33 The Storm

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As we climbed into our berth, it was raining and the wind had come up a little. The forecast was for a weak low to pass through the area. Onshore winds were forecast at 10-15 and offshore at 20-25 knots. We had left Samum and Tranquility rafted and we were riding comfortably still sheltered in the well-protected anchorage just north of Camp LeJeune. About 12:30 AM I got up and checked. The wind had risen and it was raining harder. To my pleasure, we were still riding comfortably, with just a little increased boat motion. Fifteen minutes later, Tom on Samum pounded on our hull and shouted over the now higher wind and harder rain that we had dragged and Samum was aground.

Ruth and I scrambled into shorts and foul weather jackets and came out into the cockpit. Samum was holding Tranquility off and we still had one foot under the keel. With both engines going we got both boats off only to loose control in the wind and have Samum again go aground. We broke the raft and managed to get Tranquility free of Samum without damage to either boat. Ruth wrestled with the wheel trying to hold us up into the wind while I struggled on the foredeck to pull in the anchor line and get the anchor free from the bottom. Once it was up we groped our way in the darkness trying to head up wind and stay away from the nearly invisible shore. The anchor went down and we appeared to hold. Extra line went out, bringing us closer to shore, but increasing the anchor’s holding power.

Now the real work began. Samum couldn’t get off. The wind had her pinned broadside to the shore and she did not have the advantage of an anchor to help pull the bow into the wind. I went to work on getting our dinghy into the water. It rides on the bow and still has a slow leak. Quick work with the pump had it operation. Getting the outboard lowered and attached to a wildly swinging Tranquility and dinghy was a major feat, but Ruth and I are now a practiced team and we got the outboard onto the dinghy without incident.

Ruth stayed aboard Tranquility to motor into the wind if we appeared to drag. The wind blew the dinghy down on Samum. A quick discussion resulted in loading Samum’s anchor and 100 feet of rode into the dinghy so we could set the anchor up wind to allow us to pull Samum off the shore. When I shifted into forward, the dinghy drifted backwards instead of going forward. A fast regrouping and checking revealed the prop fouled with weeds. Holding the anchor rode in my teeth to prevent further drifting, two hands were then available to clear the propeller and get the dinghy operational.

The wind was up another notch, and the rain seemed harder. With some difficulty I worked the dinghy upwind and got the anchor over the side. Tom worked the winch and started to try to winch Samum off. Nothing happened. We regrouped and tried another alternative. Tom gave me a long spare line and I took it to Tranquility. Ruth secured it to an aft cleat and I played out line motoring back down to Samum. The line was too short. Hauling overhand, I pulled the dinghy back to Tranquility. Ruth found our long spring line. We tied it into the line and now got a line between both boats. The wind protested and blew harder. I scrambled aboard Samum. Tom worked the anchor winch and I worked the genoa winch now holding the line to Tranquility. We pulled Samum free from the shore.

Then we blew it. Tired and happy that Samum was free, we quickly decided to cast off the line to Tranquility to prevent causing Tranquility’s anchor to drag from the strain of both boats. Big mistake. Samum immediately swung on her anchor and went aground again far from Tranquility. Tired, soaked and frustrated we started in again to free Samum. Mother Nature had other plans. Just as I was aboard Samum again, to help crank on the winch, the wind cranked up again and the intensity of the rain increased. Tom checked his wind indicator and found winds at a steady 30 knots and gusting to over 40 knots. We realized that we were not going to succeed against the wind and called it quits. I tumbled into the dinghy, started the motor and started to head for Tranquility.

We had turned on Tranquility’s spreader lights when we were working on blowing up the dinghy. Now off in the distance, they appeared as two specks in the driving rain. They were reassuring. A number of times while working on Samum, I’d glance over to make sure she was secure. I was confident in Ruth’s ability to handle Tranquility beginning to drag, but two best share peril during a storm. In the blasting wind, I headed for home.

For the first time during the two hours we had been working out our problems I had a worry. The wind was now so strong I became concerned that I would not be able to power into it and reach Tranquility. I had a quick shudder of being blown onto a weather shore and having to wait in the rain until the storm abated. Fortunately by heading directly into the wind at full throttle, I could just hold my own and slowly close on Tranquility. I climbed aboard and confirmed that Ruth was OK and got out of my wet clothes.

Sleep was impossible. The adrenaline was still working and even though I was exhausted, knew I wouldn’t sleep. Left the VHF radio on and stretched out in the main cabin so it was easy to get up and confirm we didn’t drag with each wind gust.

The radio became interesting listening. The Coast Guard talked with an off shore boat getting hammered by the storm. The conservation continued on 16 and you could tell the people on the boat were grateful for the knowledge that the Coast Guard knew of their plight. A Pon-Pon was broadcast, a 36 foot fishing boat, Miss Caroline reported they were sinking with 3 people on board. A Navy warship, Sipan, reported sustained winds of 75 knots and made ready to join a freighter in looking for the sinking boat. I tried to rest, but got up with every gust to make sure we were still ok. It was a long night.

About dawn, the storm abated and I drifted off for an hour or so. As I got up and checked the now tranquil anchorage it was apparent that we were ok, but that Samum was seriously aground. They looked more like they were in a field rather than in the water. Ruth joked that we should get them a lawn mower. Just then our luck changed. A motorized barge from a nearby dredge came into the anchorage to pick up people. The crew on the barge offered to try to pull Samum off and rapidly attached line. We were at dead low tide and nothing worked. Finally after an hour or more of trying, they had a line to the mast to pull Samum over on her side, a line to the bow and one to the stern. The combination of 3 lines and enormous power from the barge and Samum came free breaking a fair lead in the process.

We regrouped and resumed our passage north. NOAA revised their forecast and now talked about a small but intense low rapidly leaving the area. Our onboard rain gage indicated 3.3 inches of rain fell during the storm. The Coast Guard came on and canceled the Pon-Pon for the sinking fishing boat. They reported the three people had been retrieved from the ocean. We continued heading north; tired, wiser, and happy that we had survived.

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