Editor’s note: Even cruising legends like Nigel Calder get into trouble sometimes. The following is an incident from his recent Ireland cruise. Watch for the full story in the next issue of Ocean Navigator.
Four days after rounding Dunmore Head and a few miles further SE we had an Irish Met Office forecast of Force 4 to 6 southerlies, veering westerly, whereas my GRIB files indicated significantly stronger winds. To be on the safe side, Terrie and I headed into the SW corner of Ardgroom Harbour, on the south side of the Kenmare River, where we found gently shoaling water with good holding, lots of unencumbered dragging room if necessary, and excellent protection with a very short fetch from the SE through to the NW. An updated Met Office forecast now predicted Force 5 to 7 winds. No big deal, we thought, but by 2200 it was gusting more than 30 knots, by midnight more than 40 knots and by 0200 the following morning more than 50 knots with sustained winds of 30 to 40 knots, heavy rain, and periodic lightning in what was otherwise a pitch black night.
Expecting no significant wave action, we had foolishly left our inflatable dinghy in the water (we normally tie it down on deck at night) with the oars in it. By midnight it was regularly taking off and spinning around in the air on the end of its painter; the oars were long gone. A couple of times it sailed behind Nada and landed with the painter fouled around our wind vane. I had to disentangle it. I was worried the wind vane would be damaged and the painter cut, resulting in the loss of the dinghy, so we brought it alongside. It went airborne in a wind gust up to the top of our bimini and landed on its side between the lifelines and the support structure for the bimini. Before we could grab it and tie it down it was airborne again and off the boat but in the next gust it was back on board; we grabbed it, and shortly thereafter it was safely tied down for the night.
I spent the rest of the night at the wheel with the engine running, putting the engine in gear during the stronger gusts to relieve the load on the ground tackle. By 0600 the gusts were down to 40 knots with the sustained winds around 30 knots. Terrie and I turned in for some much needed rest. Later that day, when things had calmed down, we went on an unsuccessful hunt for the dinghy oars. We heard on the news that the annual pilgrimage to St. Patrick’s mountain had been cancelled for the first time ever, although 5,000 people still went and 8 had to be rescued.