauntless.

Friday was a school day, but push come to shove, it was viable.

Saturday looked ideal with sunrise and tides. Slack time in Mahan Bay would be at 09:50 Saturday morning, sunrise is 08:20. Plus the currents would be with us until it turned just before 10:00 and then we could ride it home also.

With more than $500 of gear waiting for our return, I wanted to maximize our chances of finding it. So I told the crew we needed to be there by 9:15 to 9:30 giving us a good hour of slack or not strong currents to find our shrimp floats (I used the largest white fender I had for the anchor, I knew I would have no trouble finding it).

Subtracting the 2.5-hour cruise from 09:30 meant a 07:00 departure time. Yes, it would be dark, but my goal was to retrieve our gear.

The last part of this plan dealt with the weather. The winds had been strong 12 to 18 knots the entire day when we left the pots. At noon, it was not much of a problem, but as the afternoon, the clouds had increased, the day became even more grey and darker. With a little pickup in the winds, little whitecaps developed, which made it impossible to find any small white floats in a grey sky and sea.

A shrimp Pot Float

So, we needed a day with light winds and the less clouds the better.

I go to Windy.com for all my long-range weather planning. I still find it easier to use and I use it for the big picture in the long term. The weather models (I use the ECMWF) were consistent for the entire week and showed that Saturday was the best weather day with the lightest winds and the only non-overcast day.
That would work and I planned accordingly.

Next up, I would have to tackle the Ideal Windlass and get it working by the coming Saturday, the best day for daylight, weather, winds, tides and currents.

 

 

 

 

Lost Anchor, Lost Shrimp Pots, Lost Daylight

The week started ominously over some spilled rice. I had dropped about half a cup of rice on the galley floor. I told Tee I would take care of it and then I froze.

Sitting at the Dock in Wrangell.
White anchor on left is secondary. Primary anchor is on right.

Had I been alone, the dustpan would have come out and that little pile of rice would have been over the side before anyone knew what happened. But Tee was staring at me, which I knew not to be good.

The Vietnamese say rice grains are “diamonds from God”. I knew if I even reached for the dustpan, we would be talking disasters on the biblical scale. No. I stayed frozen.

Seeing my inaction, Tee took her two hands and scooped the rice right up, while grumbling in Vietnamese.  Just then Thien got back from school and Tee told him the story of how her bright husband, who seems to know so much about everything, can’t seem to do the simplest things.

Cruising South in the Eastern Passage. Wrangell Island is to our right (west). Notice on the Maretron display the winds are already 15 knots.

They laughed all evening at that and later added that reading too much causes stupidity. Now I did see some truth in that, as throughout my life, I have sometimes struggled with the simplest things, always thinking it’s more complicated than it actually is.

That was Friday evening.  We would go shrimping for the first time the next day.

Saturday started out unwell. It was a real litany of what not to do.

Sunrise is around 08:15, sunset 15:15, remember that for later.

We had just gone thru the coldest days Dauntless has ever seen, with temperatures in the mid to high 20’s. On this Saturday, our dock water hose was frozen. In what turned out to be the only thing I did right in this entire process, I had filled both of the water tanks on Dauntless in case we lose dock water. Now, the Harbor Maser here has his act together, as I noticed they had the end of the water line open during freezing temperatures, thus keeping the water flowing.

Our track having left the 2nd shrimp pot, the crab pot and now anchored

So, while water was not a problem, it still took some time to disconnect the frozen hose and put it away. Then, we spent 20 minutes trying to get the frozen lines off the boat. By then everyone was cold and miserable; at least I was. But Tee and Thien get excited about fishing, so our 2-and-a-half-hour cruise to Mahan Bay, on the east side of Wrangell Island, went pretty quickly.

Another boating friend here in Wrangell lent us a shrimp pot. We also bought one while on sale here in town, so we had two shrimp pots and one crab pot.

The plan was to put one shrimp pot in about 320’ of water at the mouth of the bay, the second further up the bay in about 150’ of water; lastly in the crab pot in about 40’ hear the shore. We would then anchor in deeper water, about 200’ and fish for a couple of hours.

Thien on the way to school Friday morning, walking on a frost covered dock

All went to plan, but a few yellow flags were already being waived and ignored by yours truly.

First, wanting to not have a departure in the dark, I did not start the engine until 08:45. Then it took 30 minutes just to disconnect the water hose and get the frozen lines undone. So, we were not underway until 09:15.

Running against the current, we did not get to Mahan Bay until 11:35, where we set the first shrimp pot in 320’. This pot only had 400’ of line and in a miscommunication between me and Tee, I wanted to confirm the pot was on the bottom before we released the buoy. Oh well, “the best laid plans of mice and men…

We motored 30 minutes up the bay and set our second shrimp pot. This one we did confirm that the pot was on the bottom and we had about 50 feet of line remaining to the buoy. We then dropped the crab pot just offshore in about 30’ of water and motored back to deeper water to do some fishing.

Tee only a couple weeks earlier having snagged a number of crab.

In one of my brighter moments, since we were anchoring in 160’ of water, I decided to put our secondary anchor down. It has 50’ of chain and 350’ of rode. My reasoning was why put the windlass thru trying to lift 150 of chain and anchor.

It’s now 12:35. We wanted to let the pots sit and fish for two hours.  Which we did, Tee caught two sole or flounder. (we eat everything we catch, even those ugly bullhead (sculpin) fish.

I didn’t even start the engine to retrieve the anchor and get underway until 14:50. Clearly a mistake. The wind had been blowing all day, blowing up the entrance to the bay at 15 to 18 knots. With no real fetch, no real waves, but enough to make little whitecaps. No problem for Dauntless but trying to find a little white pot buoy in a gray sky is another story.

But we were not even there yet. As we wound the anchor rode in, the winch started going slower and slower. Ut Oh. It had done the same thing a couple of months ago. The fix was so simple, I forgot what it was!!

In addition, the wildcat was hitting the chain stripper.  That certainly didn’t help. But after pulling in less than 50 feet of line, it totally stopped. I pushed the reset button on the windlass solenoid, to no effect.

I knew we couldn’t pull this much line and anchor in by hand. In August when this happened in 30 feet of water, it was hard enough.

Tee fishing no matter the wind and rain.

Now, because I read a lot, I had anticipated this for years. Both anchor rodes are connected to short lines in the chain locker so that if all the chain or rode is out, the short line can be untied or cut if need be. That’s what we did. I then tied a large fender to the line and wrote Dauntless on it. I told Tee we would come back next week to get it.

By now, the sun has set, and we could find neither shim pot buoy.

We cruised home in total darkness, getting a few scares as we passed the airport, in that lights look so much closer at night.

I knew we would have no problem finding the anchor, assuming I fixed the winch. But it had also occurred to me that the reason we saw no sign of either shrimp pot was because the current had moved them and therefore, in a strong current, it’s possible the buoy was being pulled underwater! In which case they may never be seen again.

I also felt bad that not only had we left our new shrimp pot; we had left the one we borrowed. I hated to tell Bob that I’d returned without his pot!

Coastal Explorer showing us back home finally after 19:00, 4 hours after sunset.

Losing $500 of gear the first time out was not my idea of a good time.

Maybe I do read too much.