The annual Spring Chesapeake Float was scheduled for this weekend, with the largest gathering so far planning to meet on the Maryland Eastern Shore near the Honga River. But as the launch date approached, so did a very big and very unpleasant weather system, stretching from Florida to Canada. Days of cold rain and high winds forecasted, gusting to 30kts. We decided to postpone.
Some of the guys with more flexible schedules hope to get some time on the water today, switching to the Sassafras River at the north end of the Bay where conditions may moderate. We had a great trip there a few years ago. I hope they get good weather. The rain has passed (with flash flooding here), but as I write this the wind is still blowing about 20kts, gusting to 30.
I’m sitting this one out, and will try to use the time off for several trips coming up in the next few weeks. As consolation, I have some pictures and video from a trip back in November that I never got around to posting.
Some of The Old Bay Club met near Williamsburg for the weekend. We headed into the James, going downriver past Jamestown to ride the tide out and back. I had the Lightning this time, sailing alone in company – a Caledonia Yawl, a Sooty Tern, two Marsh Cats, a Sea Pearl, a Coquina, and Dennis’s custom Atkin skiff. The Lightning really scooted along with so little crew on board, and I found myself uncharacteristically in the middle of the fleet, instead of behind it. The boat is still very new to me, but it handled well, and it was nice to have more freeboard between me and the chilly water.
We ducked into Grays Creek, winding back into the marshes where the wind was flukey, going deeper until water petered out and centerboards brushed bottom, then beat our way back out against wind and tide. Some of the guys pulled up for lunch at a little waterside restaurant with a small dock and a ramp – oddly in the middle of nowhere, like some sort of trading outpost. Others kept going. I was reluctant to stop, so followed the rest back to the mouth of the creek.
By the time I caught up, they had pulled up onto a sand beach for a break, and I spent the time cruising back and forth, learning more about the boat while I could. Very pleasant. Eddie did a short write up with some nice video. He got some short clips of me gliding by: Wind in The Willows.
When the others worked their way out of the creek, we all headed back into the James and turned for home. I managed to hit 7 knots on a close reach for much of the trip back, with very little effort. The wind died near the marina when the sun got low, as it usually does. Made it easy to drop sail and deploy the trolling motor, an operation I had not done solo before.
As the sun went down we met some other people on the beach for beer and oysters. Was a great evening, and so calm compared to what was to come.
Video from Saturday. Nothing from Sunday, when I had my hands full:
The next day was very different indeed, and not as expected. Some of the crew loaded up their boats in the morning to head home, because the forecast predicted no wind. The rest of us planned to go out anyway, expecting a quiet, relaxing drift. Eddie had Una on the trailer, but at the last minute decided to come along with me for the ride. Good thing he did.
We cleared the breakwater of the harbor with all sail up. We weren’t more than a mile into open water before the wind changed, coming brisk from the west. And it kept building. It would swing around 90 degrees, gust hard and cold out of the north, then swing back again, finally just blowing harder and steadier from due north. Both of us spent a lot of time sitting up on the rail to keep the boat flat. We dropped the jib, which made things much more sensible, but still had to hike out and luff up as the wind continued to build.
The stress on the rig and the centerboard exacerbated the leak around the case, as the boat racked under the load. I kept asking Eddie to fire up the bilge pump to keep the water below the floorboards, but it was disconcerting how fast the water came in. I was grateful he was there to pull down the jib and tie it off, and to keep running the pump.
The original plan was to sail north up the Chickahominy to stop for lunch. By the time we got close, though, there was no chance of tacking through the bridge into such a fierce headwind. Even trying to tie up in the lea of the trees proved too challenging. Some of the boats had turned back, followed now by more, then us. As we got close the the harbor entrance we found one boat capsized – fortunately in waist deep water where recovery wasn’t too risky. The second capsize of the afternoon.
I learned a lot over the weekend. I’ll need to do that maintenance work sooner rather than later, to address the leak and some other things. If I’m going to sail this boat single-handed, I need to add roller furling for the jib. It’s just not reasonable as it is to safely dowse it and tie it down quickly without help. Especially assuming the time you need to do it most is when you probably already have your hands full.