Anchoring Off a Lee Shore
Somebody recently recounted a story about friends who spent a worrisome and windy night anchored off a lee shore. This brought to mind one night I spent on a charter trip in the Sea of Cortez off La Paz, Mexico. It was in November 1996, and my wife and I and another couple had chartered a 43-foot sailboat for seven days from the Moorings in La Paz. I had already spent a bit of time around Baja California in all sorts of ways, but it was always on land. We chose November because it was borderline peak season, saving us some money, the water was still warm from the summer, and November was known to be a great month for cruising.
We set out fully stocked with food, beer and rum (or was it tequila?). Conditions for sailing and cruising north up into the Sea of Cortez could not have been more ideal. We never had any clouds overhead, and the wind was always real light to maybe up to 15 knots. Nights were calm and warm, but it never got too hot. After a week of these idyllic conditions, we headed back for our last night’s stay at an anchorage that the charter company recommended as a convenient last night stop only hours from their docks.
All of our anchorages up to this point were well protected from three sides in small bays, but this last one was off a long beach that was open to the north. But after five nights of calm, we didn’t bat an eye—just dropped an anchor and settled in for some rum drinks (or was it tequila?). As the evening wore on, the wind started to increase from the north, and by nine o’clock, it was in the 25-knot range. I—the captain—started to worry since we were anchored off a lee shore. I made the decision that we must put a second anchor out. I have many times put a second anchor out from the sailboat—and many times in a dinghy—but it was always in calm conditions, and in daylight—but never in a dinghy with this kind of wind.
We started up the dinghy and motor, and I and my friend John headed out into the wind with a second anchor—no easy task, mind you. You must point the dinghy into the wind, and since we decided we would pay out the anchor rode (I am not sure I would do that again), which was attached to the sailboat, as we worked our way into the wind and choppy seas, it became real tricky to make sure it did not get fouled in the prop. Our wives yelled at us over and over—from the moment we left the boat—to be careful—a thought that had crossed our minds, also. The motor seemed to barely push us out there in the winds and seas, but we made it without incident and returned safely to the boat. I couldn’t sleep all night, though. The boat was moving about like crazy in the wind and waves, as I was constantly getting up and checking to see if we had dragged anchor. Fortunately, we didn’t.
Ever since then, I have decided that I will always put out two anchors off a potential lee shore right from the beginning—no matter what the weather looks like.