Runaway Potter

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This page last updated on 03/26/2021.

Copyright © 2001-2021 by Russ Meyer

My sister, Lori, used to be something of an adventurer.  She owned a West Wright Potter 15 and sailed that boat all over the place.  She wrote a story about one particular adventure on Priest Lake in northern Idaho back in 2013:


I have spent some time at beautiful Priest Lake in northern Idaho every summer since high school.  My late father taught me how to sail at Priest Lake and I have been a casual, but enthusiastic sailor ever since.  On August 23rd, I once again launched my little red 14-foot Potter, Cayenne, from Blue Diamond Marina.  I was accompanied by my faithful first mate, Molly, the Irish Setter.  The weather forecast called for clear weather for the next 4 days.  I had packed a tent and some camping gear.  I was also carrying the usual basic safety gear, including flares, hand-held VHF radio, and a lifejacket.  I fully charged up my cell phone before I left.

To my surprise, I was able to find an unoccupied campsite on 4 Mile Island.  There are only a limited number of these highly-prized campsites on various islands scattered throughout the lake.  I was especially happy to get a spot on 4 Mile Island because it is the only campsite there, so I had the entire island to myself.  Great! Or so I thought at the time.  The beaches are notoriously rocky at the lake, so I anchored the stern of Cayenne with a 16.5 pound claw anchor on 15 feet of chain.  I led a smaller mushroom anchor ashore.  I wrapped it twice around the boulder that just shows in the picture above then I buried it in the sand.

Everything went fine for the first couple of days.  I couldn't have asked for better weather for my big adventure.  But on the 3rd night, a huge thunderstorm blew up from the south at about 10 pm.  I was camped at the northwest point of the island, and the wind was blowing offshore.  The winds were so strong that I had to put my back against the tent to keep it from blowing over.  I got worried, so I went down to check the boat…………IT WAS GONE!!!!!!!!  Scenes from a horror movie played through my mind when the lightning flashed and I saw my little boat sailing away.  It suddenly occurred to me that I was a girl, stranded alone, on a deserted island. 

Since all the safety equipment was onboard, I used my cell phone to call 911.  After the dispatcher promised to have the Marine Division call me back, I continued to follow Cayenne along the north shoreline, trying to keep her in sight.  I tripped over rocks, branches, and brambles in the slashing rain until the Marine Division called me back a half hour later.  By that time, the wind had abated and the boat seemed to stop drifting.  I thought the anchors must have reset - that is what they are supposed to do, after all.  The Marine dispatcher advised me that the Sheriff would not be too happy about being called out in the middle of the night in a thunderstorm, so I told him that I thought the situation was under control.  I would just swim for it in the morning.  He said, "OK, just don't try to swim to the boat at night in a storm."

The storm had passed by at this point.  I went back to bed, though needless to say, I didn't get any sleep.  Sure enough, at midnight, an even bigger thunderstorm blew in from the north.  This time, the wind was blowing onshore.  The lightening was so bright that every time it flashed, the sky was as bright as day.  The thunder literally shook the ground.  Somewhere above me, I could hear tree branches crashing to the ground.  In a flash of lightning, I could see that the lake was boiling with whitecaps. 

I got worried about the boat again and went down to check on it.  I could tell she was dragging anchor and drifting again.  This time, Cayenne was drifting directly toward an expensive rock that is marked by a flashing light mounted on the pole shown in the picture.  The onshore wind was pushing Cayenne a little closer to land.  When it was 30-40 feet offshore, I decided that if I wanted the boat, I was going to have to swim for it despite my promise to 911.

The boat looked so close that I imagined I could walk out to it.  Although I didn’t have a life jacket because it was onboard Cayenne, I plunged in anyway.  To my horror, I quickly stepped into a drop-off and realized that she was in much deeper water than I thought.  The swim was terrifying; thunder, lightning, big waves, and howling wind.  The water was inky black and about 50-60 degrees.  I tried not to contemplate the depths beneath me as I paddled desperately toward the boat.  I choked on more than a few mouthfuls of water before I finally reached her, shivering and coughing.  Once there, I saw that only the little anchor on 30 feet of rope was touching the bottom, and it was dragging.  The claw anchor was dangling uselessly over the side.  It was too dark to drive Cayenne safely to shore, so I turned on the motor and reset the small anchor.  Then, I added rope to the bigger claw anchor and pitched it over the stern.  She stopped drifting.  Crisis averted!

I'm not sure about the moral of this story.  I'm an idiot?  I need a different anchor?  Rock is not good holding ground?  I need to lead more lines ashore?  I need to set more than one anchor?  I need to set more scope?  I need to bring the safety equipment ashore with me?  I need to check the weather forecast more often?  Unfortunately, it is probably all of these things.  I learned something.  Do you know, there wasn't a scratch on Cayenne after her big adventure?  But I was black and blue.