A Fouled Anchor
Cabo San Lucas, MX, to San José del Cabo, MX, 2013
After being ashore in Cabo San Lucas for two days, I was convinced by a charismatic skipper after some minutes of conversation to assist him with a short day run in his sailboat down the west coast of Baja California, MX. Mike had heard of me though an adventurous story told with high praise by my current skipper, in which we wrestled a pair of tangled jib sheets and a spaghettied roller furling line into submission while sailing downwind. Of course I denied having anything to do with such an adventure (most adventures actually being mis-adventures), though Mike insisted the story implied I had some measure of skill as crew on a sailboat.
We were to weigh anchor on his Ingrid 38 in Cabo San Lucas, and motor, or hopefully sail, to a marina at the new destination, San José del Cabo. His crew had deserted his ship and he strongly preferred assistance with both getting underway and in docking after the trip. I agreed that single-handing such an operation only adds odds against the players in the game against Neptune, and I would be happy to help. I hoped to leave for the airport the same day, so we decided to attempt departure at first light.
The Ingrid 38, his at least, is a classic sailboat with ancient character, a ketch, and would later prove to leap through the seas with the same sense of spring in her step as an eager child skipping home from school. His sailboat's quality is heightened by hearing the amazing story of how he acquired her, as a boat swapping trade plus pocket change, which could qualify as the deal of the decade. The Ingrid 38 is a blue water boat held in high regard, with a double-ended hull a Viking might be proud to drive. I looked forward to the voyage.
Mike arranged a water taxi for me at the earliest possible hour, from shore to his sailboat at anchor. The taxis are Mexican pangas. The pre-arranged panga was named Chilango after it's driver. Although Chilango had taxied Mike previously, at my requisite time, only the panga named Chilango, and not Chilango himself, could be found. Mike attempted hailing another taxi on the radio and was overheard by another buddy sailboat, Sailor's Run. The first mate of Sailor's Run switched channels, spoke in spanish with the Port Captain, attempting to negotiate a new water taxi. None of us were successful over the air waves. On a Sunday morning, at 6:30 A.M., presumably after a late night including either Coronas or Marguaritas, the docks were a ghost town, free of panga drivers. Mas tarde, I waved in another water taxi and had the driver take me to the anchorage where Mike lay on his sailboat, Nashira. The driver had asked for eight dollars US. After climbing from the Mexican panga to aboard Nashira, Mike handed over a five dollar bill and I contributed 50 pesos. The taxi driver nodded, accepted the payment, and left to port.
After a rapid look around the cockpit and a check on the already running engine, Mike began work with the manual windlass, going forward to the bow, to weigh anchor. By engaging the engine in idle forward and idle neutral, we shuttled between nearby sailboats, Mike apparently having some difficulty in raising the rode. I hoped that our dawling around the anchorage with half a total length of rode out wouldn't tangle the chains of the other sailboats. After a long wrestling match in which he obtained only the first bitter end links of the chain, Mike decided to drive Ingrid off the cliff, meaning, head out of the anchorage just far enough to hit the under water cliff face, which should allow the chain left out, parhaps fifty feet or more, to hang down completely free from Ingrid's bow. We motored 100 feet out into the bay of Cabo. The water was calm and the wind pleasant. The sun, even in the early morning of 7:00 A.M., was hot and dry. After making some way, the anchor fell off from the sands in the shallows into a free fall of ocean. Upon attempting to raise the chain again, finally, we discovered what Neptune had bestowed upon us: a very weighty gift.
The windlass was unable to lift what appeared to be an old mooring block. This behemoth looked to have been birthed from a 5 gallon bucket of cement and iron rod. It had claimed our chain as it's own.
An important lesson in boat handling is to use leverage rather than brute force. Those lessons take time to learn in each situation and are rarely evident on the first several tries. Mike had already tried base muscle force with the sweat on his back as witness. We decided to use single purchase to lift with more power, by fixing the idle jib sheet to the chain where the windlass failed, and employing a winch. Mike brought forward a collection of large chain hooks and shackles. He created the match of fittings. The sheet's snap shackle attached to the hook, and the hook to the chain. I armed myself with a winch handle at the large jib sheet self-tailing winch. First we cranked with three wraps, into the lowest gear, gaining some feet of chain back from Neptune. Then I added the fourth wrap and cranked again but the lowest gear was insufficient. Mike heaved upward on the chain and I jerked the slack into the winch, gaining several inches each time. We made little progress and the purchase was denied, although Neptune's gift could now be seen above the ripping seas, and, if desired, spat upon.
We discussed options to dismiss the foul load and decided, a second time, that more purchase was needed. I asked if Mike had heavy gloves and suggested he wear them. He didn't want to spend the extra time to dig through the cabin for them. Mike snapped the spinnaker halyard shackle to an additional chain hook and attached the hook to the large bar at the top of the block. Four wraps on the winch later, and nearing the limit of the winch's purchase, we needed to look for other options since the iron bars of the mooring block were firmly wrapped around Nashira's chain. Lifting vertically would only bring the block and it's rusted iron spikes scratching and lunging at Nashira's hull.
When purchase fails, leverage is next. Mike leaned completely over the caprail. I held his legs on deck, kneeling on his calves with almost my entire weight. Hanging completely over the rail, beyond the point where anyone would normally fall overboard, he was just able to reach the iron bars of the cement block in order to rotate the behemoth in suspended air.
The anchor chain had a full wrap and a hitch around this cursed present from Neptune, as if it were purposely tied to lead sailors to their doom.
One by one, Mike was able to lever and rotate the mooring block, which hung from the spinnaker halyard, to free the wraps of Nashira's chain. By lifting the opposing side of the block, using the iron bars as a lever handle, the chain wrap on the lower side fell free. Mike's hands had become black while wrestling with the rust and muck-covered iron rods. He admitted that wearing heavy gloves would have been a better idea.
The last link of chain fell free of the mooring block. Neptune's cursed gift hung heavily from Mike's hands. We raved at the sea and called out a pox to Neptune. We congratulated ourselves for our handiwork. Mike released his grip on the block, and it dropped into the ocean, creating a huge salty splash as it sank to the depths. It now lies off the undersea cliff beyond Cabo's anchorage. Nashira's anchor now hung free. Within minutes we removed the chain hooks, spinnaker halyard, jib sheet, and cranked the windlass to pull the anchor into it's bow roller. We adjusted course and proceeded to San José del Cabo, leaving the mess behind. Neptune's gift may yet foul another ship, if that ship dare to lay chain through the deep undersea cliff in Cabo's anchorage. Maintain sharp eyes, and remember it is best to attempt departing at first light.