Text and photos by Pat and Kat Chadwick
The further adventures of our sailors-turned-powerboaters.
We were taking our first cruise after making the switch from sail to power. We were certainly nervous about handling our new Marlow 57 Explorer, which seemed massive compared to our Beneteau 423 sailboat, but we never could have guessed what would happen. Suffice to say, Kat is convinced that Indigo’s distinctive dark-blue hull attracts other boats like a magnet. I hope she’s wrong.
After making the half-day passage from the Sarasota Yacht Club to Charlotte Harbor, we anchor in Pelican Bay off Cayo Costa Island. This is one of our favorite anchorages with lovely beaches in a small bay surrounded by mangroves. After a quiet evening with grilled lamb chops and some wine we settle in for the first night. Not a bad start.
Unfortunately, everything changes at 5 a.m. when a rainstorm wakes us. Coming to the pilothouse we’re shocked to find two 45-foot sailboats, which were rafted together, scraping against Indigo’s starboard bow.
It’s amazing that neither of us hear them hit Indigo, but there they are. It’s still dark, and conditions are pretty miserable. We certainly aren’t properly dressed for the 50-plus-knot winds and intense horizontal rain we encountered when we rushed to the bow.
The crews on the two sailboats are doing their best to keep us from banging together, using fenders and their far-too-vulnerable hands. But it quickly becomes clear that separating the boats is not going to be easy. The rudder of one or both of the sailboats has snagged our anchor chain, and the untangling process is going to be a delicate maneuver not to be attempted in the current conditions. After deploying all of Indigo’s fenders to help keep the boats separated, we move to the pilothouse to monitor the chartplotter. Unlike the sailors, at least we’re in a dry spot out of the wind and rain. Score one for the powerboat.
Our biggest worry is that our anchor might not be capable of holding Indigo as well as the two sailboats which are hanging on our chain with their sterns pointed into the wind. If the three boats break free as a unit we all will be grounded in the adjacent mangroves within a couple of minutes. We keep watch with the engines running, but fortunately we don’t need them. The anchor holds.
An hour later the rain decreases, the wind drops to 25 knots, and the rising sun increases visibility. After consulting with the other captains we agree on a plan to separate the boats. I release our snubber line and let the anchor chain out as quickly as the windlass will allow. With the tension off, the chain drops to the bottom and clears their rudders. The two sailboats power away and wisely re-anchor separately.
Fortunately no one has been injured. It would have been relatively easy for someone to have severed a finger or crushed a hand during those first few minutes while everyone was trying their best to fend off. Overall the damage is surprisingly modest. The swim platform was knocked off one of the sailboats, and we have a number of impressive scratches on our high-gloss blue hull, but they’re superficial rather than structural. Later that morning one of the sailboat captains comes over by dinghy, accepts responsibility for the accident, and agrees to cover the cost of repairs—a substantial commitment that he later honors.
In retrospect we should have immediately contacted Florida Fish and Wildlife to report the accident. When damage is estimated to exceed $2,000 or there is an injury, the agency will send a boat to investigate. Fortunately we were dealing with an honest captain, since establishing responsibility at a later date would have been a challenge with no documentation of the incident.
Our first reaction is to return home and make arrangements with Marlow to repair the damage, but after calming down we decide to stay at anchor in Pelican Bay. Unfortunately the weather over the next several days is not the best. We’re in the crease between stationary high- and low-pressure systems, which keep the winds fairly high and generate numerous tornados. Certainly watching tornados on Sirius Satellite Weather does more to excite than help us. On our sailboat we would have been blissfully ignorant.
Without a doubt Indigo is more comfortable than our sailboat during this unsettled weather, and we actually begin to enjoy the trip again. This changes when a sailboat drops anchor directly upwind of us, runs over the top of their rode for two boat lengths, and settles back on the anchor without setting it. Next, two trawlers raft up with the sailboat, one on either side. It’s time to go.
The security of a marina seems like a welcome change so we reserve a slip in Boca Grande just a few miles away. This will be the first time we’ve docked Indigo in a slip other than our own in Sarasota and conditions are not the best for a novice captain. The wind is on our beam at 20 knots coupled with a one-knot cross current. It takes four tries but we squeeze Indigo’s 18-foot beam into a 19-foot-wide slip without scratch. Safe at last, or so we think. (To read about Indigo’s time in her slip and learn more lessons, click here)
In looking back I think we were pretty fortunate to have replaced our primary anchor before starting this cruise. Sailors love big anchors, and when we purchased Indigo she came equipped with a beautiful, stainless steel, 60-pound plow, which on paper should have been adequate. However considering the way we planned to use the boat for island hopping we decided to replace it with a 90-pound Delta. Since the Delta held Indigo and both sailboats in challenging conditions we’re feeling pretty good about this upgrade.
So how have we been adapting to life as powerboaters? This is probably not the best time to answer that question. Surely the next cruise will be more routine.
editor’s note: See “Sea Change,” to learn why and how the Chadwicks became powerboaters. We’ll continue to keep in touch with Pat and Kat as they get to know Indigo and continue to become more familiar with her.
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.