On The Hook

On the what?  First time we heard this term we were indeed confused.  After all, if something is ‘off the hook’ it’s a good thing, right?  So what on earth is ‘on the hook?’  Duh.  That means your swingin on your anchor rode (it’s not a rope if there’s a hook on the other end.)  And swinging it is.  Riding the hook is simply ‘at anchor.’  Well heck, I’ve been hookin it for 50 years on lakes all over Michigan. Been hookin in Higgins Lake, Burt Lake, a hundred other smaller lakes and rivers as well as Lake Huron.

No big deal.  Drop the hook and sit back and relax.  On a lake.  With no current. Without a fetch of 8 miles across the sound.  With no tide.  It is indeed a piece of cake.  I could anchor the Nightcrawler, our 18′ open bow runabout directly over the fish.  Every time.  Read the breeze, let out some rode.  Good to go.  A couple of things make it much more exciting now.  First, we’re 17′ out of the water to the bimini top.  With the eisenglass zipped in, we make a dandy sail.  Then there’s the bow.  On this particular vessel, our bow is an old school, a nearly vertical knife falling 4 and a half feet below the surface.  Like a giant rudder, only on the front.

We need to do this, anchor out.  Get on the hook.  Live a little on the wild side. And so we head out of Southport down the ICW for a day ride.  On the way back we decide to duck into a creek that winds off to the west.  “Nice anchorage.  Watch the wrecks” says the web site we use for info as we travel.  Well heck, it’s only 8′ deep, should be able to spot a wreck without much effort.  So we idle up the creek to where we pass a small bay.  Poking out of the calm water, bleached in the sun are two masts from sunken sailboats.  See, no problem, you’d have to be stoopid to miss those.

We idle farther up the creek to a wide spot just downstream from two sailboats already anchored.  Sweet.  We’ll drop the hook right HERE.  Got the wind all doped out.  No current to speak of, just a dribble coming out of the creek.  Anchors away!  We’re on the hook by golly.  Docktails on the bridge and another round of high fives.  Around 10PM we began to notice the view changing.  Ah, the tide.  Now the current is going upstream and we’re turning 180 degrees around.  Heading right for the sailboat.  See, he has two anchors out.  One in front, one to stern.  That way he stays put during the tidal changes.  We don’t.  We swing like a 20 ton ballroom dancer right on up the creek.  Crap!  All hands on Deck!!

Fire up the girls and Jan bolts to the bridge.  She’s never run the boat before but right now we have no choice.  She slides the port gear into reverse, then neutral, then reverse.  Just a nudge.  Just enough to get us back over the anchor.  I’m watching this amazed.  Jan is juggling the mixers like a pro.  First starboard then port.  Forward, back, swing her around nice and slow. . .did I say it was inkblack dark out?  No?  Close your eyes and wrap your head in aluminum foil dark.  No moon. Black out.  With no visual clues she can see, we’re encouraging each other through the turn.

Now we’re over the anchor and I can get the windlass in gear and get this bad boy up out of the water and reset it farther downstream.  And we do.  Slowly nudging Shangri-La in the narrow channel Jan drops us back down against the rising tide to get some distance between us and the sailboat.  Drop the Hook II.  Let out enough rode and let’s try this again.  Time to settle in for the night.  We held.  I’m sure of it because I made 14 trips up on deck during that night.

A beautiful North Carolina coastal July dawn greeted us in the morning.  Bleary eyed, I do the deck march, hot coffee in hand.  We’re starting to swing back on the outbound tide now.  Looking good.  I can’t even tell if we’ve moved.  Although I suspect the back and forth, flipping the anchor and pulling in a new direction may create some interest on the bottom.  Breakfast consumed, dishes done.  Time to head back to our home port.

Since Jan did such a spectacular job on the mixers (gear shifts) in the dark of night, I’m confident she can handle it just fine in daylight.  Fire up the ladies and take our positions.  Piece of cake, we’re laughing about last night and how ugly that had been.  In no time Jan has us over the anchor and I wrap the rode around the windlass to begin the retrieve.  Wow.  We must have a ton of mud on this bad boy, the windlass is growling and it seems like the bow of the boat is settling a bit.

The windlass groans.  And stops.  We are still.  Like there’s a concrete pile driven through the bow and buried 30′ into bedrock.  What the heck?  I peer over the rail. There’s the anchor all right, hanging about two feet below the surface.  With a massive one inch hemp rope and a half inch steel cable caught up in the flukes. Seriously??  “Watch the wrecks” is starting to take on a whole new meaning.  Now back home, the solution was easy.  Drop the anchor in free fall, let it swing away from the debris and yank it back up before it hooks again.  Not here.  Lowering the anchor in free fall pulls rode through my hands like a gloveless zip line as the cables snatch it back to the bottom.

I lost count of how many times I pulled that anchor up, using the boat hook to try and free the cables.  Finally one at a time, using the windlass to stretch the cables enough to get some slack, I’m able to free us up.  It’s been over an hour.  Jan has patiently kept us in position.  As I complete the haul aboard the windlass groans and skips a gear, then two then dies.  Hand over hand the anchor comes aboard and we lock it down.  Holy moly.  Jan lets the tide grip our pointy bow and turn Shangri-La downstream.  And away we go.  Cross off anchoring for the first time.