“ Gusts up o 70 miles per hour are possible.”
The bland, melancholy voice on the NOAAH weather radio intoned the dread prophesy with all the passion of a jaded, Norwegian automaton.
Bagpipes wailed over the anchorage at sundown and the grim sight of the northern horizon almost made me cry. Clouds billowed white over the eastern Straits while, below, the horizon fell into the blackest gloom that ever haunted the nightmares of sinful, erring tars.
I had read in The Complete Anchoring Handbook that it all comes down to the right ratio of depth to scope of anchor rode.
50 feet times 5 make 250…good enough for a Coney Island swan boat.
I went below to lie on the pilot-berth. After a few fitful gusts, the wind fell into a tentative, uneasy calm.
Let’s see, 5 to 1 in 50 feet times…
“Have you paid out enough scope, lad?”
The bass tones welled from Old Hand’s bilges as from the aged, bronzed vessel of oxidized words.
The angular form of Saturnius McWhirr was faintly illumined by the oil-lamp’s amber glow.
“I cast the anchor in 8 fath…” I stammered
“Avast, Ya greenhorn! You don’t “cast” anchors. This isn’t fly-fishing! My gorge rises at such lubberly misuse of sailing language.”
His wrath, like a line-squall, subsided as rapidly as it came.
“Did you know that to raise an anchor you must first let it go?”
“That’s true, sir.”
He always makes these pithy pronouncements like they were scripture. And, for McWhirr the act of sailing is a religious rite. He hails from Zoroastrian, Quaker stock and, for him, a ship is a vessel to carry his weary spirit ascending through the 7 concentric spheres of corporeality to the final landfall of essential being. He has seen the beatific vision reflected on the sea’s mirror, and it draws him ever northward in search of the true face of divinity behind the mask of appearance.
“Look at this arm.”
Like some cloaked tragedian in a nautical horror show, he furiously tore his sleeve to reveal the tattoo of an anchor engraved upon his sinewy fore-arm.
“I carry the fouled, cold-forged, emblem of hope engraved upon my soul.”
He leveled his eye at me as thunder rattled the wheelhouse windows.
“Have you any family, Mister Spencer?”
“Do they weigh upon your heart; do you feel their woes as your very own?”
I was too unglued by his interrogatory glare to answer.
“Are you willing to set aside your pleasant, little cruise to do service if called upon?”
“I don’t know if I’d call it a pleasant cruise with this weather.” I said defensively.
“Would ya be able to leap into the maelstrom to save a foe?”
“If I had a PFD,” I answered lamely.
He fell into deep silence. His spectral image receded into the oaken bulwarks of unfathomable woe.
“Then you are no shipmate of mine,” Said the fading echo of his baritone.
From the infinite distance came a low, thrumming tone that set halyards frapping on the mast. The sound rose steadily to a piercing shriek-as if all the denizens of hell had let loose one frenzied howl of pain.
Old Hand skewed violently in the blast.
I rose from my bunk, put on my foul weather gear and ascended the foredeck.
Let’s see 50 x 10 = 500…that’s 10 to 1…for 85% holding power…
Not bad odds.