Boat Journal

Chronicling a love affair with sailing

Category: Weather

Committee Boat Duty and Spring Squalls

After a first week with so little wind no one finished in time to make it official, the racers out for the Wednesday night York River sailboat races were hoping for a bit more wind. But it seems too much energy was going into that thought. What they ended up with was a squall which, at one point measured 40 mph.

The weather report earlier in the day was a bit iffy. Winds were to die down, but it wasn’t certain whether they would die down enough by the start of the race. The prediction, however, showed winds out of the southwest. So what would come in might be strong, but the waves should be minimal.

4 Degrees was the committee boat for the race. Arriving at the start of the course, we put down 2 anchors, just in case. Winds were strong, but nothing that the fleet couldn’t handle. The course was set to send the boats down to quick flash, back to R-24, then around the marks again.

Boats on the Course

The majority of both fleets crossed the starting line without a hitch and we commenced to relax. Jeff watched the boats the water. I started dinner prep, and Paul commenced to make drinks.  But Paul and I didn’t get too far.

Jeff was keeping an eye on one craft that was starting late. And once over the starting line, they began to have difficulties maneuvering. Their mainsail appeared to be too tight and weather helm was kicking them. They finally were able to release their jib. But it tossed itself into the water and had to be retrieved.

Boat in the Squall

About that time on the committee boat, the waves started picking up. Whitecaps were forming outside. The olive oil brought to saute vegetables dropped and broke in the cabin, spilling olive oil throughout. While Grant and I worked on cleaning up the mess, the other two reported that the boats near the first mark were heeled over quite a bit. About then, a call was received on the radio asking if the race would be cancelled. It was a hard call to make. It appeared that the water on the other side of the Coleman Bridge was calmer, but it was hard to tell. And there had already been one great gust with a calm afterwards. Would the same thing happen? Would it be worse?

The race was called. The participants worked their way home. And, of course, about that time, the weather calmed down to where we had hoped it would be when we started.

Calling the race is often a difficult decision. Yes, if conditions deteriorate to something dangerous, of course it is cancelled. But with grey areas, it’s hard to tell. Do you call the race to find that conditions improve after you do, as it did that night. Or do you ride it out, hoping they’ll improve to have them turn worse?

This race was followed by a disastrous situation in the Gulf, not days afterwards. Having faced something similar, but not quite as deadly, in this race, it’s easy to see why the folks were riding out what turned worse, not better for them.

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.


Watching the Wind Come In

I spent last Tuesday doing something I’ve never been able to do: spend *all* day sailing, in no hurry to get anyway. Usually, if I’m out for some pleasure cruising, there’s a time limit because the person I’m with has to be somewhere by a certain time. If I’m all day on the boat, it’s because I need to get it from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’.

But Tuesday was different. I’m between contracts, so my time is (mostly) my own. The weather reports showed last Tuesday as what may be our last really nice (read: temps in the upper 70’s) day of the year. Wednesday, it was to rain all day long. Days after that would show highs in the 60’s. Not bad, I know. But not the warm sun on your face almost perfect temp sailing weather.

I did have a goal in mind. I was heading out to New Point Comfort lighthouse again, at the mouth of Mobjack Bay, on the far side of Gloucester. It’s a pleasant little ride and not extremely far away.

The trip was beautiful. I had to motor most of the way out of the York River. But, as usual, when I reached the mouth of the York, the winds picked up and we were sailing. The direction was even good to sail most of the way over to the lighthouse.

The way back, as usual, was a bit challenging. It’s shallow between Mobjack and York River. There’s a cut through that you can take, but it’s narrow and I often don’t see the markers. I timed the trip so I could do this during high tide, and this helped. But I did keep a close eye to my depth finder and Navionics disply. I did get nervous as the depth got down to 13 feet and lower. I think it stopped at 9 before it started going up again.

Once I reached the York again, I saw an interesting site. I could see the wind patterns on the water.

