Chacala: Catastrophes Don’t Stand a Chance

South of San Blas, after a beautiful day sail, we set two anchors in Chacala. This particular anchorage is rolly, even in the best conditions, and setting an anchor from the stern as well as the bow helps to keep Small World pointed in the orientation least likely to cause nausea. Up until this point, we’ve had basically zero practice with this. Let’s see if you can guess how this story ends.

Dogfish and their spinnaker beat us in the race from Mantanchen Bay to Chacala, and by the time we arrived Greg was already in the water checking on their anchors. He hopped into their dinghy and helped us set our stern anchor, so we really nailed that whole process.

After a few days, a few bug bites, the best sunset we’ve had in Mexico, and a lot of queasiness on the boat we decided to try the next spot about nine miles away. Greg and Marga got a head start while Craig and I made one last trip to get some groceries. “What a relaxing day!” I thought as I waved goodbye to them and we rowed to shore. “So nice to be able to take our time on a passage day!” (I was still in a good mood despite breaking a shear pin on the outboard which forced us to row ashore instead of motor.) Hardly could I begin to anticipate how the day would become one of the least relaxing in my life.

I’m going to do my best to recount what happened in the subsequent hours, but some of this may end up in heavy boat lingo. If you really want to understand, leave a comment and I’ll happily explain further.

Okay. So. It’s time to go and weighing anchor is a bit trickier since there are now two anchors in the water, each pulling from opposite directions. There are several methods for doing this, and we are still accepting suggestions on what has worked well for other boats. This time, Craig insisted that the line rode for the stern anchor was a floating line. I disagreed, but only had a gut feeling to back me up. With the (half-hearted) belief that the line would float, we decided that we would pick up the primary anchor first. While the boat moved forward toward the main anchor, I would pay out rode to the stern anchor, effectively lengthening one leash while shortening the other. Then we would spin Small World around, bring the stern rode to the windlass on the bow, and pick up the stern anchor. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!!

You boat savvy readers may have already guessed what happened but stick with me. Right before we start to enact The Plan, a large yacht and its accompanying 40ft fishing tender pull in to the anchorage. They start their anchoring process in the spot that Dogfish just vacated. We hail them on the radio to let them know that we are leaving shortly if they are looking for another spot. I don’t know if you know this about us, but we’re super considerate… and super effective at jinxing ourselves.

As we pay out the stern rode and pick up the main anchor something sounds wrong with the engine. So, I shout to Craig, “Something’s not right. The engine sounds weird.” Granted, it’s not the most descriptive explanation, but it’s better than nothing. Craig is busy on the bow, neatly putting the main anchor away (lashing it so it doesn’t bash around) and says “Okay” while continuing to tie knots. In this moment, I had a nagging suspicion of what had happened and was extremely unhappy that Craig didn’t immediately come back to the cockpit. If I was right (and let’s be honest, as the HBIC I usually am), that anchor needed to be dropped back into the water rather than secured on deck.

Once he finally moseyed back to the cockpit and heard what I heard, he said something like, “I think we wrapped the stern rode around the prop. Do you think we should drop the anchor?” In a rare display of composure, I replied, “HELL YES! DROP IT NOW!” Down goes the anchor with a very short scope, without truly setting it. Craig throws on a swim suit and dons snorkel gear. He’s entered frantic mode; instructions are thrown at me in bullet points as I realize that we’ve drifted closer to the beach.

Craig quickly reports that it doesn’t look too bad – it’s a clean wrap. He still struggles to unwrap it, but is unwilling to resort to cutting through it yet. He continues to fight with it and I try to hail the folks in the yacht to let them know we aren’t leaving just yet. They’re busy doing their own thing and Craig is victorious in the meantime. He unwraps the line, leaving it in one piece. How lucky! As we get situated and try to prepare for Take 2, the dinghy from the yacht (which has an 85hp outboard on it) swings by to offer assistance and scuba gear. They’re no fools. They know what happened. But we’ve got it all figured out and we’re ready to go.

We pick up the main anchor again and nervously pick up the stern anchor. Craig tells me both anchors are on safely aboard and I engage warp engines toward Jaltemba. Except the engine still sounds funny, and the boat goes nowhere. “Craig! I don’t have steerage. Drop the anchor!”

Yet again, we have drifted closer to shore and closer to where the waves are breaking. Craig runs below deck and into the aft cabin, throws open a cupboard and swiftly removes all the contents. As he suspected, and I feared, the propeller shaft has come out of the transmission coupling. This is serious. The last time this happened we were in the Bay Area and our friend Caleb brought hydraulic tools to help get everything back in place. We do not carry those tools. We had fixed the issue from last time and realistically, there’s only so much room on the boat. Now here we are, in a remote fishing village barely anchored too close to shore, with no ability to move. There’s no wind so we can’t sail out of here but staying in this specific spot without a good holding seems like a bad idea. There was nothing left to do but try and fix it.

Without two anchors set to keep our bow into the waves, Craig advises me to take some seasick meds. This is going to take a while and he’ll need my help below deck. There’s no puking in boat work.

