Wow, Catamarans Have a LOT more Windage! – Riding out a low in Suva, Fiji

Last night was a little too much excitement for our taste!  We knew a weak low pressure center was going to pass over us yesterday evening so we prepared as we would have on Ellie – apparently not enough…  We learned a lesson last night: Catamarans behave like a drunken donkey pontoon boat on steroids in a blow!

We made sure we were in a ‘cyclone hole’ and were anchored in the same hole we were in last March on Ellie when TC Zena came through. We dropped the Rocna anchor in 25 feet of good holding mud and set it hard then let out 100 feet of 3/8″ chain (we would have deployed a bit more if there was swinging room!) and set a 20 foot nylon bridle. We pulled full throttle reverse on this and set the anchor hard. It didn’t budge, we sprang forward and my mind was at ease for anything less than about 45 knots with this setup. ‘Was’ is the key word here….our thinking has since been revised…

Now, on Ellie this could have withstood about 50 knots and I would have slept like a baby. The few differences between Ellie and Quixotic in a blow are HUGE.  First, Ellie has a Spade anchor, which has never drug on us and if the wind clocked 180 on us it NEVER pulled out, but merely dug in harder in the new direction.  Second, Ellie behaved very well in a strong blow and sat calmly pointed directly into the wind like an arrow.  Not Quixotic!  No Sir. She failed on both counts and danced around like a drunken monkey trying her best to return herself to the rocks. As you can imagine it was more than a bit unnerving!!

As the low approached the wind picked up out of the north and then clocked west. It started picking up speed and the gusts were slamming into the anchorage at 25, then 30 then 35 and Quixotic was dancing away swinging at her chain.  When the gusts started hitting 40+ she was turning beam-to and then being hit by 40+ knots which sent her sliding backwards and then yanking on her chain and anchor. Well, what happened is that the anchor was set in the other direction (expecting a SE blow as is typical of these lows). When the wind came out of the west and she was hit by a huge gust, she pulled hard enough on her anchor to yank it OUT!  This has never happened on Ellie and once I saw the dragging pattern on my ipad anchor watch program, my legs started shaking. She drug about 25 feet before the Rocna dug back in. I started the engines and watched our position nervously while being pelted in the face by the driving rain. I watched as Quixotic swung wildly and presented her beam perfectly to the maximum windage of the next gust. It was eye-opening and frustrating that she was yanking so hard on her anchor that each time she was pulling it through the mud a few feet at a time. Our lee shore was only 20 yards away and the rock wall was staring at me telling me how much it wanted to eat our nice new fiberglass. I wasn’t going to let that happen but I was also not going to pull the anchor and try to re-anchor in these conditions if I absolutely didn’t have to.  Luckily, as the evening wore on, the low moved off and the wind moderated. We didn’t have to pull the hook after all. She survived this one but barely. What a learning experience!  Note to ourselves: we have a flailing Catamaran now, not a well behaved, heavy monohull.

The two key takeaways were: 1) Cats dance like drunken sailors and put a LOT more stress loads on an anchor; and 2) Rocna anchors can pull out if yanked 180 degrees in a strong blow. The later point is a concern for us and something we can change as soon as we have the funds. We are huge fans of the Spade anchor we had on Ellie and we would like to buy a hugely oversize one when we can afford it.  They say that your anchor should be so big that people laugh at you for having such a big anchor. We are firm believers in bigger is better!  The other takeaway is that we need longer and more stretchy nylon snubbers off the bows so they can absorb the shock loads and not transfer them to the anchor.

The great thing about this low is that we were able to catch 100 gallons of rain and fill our main tank!  Our entire hard bimini is rain catchment. We ran hoses directly into our tank and its full!  The Mermaid had her first LONG luxurious shower in a month – a happy girl indeed!

We are finalizing our business here in Suva and will head out in a day or two once we take on fuel.  We managed to find new USA-made AGM Marine-grade batteries (Optima’s); they weren’t cheap but we’ll sleep better under way knowing they are higher quality and don’t have a tendency to blow up! I found out our alternators are internally regulated so I can’t make them go to a float voltage. So I installed a cut-out switch in the engine compartment so I can turn the alternators off (of course only when the engine is off) and not cook the batteries on longer runs. Longer-term I plan to install a float charger on each starting battery and that way I can have the AGMs float at 13.6 or so and run the engines for days on end without concern for overcharging. 

Other chores have included oil changes, coolant flush, rebuilding water pumps, installing led lights in the main cabin, new stereo deck with aux input!, battery switch, provisioning, and scrubbing the boat in the rain!  It’s been productive and it’s always a nice feeling to leave a major port in significantly better shape then when you limped in 🙂

Hope everyone had a great weekend. Here is a shot from Musket Cove last night (another anchorage on the other side of the island – they had 50-60 knots!). (photo courtesy Moonshadow)

***Update 10/11: We pulled anchor and we had the fronds from a dead palm tree as well as old rotten anchor line stuck in our Rocna!  Turns out we can’t blame the anchor after all. Also, we are glad we didn’t pull anchor that night because if we had we very well could have wrapped the line in our prop and ended up on the rocks  it was much easier to cut free in the calm this morning… ***



  1. October 11, 2016    

    Harrowing night.
    We’ve got a deck salon sloop and she hunts a lot in a blow. We’ve found that an anchor riding sail from Sailrite really helps the boat from getting beam to the wind. She still hunts but not nearly as violently.
    Now granted, we’ve only used it up to about 35kts because… well, this is Southern California. But hopefully when we need it in stronger blows it’ll work even better.

    Following along with your adventures… great job on the remaking of Quixotic!
    Adam & Jess
    s/v Volare

    • October 11, 2016    

      Thanks guys! Not a bad idea – maybe we’ll experiment.

      Awesome video you put together! Looks like a blast. See ya when you catch up with us down here! Cheers!

  2. October 12, 2016    

    Hey Ass Kickers – this was a GREAT read. Wishing you safe passage to NZ and hoping our paths cross at some point in the future. We would have loved to have spent more time with you. We’ll keep reading! ~Jessie & Neil, s/v The Red Thread

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