Wednesday, September 19, 2007

September 15. Yesterday we had over 15 knots of wind from the south. It was supposed to clock around and blow 20 to 25 after midnight. As a precaution we went 5 miles up into the Sassafras River to anchor for the night with 360 degrees of protection.

During the night the wind died and we awoke to a dead calm anchorage. The thought of the old expression “calm before the storm” flickered through my mind. We had a fifty mile day scheduled so we didn’t get underway until 0700. After pulling the anchor we motored down the Sassafras towards the upper Chesapeake Bay. As we motored west the wind started to build ever so slowly. By the time we got to the mouth of the river we had 22 knots of wind dead on the nose.

As we started to turn south we were able to put up the mainsail albeit with a double reef in. We were still to close to the wind so we had to motor sail for a few miles until we turned more towards the south. After turning south, out came the genoa and off went the engine. We were running before the wind with the ebb tide going with us. It was wonderful, for a while.

The seas soon built to become formidable rollers. They were from our starboard quarter so things could have been way worse but we were on the edge of control a good bit of the time. We had to slow the boat down as we were really flying down the front side of the breaking swells. It took every bit of effort to pull in some genoa without turning upwind to luff the sail. I pulled so hard my hamstrings hurt; I pulled a muscle in my stomach and brutalized my hands. The waves can’t get too big in the bay because of the shallowness but they stack up very close together, break quickly and it can get pretty ugly very quickly.

Once we had the boat slowed to about 8 knots we had a much better time of it. The VHF was alive with the chatter of boaters discussing the severity of the sea state. Then came the promise of relief, several power boaters that were headed north said that the conditions were not nearly so bad on the south side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. They were flabbergasted by what they ran into on the north side of the bridge.

We had run the thirty some miles to Annapolis easily before noon and we had planned to continue on to Deale, Maryland about 16 miles further. The wind dropped to about 15 to 18 knots but the seas became fairly flat. So out came the rest of the genoa and we were effortlessly sailing along at about 7 knots even though the flood tide had started to fill in against us. We were abreast of Deale at 1300 hours so we decided to continue on to Solomon’s Island. It would be another 20 or so miles but we couldn’t really put it to bed with the wind blowing so nicely for us. So on we went.

Along the way we saw 9 of those Navy 44’s positioning themselves for the start of some racing. Man those are pretty boats and the crews all look really sharp all dressed alike. Those things look like rockets as they streak across the water.

We also saw a submarine floating in the bay out in front of Annapolis. It was pretty cool to see until the machine gun toting patrol boat came out and ran us off.

When we got to Solomon’s I went to roll up the genoa and found that I couldn’t. I could roll it in about 2 turns and then it would jam up. Crap. I couldn’t find anything binding on the furling line and then I realized that there was an over wrap in the drum on the roller furling unit. Shit. The line had fallen down over itself and now with hundreds of pounds of pressure on it I couldn’t even begin to untangle the mess.

Even when Christy turned the boat up into the wind there was still an incredible amount of pressure as the sail flapped wildly. That was one of those times that an “Easy’ button would be perfect. I ended up sticking a screwdriver through the lower snap shackle to turn the drum manually and hold it with all my weight with one hand while I stuck my fingers inside the drum and untangle the mess. I wondered which would hurt worse, the screwdriver slipping out and stabbing me in the chest each time it spun around or my fingers getting ripped off in the drum. I’m thinking fingers. After a couple of minutes that seemed like days, I was able to clear the line and we were back in business. It was the first time I’ve ever had a drum jam like that and if it never happens again it’ll be okay with me.

So all in all today ended up being a 77 mile day when we thought we’d be doing 50 or so. The best part about it though was that we probably sailed close to 70 of those miles and still made great time. Everything considered this was one of the best sailing days ever.

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