Boat Journal

Chronicling a love affair with sailing

Category: Voyages

Deconstructing the Race

We corrected to 4th on last week’s race and 4-1/5 minutes behind the guy ahead of us. We coulda’ been a contender. It was an interesting race.

We were behind the crowd after rounding the first mark. We flew double headsails towards the second and reached that mark with the rest of the crowd. We were port; they were starboard. But we were ahead enough of the other boats I thought the mark distance rules applied and we went around first. One boat called me on it. I wasn’t sure I’d done right. So when we were the starboard boat, I ‘kindly’ got out of everyone’s way and lost time.

Ah well!

Then everyone headed towards the channel and we kept to the more shallow water. They lost wind and the tide was against them, too, so we caught up again. Then the wind changed. Winds were taking us across the river, then switched and we were moving more southerly. The other boats made the correction for the mark better than we did and made up their time.

But it was exciting!

Not only that, the temperature was perfect and, except for that mess at the end, the winds were great, too.

Depth Problems

Last week was a beautiful sail. The fog never did roll in enough to make visibility questionable for the race course.

We did, however, have to deal with depth gauge issues and two large freighters being pushed and pulled by tugs. One freighter/tug passed us, and it was looking like we’d have time to cross over the channel before the second one was upon us. All of the sudden, the depth meter started showing it shallow underneath us. It went quickly from 30-something feet to 6-8′. The maps didn’t show any shoaling there, but we tacked, just to be safe. Then, of course, we had to wait for the other ship to go past before we crossed the channel.

Then there was the mark we were heading to: Godwin Thoroughfare. It’s shallow around it, and gets very shallow near shore. So when we were showing 6′ of water, we tacked to try for a closer approach. This time, we again showed it shallow, but we were closer to the mark, so we took it around, without any problem. Guess the earlier tack, in this case wasn’t warranted.

I talked with someone at work about our first problem. He said that when there was alot of turbulence from big ships, it could change the density of the water and play havoc with depth sounders. So my question to the more experienced on this list: is that true? Have you ever seen that?

On the second point, I did find that the depth near the shore around the Godwin Thoroughfare mark does get down to 3′ quite quickly. So I’m still glad we made the extra tack.


Foggy Mornings

I love sailing. I love the feel of the wind on your face, the silent moving through the water, being outdoors. In fact, there’s little that I don’t love about the whole experience.

I love the fact that I have an electric engine. It’s not completely silent. But it’s quiet enough that you can hear the music on the stereo, or keep up a conversation with the folks on the boat, or just enjoy the feeling of being on the water.

On foggy mornings, I don’t imagine sailing. I imagine heading out, with the electric motor going. The area so quiet it feels like you’re the only one around. Not being able to see the shore, but knowing there are others out there in the mist, on the water, looking out, wondering if there’s someone unseen on the water. Faintly hearing the motor, because sound seems to travel so much better in the fog.

Today was a day like that. I heard the weather report this morning: heavy fog until noon. I dropped by the marina, to put ice in the icebox so that the drinks would be cold this evening when we headed out for the race. The fog was out there, on the river, and I yearned to go out and meet it.

Sigh! I had to go to work, to afford my boat habit, and leave it behind for now.


Lighted Boat Parade

Lighted boat parades are an adventure. I keep reminding my friend of this. They will be guaranteed to have a story. The first year we did it, I had a terrible time judging the distance between me and the other boats. In fact, at one point, I got call on the VHF radio from the guy in charge asking if we were still part of the parade. The second year, I went to rent a generator for running the lights and they only had large (I thought) ones. I went to the boat, discussed it with a few folks, and we decided we could run the lights with an inverter connected to the house batteries (no, not going to run them on the engine batteries!). We tested it and it seemed to do ok. But the parade came, and we had no lights. There wasn’t enough power so we were sailing dark. We did have glow sticks, and the lights at the very front worked. In addition, I decided to head up Sarah’s Creek. I didn’t see the marker and ran right into it. Stopped the boat cold. One of my passengers somehow fell against a heater I had in the vberth and hurt his back.

Then there was this past year, our third.

I didn’t want to have the generator problem again. I had bought a generator during the summer as a backup when we headed down for Cock Island. Erik and I checked it and couldn’t start it. I had purchased the protection plan. So we went to Harbor Freight and exchanged it. Generator? Check!

This year’s issue? The cheap bottom paint I bought last year.

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, I had barnacle problems this year. On top of that, I used cheap bottom paint for the first time. That was a big mistake! What I didn’t talk about in the barnacle article was the fact that the boat was so covered with slime that I had to have it power washed, which I wasn’t planning on. Then, in September (4 months later), it was covered with slime again.

Well, I guess I should have pulled it out and power washed the bottom and cleaned the prop again, because the boat barely moved. We couldn’t be in the parade because we couldn’t reach the parade. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the boat going fast enough to catch up to the parade. <sigh!>

So we played on the water, trying to head to Yorktown Beach. But, after singing our carols and enjoying some hot buttered rum, we headed back.

We still enjoyed each other’s company. But next year’s checklist:

  • Generator? Check!
  • Bottom cleaned? Check!
  • Prop cleaned? Check!

