The anchor is a symbol you can give to just about anything to render a nautical feel! Salty sea sailors tattoo them on their arms, harbour masters and seaside towns place them on neatly tended lawns surrounded by flower beds. They work well to convey the romance of the sea, and to inspire your average Joe into thinking whimsically about classic films such as ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, or ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, and even have them hearing squawking seagulls when there are none!
Too many sailors these days will carry an anchor on their bow for exactly the same reason, because they give a boat a well founded nautical look. The common reality in the world of leisure yachting is picking up mooring buoys, berthing in marinas, and occasionally going up against tidal walls in an old fishing port, which is about the zenith of the average amateur sailor’s ambition.
However, to Wardleys Sailors they are an indispensable tool of the trade and most of us carry several of them. We don’t tend to spend hundreds of pounds on designer yachting garb but instead would rather amble around friendly boat jumbles and come away with a bargain Danforth, or a coil of anchor rode, or maybe a good length of chain. Its been long understood amongst practical sailors that buckets, boat-hooks, ropes at hand, and indeed the all important anchor are in essence the essential pieces of kit to have when the dark clouds descend upon us.
Now, remember our arrival at Derbyhaven Bay from the previous Wardleys website report? Well, just to recap, a group of us sailed over to the Isle of Man at the end of May. It was the first major club sailing trip of 2018. As described in the report, Darren, Phil and Simon in ‘Jamila’ and ‘Rivendel’ arrived first. A day later, as promised, Nick joined on his yacht ‘Nimrod’ following an epic lone sail across the sea through near impenetrable ‘Manin Mists’. And let’s not forget Malcolm, who finally joined five days later, having sailed over in his amazing 18 foot Caprice .
Derby Haven Bay is illustrated above, and some of the following narrative refers to the ordinance survey map. There are two parts. Inner bay and the Outer bay. The inner bay , which could loosely be called a harbour, is guarded by a long and ancient looking wall, and the whole lot dries-out at the three hour mark. There are local craft dotted all over and are packed in densely, with cables criss-crossing the bottom, which is a little off-putting to the visiting sailor. The outer bay is spacious and doesn’t generally dry-out unless anchored by the beach at the southern end. It is suitable for ocean going keel boats, and indeed one morning we were woken by a loud clanking noise, and saw a three mast tall ship sat at anchor just north of the Derby fort. To any dyed in the wool sailor this is the most thrilling sight you can ever see!
As often is the case with many things in life, Derbyhaven bay has its strengths and weaknesses. In its favour, it is sheltered from the prevailing South Westerlies, it has a firm sandy bottom, it has a nearby golf club that offers free ablution facilities to passing sailors. It also has Castletown nearby, perhaps the most charming of the Manx ports, but a short walk away. On the down side there is lots of kelp on the bottom, lots of lobster pots and associated lines , and precious little shelter from the wind, since it is situated at a low point in the island where the wind can sweep in unimpeded. With the exception of a beach in the south west corner, there are some worrisome looking rocky-shoals on all sides.
With reference to the map shown above: ‘Jamila’ was anchored in the shallows in the south western corner. Jamila’s two metre shallow water alarm rang-out loudly at the moment the skipper dropped the twenty five pound CQR anchor the short distance to the bottom. The idea of anchoring in shallow water was to find a good spot to do some snorkelling. Darren and Phil on ‘Rivendale’ opted for deeper water. They positioned there boat roughly at the ‘V’ in ‘Derbyhaven’. Finally Nick on ‘Nimrod’ dropped his anchor close to St. Michael’s Island roughly to top right of the ‘P’ for Parking symbol. Given the prevailing wind, all boats were laying-off towards the north east and away from the rocky shores below the golf club.
The weather had been discussed the day before. For a Morecambe Bay sailor it could not look better! The forecast looking ahead two weeks, was an exciting catalogue of sun and warm south-westerlies blowing at force three to four. However, there was one minor fly in the ointment, on the Monday night towards the evening, the wind, for some strange meteorological anomaly, was due to swing around to the north and then increase to a force five. And then after a three or four hour spell, it was due to return back to what it was before. Well, Wardley’s sailors are generally happy to sail out into the Lune deeps in anything up to a force five, so not much more was thought of it. Our reaction to the forecast was: “We’ll be all right”, and then our conversation turned to, “Mmm, I wonder what delicacies we’ll find the the Castletown Co-op?”.Jamila’s skipper was up early on the Monday morning, and with a pair of running shoes and a tracksuit in a rucksack, he rowed ashore in an Avon-round-tail inflatable. Very little wind impeded the passage towards the small settlement of Derbyhaven. Behind the austere nineteenth century break-water, and the assortment of boats at their moorings, lay a broad white sandy beach with the odd boat dragged up to the high water mark. Derbyhaven itself is a single row of cottages, and bijou Victorian villas with bright white painted exteriors stretching the full length of the north western side of the bay. To the casual visitor, it seems that everything falling to the eye had at least some aesthetically pleasing quality.
