To Anchoring

S/V Lucia- Notes on sailing 10,000 miles, 10 countries in 10 months

To Anchoring:

Pulling into a safe, flat anchorage has the equivalent effect of a down blanket, a nice big hug, and/ or a beer… you ‘set the hook’, turn off the motor, and instantly breath a sigh of relief... relax. In this perfect world- the water DEPTH is not too shallow or too deep (20-40 feet tides considered), the area is PROTECTED from prevailing winds and swell, and the HOLDING is adequate (clay, mud, or sand). BONUS POINTS for surf, diving, hiking, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, foreign cities, etc.

In 10 months we stayed in a marina 8 times, not including the week I left Columbia. We payed for a mooring ball once. 100% free to anchor, 95% extraordinarily beautiful, 85% safe from weather conditions, 83% safe from other boaters, 14% a clear-your-kitchen-table type of an uncomfortable ride for the night (mild to moderate), 4% untenable- (severe).

Stories of perfect anchorages in California, Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia, and Panama abound. Again, there is nothing quite like what a safe anchorage provides: the stillness and subtle caress of safety, a beautiful/ natural environment, time to recover, an opportunity to work and maintain your vessel and body. The coasts are dotted with safe havens, each with their own characteristics, and one can learn about their locations through various books, apps, etc. It can be a couple hundred mile to the next suitable anchorage, or you can stumble upon an archipelago with dozens upon dozens of pristine anchorages in a tight cluster of islands. Needless to say: variable, fun.


Anchoring’s not-so-perfect-of-a-world occurs from time to time. Day 1 of the 10 month trip: Beautiful weather but with a sizable and intimidating 18 foot 20 second swell (XL) due in, the California coastline was going to be blowing up (literally exploding) with high energy swells. Many of the Big Wave surf venues were to hold waves 30+ feet around Santa Cruz, CA. It was the first of an unprecedented run of powerful North Pacific swell, that had us scrabbling to get out of the fickle Santa Cruz harbor at high tide before the swell created a barreling (surfable) wave and made passage ill-advised for a few weeks. The prior year we had been trapped in Santa Cruz Harbor for 5 months due to sandbar and dredge-equipment failures. Earlier that year I had recorded one of many close calls that the winter bar had dished up:


Alas, opposite the Monterey Bay was Stillwater Cove-  a lovely protected nook in off the 12th green in Pebble Beach. This would be a great option for our first night heading south. It sounds, well, still... 

I did as much research as I could, and late in the evening, we anchored in the empty cove. Most every mooring had been vacated.  Powerful  (yet comfortable on the boat) swell was picking up around us, but we had an escape route sounded in the thin deep water channel into the cove. The Boom boom boom rumble rumble only grew. Night fell early.

The rapidly building swell really started to crank in the pitch black, as dense fog began rolling in. There were loud creaks and groans inside the cabin, and uncomfortably loud cracks of swell smashing the rocks and points around the tiny bay. Between the awful scenarios I began to fabricate in my head, and the buoy reports flashing on my cell phone- I decided it was time to get the hell out of dodge.

I popped up and felt breaking surf breech the rock reef that provided our main NW protection. To the bow, I wailed on our rachetting manual windlass, shredding my hands in the process, to recovered our anchor. Simultaneously, my good pal donned a spotlight to point ahead of the bow into the night. To our horror, the light revealed 6-8 foot breakers finding there way into our thin navigable  passage out. We hoisted the anchor and SPLIT, leaving my brave comrade on the bow of the boat as we cast over the rollers at a 40° angle, full throttle into the darkness and fog with our tails between our legs. Shoot.

After a brief REJOICE, we soon realized our fate- 36 hour in the "tumble drier"- an affectionate description of the sea state where the reverberation of the raw power hitting Big Sur's coastline cast out to sea created chaos in the ocean for miles. We rolled horrendously- from rail to rail-for 60 miles until the wind finally picked up, filled the sails, and helped stabilize the boat a bit. Glad to escape the rocks, albeit nauseous, exhausted, and unnerved.

I've never been back to Stillwater Cove. The charts indicate the anchorage was safe in the massive swell- just uncomfortable. I don't know. I still haven't seen any trip reports or seen the cove on a similar swell and tide in the daylight. All I know about Stillwater cove was what it felt like that night in the pitch black fog in what became, the FIRST and WORST night on the anchor of the trip.