Hexham Hoodoo!

Monday 30thth August (day 43) On the Rocks!

Our next anchorage is Hexham Island which is known to be a bit rolly at times but that doesn’t bother us most of the time.  It is not a long journey but a launchpad for the leg to the Percy Islands and we need to be there by Wednesday afternoon to avoid some strong winds and big swell that is expected for several days.    We departed early (6 am) and as much as we’d like to sail there is no breeze.  Once we exit the way we entered Pearl Bay, we paused to check the saltwater intake for the engine – Geoff’s diligence to treating Grumble well.

Back on course passing below Dome and Split Islands we head in the direction of Island Head Creek, while steering north rather than west.  The tide is carrying us there anyway while we hope to catch the stream ebbing north later in the morning, we want to steer clear of the sweep that threatens to take us back into the Bay. 

We are delighted to see a young whale that we suspect to be our journey-fellow from two days ago pass us playing in the protected waters.  Other whales pass us playing with dolphins and each other.

The weather is calm, and very warm and as the sun climbs higher, the temperature rises making it a hot and breathless motor into the anchorage at Hexham, arriving at 12.30 lunchtime.  Our only company today is a small fishing boat – they have set up some drums and other items on the beach and we observe that they are freediving for crayfish. 

It is so hot so early in the season and such a treat after a relatively long cold winter, that the swim ladder is lowered for us to take a very quick dip – exactly a dip.  No swimming.  We are highly cognizant that the water temperature is still far too cold for us, but the icy dip is refreshing and a great way to cool off in an open cockpit, while we have beers and lunch.  With hot water generated after the motoring, we can wash down afterwards.

The anchorage is surprisingly calm and comfortable, and we’ve arrived at what we believed was low tide or very close to it, in a light to moderate east to south easterly breeze said to continue at least for another day. Our plan is to depart early and head for Curlew in the predicted east north east breeze of around 5 knots, with an expected light south easterly change later in the afternoon.

The comfort of the anchorage prevailed even as the breeze swung to the north-east – the late afternoon weather report was a little concerning given that the anchorage is best suited to the breeze we expected rather than a northerly swing. 

However, the holding was good and we committed to regular checks on the anchor with little worry ahead.  BUT…we should have at least moved out a little.  We had anchored closer than I ever have been situated here before, and Geoff let out more chain to ensure the good holding.  The breeze was now a howling wind 25 knots and accompanied by scuddy squally showers of rain and while there was some swell it didn’t seem to be a problem.  After dinner and our routine viewing of one of our saved tv series on the hard drive, we elected to set an alarm for 11pm to check the anchor again.

At 10.20 I was awake and decided to look myself – I shone the torch around our stern and both sides and all appeared well.  The definitive Cathedral Rocks were where they should have been – far away to our starboard stern and while I couldn’t see the beach I calculated in my mind where it should have been relative to the rocks and the depth sounder showed nothing to fear.

At 11.00pm Geoff awoke and decided to look – he too shone the torch around and with the very poor visibility his anxieties turned to panic.  He was convinced that we would be onto the rocks and asked that we move – NOW!

Remember – we still don’t have that oil pressure switch installed and so keeping enough revs to deter the oil pressure switch is now second nature for me.  
What alarm is that?

Unfortunately, panic is contagious, and all the usual checks were lost in the moment, zero visibility, driving rain and howling wind.  While all the wind and sailing instruments were turned on and the anchor quickly lifted, we didn’t have our walkie-talkies with us which at this time were more important than ever.  I had wanted to suggest that we just shorted the chain until morning, but Geoff couldn’t hear me calling into the wind.

Anchor up and where do we go??? There was no light on the binnacle and at the helm I couldn’t see where we were let alone which direction to head out into the dark and stormy night. 

Geoff came back to the cockpit and I’m wailing “I can’t see where to go!!!”  I asked him to shine the torch, aft, ahead, to port and starboard – then bump, bang! Bang! 

We are on the rocks!  There’s only one way out – I could see the Cathedral Rocks where they should have been, and I reversed with Grumble – she worked hard against swell and driving wind and rain to keep those iconic rocks to our starboard side and just with enough distance to be sure we cleared anything that lurked on our portside.

Safely outside, in forward gear we push northwards into 20-25 knots of wind and rain.  I was only wearing my Rainbird raincoat and some undies.  I was freezing and soaked through.  After going below and quickly pulling on some leggings, the closest skivvy I could find and the Gill wet weather jacket, I could return to the cockpit. 

Thankfully Geoff was dressed in something more substantial, and he had the helm.  It was decided to push onto the Percy Islands rather than trying anywhere else – it was our chosen destination after all.

Normally we would take turns at the wheel – the bloody autopilot is out of action and hand steering is the only option.  Not fun in an open cockpit with only a spray dodger. 

While I kept Geoff company in the cockpit, my internal thermostat cannot cope with the cold.  We were not dressed for wet winter sailing as we might have been a year or two ago – we were unprepared for such a sudden wardrobe requirement. 

We had thought to go to South Percy but as we came towards Hixson – a small island off South Percy, the current against the breeze was creating lumpy seas and we decided to press onto Middle Island’s West Bay.

I gradually declined further and further – the cold seeping into my bones and rendering me useless and in pain.  I could barely lift my head from the lee of the dodger, and Geoff stoically held the helm all through the rest of the night and into the pre-dawn light.  Eventually I took his advice and came below to the saloon and curled up under a blanket on the uncomfortable but dry and warmer settee. 

At one visit to the head I heard a strange noise and lighted the galley to see water trickling from the tap in the sink.  My heart took a turn and I checked and my fears were realised – all of our water in the tanks had been emptied down the sink at the bump of a tap.  I didn’t have the heart to tell Geoff until we were safely anchored.

We spoke at intervals about our position and masthead lights of the other boats were a welcome sight.  Once Pine Islet was clearly visible Geoff determined that he wanted to wait for pre-dawn before heading into anchor so he could safely pass the rocks to the north of the Islet. 

Despite the knowledge that it was a clear pass into the anchorage with the chart-plotter, it’s no wonder that he was still rattled after the evening we’d just endured.  He had been at the helm since sometime around 1.00am in driving rain and bitterly cold conditions. 

Geoff is my hero.

With calm reflection on the events of the night I believe that once the anchor was raised, and without a compass we still carried forward with the momentum to the rocks to the left of the beach.

More photos and videos will be uploaded to the relevant page under Gallery should you care to have a look. At present they can’t be uploaded due to a poor signal here at present.


  1. Wow. Very scary night. The water loss is a warning, I must put that on a check list, …. Electric water pump off when under way and not required. Memory will not suffice any more.


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