Writer friend and fellow sailor Doug Lawson was out visiting from California last weekend. A crazy amount of stuff got packed into a couple of days, making the most of the trip. Top of his wish list was to go sailing, and sailing we did.
Doug owns a Crawford Melonseed. He sails it in lakes around San Francisco, at Tahoe, and estuaries near Santa Cruz. With an experienced Melonseed sailor in the house, this was finally the first opportunity since my boats were built to have them both on the water at the same time. Exciting!
Weather predictions originally looked great, though only light winds; but as the weekend approached the outlook turned more and more depressing. By Friday, the forecast for Saturday was rain all day, with winds now expected from 18 to 25 mph. We decided to pack up the boats and make the drive anyway, determined to at least explore the water towns and docks, even if the boats had to stay on the trailer. We’d follow it up with a good seafood dinner either way. Glad we took the boats. Rain threatened constantly, but it held off for us all day long, with strong and steady wind out of the ENE.
The change in weather necessitated changing venues, though. Originally, we were going to launch at a secluded ramp I know on the south shore of the Rappahannock. From there we would sail around a couple of low islands and explore a creek by the restaurant, tying up at the dock for a late lunch, then back. With the wind so strong, though, and a fetch from clear across the Bay, I knew the Rappahannock would be awash in breaking waves, and no fun at all.
We decided to head for a place I’ve wanted to try for a long time – Milford Haven at Gwynn’s Island. I’ve motored out of there in power boats with buddies many times to go striper fishing in winter, and visited often growing up. On a day like today, it would have clear wind but protected water, free of big breaking seas.
10 mile sail track
The middle section of the Chesapeake, especially around the Rappahannock, is sailboat heaven in many ways. Lots of deep water creeks and marinas, tons of sailboats, sailing clubs, etc.. But there’s a paucity of public access. There’s one small ramp with limited parking at the end of the drawbridge to Gwynn’s Island, a couple others scattered upriver, and that’s pretty much it. The one at Gwynn’s Island is right by the restaurant where Terri and I had dinner earlier in the season. The only reason I haven’t tried this spot before is on nice weekends it fills up really fast. Once the tiny parking lot is full you simply can’t get in, and from there it’s at least a half hour drive to the next option. But with rain predicted all day, we hoped most people stayed home. We found the lot only half full.
Besides the pleasure of having the two boats out together, there were a couple of things I really looked forward to. I was curious how closely matched the two boats would be. Despite being constructed side by side from the same plans, there are inevitable differences. I was also really curious how Doug would think they compared with his Crawford boat.
Aeon and Caesura seem to perform almost identically. More time will tell, but they are very closely matched. We both noted that whichever boat was even slightly upwind tended to gain and extend a lead over the other. I can only attribute this to having clean undisturbed airflow. Even when the boats were separated by as much as thirty yards there seemed to be a disadvantage for the leeward boat, probably “dirty” air swirling downwind like a wake in the wind.
Compared with the Crawford Melonseeds, Doug says they are all clearly “the same boat,” they handle and feel the same. Distinctly Melonseed. The wooden hulls are a bit stiffer than the fiberglass version. The floor decks in my boats are a bit more comfortable, possibly because they are both wider and have wider planks. Hard to say. He prefers the longer tiller handles I have, and the two part mainsheet is more comfortable to use, easier on the hands – enough to outweigh the hassle of all the extra line in the boat.
Doug says there seems to be a bit more spray coming over the bows of mine than on his boat. We’re both curious if the deck heights are the same. I feel pretty certain there are differences in the shape of the forward quarters, and that may explain most of it. My guess is the Crawford boats have a finer entry. I would imagine Roger’s boats are slightly faster, as his hull form is extremely smooth and fair. It will be interesting when we can see the two models side by side.
Chesapeake Deadrise workboats
We covered about 10 miles in 3 hours. We hoped to have a beam reach to carry us all the way out to some sandbar islands at the southern tip of Gwynn – known locally as “The Hole in the Wall” – but the wind shift didn’t come until very late. We tacked back and forth close hauled instead against the tide, and dodged into a quiet creek for some variety, slipping past oyster packing houses, a fleet of working deadrises, and people playing or puttering on their docks. In the good wind we maintained a consistent 5 knots, with a couple of brief punches over 7. Downwind, Doug decided to try out the reclining capacity of the larger cockpit.
Sadly, no photographers around to record both boats in a single picture. We met a nice fellow at the ramp named Gary Goerss. He drove up when he saw the boats lined up to launch, and stopped to chat. He builds sailing dorys from CLC kits, is restoring a 40′ Chris Craft, and is trying to build a small hotel where he owns a workshop at the foot of the bridge. He was going to take a picture for us, but things got complicated as we were leaving, and it just didn’t work out. Guess that will have to wait til next time.
All in all a really great day of sailing. After loading up, we headed upriver to try the new restaurant.