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Around mid-January, there were a few short days of slightly higher than average temperatures forecast. Unfortunately, I’d been somewhat busy with a couple of small jobs that prevented me from making the best use (sailing, what else?) of the warmest dates. So this latest trip was the chilliest I’ve endured in my short nautical history. It was also to be my first attempt at anchoring out overnight. I set out from Tucson fairly late in the morning, and headed up towards Phoenix. A childhood friend of my wife’s, Diane and her husband Mark, have retired, and do the snowbird thing from Alaska to Arizona. Pam and I had stayed with them in Anchorage while we were on our honeymoon back in 1990, so I hadn’t seen Mark for over twenty years. He brought a friend named Mike, from Texas, who was in Phoenix scoping out some particulars for his son’s upcoming wedding. Mark knew exactly where I was heading, and arranged to meet up with me at the boat ramp. That’s Mark on the left. We got out on the lake sometime around 1500 and enjoyed light winds with Mark at the helm. If I remember correctly, this was his first time sailing. He’s a natural. We ran out of wind a short while later, and we were going to run out of daylight as well, so I set a course back towards the ramp under power. Both Mark and Mike knew I wanted to try anchoring out overnight, but seeing as how sundown comes all too soon nowadays, they managed to talk me into tying off at the marina docks for the night. My intended adventure was going to be put off for another day. Mark, it was good to see you again, and maybe someday we can get our wives out sailing, too. Mike, I hope the wedding comes off without a hitch. It was a pleasure to have you both as guests aboard my little boat.

Day 2- I tune my VHF to the NOAA regional weather, and it tells me that tonight’s forcast is for steadily increasing high clouds with winds from the West at 10-20 MPH. I’m not too happy with this forecast, but I’ve been threatening to gain more independence from the marina’s safe haven, so that morning I head uplake to where there are a number of feeder creeks, washes and small bays. Certain areas are off-limits to people and their boats during the bald eagles’ nesting months, December 15th ’til June 15th, so that makes the choice of anchorages limited. Get close to an inlet, and see some bouys that are marked “EAGLES”, so I head Westerly to the next wash where I find some “NO WAKE” markers. In I go. The time is around 1530 when I drop anchor for the very first time! I let the breeze slowly push the boat back while paying out some 1/2 inch nylon 3-strand rode, and when the anchor bites into whatever’s down there, I fire up the motor to put some tension on the tackle. Give her about half to three quarter throttle in reverse, and that should do it, right? Well, stay tuned. In my little cove, there were a couple of wild burros foraging along the water’s edge. Braying and all. This shot looks out towards the main lake while I enjoyed calm conditions at anchor. The prevailing winds at the time gently pushed the stern of the boat towards the nearby shore, so I took the opportunity to hop off. Man, that ground is rocky and hard to screw a shore anchor into. You’ve gotta love the 24 inch draft of these Macgregors! I started walking around the North edge of the cove to take more photos. Notice the ripples now appearing on the water? I think I’ll head back to make sure that that shore anchor is holding. There was an EZ-Up shade frame that was abandoned on the hillock above the boat, so I collapsed it down and set it on the boat to take back for disposal tomorrow, my good deed for the day. Back on board, a little dinner. Pam had packed a couple of frozen chicken-basil sausages, so I broke out the campstove and fried one up. Some french bread, mustard, cheese and a good beer round it out. The breeze kept building as I relaxed after dinner, and it was then that I learned what “sailing at anchor” means. The boat would present one side to the wind, and drive forward from the limit of the anchor rode until she lost momentum. Then she’d drift back until the rode jerked her to a stop, and then present the other side of her freeboard. The cycle continued. Around 50-60 degrees of arc most of the time, sometimes more. The jerking on the tackle would help bury that anchor still deeper, or so I told myself.

By sunset, I was in my sleeping bag in the cockpit, headphones on, listening to Henry Cow on my iPod. As long as that anchor dance was happening, I knew my position was good. All the mental notes I’d made about just where that shoreline, bush or shoal were in relation to me gave other indicators that I was holding position. It got darker, and the wind got stronger… Suddenly, the lee shore was MUCH closer than it was just two minutes ago! I’m dragging anchor!!! Haul in most of that anchor and leap to the outboard, and she fires right up (!), but the wind has my nose pushed pretty well sideways, making away-from-shore movement difficult, if not impossible. So I swung her around 270 degrees and used that energy to head back into the wind towards my intended anchorage. When I pulled up the rest of the anchor and chain to re-set it, there was a bit of brush dragged up with it. This could have been what the anchor had originally bitten into, and the reason it broke free.

This time I’m setting my anchor in worse conditions than earlier, so I practically ground the boat on a shoal so I can see where I’m dropping and how. Lay down the anchor and chain, and start putting out scope, in the dark. Feel the tension on the rode, checking for vibrations and jerks that can mean it hasn’t bitten in yet, and then it finally does bite. I am awake with adrenaline. I broke out a second anchor from the bilge and set it ready on the foredeck. I slept very poorly that night. But I did have clear skies that allowed me to check my swinging at anchor pretty well, and a small spit of land off my starboard beam as a landmark. The constellations of Orion and the Big Dipper, and the North star Polaris played heavily in my thoughts for most of that night. NOAA was (thankfully) half-right about the forecast. Off in the distance, an owl hooted.

Day 3- Started out looking just like this: …with a background of stars that just kept wheeling back and forth. I suspect there’s a way to take a timed photograph on this digital camera, and I’d end up with hundreds of arcs of starlight sweeping across the picture. I may bring the manual next time. Orion had since dropped below the horizon, which told me that sunup was in the works. Step up onto the foredeck and start hauling in the anchor, and it came up with a bit of mud/sand. Apparently it had found a fairly soft spot to dig into, so whatever sleep I was able to get last night was justified. So far, I’m batting 500 when it comes to anchor-setting! The wind had settled down and had turned from NW to North, which put the entire lake downwind of me. Back out on the lake, I head DDW towards the marina for my morning ablutions. Hey, somebody made coffee! After some breakfast, I get onto the lake again. There were a few other sailboats, with their sailors all bundled up against the morning chill. Nice looking spinnaker. I didn’t use mine once this whole trip, darn it. A couple hours of sailing and a little parking practice, luffing up to bouys, and the wind just dies. So I break out my fishing pole and cast a spoon out there. Live bait would probably have beeen the best lure, but all I had was some white bread. I also stuck a piece of Nicorette gum on the hook, and that didn’t work either. Go figure. You think those fish might like a little chicken-basil sausage? I just let the boat drift ever so slowly away from the rocks I was fishing, then I’d motor back in for a few more casts until just before sunset, when I headed back to the marina for a better night’s sleep. Day 4- It’s a Monday, so I’m thinking I’ll get out on the road a little earlier this time, to miss the Phoenix traffic. I was able to drop the mast all by myself, and left the ramp parking lot around noon. The drive back to Tucson was uneventful. I prefer that.

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