Stepping ashore in a foreign land from an inflatable is a strange experience. Pulling the Avon round-tail dinghy up to the high tide mark over the white sandy beach required a similar effort to picking up heavy baggage from an airport carousel, but instead of being met by surly questions from folks in high-vis jackets, you receive a friendly and slightly musical, “Good Morning”, from passing locals going about their daily business. Nobody appears bothered to see you advancing up the beach and are content to continue on their way.
All the sailors went ashore that first day. It was only a short walk from Derbyhaven to Castletown. The latter was delightful place that late May morning. The weather could not have been better. Every reflective surface sparkled. Castletown used to be a working fishing village with an intimate little harbour and several pubs not a stone-throw from the quay side . A hundred year ago it would have been packed full small sailing smacks typically with huge masts and bow-sprits, and well over canvassed such that they stand a chance at dealing with the capricious I.o.M. tides. More recently, the Manx fisherman have been replaced by wealthy financial-services types with lots of money to spend, and appear not afraid to do so. There were no signs to support the depressing opinion often levelled at other british seaside destinations, “This was once a rich Victorian holiday resort now a little in decline“. No, it looked smart and well healed. The three Wardleys Sailors eventually found the local Co-op, … where they entered, where they saw, where they loaded up, and in due course carried-off the likes of fresh milk and other general stores back to the small flotilla of boats awaiting them in Derbyhaven.
It was early afternoon when Jamila’s skipper got back to his dinghy. It was evident, whilst he had been running, shopping, and walking with a brimmingly full Co-op carrier bag, that the tide had come a good twenty yards up the beach, kissing the stern of the dinghy, and had then receded back to roughly where it was when arriving. Soon he was paddling towards ‘Jamila’ who was sitting serenely at anchor, framed by an extensive golf club house sat one hundred yards up a sloping field rising away from the rocky high water mark. It was still a little early in the year but Jamila’s skipper decided to go for a swim in Derbyhaven’s crystal clear waters. The water looked gorgeous! He lowered himself in from the stern ladder, and launched himself away with a little flourish, helped by a stabbing shove from Jamila’s rudder. Lord O’mighty was it cold! It was so bad that even after five minutes of assimilation, it still felt FREEZING!
Once out of the water however it was payback time. The swimmer’s body, having been tricked in to thinking it had just come through a life threatening ordeal, rewarded its owner with that lovely euphoric feeling of, ‘wow, isn’t it great to be alive!’. There’s a sort of serenic calm where briefly there is not a worry in the world. This sense of well being was no doubt helped by the warm weather coupled with a delicious pork pie with pickle, and a chilled can of the Co-op’s finest lager. This led to sleepiness and an afternoon nap, during which the sun descended into the west and the tide continued its long ebb bringing Jamila’s two bilge keels closer to the gravel strewn beach below.
The skipper awoke from his nap with a start. Something weird was going on. It had suddenly gone cold. Wearing just shorts and a cotton T-shirt no longer felt comfortable. Jamila’s halyards had started to clatter and bang in the rigging high above. It was now early evening. Time had moved on during the afternoon’s bout of dreamy relaxation. The skipper stood looking out from Jamila’s companion way. A quick survey revealed that the sky had clouded over, that the wind had veered massively from the south west to the north and more worryingly, that the boat had swung around on her anchor such that she was blowing directly onto a lee-shore. Yes, the swing of the chain had brought the shore to only a matter of ten yards!
Jamila’s CQR had been well set the day before. A long and sustained spell in reverse had done its job of bedding in the anchor. Its plough shaped head was dug deep into the seabed. Now, the CQR is good, but has a well know weakness in that it can often fail to reset after being pulled-around in a wind shift. They can drag along for a while! Suffice to say, they don’t cope well with wind shifts in tight anchorages!
An eerie juddering vibration could be felt through the anchor chain back to the chain roller. Time to get the engine going! To late! Jamila’s twin keels scrunched onto the bottom and the bow swung around putting the boat side onto the shelving beach. The engine was now useless. It was action stations on board Jamila! The skipper had to think fast, to act fast, and in that order!
