The Night I Spent on a Sand Bar

From Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday, Cindy and I soaked in the celebrations of the Christian Holy Week. What a wonderful series of worship services! I was moved to tears on more than one occasion and goosebumps on others. We both emerged from these festivities uplifted, and a little tired.

Adding to our sleep deprivation, was the fact that Cindy hasn’t slept well the last couple of nights. When she doesn’t sleep well, I don’t sleep well. I was up conversing and consoling her in the wee hours of the morning. So it was with some fatigue that we decided to take Beatitude out for some time away from the dock. We had no definite plans. We’d make it up as we go along.

After a glorious Paschal celebration, Easter dinner at the Chart House, and a quick stop at the grocery store for provisions, we arrived back at the Marina around 3 p.m. I then topped off the water tanks, refilled the dinghy gas tank, picked up some ice and a few other miscellaneous items from the marina ship store. By 4 p.m., we were throwing off the dock lines and leaving Regatta Pointe.

Cindy piloting Beatitude out of the marina

Cindy piloting Beatitude out of the marina

Cindy took charge and, for the first time, maneuvered Beatitude out of the slip and out into the river. That is a great milestone for her. As the clock ticks down toward the beginning of our cruising adventure, I think she is feeling the need to become more proficient at handling the boat. She did great!

We decided to head up the Manatee River, make a turn to port, then head south on the Intracoastal Waterway for a few miles to try out a new anchorage (for us). Once on the ICW, the Anna Maria and Cortez bridges tested our patience as we waited for the openings on the hour and half-hour. Around 7 p.m., an hour or so before sunset, we rounded Jewfish Key and slipped into the Longboat Key anchorage in front of Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant and Mar Vista Restaurant.

Emerging from beneath a bascule bridge

Emerging from beneath a bascule bridge

As we approached the anchorage, I was a little surprised at how crowded it was. I didn’t feel comfortable weaving in and out of all the boats at anchor to try to find a cramped spot for Beatitude. Instead, I pulled just north and slightly east of the vessel located on the perimeter of the anchorage. We dropped the anchor in 15 feet of water and let out 60 feet of rode. After backing down on the anchor for a moment or so, I felt comfortable that we were held securely.

The setting sun illuminating Beatitude at anchor

The setting sun illuminating Beatitude at anchor

We then lowered the dinghy into the water, and motored the short distance to the docks at Mar Vista for dinner. We again had a lovely meal there. The blackened grouper sandwich and jalapeño tater tots were wonderful. By the time we finished dinner, it was dark, so we made our way back to Beatitude under cover of darkness. By the way, the anchor light works like a charm!

The docks at Mar Vista. Beatitude in the background.

The docks at Mar Vista. Beatitude in the background.

Mar Vista, where we enjoyed our evening meal

Mar Vista, where we enjoyed our evening meal

Beatitude at anchor

Beatitude at anchor

Another strange ink fish at the Mar Vista dock

Another strange ink fish at the Mar Vista dock

Once aboard, things got interesting. I just couldn’t figure out what was going on with the anchor. Because I had anchored out on the perimeter of the anchorage, I was exposed to a substantial current flowing along the pass between Longboat Key and Jewfish Key. The tide was going out, producing a stiff current of about 2.5 knots flowing south to north. The wind was blowing from north to south at around 12-15 knots. Because of this, Beatitude pointed in an awkward and unusual position compared to the other boats. To top all this off, our anchor rode, instead of the usual position leading forward of the vessel, was heading directly sideways beneath the forward starboard hull, and the bridle had this weird vibration going on. Was the vibration the result of rubbing beneath the starboard hull? Was the anchor dragging? I was pretty sure it wasn’t. We had inadvertently anchored over a cable area. Was our anchor dragging along some underwater structure? None of this was clear, but after about an hour of contemplation, I just didn’t like what was going on. After consultation with the admiral, we decided to pull up anchor at around 11 p.m. and go somewhere else… anywhere else!

I was a little concerned that our anchor may be snagged on something and would cause us trouble during retrieval, but that fear did not materialize. The anchor came up without a hitch and I slowly motored out of the anchorage the same way we came in. Now, this is when things really took a turn for the unusual.

On the way in, my depth readings seemed much lower than what the chart indicated they should be. Some readings were around 4 feet. But, we didn’t have any problems making our way into the deeper anchorage. That was near high tide. We were leaving near low tide. We made our way almost all the way to the channel of the ICW, when the depth alarm sounded and Beatitude came to an unexpected stop. This despite the fact that my chart plotter said I was in 7 feet of water. We were aground, in complete darkness, in unfamiliar surroundings. After a couple of futile attempts at breaking free, we shut down the engines. This was around 11:30 p.m. Low tide was at 12:30 a.m. With Beatitude unlikely to move anytime soon with the tide getting lower yet, we set an alarm and grabbed a two-hour nap. Two hours later, nothing had changed. Cindy decided to grab another quick nap (she is not feeling too well thanks to my generosity with sharing my recent cold).

