Chain reactions

Sailors can learn from problems they encounter. But the realities aren't always obvious.

It's amazing what you can witness when cruising. The year 2008 saw Shindig in the Grecian waters of the Ionian Sea – more specifically in this instance in Lakka Bay at the northern end of the island of Paxos. There we witnessed a morsel as memorable as any that Dionysus – Greek god of booze, madness and merriment – could have devised.

It was early evening. Like birds returning to their roost, passing yachts converged on what is truly one of the nicest anchorages you could hope to find. Gin clear water over firm white sand. Obliging tavernas and a huddle of shops ashore. Perfect.

One of the later arrivals was a trim Italian ketch. Its anchor dangled ready to drop, and was garlanded with weed – or so it first appeared. But, as she drew closer the image of that ‘weed’ hardened into an uncharacteristic symmetry and I realised it wasn’t weed at all, but chain and plenty of it. What's more, since he had only recently entered the bay the chain must surely be his. Closer still and I became intrigued. The arrangement looked so tidy. Was it deliberate – perhaps a new anchoring technique as yet unheralded? If so, my journalistic instincts could not be ignored.

Our Italian skipper waved merrily as he swept past and I watched as he rounded up not fifty metres distant. Nicely done. Full marks for precision. The anchor disappeared downwards taking its unusual wreath with it. Soon, the popping of a cork signaled our man’s satisfaction with his situation. Collectively we all settled in for the night.

The following morning saw the usual sluggish stirrings. One of the features of cruising the Ionian is that everywhere is fairly close. Add to that a virtually tideless sea and it matters little how early or late you leave.

However, on the anchoring front I felt the need for closure. I wanted to know more, so I found things to do on deck just in case il capitano made a break for it. Which he did just short of noon. Up came the hook, still draped with chain. The figure on the foredeck watched its ascent with mounting astonishment. It became plain both from his demeanor and the rat-a-tat exchange between him and the lady at the helm that his mood had escalated from languor to agitation without passing through anything rational in between.

It was clear that this was the first he knew of his metallic adornments. They were now motoring slowly seaward. I watched him race aft, scanning frantically astern. And who can blame him? When you pick up a chain you first assume it can't be yours and therefore belongs to another boat which could now be adrift!

Doubtless seeking confirmation our man cannoned around his side decks, leaning far out to see what might be going on below. Was it wrapped around his keel … rudder … prop … all three? I’ve never seen a fellow actually pull his hair out but he was patently getting close – even getting to the point of grasping a couple of handfuls. Meanwhile, helm (had to be a wife, judging by her tone) was giving him a scorching from the cockpit. He looked troubled, as if by some spectral visitation.

I never got the chance to commiserate. Taking the helm, he opened the throttle – tentatively at first, then with more confidence. Apart from glances astern to confirm he really wasn't towing someone else into deeper water, he stared straight ahead, passing us closely without making eye contact. Yes, I sympathized. There are times when all of us would like to creep away unnoticed.

We witnessed a similar situation in Levkas (also in Greece) when a another yacht arrived with the intention of mooring stern-to the quay. He rounded up and dropped his hook too close under the bow of a German yacht lying at anchor a short distance off. The photo below shows the German escaping while another anxious owner watches from ashore. Happily the seamanship skills of the former were enough to avoid further embarrassment.



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