With Big Mom tended to and Alabama in our rear-view, Phillip and I set to planning our Thanksgiving voyage. Due to the rush trip to North Alabama for the funeral and the lost time from work, we both needed to put in a few days at the office to make up for it before we took off again, so we settled on a departure date of Wednesday, November 20th, which would still leave us 10 whole days at sea. Now, while a trip east to Carrabelle, Apalachicola and the like was still do-able, it would be a stretch as Carrabelle, alone, is a two-day passage, assuming good weather, and I can tell you what we did not have that week was good weather. A front was set to pass through, leaving us with 25-30 mph winds and a predicted 6-9 foot sea-state. Not something you want to jaunt out in just for fun. There were plenty of anchorages we had heard about on the western route, so we decided to stay protected along the ICW inshore and head west in search of (what else?) — women, whiskey and gold!
Here is an overview of our planned voyage:
We planned to head over to Fort McRae first for a couple of days on the hook, then ease in to Pirate’s Cove to dock up and hang out with the local riff raff for a day or two. From there, we would jump over to Ingram’s Bayou (a place many of our sailing buddies kept telling us was one of the most beautiful, pristine anchorages over that way) to drop anchor for a couple of quiet nights, before we made our way over to The Wharf in Orange Beach where we had reserved a slip for Thanksgiving. Phillip’s clan was also planning to rent a condo there for the holiday and we – as true cruisers tend to do – were planning to make full use of their facilities! There is nothing like a hot shower and a washer and dryer after seven days at sea!
All told, our trek out west was going to be about an 8-9 day trip and we had planned one last anchorage on the way back (likely Red Fish Point – just near Fort McRae) for one last night of solitude before heading back to the real world.
So, we set off on a brisk sunny Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 20th) and headed to our first stop — Fort McRae:
Now, we’ve been to Red Fish Point many times, so the passage across Pensacola Bay and through the little inlet by Sand Island was all too familiar territory. No sweat. We could make that sail with our eyes closed (assuming, of course, no other boats, bouys, or a shore). Stevie Wonder style!
But, we had never made the “uey” around the corner and into the inlet between Sand Island and Fort McRae.
And I’ll have you know I had to Google the word “uey” for the proper spelling. Urban Dictionary says:
Now, I’ve heard some people refer to this anchorage as “party alley” because it’s usually chock full of sailboats, power boats, trollers and the like. Hence the “party.” But, we were hoping that on Thanksgiving it would be pretty sparse so we would have plenty of room to spread out. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. There were three other boats in there, a marker for some sunken hazard, a bouy and a tight shoreline that we had to deal with. Enter the infamous Swing Radius. Now, most of you are smart enough to make a pretty good guess as to what that is, but humor me for just a moment for the newbies.
Imagine your anchor as the center of the circle. The radius, then, is the distance from your anchor to the stern of your boat:
Using the radius, you can then plot out a hypothetical ‘circle’ your boat could occupy depending on which way the wind or tide pushes it. Now, with several “obstacles” around us – three other boats, an immovable marker for the sunken hazard, a bouy, and a nearby shore with outstretched shoal, we had to be sure we dropped enough anchor chain (known as “rode”) to hold our boat secure while not creating a swing radius so large it would allow us to strike the surrounding obstacles. We typically like a 7:1 ratio. Meaning, if we were in 7 feet of water, with 4 foot freeboard (distance from the water line to the deck), that’s 11 feet total depth, so 77 feet of rode.
Now, while getting the anchor set right is important, making sure we had a proper cocktail at sunset easily trumps it. So, with the tight parameters, we dropped about 55 feet of anchor chain (an approximate 5:1 ratio with our ten feet of total depth) and set to our evening ritual. A book and cocktail at sunset. Could there be anything better?
But then another boat pulled up nice and tight near us and set us both on edge. We started looking around, running and re-running our calculation of the swing radius and speculating, once again, as to the approximate distance to the shore.
With both of us being born fierce litigators and each a few drinks in and, thus, a little more ballsy to boot, Phillip and I embarked on an exhaustive debate about the swing radius. I made a rough calculation and explained to Phillip my educated guess as to the radius, to which he naturally responded:
With no one else on the boat with us, a riveting discussion ensued, in which I had to drop some serious geometry knowledge on Phillip that, if translated to a demonstrative aid, would look something like this:
Length of Boat + [ (Rode )2 – (Depth + Freeboard )2 ]1/2
Simple, right? I thought so. Or at least I was sure, in my eloquent, unslurred, precise and persuasive frame of mind, that it was. And, I told Phillip as much. To which he responded:
Fine by me! I had made my peace with it. I offered my best pitch – full of reason and geometry and gin – and my plight had fallen on deaf ears (or ogling eyes – although I consider them to be synonymous). I set about to “banging out” another drink or three and resting my weary mind while Phillip got up about every hour to try and make out the markers and shoreline in the dark of night as the wind began to howl over the boat. I kept a shoulder turned to him, pretending to be sleeping soundly (lah-tee-dah) as he was checking GPS coordinates on his phone, but I was wide awake and just as worried as he. The sounds and motions of the boat from below were incredibly deceiving. What could just as easily have been the wind and a smooth shift of the boat in the water sounded, in the v-berth, like the keel wedging into sand and the boat preparing to tip over. Neither of our weary minds were resting. Phillip made one last trek topside, and I heard him walk up toward the bow, my eyes following the sound of his footsteps in the dark. Then I heard them pound quick on the deck above as he scurried back to the hatch and shouted down to me:
“Annie, I need you up here now. We’re moving.”