Much of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is uncharted or has charts created by the British Admiralty in the 19th century which are entirely inaccurate. We do have satellite images, but they don’t show the depth of the water. Most of the information we have is gleaned from a guide book written in the 1990s before cruising sailboats had GPS so the locations given of anchorages are not very accurate.
One afternoon last week we entered a small bay. We slowly probed our way in watching the depth sounder which was showing 60′-70′. Keep in mind, we need less than 45′ to anchor and Matilda draws 6.5′ (that’s how deep her bottom is). Eventually we found an area that was 35′. Perfect, we thought, and dropped anchor.
Before we had time to jump in the dinghy and do some additional depth sounding with the handheld gauge the wind shifted 180 degrees and Matilda swung around on her anchor. This is when we saw on the depth gauge that the depth was now 12′. We must have swung over a rock shelf. A quick look at the chart table told us that the tide was going to drop another 6′ in the next few hours. That would put Matilda’s keel on the rock. Not to worry, we will just pull the anchor up and return to the anchorage where we spent the previous evening some 8nm away.
The wind shift brought with it a thunder storm which is fairly common in the late afternoons in this area. In thunder, lightning, and pouring rain I head to the bow to pull the anchor up while Fiona takes the helm. Unfortunately, the anchor was stuck fast. The windlass (boating term for anchor winch) was straining but it wasn’t budging. At one point as the anchor chain was pulled tight and swell forced the bow up the windlass actually went in reverse. I didn’t know that was possible but I assume it’s a safety feature to keep the thing from tearing the front of the boat off.
My best guess is that the anchor chain got wrapped around a rock. After about 15 minutes of maneuvering the boat around we were able to break free. This wasn’t a panic situation. Worst case is we release the anchor and chain into the sea. A replacement would cost thousands and could take weeks or months to obtain in Costa Rica. I would call it a near panic situation.
Once we were free I went down below to check on the batteries. Fifteen minutes of extreme load on the windlass can be quite a drain on batteries, but they were fine. When I came back up on deck I was surprised by what I saw.
In the midst of a downpour in thunder and lightning Fiona is out on the deck with a mop washing the boat. “What the hell are you doing?”, I inquired with my customary sensitivity. “I’m cleaning the deck. It’s dirty, and I’m stressed out, and I just need to clean.” she answered with a matter-of-fact tone. I just grinned and went below to get dried-off and grab a beer.
We made it back to that cozy anchorage from the night before just before sunset. An hour later the rain stopped and I barbecued some steaks. It was a great day.