Anchorages Living Aboard a Boat

N is for Nights at Anchor

Saturday, April 16, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA

During the month of April, we're participating in the Blogging From A to Z Challenge where every day (excluding Sundays) we'll be posting to the blog . . . alphabetically. The overall theme we've chosen to tie all the entries together is living aboard a boat and cruising – things we've learned along the way: our thoughts, reflections, and tips for those just starting out or who are interested in this lifestyle.

I wrote in a recent post that I don’t like living-aboard a boat. And that’s true (to some degree). What I do like is cruising, living at anchor in particular. I like heading off into the wilderness, dropping the anchor in a remote bay and declaring myself at home. So does David. Over the last 15 years we’ve spent countless nights at anchor, all of them special in their own way, some more so than others thanks to a spectacular location or an extraordinary occurrence. And while picking just eight of those nights doesn’t do the overall experience justice, they do give some insight into why we love this lifestyle so much.

Lee and Kim See the Stars

When we were based in New Zealand, we decided to seek permanent residency so both David and I went back to work – him as a project manager for a construction company and me as a teacher. The transition for David was pretty straight forward in that all of his credentials and experience transferred over easily. But mine didn’t and I would’ve had to go back to university and earn my degree in education all over again in order to teach in public schools. I was also an accredited ESL teacher (English as a second language) at the time, so I applied to private schools in downtown Auckland where I easily found a job. While I was teaching at FERN, I met a lot of wonderful people and formed friendships that enriched my life. One such friend was called Lee.

One day, David and I decided that we’d had enough, so we quit our jobs, dropped our lines and sailed to the Bay of Islands for the summer. We invited Lee and his friend, Kim, to spend a week with us in hopes of making their New Zealand experience more memorable than it already had been. On our first night out, we anchored in an unnamed bay in Te Puna Inlet, a more secluded and quieter area within the BOI. That night, after the sun went down, David pulled out the binoculars and called them outside to have a look at the sky. Unbeknownst to us, they had spent their entire lives in cities and had never seen a star-filled sky before. They were amazed and had a hard time believing their own eyes. It was an incredibly special moment, one I won’t ever forget, as we watched these two guys “oooh” and “ahhh” over something we see every day . . . and take for granted.

Christmas Eve 2006

In New Zealand, we spent most of our Christmases at anchor but, because it was summer, it never quite felt right to two people who had lived most of their lives in the Northern Hemisphere. On our final year there, we decided to do something different: We had our Christmas dinner and opened our presents on Christmas Eve when it was getting dark so that we could enjoy the lights and a more “traditional” atmosphere. We anchored in one of our favourite spots (the above mentioned Te Puna Inlet), far away from the crowds, and had one of the best nights at anchor we’ve ever had . . . and the best Christmas!

The Northern Lights

We were anchored in Grace Harbour in Desolation Sound Marine Park (British Columbia) five years ago and had some friends over for dinner. While standing on the deck saying goodnight, we noticed a glow in the northern sky where no city exists, dancing above the mountains in the distance. We knew instantly what we were looking at – the Northern Lights. It wasn’t a multitude of colours like we’d seen in so many photographs but, rather, a soft blue light flashing and glowing above the treetops. It was beautiful in a way that I'd never experienced before, sort of magical and mysterious, and something I’d always wanted to see but never expected to – I still get goosebumps just thinking about it.

The World’s Best Sunset

During the 2013 cruising season, we sailed down the west coast of Vancouver Island. One night, we were anchored in the Bunsby Islands and sitting on deck discussing the challenges and difficulties we’d encountered so far and those yet to come. David was enjoying the overall experience, but I was struggling with the dreary weather and felt the season was a bust. As if on cue, the west coast decided to reveal itself to me in a way that I’ll never forget – through the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. As the fog rolled in from the sea, the sun slowly burned its way through the upper clouds and turned the sky into a beautiful shade of soft-orange. It was a moment that literally changed my outlook on the rest of the season and the west coast.

Sally Got Sick

In August of 2013, we were at anchor in a bay on the west coast of Vancouver Island when our dog, Sally, woke us up at three in the morning with an explosion of diarrhea all over the galley floor. It was the first time in 17 years that she hadn’t tried to wake me up or wasn’t able to make it outside before getting sick. After settling her down and cleaning up the mess, David and I sat on the deck of the boat in the pitch darkness of the night and I clearly remember being afraid that this was the beginning of the end. And it was. She was never the same after that night – she could no longer digest dog food and started to develop dementia a few months later. A year after that, we had to say good-bye to our pup. It’s not a happy memory, but a night neither of us will ever forget.

