Poor Holding. The words taunted me from the electronic chart, like a pestering neighbor watching me on a Saturday afternoon asking, “You sure that’s a good idea?” while I tried to sharpen the lawnmower blade with the motor running.
Poor Holding were the words directly under the sailboat icon on my chartplotter as we rocked through day three of winds in the mid 30s while anchored off of New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos. Well, specifically the word “Poor,” as the winds had shifted overnight and driven us slightly north and off of “Holding.” It did not feel like an upgrade. Our secondary anchor, a Fortress FX-16, held our 1967 Rawson 30 cutter Ave Del Mar tightly to the grassy bottom. Back home in the Chesapeake Bay our dated but faithful CQR 45 never failed to keep us snug and safe, but the CQR just didn’t like the grass of these Bahamian waters, so it lay lovingly at rest on the foredeck while that secondary got a rare call to duty.
These winds were not a surprise, and as an avid follower of the “anchor like it’ll blow 50” rule I knew to dive on it after it was down and knew to set it well to the expected winds. Watching me snorkel brings complete strangers to tears—anyone old enough will well remember Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure gasping and choking her way through a relatively short underwater swim in pursuit of a passage to freedom. She was undoubtedly channeling a unique style and energy gleaned from watching my childhood swimming lessons or, more recently, me diving to set my anchor.
Time and time again my faithful crew (and girlfriend) Coby would take the helm as we would raise the anchor, motor around the basin in pursuit of a sandy patch of bottom, and then drop the anchor again. The neighbors were staring transfixed as I would dive to set it, testing the sea water for salinity (which was impressive, I must add) and soon surfacing declaring it all to have been in vain. Finally, exhausted and wet, while motoring in towards some promising shallows, Ave came across a glorious square of hope, a patch of silky-white sand revealing itself up through the turquoise waters.
We slowed to a crawl and dropped the anchor with mooring-ball precision. Ave fell off in the stiff breeze while I let out a third or so of our expected rode. As the chain reached its mark I locked it into the gypsy and left a bare foot on it as it tightened, feeling for a telegraphing message of dragging, that slow rumbling that lets you know that your ground tackle hasn’t tackled anything. The rumbling never came. As the chain tensed up, Ave swung into line and everything seemed to slow to a stop as she pitched gently with the swell. My ensuing dive—even more awkward to watch than most—confirmed that we were decently set in a patch of mildly-grassy bottom. I descended anyway, eager to make sure the blades of the anchor were squared up and set as well as could be. The sea water was delicious (still salty) and after my dive I fumbled my way back aboard the boat, panting and quite honestly afraid to hope.
But it worked. For three days the crew and I kept tight watch on the pulsing sailboat icon hovering over the Holding part of Poor Holding on the chart. In the wee hours of the third day the winds, still strong, clocked south and Ave swung away from Holding, coming to rest right on the P of Poor. Still, the anchor didn’t budge. The snub line creaked and moaned as it stretched with the winds. From time to time a wave would crack against the hull with startling hammer-like strength. Yet through it all we were locked in over our reminder that this sailing life brings so much doubt, such a tenuous hold on security and safety. Friends at home following the flashing icon of my satellite tracker don’t know that I am awake at 3:00 am—as I was at 2:00 and at 1:00 and at midnight—like a father of a newborn, feeling responsible and accountable and not very at peace with things while I check on my charge.
In the end, Poor Holding, it seems, was just a friendly reminder from the universe that nothing is guaranteed, that nothing is necessarily easy. For Ave Del Mar the holding was spectacular. The low pressure system came and went, taking its winds with it, and life again settled down to the more predictable paranoia and irrational caution that drives the daily routines of sailors everywhere. Just like we like it.