Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Annapolis, Md
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First sail of the 2004 season
Several weeks ago, I had made up my mind that short of a raging blizzard, I was going sailing this weekend. It did not matter that two weeks ago the creek was solidly covered in ice, it seemed obvious that by this weekend I would need to go for a sail no matter what. By Tuesday morning I had made up my mind that I would be sailing even if it meant throwing the dinghy in the creek and cutting a slot through the ice with an axe. I had done that once before and so knew just what a brutally cold and soaking-wet-to-you- deepest-core desperation move that really is. But dag-nab-it, I needed to get out sailing in the worst way and I was willing to go sailing even if it meant literally getting out sailing in the worst possible way.
Needless to say, Friday morning’s miracle, the creek free of ice from the upcreek side of Synergy''s slip all the way to the Bay for the first time since early January could not have been more encouraging. And then came the forecast, a high of 45 degrees, drizzling rain mixed with sleet, and 20-30 knot winds. Needless to say, this was a prediction for less than perfect sailing conditions. I still was not deterred.
It is not as if I am the only person who was this desperate to go sailing. My friend Vera, who I had coached since she took basic sailing lessons a year or so ago, was flying in from Boca Raton, Florida just to go sailing. Imagine someone so desperate for a sail that they would leave a typical Florida spring day (it is spring for them) to fly to Annapolis just to go sailing with a prediction of high of 45 degrees, drizzling rain mixed with sleet, and 20 to 30 knot winds.
But then came the second miracle, it did not rain or sleet. 20 to 30 knot winds is a whole lot of wind in summer when the air is warm, but in winter with cold dense air it can be more than a little scary. But I thought to myself, how bad could it be? And then thought through how to set up the boat for the heavy conditions. I figured worse case we’d poke our nose out, see how things looked and then if it was too ugly come back in. How bad could it be?
As it turned out it was a blast. Despite her extreme lightweight ‘Synergy’ really seems to love a lot of wind. Still there was this moment as we motored out of the creek that a burst of cold, dense air fell from the heavens and I began to wonder if this was such a smart move, but as we hung the corner, clearing the mouth of the creek and entering Whitehall Bay, I decided I’d come out here to sail and darn if I am going to turn around without hanging some cloth in the wind.
At that moment we had been motoring downwind and not feeling the full brunt of what we were getting into. As we spun towards the wind to raise the mainsail, we now had the full force of the wind in our faces and the reality of 20 to 30 knots of less than 40 degree wind was lashing at our faces and clothes. Muscles that were achy and stiff after a winter of too much office work and not enough physical exertion were brought to bare on the halyard winch. Turn after turn of the winch handle with coils of line peeling off the winch and onto the cabin sole, the sail crept upwards. Despite the reef with shortens the length of the luff of the sail considerably, it seemed as if the mast had grown much taller over the winter. And then the mainsail was up, snapping with loud whip crack reports in the dense wintry air. The wind’s drag against the slatting sail nearly stopped Synergy in her tracks like an arm wrestling standstill between the force of the wind and the drive of the engine turning at a bit more than an idle. And then with all secure we bore away. In an instant we were launched forward with a rocket like building of speed, and for the first time this season we were being driven forward under sail.
And another moment later the engine is silenced and all that can be heard is the roar of wind in our ears and the water racing passing the hull. This was not to be a quiet sail. Astern we were throwing the kind of a wake that one associates with a powerboat at speed. We roared out of the creek, down the Bay, across the South River to the mouth of the Rhode River nearly 15 miles to the south. There was a strange light that distorted the sense of distance so that objects on the horizon came racing towards us, closing at seemingly automotive speeds and objects in the water flashing past.
When we hung the corner at the Thomas Point we were now beating into the wind and waves. It was the kind of romp that is just challenging enough to keep you on your toes but controlled enough to not really be scary. It was on this leg that a very strange thing happened. As I said the sense of distance was very distorted and I was having a problem spotting the marker at the mouth of the West River (Which oddly is south of the South River). When I looked astern I noticed a very large power yacht that seemed to be following us into the West River at slightly more than our speed.
Since we were beating and we could not lay the entrance to the West River, we had to tack. I decided to tack earlier rather than later since I was not picking up the mark. When we came out of the tack, I looked back to see where the power boat was relative to our course and speed. It was gone. I looked around and it was nowhere to be seen. Concerned, I said to Vera, “Find that thing.” And for several minutes she searched the horizon and it was nowhere to be seen….. Vanished…. Poof. I still do not have any idea what that was about.
About that time the wind was building dramatically and the going was getting a little rougher. After a while we decided that with the building winds, the better part of valor was to cut and run for it so we bore away home. With the wind nearly astern this was a wild sleigh ride. At one point a big gust dropped down on us. The GPS showed just under 10 knots over the bottom and the wind instrument showed the gust at 31 knots mostly from astern, which translates to a nearly 40 knot gust. Synergy took it all in stride.
It was a very fast trip home. We had spent a bit over three hours on the water and had covered close to 28 or so miles. But what really has stuck with me was the majesty of the light and shadow as biblical shafts of lights chose to spot light small areas of the panorama. Also burned into my memory is the sight of birds rising in great flocks, the light flashing off of thier winds as we motored out of the creek, and the drama of the surface of the water torn into bright white snatches over the coal blackness of the wintry Bay waters. It was a great way to start the 2004 sailing season.
Sunday, despite my earlier plan to go to the office if I had a decent sail on Saturday I went out again with Jaime, another friend. The winds had subsided some and so it was an easier sail. Jaime is just learning to sail and so I had to hand it to her for braving the conditions and still having a good time. I am afraid that I have created another sailing addict.
Life does not get much better than that or at least it doesn’t take much to amuse me. Well that is about it from here.