After rigging up the come-along winch to try and pull the prop shaft back into the coupling, it’s quickly apparent that it will be useless in this endeavor. Either it’s not strong enough, or the line we’re using stretches too much – it doesn’t matter. It won’t work. Also evident is the fact that Craig and I will not be able to repair this on our own. The sun is getting closer to the horizon and panic levels increase. We call Dogfish hoping that Marga’s experience in the boat yard will provide some genius idea that will somehow use duct tape and toothpicks, but the tone in her voice suggests less hope and more, “You’re fucked” than we we’d wanted to hear. It was too late in the day for them to come back, but they promised to return first thing in the morning to help us work on it.

At their suggestion, we flagged down the yacht’s dinghy and ate crow. We were not in fact fine and ready to leave; we did in fact need their help if they were still willing. As a matter of fact, Captain Chance and mate Enrique were ready and willing. Up first: pick up our anchor and tow us further from shore. (That’s right. Their dinghy towed our home.)

Up second: set a stern anchor so we (I) don’t puke. After that, Chance has to return to the big yacht, but promises to return with tools. By tools, he means the Port-a-Power. It’s the hydraulic tools that Caleb had used to help us last time!

Not only did Chance return with tools, he jumped into the repair with Craig. They spent hours grunting and sweating in the aft cabin, in probably the least fun way possible. But Chance insisted that he would help until we were all buttoned up and ready to go. Sometime around 9:30pm, we were all convinced that the repair was complete. Chance refused to let us pay him with money or booze, but just requested that we pay it forward. Scouts honor. Without his help, I’m not certain how/when/where we would have managed to fix it, but we will continue to be grateful for a long time.

As we cleaned everything up for the evening, not many words were spoken. It had been a long day, both physically and emotionally exhausting. I waited for at least an hour before I said, “I told you it wasn’t a floating line though.” There’s always a silver lining.

Our time in Chacala was great, and we’ve since returned to this charming village several times. Every time we weigh anchor though, Craig’s mood turns rather sour. So, in hopes of avoiding Crabby Craig and future disasters, please provide (reasonable or entertaining) suggestions of how to weigh two anchors at once!

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16 thoughts on “Chacala: Catastrophes Don’t Stand a Chance

  1. Hi Krystle. Good to hear you made it out of Chacala bay! It is pretty rocky there, but not as bad as a lot of places to be sure.

    Here is a tip we found as the best way to deal with a stern anchor retrieval. Setting the stern by dinghy is fine and it usually is no more than 70-100 ft of rode released. With practice you will be able to set the stern from the boat. I have faith. Important: When you set the bow anchor make sure you have about 100 ft of rode left or more if possible once all set. You need at least as much rode left on the bow as you have set out on the stern.

    When you get ready to leave put the stern anchor rode on a winch if possible (makes it real easy) and simultaneously let out the bow anchor rode while winching (pulling) in the stern anchor. Once you are over the stern anchor pull it up (it comes right up) then proceed to pull your bow anchor as normal. Of course make sure your stern anchor is set deep enough that you do not keel out. This way you at least have your bow anchor set until you are really ready to depart.
    Hope you are having a great time.
    Debbie

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  2. Oh isn’t it fun learning things the hard way!
    The only time we used 2 anchors we made sure we had a lot of extra line on both anchors & used a float to mark them. We set the stern first & then let out a lot of extra line to allow setting the bow & then pulled the stern line in. Unfortunately, in the morning the tide was too low to pull forward on the bow anchor so we used the dingy to pick it up. The floats really helped! You definitely want to pick up the bow anchor first so you don’t get too close to shore.
    Love Chacala! So glad you got to explore.

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  3. Lol. My sweet husband pointed out that my comment made no sense since our bow was pointed away from shore. Sorry. It was probably 12 years ago on our little boat.

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  4. The 2nd anchor doesn;t nedessarily have to be set off the stern,
    we often set two bow anchors at around a 6 0 – 90 degree angle between them. To point the bow into the swell and keep Krystle feeling “swell” you can take the rodes to snatch blocks attached to the rail, 5 – 15′ back from the bow. Then just adjust line tension so the boat is supported from the two tie offs, which rotate the boat based on where they’re attached.

    Even if you just keep the two anchors attached all the way up at the bow, the boat will sailing left, right, left and coming up short at the end of eadh swing,

    This approach has no prop issues and you can use the primary windlass for one rode then the other.

    Roger, S/V SoLunaMarea

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    1. Hmmmm. How do you set the second anchor? In Chacala, the wind would switch at nice and come off shore and we would be on our stern anchor. I’m trying to imagine how that would affect the double bow anchor. I would be nervous about wrapping them up if we spun. Or am I not getting it? 😂

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  5. When you got to the ‘there is nothing left to do…’ part I got so frustrated. ‘Hail the damn dingy to tow you out!’ I exclaimed (inside voice though).

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  6. Wow! You’re right – too much boat lingo for this landlubber. But I definitely got the gist that it was the opposite of relaxing. Yikes! Glad all ended well. Thank goodness for wonderful folks like Captain Chance and Enrique!!

    Where/when were the spectacular whale pictures from?

    Carolyn

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  7. So so glad it all worked out. I can’t even imagine. You obviously have the karma of good friendship in times of need. Lol I’m beginning to wonder if I look forward to your posts or fear what’s happening next. I know it’s all good; I’m just being a mom. Love you guys.

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About Krystle