I decided to stay up for the night to stand watch. Despite my sleep deficit going in to this adventure, the watch was incredibly enjoyable. All was dark and quiet, and the stars of the night sky were magnificent. The moon had awakened from its daytime slumber to arise at 1:19 a.m. By the time, I arose from my nap, it had taken its place among the stars in the ebony sky. I spent the night doing periodic walks on the deck to make sure all was well, checking tide data, and reading Cruising World magazine and Jimmy Cornel’s World Voyage Planner in between. At around 1:30 a.m., I had dropped the anchor with about 15 feet of chain in our 3-4 ft of water to keep Beatitude from drifting as the tide lifted her from the sandy bottom. By the way, another little fact that convinced me it was better to stay put than attempt to extricate ourselves from the sand bar in the middle of the night was that I noticed our running lights were not working (those are the lights a vessel is required to have turned on at night if underway). We’ll have to look into that when we return home.

Cindy awoke shortly after 4 a.m. and joined me on my next walk around the deck to check on things. By now, an additional foot of water had increased the depth surrounding our boat. The chain was holding us in place. We probably could have motored out at this time, but it was too dark to navigate well, so we decided to sit tight until sunrise. We were blessed with the arrival of a dolphin passing in front of the bow, flashing the dorsal portion of its lithe body as it glided through the water, making the familiar repetitive sound of air being forcefully ejected through its blow hole. As usual at night, we heard the dolphin long before it swam by 15 feet away. It is now 5:40 a.m. as I type this sentence. Sunrise is at 7 a.m. and high tide is at 8:21. If all goes well, we’ll motor off this shallow sand bar once the sun makes its appearance and journey home…

Red sky at morning

Red sky at morning

… It is now 5:20 p.m. We are alive and well and Beatitude rests comfortable in her slip. At 7:05 a.m., after a brief red splash in the eastern sky which signaled the sun rising behind curtain of clouds, we fired up the engines and revved them slightly. Nothing happened except for a swirl of sand emerging from the stern of the boat where the engines rest. When I gradually increased the throttle up to 1500 rpm, Beatitude began to slowly creep forward. A couple of seconds later, we were free and motoring up the ICW as if nothing had happened. It was chilly and overcast, the temperatures in the low-mid 60s with the still cool NE wind blowing in our faces.

The sand bar on which we spent the night is on the far right of this photo, about halfway up

The sand bar on which we spent the night is on the far right of this photo, about halfway up

Bundled up for the morning's trip

Bundled up for the morning’s trip

Still smiling

Still smiling

We again impatiently made our way through the twin bridges we had traversed the evening before. By 10 a.m., we had backed into our slip, secured all the lines and headed down for a brief nap. A nap it was, but it was not brief. At 5 p.m., we awoke refreshed and emerged from the cocoon which is our cabin to a partly sunny 70° afternoon.

We followed the construction barge being towed by a small Sea Tow vessel through both bridges

We followed the construction barge being towed by a small Sea Tow vessel through both bridges

Cindy working on a blanket for a gift while we journey home

Cindy working on a blanket for a gift while we journey home

Now, thinking about the 19 hour ordeal of the previous day, I consider it an excellent adventure! It might seem weird to say, but I truly had an enjoyable experience. I never once felt in imminent danger. The only time I felt stressed was when we were trying to figure out what was going on with the anchor and what we should do about it. The night spent on the sand bar on Sarasota Bay was a beautiful one. We’ll chalk this night up to another learning experience. It will be one that we’ll fondly remember. I’ll certainly give more consideration to the current next time I drop the anchor in a new place. In retrospect, we should probably have given up on the anchorage and gone elsewhere. This experience also gave me an increased appreciation for the difficulty of navigating in and out of anchorages and along the ICW at night, necessitating a reliance on your chart plotter to give you accurate information. I also more clearly realize how unreliable your chart plotter can be in providing detailed information. I’ll never forget the peaceful night spent in 3 feet of water, Beatitude’s hull resting quietly on the sand, enjoying the nocturnal tranquility.

Sunset at Regatta Pointe the day after

Sunset at Regatta Pointe the day after

We had planned to stay out for a few days, but we knew today would be a day for sleep, so we decided to shorten our trip and stay home at Regatta Pointe for the next couple of days. There are plenty of boat chores to be done and I look forward to relaxing for the next couple of days before I must heed the call of the emergency department.

7 thoughts on “The Night I Spent on a Sand Bar

  1. Wow! Shows you that plans can change! One thing that was really good was that you both kept your head through it all…these experiences you’re having now on your little trips will be important later on. I’m sure it gives you confidence when you figure out what to do and it all work out! Good job Captain and First Mate! Ily

  2. Hi Cruisers, Better to be “stuck” on a sandbar then up North on a rocky ledge!
    Do you carry paper charts as well as use your electronics? When we traveled the ICW (from above Georgetown, S.C. to C&D Canal, Maryland) we made sure we had at least 2 anchor sites “picked out” for different time intervals. Both before sunset. Did not want to enter a strange area, in the dark, to anchor. Your ER experience will serve you well with your nerves & allow you to make the correct AIEs required… Well done!
    Blessings as always, Carson & Hope (SV CARSON G II)

    • Thank you much! We have limited paper charts and we don’t have any for that particular area. I’m not sure it would have made much of a difference in that area unless the electronic charts on the chart plotter are just plain wrong about the depth in that area, while the paper charts were correct. And, yes, I am thankful it was sand rather than rock. We probably would have proceeded differently if there was danger of running aground on rock. Once again, thanks for your input and your encouragement!

  3. I have such fun living through your adventures. I am really impressed how you guys keep a cool head, spend time to stop and think, then relax as you problem solve. Good life lessons.

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