Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I am south bound at last!
This post is probably going to bounce around a little bit, I have had a very full past few days...typical sailing...85% relaxation and boredom (good for book reading), 10% absolutely perfect conditions to sail how and where you want, and 5% absolute terror.
As Liz posted for me, I cast off Sunday 29 November. For starters let me say, what a beautiful day to sail. Late November and it was sunny, clear skies and temps in the upper 50's and low 60's. I spent the first part of the morning launching the dinghy, removing the gangplank, and getting the boat ready to sail. Unplugging the shore power, topping off the water tank, pulling off sail covers...etc. Around 9 John came over and he helped me retrieve the last dock lines and cast off, I was finally underway and sailing south. I left the Solomons harbor area just at about 0900, and by 0930 I had sails up and I was underway. I think I had cleared Cedar Point at the mouth of the Patuxent River by 1030, and it was then that I realized the weather guys had the forecast totally screwed up as far as wind was concerned, not 6-10 out of the west northwest, try 5-8 out of the south, south west. The westerly wind would have been great for a straight shot down the Bay, but the southerly wind was coming from the direction I wanted to go in. Not all that good. I knew I was in for a long day, probably a good day, but a long one as I was going to have to do quite a bit of tacking to get south.
I sailed and I sailed, I tacked and I tacked some more, for every 5 miles I had actually covered I had only made about 1 mile or so in a southerly direction. I passed the Pax River Naval Air Station Targets around 1400, they are roughly 8 miles or so below the Pax River, I don't think I lost sight of the Calvert Cliffs until 3 or 4 pm. The boat was sailing great, under a full main and Genoa I was making 4-5 knots and she was balanced enough that I was able to use the tiller lock as an auto helm, the windvane was not needed to hold course. I put on the Kokatat suit Mike gave me sometime around 5, and I was amazed at how warm it was. The temp had dropped off a bit, but the suit kept me warm and dry from the spray. I really had hoped to make better time and at least make Gwynn's Island by late evening this first day- that is about the halfway point down the Bay - but that obviously was not going happen. I made up my mind that no matter what, I was gonna make the Virginia border, and anchor in the lee of the southern shore of the Potomac River. I finally got into the Potomac River about 10pm, and anchored off of Ophelia around 11pm. Nice calm night, lots of stars, full moon, and a nice light breeze. It wasn't too cold on board, and I finished off the night with a nice cup of hot chocolate. Spook and I racked out for the night, and I really didn't use any heat on the boat other than the stove for cooking, and the sleeping bag proved to be easily warm enough for the conditions. I had sailed a total of 48 miles in 13 hrs and 56 min, and had gotten about 25 miles south.
I woke on Monday around 0600, and by 0630 I had made hot tea, some oatmeal, and sailed off the anchor. I was heading down the Potomac as the day broke with a beautiful sunrise. I had sailed up the river slightly the night before, and as the Virginia shore juts out into the bay farther than the southern tip of Maryland does, I had about a 7 mile sail just to get into the bay and around Smith Point. I got past the Smith Point Light around 0900, and it looked like I was still going to have the same wind as Sunday. Back and forth across the bay I went, for a little while I had the company of a Cape Dory 36, I was under a full main and working jib, and he was under a main alone, but he was still a little bit faster than I, and in 3 or 4 hours he and I parted ways when he tacked and I continued on my course. I made PB&J for lunch and had hot tea in the thermos from breakfast. I was way out near Tangier Island around 1200, when I was buzzed by 2 of the US Airforce's finest-2 F16's loaded for bear and bombing the target ship just north of where I was. Quite a cool sight, and I was ticked because I could not get the camera out fast enough. Around 1230 or so the wind began to shift, and I started to be able to sail in a more southerly direction, by 1400 I was sailing a bit southwest and making great time, around 4.5 to 5 knots. It started to sprinkle on and off around around 3, but the wind was holding and it wasn't too bad in the Kokatat suit. I began to think about the feasibility of making Hampton that night, if the wind held speed and direction, I would be there around 11 or so, and would be in a really nice anchorage at Ft. Monroe.