Now, I know the theory of this, and I know what you’re supposed to look for. The water appears darker where the wind is stronger. Where whitecaps appear, the wind is stronger still. But I had never seen it so clearly as I did that day. There were ripples where I was, and there had been most of the day, given the perfect wind I’d been riding in. But ahead of me, the water appeared darker, and it looked even darker still further on.

So I was ready, and I adjusted for it. I let out the sails before I reached the darker water. I gauged the wind and adjusted accordingly. It worked well, I felt in control of my boat. Before I reached the whitecaps, I turned into the wind, pulling in the main so it didn’t bang back and forth, turned on the autopilot, and pulled the jib in partway. I let the main back out, turned off the wind, and headed into the whitecapped water.

I spent my time getting back the channel that led to the marina. It felt good to be out there practicing my skills.

And it just felt good being sailing and not worry about the time.


Deconstructing a Bad Race

Last Sunday was the first race of the Frostbite series. It lived up to its name. It was cold. It was wet. It was too windy. The only thing missing was high waves.

I showed up about an hour early, to clean up the boat a bit. With all the work I’d done this summer, I never really had the time to put things away. So I gathered up tools, and moved things around that were sitting on the galley counter. I knew it might be a bit rough and I wanted to minimize the mess in the cabin.

It started to rain pretty heavily before Paul and Grant arrived. But it was short lived. The sky didn’t clear up, but it wasn’t quite as black. So I had hope that the race would go well.

Paul and Grant are usually good about arriving a bit early. So when they hadn’t shown up by about 15 minutes before we planned on leaving, I thought they might have decided against coming, having seen the weather. But they arrived. We all put on our foul weather gear and headed out to the starting line.

I hadn’t finished tightening the bolts on the engine mounts. So I had Paul take the wheel while I went below and took care of that. I also wanted to take a look to make sure the engine looked good and that the stuffing box was performing well. A big OK on both fronts, so I headed back up.

I tend to be very cautious still. 3 years has not made me feel like any sort of expert yet. So when the weather gets rough, I’d rather not put out the full sails. I feel more in control that way.

But as we started out, the wind wasn’t too bad, although we could see the next band of rain headed our way. So we put the mainsail up all the way, and headed towards the starting line. The wind had picked up a bit by the time we reached our buoy, and we’d had our first band of rain hit us. I only have one jib, but it’s a roller furler. So we tied off the roller furler in such a way that only 1/2 the jib was released. We winched it in and got ready to start the race.

We were in a good position. I was psyched. We were, however, the least experienced one out there. And, as I already mentioned, I do tend to be a bit overly cautious. So we hung back a bit. I don’t mind being a couple minutes late over the start; I’m not going to come in first, so why risk ramming someone else going over the starting line.

Time was called. The race was to be around another buoy and back. We played follow the leader, to get a better idea where to make our turns.

First leg went smoothly and we were moving well. I wasn’t sure how well we’d be able to follow the leaders; we were a bit downriver from them and it would depend on how the current took us whether we’d get too close to the refinery’s docks. But no, we weren’t too close and we turned at the point that the others did.

Second leg, I could see a few white caps ahead, so I knew the wind was going to pick up. And it did. But it was very isolated and we came out of it fine. We put the jib out more to give us a bit more power and and made the next tack.

Third turn. Again the winds were picking up. This time a bit stronger. On top of that, I saw one of the other boats rounding out, so I knew they were having a few problems with the wind, too. Not only that, but a second boat was heeling over enough to wash windows.

I got a bit nervous. We’re out there for fun, not to make it dangerous. And I didn’t want to get in over my head. So I asked Paul to reef the main in. He went to do so. He was having trouble doing so, so Grant went to help him. At that point, I realized I should have steered into the wind to make it easier for him. But I couldn’t do it then; it would have been too dangerous. I was afraid that I’d lose one or both of them over the side.

We had a big gust at that point, and it pulled the boat over quite far, although briefly. At that point, I called Grant back to the cockpit to pull in the jib and I started the motor. There was too much wind; I didn’t feel comfortable and I wanted to head back.

