25 October 2021: Safe Harbor?
25 October 2021
Harbor of Refuge, DE, USA
Reedy Island, DE, USA
Cumulative Mileage (NM)
Crew on Board
Skipper, first mate, chef, entertainment and more; I guess that is solo sailing for you!
GENERAL WEATHER OBSERVATIONS
17 knots gusting to 22 knots.
Overcast and grey.
Dry, at least until I was anchored.
The day started out like any other. The forecast was every so slightly stronger and gustier than the day before, as it had been down the coast the last few days. Just a knot or two stronger. Nothing crazy.
It was in the evening/overnight when the real weather was coming.
But from the moment I picked up anchor, there was a different mood to the day. The weather, though not imminently ominous, just had that feeling. The feeling of things building.
In all the unknowns of buying a boat and starting to head south and learning to sail solo, it was always nice to have some “knowns”. So I debated heading out the entrance I came in the day before, despite the fact that it was facing a little more south. It would just be such a luxury to have one less thing to think about. But there was a second entrance, closer to me and I would be exiting the correct way without going in the wrong direction at any point to use this entrance.
It was a strange one, some odd symbols on the charts. I guess it was like a icebreaker line up for when real winter set in. But it was still clearly an exit. I felt weird about it though. I should not have, it was fine. I will blame the feeling on the tone imposed by the weather.
As soon as I poked my nose out the waves were definitely bigger than the day before. It was a bit sloppy out. I wanted to raise my mainsail, that would mean for a moment pointing in the wrong direction as I raised it. It also meant uncomfortable waves on the beam while I did it. Annoying.
Given the forecast had increased a little compared to the day before and that I did not know my own limits in this new to me boat, I raised the mainsail with one reef in it. It took me a couple of tries to get it to the right height where the ring up at the luff of the sail would go onto the hook that holds it in place, but not so low that the moment I stepped back to tight up against the hook the ring would just fall off. And as soon as I was happy with how it was set, I turned on course to get rid of that annoying beam wave.
The route for the day was basically down a very long, narrow channel with shoals on either side where I had seen a lot of very large commercial vessels the day before. It ended at a small island, just past the nuclear power plant near a large underwater dyke. Just a nice stretch of underwater wall to worry about hitting after a day of worrying about either hitting large ships or shoals. No biggie.
The first half of the day went relatively well. There was minimal traffic, enough to still keep you alert but not tiring by any means. And the traffic there was always seemed to come at a point where there was plenty of room in or around the channel. The AIS was a nice to have, I stand by that I do not feel it is a must have, but since I had it – I found it a good way to pass the time to keep an eye on who might be coming up the channel, how big they were, how fast they were moving etc.
The second half of the day was a little more stressful. It seemed all the big cargo ships waited until then to come along. Conveniently the weather also waited to get a little gusty until this point too. Of course, the first real ship that was going to come close came in a very narrow part of the channel with shoals on either side. I started out on the right hand side of the channel, hugging the buoys. Wanting to leave plenty of room for it to pass through. However, as it got closer, a large gust of wind came. I may have reefed the main but I still had a full jib out and it was from 16 to 22 knots in a jiffy. It really laid the boat over and the only way for me to counter it, as I was not super happy with that amount of heeling over, was to steer more into the channel. More like across the channel. Right in front of a huge ship.
Luckily it was not yet right up on me, so I had a decision to make. I could let the wind heel me over like that and steer hard to weather to stay on my side of the channel. Or I could commit and steer into it, across the channel and furl up my jib partially with the slack I would get on it by steering into the wind. Given the level of the wind and angle of heeling, I opted for the partially furling in the jib. I turned back pointing to the other side of the channel and did my best to try and furl it. But it still had wind in it, and it was stronger than me.
The last boat had a small winch for the furling line and in that moment I would have killed for that. My biggest frustration on sailboats is the number of times where my strength has been an issue. Most of the time you can counter that with strategy (in fact probably all the time, you just need to get creative) but in this moment with little time to spare – I had no immediate strategy. Any pull on the furling line would just be pulled out of my hands faster than I could think. I turned further into the wind to get the sail flogging, which felt like I was playing chicken between two unappealing choices: a collision with a large ship versus running up on shoals on the other side of the channel.
In the end, I was able to half furl my jib once it was flogging with much difficulty and really reduce the windage just as I approached the edge of the channel on the other side. I swung my nose around on course, filling the half-jib and my reefed mainsail with wind again and the heel was much better. And I had done all of this in time for the ship to pass safely. I cannot imagine if that gust had surprised me 15 minutes later what might have happened.
It definitely left my nerves a little shot as to my ability to manage my own jib when full of wind.
The rest of the sail was uneventful, I kept my jib halfway furled as I was a little shy of full sails for the moment. I arrived to Reedy Island and passed through the dyke where it was indicated on the charts with no issues to the safety behind Reedy Island for the incoming weather.
I dropped my anchor and went to do my usual routine. Let the chain out, snub it and put on the chain stopper and back down on it to ensure it is set. However, with the current running through behind Reedy Island there seemed to be no way to turn the wheel to fall back on my chain. I tried every direction, tried reverse in both directions. I tried driving forward. I could not turn the boat to face any other direction. Which meant that I could not back down on the anchor.
This had never happened to me before!
The way that it would try and fall off and then jerk back to be oriented in a funny way had me worried that I had snagged something underwater. After 45 minutes of back and forth to the helm and the bow trying to work out what the heck was going on, and 45 minutes of watching an approaching thunderstorm get closer and closer, I was starting to worry about being set on my anchor and ready for the approaching storm. I was texting with my coach and he suggested pulling up the anchor and trying again. His advice if I could not get the anchor up because it was snagged, pretend that is your new anchor point and put out 5:1 chain from there. That way I would be set for the approaching storm.
Well lucky for me, the anchor pulled up fine. No snag, or unsnagging itself, as I pulled it up. I dropped the anchor again, laid out the chain and this time fell back normally. I reversed on it hard and, as I was closing the anchor locker and covering the windlass, the full force of the storm hit me. I ducked under the covered cockpit just in time for buckets of rain to start absolutely lashing the boat (a nice freshwater washdown) and the lightening show to start. This photo was
a snapshot taken from a video in the pitch black. It was a magnificent storm, I saw up to 45 knots of wind so I was very glad I had gotten a good set before it arrived! And I was reminded a lot of the many storms we would watch back home from the front porch. As a farmers daughter, the weather was something often talked about or watched and our house growing up had the perfect vantage points to watch the wild storms we would get. It is funny, in some ways I feel more vulnerable in the boat and in some ways safer. Between this storm and the one in Atlantic Highlands in New Jersey that I waited out (up to 35 knots), I was gaining more and more confidence in the anchor setup that I had. And this short term storm meant that I was definitely not worried about the next two days of bad weather coming as it was not forecast to be more than 45 knots.
That meant two days to rest up after a long few days of sailing. And I was ready for it, especially after a mentally tiring day today.
“In order to realize the worth of the anchor we need to feel the stress of the storm.”
– Corrie Ten Boom
There is a saying in flying that when you first start out, you begin with a full bag of luck and an empty bag of skill. The trick is to persist and survive long enough to have a full bag of skill before your bag of luck runs out. Experience builds skill, skill builds confidence.
I have never heard that saying but this is DEFINITELY the approach that I took. I still cannot believe I had never ever solo sailed and left only a few days after buying the boat! Craziness!
Bravery is often just the byproduct of a “Crazy” action, often without the appropriate forethought. You are pushing your boundaries and proving you capabilities. Kudos!