Around 1700 (5 pm) the wind began to pick up and I clipped in to the jacklines and went forward to put a reef in the main, and by 1730 the rain had started to come down pretty heavily. I put Spook down below and closed up the cabin, and that is when the wind really picked up. I went forward again and dropped the jib, and minutes later we were hit hard. Driving rain, really high wind and it was blowing to beat the band. I ended up pulling down the main and lashing it down, and then the full force of the gale hit. I had estimated that the wind was around 50 knots, and later Liz looked it up and told me 50 Kts with gusts of 70. All I know was I couldn't bring Arden into the wind, as hard as the wind was blowing it was all the boat could do to round up within 20 degrees of the wind. So I had to come up with a new plan. With all the rocking and rolling I looked at the GPS and the chart, I had plenty of room ahead south of me, about 30 miles until the Norfolk coast, and the Bay Bridge Tunnel just past that. If I could hold a course of 210 degrees I'd end up roughly in the Hampton Roads area, and I might just be able to turn up into the James River, where I wanted to be anyway. It blew and blew. The seas grew and ended up stacking to about 5 feet, I had 2 or 3 waves break over the stern and flood the cockpit, and one of them broke the windvane. Here I am fighting the tiller, doing all I can to keep her steady, and the next thing I know, the windvane rudder is in the cockpit with me! I was making 4.5 knots under bare poles (no sails) and was surfing the oncoming waves. That is quite an odd feeling - first you get lifted and pushed, like a big hand is under you. Then you drop off the back of the wave, and the boat wallows around in the trough a bit, only to be picked up again and have it start all over. With Arden's transom hung rudder this really has a tendency to give the helmsman a good working over, you end up working the tiller alot, and then the tiller ends up working you even more.
I fought my way across the bay in this storm for about 5 hours, we were rocking and rolling a great deal, and I had to remind myself a few times just how sturdy Arden is, and that we could take this, and probably much more. We ended up getting hit broadside by a few waves that were out of sequence with the others, and we rolled hard, about 45 degrees I would guess, and I have to guess at it because the inclinometer stops at 40 degrees. All I know is the leeward rail was well buried and the decks got washed pretty good. Finally the rain let off around 9, and then the wind abated a bit and I was under partly cloudy skies, and it was pretty damn cold. I was glad to have the Kokatat on, I was dry, and therefore I was reasonably warm. My hands were cold because the gloves I had were not waterproof, something I need to take care of when I get to Chesapeake. I made the western shore (mainland) side of the bay just at the mouth of Mobjack Bay right at about 2300 (11pm), but the waves were driving too hard for me to make a hard turn to the west and get in. So back we are again to plan "A", Hampton Roads, in specific, Ft. Monroe.
With the wind and waves still hard at it, I followed the Poquoson coastline down until I reached the Hampton Roads channel, complete with 3 freighters, some in bound and some out bound, and 2 fishing trawlers headed out as well. I did the best I could to fight the current coming out of the James River, but I was only making about 2 knots. I was not out of the wind yet completely, and I was taking the waves broadside trying to get into Hampton. Not a fun ride at all. Finally, around 2am I was completely in the lee of Ft Monroe, and I was in calm waters at last...quite a relief that was. I managed to find the channel into Ft Monroe despite my fatigue, and I dropped anchor just at 3am. I did the best I could to tidy up the decks and rigging, and then went below to straighten u down there.
No matter how well you think you have everything secured and put away, it seems that in a good blow everything that is not nailed down manages to find its way to the cabin floor. What a mess I had down there. I put most of it away, made the calls I had to make to let folks know I was safe, and I packed it in for the night. I slept for a few short hours, and I was up to take off again and head for Portsmouth.