Where was I at the time? Aboard my 40-foot cutter Arawak, anchored in the Chesapeake Bay behind High Island in the Rhode River. My boat was anchored a few hundred feet away from a classic 50-foot Alden schooner called Windsong, which had a very seasoned couple on board.
In preparation for Gloria’s arrival I laid out my two heaviest anchors, a 45-pound CQR and 35-pound Danforth. I was using 3/8-inch chain with copious scope and was depending on the limited fetch and the rolling hills behind High Island to lessen my exposure to the wind and seas. Windsong had also deployed two anchors, but each was much larger and heavier—the fisherman style.
To ensure that my anchors were well set, I donned my snorkel and dove down where I found them dug deeply into the mud bottom. I proceeded to strip my sails and deck gear and was feeling fairly secure about riding out the storm.
Then as night approached, the winds steadily increased and rain began to pound the boat, first vertically and then horizontally. The waves also began to build, despite the limited fetch, and my boat began to bounce, and rock and roll. Windsong, only 100 feet away, disappeared from view. I tried to sleep sitting at the navstation, nodding off for brief periods, but was jostled rudely awake each time my boat jerked at the anchor rodes or heeled over in a large gust.
Then, in the early morning hours when the wind shifted to the northwest and west, my anchors began to drag and to my dismay the water level in the Rhode River began to drop dramatically. Hurricane-force winds blowing from the northwest, coupled with the low tide was moving massive amounts of water out of the Chesapeake Bay. I was soon aground, hard aground. My boat stopped bouncing, and instead began heeling to starboard until she lay fully on her side. I remember being oh so glad to have a vessel with full keel, and a boat built of solid fiberglass. It also brought me solace to know that the boat had multiple frames, ribs, and deck beams as it had been designed for the roughest ocean weather.
The rain had now stopped and so I was able to move around on deck. My anchor rodes were slack and I felt as if I was standing on a beached whale. There wasn’t much to do but have a cup of coffee. About mid morning the crew on Windsong, which had weathered the blow without problems, came on deck and peered over at me. I waved and they waved back.
After a short while they launched their dinghy and the husband, Colin, rowed over. I remember our conversation taking place as he sat in his dinghy alongside my boat, which was hard aground and heeled over at 45 degrees.
"Good morning," Colin said.
Well this tongue-in-cheek conversation went on for several more minutes, and I even offered Colin a cup of tea (he was British, don’t you know). And then, when neither of us could keep a straight face any longer, he offered to help me kedge off the mud.
Well, we tried everything, rigging lines from the masthead, running my anchors out into deeper water. Kedging this way and that. But the water was too low and the mud too thick. My boat just sat there. I began to tire of this salvage drill and just wanted to be floating again. Then, just as I was thinking about using dynamite to blow the boat free, my salvation appeared—a powerboat. A State of Maryland Marine Police vessel came chugging into the anchorage.
I quickly re-set my anchor and rowed over to Windsong for some real British tea and conversation. Afterwards, we both spent several hours hauling out sails and re-rigging our decks. Our boats were spotless now, having been blasted by wind and rain for 12 hours, which as far as I could see was the one benefit bestowed by Gloria.
By afternoon the wind was calm and the water level back to normal. We both sailed out of the Rhode River and carried on with our previous itineraries. I crossed tracks with Windsong several times during the following years and hold this experience in the Rhode River as one of my great memories of sailing. It was a close call for Arawak, and a good lesson for me.
Now, whenever I hear Laura Branigan’s "Gloria" played on the radio, I think about being heeled over at 45 degrees, hard aground in the Rhode River. Great times!
The Science of Hurricanes by Michael Carr
Hurricane Warning by Ralph Doolin
Hurricane Waiting by Sue & Larry
Buying Guide: Anchor Rodes
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