The Bruce is another type of anchor. Its ultimate holding power is not as vaunted as the CQRs, but is liked by seafarers because it sets fast! Luckily ‘Jamila’ had one squirrelled away in the stern locker, and so its time to step into the breach had come. By this time the wind was gusting F5. The small fetch across the bay was sufficient to generate waves strong enough to push Jamila that little bit further up the shelving beach each time the rising tide lifted her off the bottom. The Avon round-tail dinghy was pressed into service to haul the Bruce and twenty yards of rode to deep water where it was dropped onto a kelp-free patch of sand. Jamila’s skipper (simon) could only now hope and pray for deliverance! At this point Darren, (aka the ‘Piel Sailor’) in Rivendel’s dinghy, came punching through the mounting waves shouting an offer of assistance over the squeal of the wind coming from Jamila’s rigging . His usual jovial demeanour had been replaced by a granite jawed look of resolve.
The two sailors went into immediate conference in Jamila’s saloon. They had some intense discussions. An idea was hatched to barge Jamila’s bows back around pointing out into deep water using the full might of the Piel Sailor’s Honda 2.5 outboard. Before this plan could be executed, little by little Jamila’s bow edged around on its own accord. The rode to the Bruce had become taught. The scrunching of keels on the bottom had ceased. The Bruce anchor was winning the battle! Jamila was lifting with the tide and staying put! It was time to play the joker in the pack. The Volvo Penta D1-20 was fired up. Jamila’s three bladed propeller got a firm grip of the water, and slowly shoved the three ton boat forwards into deeper water. Darren took station on the bow and quickly hauled in the Bruce. This late substitute anchor had scored a vital goal. The next task was to haul up the twenty five yards or so of chain leading to the main anchor. At the end of the chain was a morass of kelp. The CQR was somewhere underneath. It was never going to set in a month of Sundays. The morass had to be cleared first to have any chance of penetrating a new through to the sandy bottom. This messy task was undertaken whilst Jamila crossed the bay. It was important to get Jamila into a safe anchorage, putting clear water between herself and the lee shore.
rateDown went the anchor once again. Not too much chain up front this time. They allowed Jamila to slowly drift astern helping the CQR dig through the kelp and to minimise the chance of it skating over the top. So, Jamila did just that, and drifted backwards at a controlled rate. Eventually the point of the CQR pierced through the kelp and caught the bottom, dug in a little, and offered some initial resistance. Some more chain was offered. Jamila eventually pulled-up with a gentle shudder. After a short pause yet more chain was released. Finally a four to one scope was reached. Now it was time to put the D1-20 in reverse to test the hold, though limited to tick-over. Some transit bearings were taken using the end of the breakwater and the edge of a foreshore villa beyond. It was now hoped the anchor would dig in deeper. The propeller revolution rate was slowly increased. And yet then more revs to simulate a good blow. After a few more minutes in reverse, and when the anchor was considered to be well set, the engine was killed. It was time for a well earned cup of tea. Thanks Darren, what a pal!
Unfortunately the ordeal wasn’t over yet! And for Darren and Phil on ‘Rivendel’ the night had only just started!
At this point attention turned to Nick in his Hunter 25 ‘Nimrod’ with its self-tacking-jib. He was anchored just one hundred yards from waves noisily breaking on the rocks on a lee shore between himself and the golf club house. Earlier he had tried to re-position his boat, but had had difficulty in weighing his anchor, which was caught on something on the bottom, and had given up. On the radio he seemed amazingly calm about the dangers surrounding the growing situation, as the wind increased to gusting F6. This was much more than what had been predicted! How much worse would it become? What could be done if Nimrod’s anchor started to drag? There was very little distance between the boat and the rocks, so, a plan to cut away the anchor and run ‘Nimrod up onto the gently shelving beach, where Jamila had been previously, was formulated for if things were to go pear shaped in the night. Why? He was single handed, so operating the engine and dealing with a fouled anchor was considered a none starter.
The failing light eventually turned to darkness. It was now considered no longer safe to helm a dinghy out on the raging waters in the bay. He would have to hang on and hope for the best.
