Boat Journal

Chronicling a love affair with sailing

Tag: foul 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.

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!


First Voyage

Up until today, the coldest sailing adventure I’d ever taken was one New Year’s Day.

New Year’s Day weather in this area is unpredictable. You can have fairly nice, warm weather, or it can be miserably cold. The day I’m thinking of was a New Year’s Day race that was one of the latter.

As I said, it was the coldest I’d ever spent on a sailboat, until today.

Today …. was ….. miserable!

My two companions, Saint Steven and Saint David, and I left Willoughby Spit, on the Norfolk side of the Chesapeake Bay, at about 10 a.m. this morning. The prediction for the day was small craft advisory (winds over 15 MPH) until 10, then tapering off towards afternoon. Highs were expected in the mid-50’s. But, as St. Steve so aptly put it later to Erik, the temperature may have been in the 50’s. But then you have to subtract 10 degrees because you’re on the water, and 10 degrees for wind chill…. and, by the time you’re done, it’s about zero.

Well, at least that’s how it felt!

So why did we go? Well, the guy who said it would take him two weeks to finish the repairs on my boat actually finished them in a week. And, rather than paying two slip fees, one at the old place and one at the new, I was anxious to get the boat moved. Besides, I’d had it for two weeks and hadn’t even been out on in but the one ‘trial’ run before purchase.

So, the weather was against us.

On top of that, the batteries on the boat were going. I knew that. So I went to the boat on Saturday to pay the technician and to find out what batteries I needed, then go back to the marina store and pick up a couple of new ones. But the marina store was closed. So was the battery outlet store. And West Marine’s prices were almost 2/3rd’s more than those other places. But the engine had turned over when I was looking over the repairs, so I figured we might be okay.


Luckily, I still had the outboard, and I had brought extra gas for it, just in case we’d need it. We did.

So, we leave Willoughby spit, and we head over to the channel. We’re following the buoys as we should, to avoid the shallow places. And I’m watching the depth gauge. Depth gauge says 8′ below us a WHUMP! We hit a sand bar. Not 30 seconds later, the depth gauge catches up with us and my boat, which draws 4-1/2′, is sitting at 3-1/2 feet.

St. Dave comes to the rescue and directs us out of the sand bar and we’re on our way!

We unfurl the jib. But the wind isn’t quite right to put up the main. It never really is the entire voyage. This sailing vessel makes it to its new home under power the whole way. :no:

Not only that, the engine tried to die the first time we took off the choke, so we left it on, and forgot it was on, until we were in the York River, near the end of our journey. Luckily, we didn’t run out of gas on the way!

So, how cold was it? Well, you know that feeling your get when your mouth has be novacained? Where your speech is slurred and you really can’t taste anything? I got so cold a few times that that’s how I felt.

Most of the rest of the 5 hour journey was uneventful, and cold. Did I mention that it was cold?

But we made it there safely. And the smarter member of the group, Erik, who had stayed in the nice warm house, came to pick us up so we could get warm and back to cars on the other side of the bay.

I didn’t get as many pictures as I had hoped. But what I did get are online.

Only saints would have come with me on such a journey. So my public thanks to St. Steve and St. Dave!