We brought the jib in. Paul had to help Grant because the wind was quite strong at that point. I then turned the boat more into the wind and Paul brought down the main.

We tied everything down and headed back to the docks. We called the committee boat to let them know we were out of the race. As we headed back in, the wind died down again. In fact, it looked like the other boats were having a heck of a time making it around the buoy and back to the finish/start.

So what should I have done? I’ve been thinking about this for a week.

I still think I should have brought the main down, if only briefly, if I felt that I couldn’t control the boat in the given winds. But I should have turned into the wind before I sent Paul up there.

I should have insisted we all wear life preservers. If there was even a hint of a chance of someone ending up overboard, especially as the water is getting colder, I should have been prepared.

I should have looked head to see if this, like the other two rain bands that hit us, was going to come and go as well. We might have been able to in the race if I’d paused long enough, or let the sails down long enough, to let it pass, then continued as  before. As I said, we weren’t going to win. But that way, we would have at least finished.

Well, there’s always next week!


The Weather I Missed!


I spend alot of time sharing stories of sailing in adverse weather conditions. Thought I’d share one of the storm I missed!

As I’m now working about an hour from home for a supervisor who doesn’t understand why I might want to leave work by about 2 or 3 in afternoon in order to sail in these races, I’ve had to skip the last of the summer races and all of the fall series. So I was looking forward to the Frostbite series, since they’re held on on Sundays.

The Frostbite series is our late fall series. There’s just one class since few boats participate. But, as I said, I was glad to get a chance to go out and race again.

I’ve been using a water cooler this season, to avoid the bagful of plastic water bottles I usually pull off the vessel. I filled one up to bring along. I also filled up a couple of thermoses with hot water. I tried bringing coffee last year. But that wasn’t as popular as the hot chocolate for the crew. I do have some Starbuck’s Via on board, in case there’s a change in tastes.

I left about an hour early so I would have time to pick up gas for the engine (we’re using the outboard now – more on that later) and some more provisions at the store: gingersnaps, ice, and beef jerkey. As I was getting out of the car at the store, Erik called. He said there was a message on the phone from someone. He thought the race was cancelled,  but he wasn’t sure. Well, I wasn’t sure if I’d have any crew, since I’d only gotten regrets from two people, and no confirmations, and it was a bit late to call anyone (and who would I call?) to cancel, so I finished getting provisions and headed over to the boat. Besides, I missed her and had to let her know I still loved her.

I got to the boat and started unloading things. When I was finished, the fire department had shown up with a rig and a power boat. I heard their radio chattering and paused to listen. Something about a cat or sailboat that had flipped and crew in the water. Remarks about trying to turn it upright.

Just about then, the crew from 3Stooges showed. They asked if I knew what was happening. I explained that the race might be cancelled due to lack of interest and that it seemed I had no crew anyway. They spoke about thinking they’d already signed up (insert good comedy routine to fit the boat name, without the violence). After some discussion, they decided to go out and try sailing a bit anyway.

Pause now. The weather: small craft advisory, 15 – 25 mph winds, 4′ waves in the lower bay.  It was raining at the time. That doesn’t mean that it was that bad in the York River. But there was a craft capsized out there already.

So I went to 4 Degrees. I patched the small (about the size of a nickel) hole topside that was causing water to pour into the cabin. Not sure if I mixed the stuff right. But if it didn’t harden, it would at least keep the water out until I could put something better on. I got out the naval jelly that I’d purchased and scrubbed the rust off the sink in the galley and off the stove. I sprayed some Rustoleum on both to keep them from rusting again. I poured myself a rum and coke, started the Kindle on my ‘Droid, and read and watched the rain fall outside the cabin door.

About an hour an a half after they left, 3Stooges returned. I asked them how it was out there. They said they did get the mainsail up – for about 15 minutes. So I guess it was pretty nasty out there.

For a change then, I got to enjoy the inclement weather, from my dry cabin in the marina.

Oh, they did get the sailboat righted, and the crew was ok. I still don’t know who was out there.