We’ve been sailing for about 4 years now. One problem, it seems, with sailing on the Chesapeake Bay is that on weekends it seems like there are always small craft advisories or, once into July/August, no wind at all. In the past 4 years since we’ve had our 1978 Catalina 27’ we’ve only been able to sail her 6, maybe 7, times. So last week when they were calling for ideal conditions for Sunday all week, including late the night before, it was very discouraging to wake up Sunday morning to see that they updated the forecast to a small craft advisory.
However, when we sailed on 5/31 of this year, they had called for a small craft advisory for later that day and instead of getting worse the seas actually calmed and we had an absolutely beautiful sail all the way back to our marina. Therefore, yesterday we decided to reef our jib and not put up our main sail at all, to not go too far from the mouth of our creek, and to take our chances. Only 5 times did I look down and see the wind gust go to 20 knots (and that was at the very beginning of the day). For the most part, at that time, gusts ranged around 16 to 18 knots and non-gusts were around 14 to 15 knots at most. Waves ranged from 1 to 3 feet.
So we sailed around for a while and felt comfortable so decided to head for the Key Bridge towards the Baltimore Harbor. Sailing straight under the bridge we were on a broad reach on a port tack. As we were on this tack, the wind showed as 5 to 8 knots and everything was fine. After about 15 to 20 minutes we decided to head back home. And this is when we experienced something we still don’t understand.
Winds were coming out of the southeast. When heading for home we decided to remain on a port tack but close hauled. So I moved the tiller to turn the boat windward and we brought the reefed jib in as tight as she would go. But the furthest we could turn the boat is a beam reach, and unfortunately a beam reach still headed us into the Baltimore Harbor rather than back home. We dilly dallied back and forth repeatedly between a broad reach heading toward the Harbor and a beam reach – still heading toward the Harbor but unable to do a close haul and point back homeward– the boat simply seemed unable to go any further windward despite pulling her reefed jib in as far and tight as possible.
Finally we gave up and tried to go the other way, ie., to turn the boat leeward on a starboard tack. We had no problem turning leeward (clockwise) and running with the wind (still on a port tack with the reefed jib). We were then able to turn the boat further clockwise and do a broad reach on a starboard tack. No problem. Except that a broad reach still headed us into the Harbor rather than towards home. Then we tried to turn the boat even further clockwise (windward) on a starboard tack but close hauled so as to point the boat out of the Harbor and towards home. But we experienced the exact same problem that we did when on a port tack when the most we could turn the boat was to a beam reach and not being able to do a close haul (even though the reefed jib was pulled in as tight as she would go)! In other words it seemed no matter what we did, we could not get the boat to point home, and, out of the Harbor. We dilly-dallied with this for quite awhile until we finally gave up when we noticed a container ship was traversing out of the Harbor. We took down the reefed jib, and motored to the other side of the Key Bridge.
However, during our dilly-dallying we noticed all but one sailboat in our area were doing broad reaches toward the Harbor successfully as we had first done. Only one sailboat had turned around to traverse away from the Harbor. But this boat was able to accomplish what we couldn’t: while the most we could obtain was turning the boat windward for a broad reach (ie. still heading into the Harbor), the other boat’s Captain was able to turn his boat windward for a beam reach (heading out of the Harbor). This is despite us tightening our reefed jib into what should accomplish a beam reach then a close haul.
I’m scratching my head why we were unable to turn the boat windward beyond a certain point in both directions? The only difference between us and the one boat that we saw headed out of the Harbor was that she was a bigger boat (I’d say about 40’ or slightly larger), she had her full jib out and her main reefed.
QUESTION #1: Am I correct in saying that pulling in the reefed jib tight to what a sail should be for a close haul should actually help to turn the boat?
QUESTION #2: We had not put up our main at all yesterday, and our jib was reefed during this whole time. At this point in the day I saw no more wind gusts to 20 knots. The gusts seemed to be around 17 knots and regular wind around 15 knots. Waves at most were 1 to 2 feet at this point (so things were better weather wise than earlier in the day). But we thought it still safer not to put up any more sail. If we had added more jib, or put up our main, how would that have affected our situation? Would it have given us the power to turn our boat further windward, or would it have made our problem worse?
QUESTION #3: After we had taken down the jib and motored back toward home on the other side of the Key Bridge (ie. away from the Harbor), the winds became calmer and the waves to only about a foot. The most the wind got to at this point was around 10 to 14 knots so we put up the jib and turned off the motor. Since the waves had calmed down immeasurably, and the winds had lessened, when we put the jib up we did not reef it this time because it was obvious the small craft advisory was over (despite the forecast saying it should have gotten worse as the day went on). So we tried to do the EXACT same maneuvers we had unsuccessfully attempted to do on the Harbor side of the Key Bridge. And we were REPEATEDLY SUCCESSFUL. And we have no idea why.
Can anyone offer any advice as to why, when we were on the Harbor side of the Key Bridge, we were unable to turn the boat further windward -- first counter-clockwise, and then clockwise, -- so we could head out of the Harbor? The first picture below indicates first the attempt to turn the boat counter-clockwise (Scenario #2) and then clockwise (Scenario #3). The second picture below indicates the points of sail: the horizontal red line is the Key Bridge, and on the bottom left is the direction of Home. The red numbers inside of each of the sailboats correlates to the same red numbers inside of each of the sailboats in the first picture.