None of us dared snuggle down into our sleeping bags yet. By two o’clock in the morning the wind was gusting to force seven as times with sustained spells at force six. An unexpected half gale was upon us! We felt suddenly exposed and scared. Jamila’s anchor chain had become frighteningly bow taught. For how much longer would it hold? With his anchor alarm set for a thirty meters radius, Simon sat dozing in his saloon, not exactly awake, but not really sleeping. He was suddenly stirred from his slumber, disturbed by shouting voices in the distance that were being carried over on the wind. A moment later, the unmistakable sound of a diesel engine clattering into life followed.
The scene out of the companion way hatch was mortifying. It was two thirty in the morning and one of our Wardleys’s boat was in deep trouble. Earlier, as the evening turned into a black moonless night, we started to get to know the location of each boat by reference to the steady position of each other’s flicking white anchor lightsset against shadowy dark sky. One of those lights was not where it should be. ‘Rivendel’ s light was out of position! She was steadily falling down wind towards the ragged shoreline that we knew was there, now hidden in the black of night. Above this scene further in the distance could be made out the cluster of lights from the Golf Club. But, no sound came from the VHF. It remained quiet. Further and further Rivendal’s anchor light drifted away towards the shore. The sound of the horrible crunching of boat on rocks now seemed inevitable! Rivendel had now woken up fully to her mortal plight! There were additional lights up on deck. Two cones of intensely bright light were scanning left and right and down into the raging waters. The hapless by-standers on ‘Nimrod’ and ‘Jamila’ could only watch-on in terrified awe. Still further and further she drifted until eventually the wayward movement appeared to have been checked. Was there now some hope? Had the anchor reset? Had the propeller belatedly got a grip on the water? The spectacle of lights, now some way away in the distance, appeared to shift slowly to the right, away from the rocky shoreline, and towards the location of the gently shelving beach between the Golf Club and Derbyhaven.
Was the skipper going to beach ‘Rivendel’? Apparently not! Maybe it had been an option on the table that had been rejected! The Piel Sailor’s iron jawed resolve that had been witnessed hours earlier was out there in the darkness doing its damnedest to sort matters out. From time to time you could make out a figure on the deck, a figure at the helm, a glimpse of the cabin windows, a glimpse of mast and rigging, as the two cones of bright white light worked left and right. Shouting voices could be heard now and again. Rivendel was coming back to us, albeit slowly. Hopes were now improving. Eventually she was back and in a steady state in terms of relative position. But it wasn’t to last! Off she went again towards the very rocks from whence only half an hour ago she had been delivered. Were we seeing Rivendell final death throws? Were we at Wardley’s in the weeks to follow going to be mourning the loss of one of our finest yachts? Was ‘Rivendel’s anchor just a useless morass of kelp? Was there a lobster pod wrapped around a blighted prop? Would the crew manage to save themselves, scramble onto the rocks away from harms way, and hopefully find sanctuary in the nearby golf club and be surrounded by concerned but tipsy late night revellers?
Once again the spectacle of lights withdrew slowly from danger, but this time tracked back much further across the bay. She pressed on to windward. Whilst passing to starboard of ‘Jamila’, a figure could be seen clinging to Rivendel’s stainless steel pulpit at the bows. With the help of a head torch he could be seen clearing kelp from an engorged length of anchor chain. Then a glimpse of a clean anchor was briefly had, before it disappeared back down into the depths. ‘Rivendel’ ever so slowly fell back, now just a little down wind of ‘Jamila’. Phil could be seen at the tiller, holding the boat steady, hunting for an anchor bite! Finally she held her station. One minute passed, then five minutes had passed, and eventually half an hour had passed. No change in her position could be detected, and we all prayed that the anchor had finally set! The morale aboard ‘Nimrod’ and ‘Jamila’ immediately lifted and a shared sense of exultation was felt. A quick look at the wind anemometer showed thirty five knots, so there was still a feeling of hanging on in there! There would be no sleep for a couple more hours. Then suddenly the wind dropped back to a force three to four as quickly as it came. The sky in the east began to brighten. Day break was upon us. The four Wardley’s sailors collapsed into their bunks physically and mentally exhausted. They had all entrusted their safe keeping to their respective anchors. Lessons had been learnt with respect of ensuring anchors are carefully ‘reset’ and stress tested after important changes in wind direction.
That morning, as the inhabitants of DerbyHaven Bay awoke and looked out of their windows toward the three yachts blissfully moored in close company, little would they know of the previous nights drama, and nor would they see any faces on the deck until well into the following afternoon…
Next instalment to come: the remaining trip around IOM, the return across to Ravensglass, and interception by a military patrol boat en-route back to the River Wyre.
And since you got this far: