"The engine sounds funny," my better half yelled up to me on the bow as we nosed in among coral heads and rocky outcroppings off both port and starboard. Temporarily abandoning my post, I ran back to the cockpit. Laurie had already instinctively put the boat in neutral and we barely coasted along toward a narrow anchorage.
"What kind of funny?" I asked.
"Like, just really not right," she said. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the worst, grabbed the shifter and put the engine in gear. The noise was not unlike the sound a lawnmower makes with the blade set too low as it is dragged across asphalt. I quickly put the engine back into neutral. We did not need a diesel mechanic to tell us something was indeed not right. We anchored, shut off the engine, and a stifling gloom settled over us. We were in the Exumas, lucky to find bread, bananas, or a phone that worked in the small towns around us let alone a transmission shop. What now?
‘Crisis breeds opportunity,' so the saying goes. After a bit of a debate as to whether to turn around and head for civilization or continue cruising without an engine, we opted for the later and to continue on our original itinerary of heading south. We should probably state from the onset that we're no Lynn and Larry Pardey purists. I like diesel engines, especially when they work, and have said many a private thanks for the unceasing clockwork like purr of a well-maintained engine during periods of calm winds or making miles into a headwind at a prescribed and predictable rate. When the engine quits, however, it's time to be thankful you're not a powerboater and rely on your full sailing faculties and rise to the occasion the added challenge such sailing presents.
The first engineless sail from pulling the anchor up to setting it down where we intended brought a sense of accomplishment. Even though we've sailed off the hook and into anchorages many times before, being able to do it when you have to do it brings a special kind of sailing fulfillment. It helps to remember that most of the sailing vessels in history lacked engines. Practice beforehand brings confidence that can be critical in tight spots.
Before leaving there's a list of criteria to examine. You want as many factors lined up in your favor as possible. Once we're happy with the weather forecasts, tide, and current, we discuss our exit strategy, what boats are where and how we hope to pass them as well as where any immediate navigation hazards may be. The anchor is then pulled up to a short scope. The main is raised smartly—the less flapping and flogging the better, the main goal is to get weigh on as soon as possible and to minimize that ‘in between' drifting and sailing feeling. As the boat swings around into the wind we raise the remaining scope and the anchor and pinch the bow up into the wind, getting the boat to sail over the anchor and—most importantly—pointed in the right direction. The anchor is then up and stowed and then the jib goes up. Depending on the wind conditions we may already have a reef in the main to start with, or have a small jib up. Keeping sail loads manageable needling in and around sand bars, rocks, or other boats helps keep the boat balanced as well as keep crash tacks or jibes off the exit strategy.
Anchoring Anchoring in a crowded anchorage can be tricky when you have a forward and reverse gear, doing so under sail power alone ups the ante. In many ways, it's a one shot event. One thing that may bear keeping in mind is that just because a small armada of cruising boats is clustered in one area doesn't mean that it may be the safest area to anchor in, especially hold boats start dragging their anchors. You have to be diligent when it comes to weather and know before hand what types of winds you can expect each night. We find ourselves anchoring further out than most of the fleet, leading the crew of one boat we met to speculate whether we were on our honeymoon or not. Sea room is not often thought of as a term that applies to anchorages, but without an engine, we're a bit more comfortable keeping our neighbors at a distance and have the jib hanked on at all times.
If there's a ‘secret' to sailing without an engine, it would have to be a combination of patience and diligence. Internal combustion mentalities are hard to change and don't allow for windshifts, or wind that just plain dissipates or mysterious currents that start sweeping you along at an unexpected clip. Being aware of your boat's progress in the conditions and being flexible in your destination and willing to change it to stack the tide, wind, and evolving weather in your favor are some good ways to keep out of trouble and to make sure that you, your crew, and boat get to where you're headed by wind power alone.
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