Oh, and there was one other issue. I ran lights up the mast, but didn’t do it too smartly. I ended up with the ‘wrong’ ends down below and couldn’t light the lights. Paul, my resident electrician, had to restring some of the lights so we could get them all going.

After all, we had a generator. We should at least have the lights! 🙂

2013 Lighted Boat Parade

2013 Lighted Boat Parade


Moonlight Race

Each year, I try to stretch my sailing experiences a bit beyond what I did the year before. Last year, I decided to take on the Moonlight Race.

When I first started racing my boat, I tended to come in dead last. Part of it was inexperience, part of it was trying to avoid the other boats, afraid I’d get my damaged if I was too close. But that also meant that we were getting back to the docks after dark. So we learned to sail in the dark early on.

Besides, it’s never completely dark on the river. If there’s no stars or moon, there’s always the homes that line it, the Coleman bridge, and the power plant. Each, if not iluminating the area, does it make it possible to at least get our bearings. The only real obstacle to worry about are the shallows on both sides of river and the shallow areas at the mouth of the river. So, as long as my depth meter is working and visible, it should be no problem.

First Steps

The first step was to find the route and figure it out in the daytime. The route required us to start at R-22 on the York River, round York  Spit Light, then back to R-22.

York Spit Light


I’ve sailed near that area numerous times, when heading down to Hampton. But I couldn’t remember ever seeing that structure before. So I wanted to sail by it, both to get an idea of what the time would be, and to be able to identify it when I saw it.


Wendy and I headed out one morning, in search of the structure. I had 3 different sets of coordinates for it, so we only had a general idea of where it was. We headed out of the river, having the usual difficulty doing so.

The prevalent winds are such that the boat wants to go across the river, not up or down it. This we knew. That meant that one the hardest parts of the race would be getting out of the river itself. So this was one of the things that Wendy and I had to work on.

It was taking forever, as usual, to get out of the river. So we motored a bit to get out of the river, rather than waste our whole time in the river, rather than looking for the structure.

Once we got out of the river, we had mixed weather: no wind to too much. Well, not really too much. It wasn’t dangerous. But we did move quite quickly.

When we got close to where the light should be, we started looking for it. The spot was near the intersection of two different routes in the area. And, there was a third route nearby. Between them, there were a number of different markers with the same numbers on them. This threw us off. In addition, there were a number of different structures in the area, none of which looked like the picture we’d seen. Our time was growing short, so we headed back, having not found the structure.

First Moonlight Run

Our next practice session was a nighttime one. Dew, one of the more experienced sailors I know, and his girlfriend, Kelli, joined me, along with Wendy. We headed out about 1/2 an hour before sunset.

It was cold enough to be brisk, but not uncomfortable. And the wind was great.

With Dew’s help, we made it out of the river without motoring. In fact, the only problem we had heading out was getting too close to Tule Marsh, another shallow spot on the river.

I did learn, too, that iPads are not the best of navigation tools at night. Their light is too bright and leaves you partially blinded when you look away. Add to the fact that they are difficult to see in the middle of the day, too, and I don’t think that my iPad will become a navigation tool that I’ll rely on too much on my boat until I have one with a bimini to shade me.

We made it out to the York Spit light and I understood why Wendy and I had such a hard time finding it the first time. It had been destroyed in one of our storms and never rebuilt. So it was essentially just a platform with some sticks on it, not anything like the picture above.

On the way back, we had another problem: the house lights went out. I hadn’t charged the house batteries, and we had been running both lights and music the whole way. I didn’t worry about it, since I have two ‘house’ batteries. I use one at a time, so I assumed that the other was still charged. Nope. We switched over to it and it was dead as well.

Later, when I had charged them both, I found that one discharged as the other did. I still haven’t figured out whether the circuitry is bad or one of my batteries is dead. Another chore for this winter.

So, anyway, back to the story…

As I said, we had plenty of light surrounding us. We had picked a night near the full moon. Unfortunately, I hadn’t checked on the time of moonrise: the moon wasn’t rising until early, early morning, so we were sailing without the moon to guide us. But we had the GPS, we had the landmarks I mentioned, and we had a depth gauge that worked to keep us from bottoming out.

The only slight issue we had was the tug that couldn’t see us and didn’t answer our call on the radio (unlike Robert Redford in All is Lost, I do have a spare VHF radio in cases of emergency. Luckily we did stay out of his way and didn’t get run over.

We did make it home safely, quite late. And that was something else we were checking out – how long would it actually take us to make the run.

The Race Itself

Well, the race got cancelled. We got out there and there was only us, one other racer, and the committee boat. The rules require that there be at least 3 boats racing to make it official, so the race was cancelled.

Crew that night were Dew and Kelli. And the three of us decided that we wanted to do the race anyway.

The wind was strong. The waves we 4′-5′. It made for a rough ride heading out. And it ended up hurting Kelli’s back. She spent time in recovery afterwards. Luckily, the temperature was great and the company wonderful. Luckily, too, Dew was with us. I wouldn’t have made the run without him.

The waves were with us coming back, so we surfed home. And, as I said, the temperature was great. This time, I did made sure the house battery was charged so we were able to enjoy our music out and back.

Coming into the York River, we had the moon, we had the lights from the bridge and from the power plant. And the winds were calmer in the river. It made for one of those moments you want to savor forever.

Will we do it again? Heck, yes!