Beach Fire in Effingham Bay

David and I are real homebodies and it can be difficult to persuade us to leave the “house”, despite the fact that we always have a good time whenever we do. Case in point, one night anchored in Effingham Bay on the west coast of Vancouver Island, friends organized a beach fire for the entire anchorage (13 boats, I think). Not only was it an amazing night meeting new people, the dinghy ride back to Cambria was pretty special as well when the wake from the outboard motor lit up a path of phosphorescence like none we’d ever seen before.  

Pender Harbour

Before writing a blog post, I usually ask David if there’s anything he’d like to add or share. Sometimes I get lucky but, generally, it’s a one-liner and only after giving the question some thought. But when I asked him about memorable nights at anchor, he had a quick answer: The night we dragged anchor in Pender Harbour.

We had been anchored there several days waiting for a frontal system to move through the area and were expecting to see wind speeds above 40 knots. I’m not exactly sure when the wind picked up on the night in question, but we laid awake in bed listening to it howl for hours. David would get up from time to time to check on things visually. And, when he didn’t come back, I got up too. Everything was fine, so I went back to bed but was soon woken up by the sound of the engine: We were dragging anchor.

The wind was blowing a steady 25 – 30 knots with higher gusts bearing on the beam of the boat causing us to slowly “zigzag” down the anchorage. The anchor reset “on the fly” in mid-bay and held for about 30 minutes before releasing again. That was at 4:00 am. Somewhere in the process, David let out close to 100 metres (330 feet) of chain –almost everything we have aboard – with a full-length snubber (a hook and line used to take the strain off the windlass and act as a shock absorber). It finally held but not before we’d moved 0.4 nautical miles into the centre of the bay, beyond Maidera Park and the only other vessel at anchor – a 70 odd-foot converted fishing trawler. We ended up staying up all night keeping an eye on things. But what really made the night memorable is that our windlass (an electric winch used to raise the anchor) stopped working in the process and we had to hoist 100 metres of chain and a 50 pound anchor manually.

Anchoring off a Glacier

We spent last season in Southeast Alaska where we had many memorable nights at anchor, but two of them stand out above the rest. The first was the night we spent in Fords Terror – one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever had the privilege of anchoring. The other was Reid Inlet. Reid isn’t a particularly pretty anchorage, but there’s a tidewater glacier that sits at the head of the bay that more than make’s up for what Reid Inlet lacks in appearance . . . it’s also very cold.

It's your turn. Is there a night you spent at anchor that's memorable? We'd love to hear about it in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

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  1. We had a fantastic night at anchor in Port Levy last year. The Dolphins had raced us in to the bay. We got a perfect spot with just a couple of other boats there. It was hot and calm and we had an amazing dinner. Good music etc. ahhh lovely. Here is the video

    1. Port Levy looks beautiful -- the water in the video looks glacial! We regret not making it down to the South Island in Cambria. It was part of the overall plan, but we ended up putting it the too hard basket because of Sally. That was a mistake.


  2. The Northern Lights and glacier anchorage seem amazing! We had dolphins join us one night in Key Largo and watched them swim around and around our boat through the bioluminescent waters. It was magical! And then there was Christmas Eve when a boat swung within 6 inches of us and I nearly lost it.... such a rich tapestry! - Lucy

    1. That's the thing about this life, isn't it? It really is a mix of everything from amazing sunsets and magical experiences in nature to yobos in anchorages (Oh! Y is for Yabo . . . or is that a Kiwi expression?).


    2. Ha! Yes, yobo will be on the list for sure :-)

  3. Wow! All of these sound amazing! I have never seen the Northern Lights, but I would definitely love to...

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary

    1. They have these photography excursions up in Fairbanks, Alaska where they give you tips for taking pictures of the Northern Lights and bring you out to see them. I'd LOVE to do something like that.

  4. Thanks for sharing your most memorable nights at anchor, Stephanie. Still so sad about Sally, and dragging in the middle of the night is all but fun! I am envious of the northern light experience and the glacier anchorages. Those are very unique! In the South Pacific there were too many nights we didn't sleep well during storms, other boats dragging around and being in close proximity to our neighbors. I still remember watching the New Year's Eve fireworks from our bow in Puerto Rico, after our female dog passed away, and watching beautiful night skies in the tropics. Your sunset photo is amazing as well - very different than the "ordinary" pretty sunset!

    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary