Why do it?
I had no intention of trying to short tack through the narrows ahead, dead into the 10 to 12 knot wind. Pinching up in the eastern end of the Fox Island Thoroughfare in Penobscot Bay, we left Birch Island to port and pulled in front of a Mariner 39 sailing the same tack.
Then a curious thing happened approaching Fish Point Ledge. Our bow began to click to windward-bit by bit- on a mysterious wind lift. To my surprise, we easily cleared #6, and now had a full quarter mile of water to windward. Glancing back I saw the Mariner, below #6, rolling up it’s headsail and powering toward the channel.
Heading briskly into Waterman Cove, I asked Mary Ann, “Feel like a little exercise?” She put her book down.
“Ready about”, I said and she waited until the 135% genoa was slapping the shrouds before handing the sail off her winch, to me. With one wrap on the drum, I whipped yards of sheet into the cockpit, added a couple more wraps, and cranked the genny down to the port spreader tip. Good tack! We’re flying back across the narrowing channel.
I glance behind to see the Mariner crossing our wake, now motoring up the middle of the channel. This speedy tack ended quickly as I swung the wheel off Calderwood Point with a, ‘ready about’.
MA had her wrap all ready to go and as soon as the genoa went limp, she started gathering sheet for all she was worth-added a couple wraps, and cranked the genoa down to the starboard spreader tip.
Another good tack-we’re on a roll! We maintained our speed and were soon mid channel again, and the Mariner, was dead in our sights! I was loathe to give up even an inch of our hard earned windward progress, so I held our course. I would fall off,… if I had to.
“Come on-come on”, I thought watching the stern grow large. I didn’t give an inch to leeward. We had a few yards to spare as the name ZORA, slid by our port deck. The captain kept his eyes locked forward willing his boat to move faster. He never looked back as we roared by, but he raised a thumb high in the air to acknowledge our efforts. He was soon in the narrows.
Our efforts were paying off, in speed. Not long after, Iron Point loomed ahead. “Ready about!” somebody said.
MA paused in the silence before the Dacron rattled, then let her side go in a ruckus of flaying sails. I’m already reeling yards of sheet into the cockpit. Then the sheet—freezes--, in my hands.
“What the…?”, I mutter. “Tom, it’s stuck on the spinnaker winch!”, MA hollers, already headed up the starboard deck to free it. “I can’t get it off!”, she says as I see that the genoa has filled and we’re bound up all over!
I start to throw off the wraps on my winch. Lost in the white of flogging sail, I can just see her free the sheet and start all over again, reeling in what seems like yards and yards of line.
Now nearly dead in the water between Green#11 and Zeke Point, we’ve lost our momentum. The thrill is gone.
In that moment, drifting freely in the rock bound narrows, time was short -like watching the timer wired to a bomb, tick down the final seconds.
“…..5….4…..”- Should we try to sail through the back door off Zeke Point?
“…..3…..2…..” Should we tack and try to gain our momentum back in the narrow space?
“......1…..” The roar of the stone cold diesel starting, announced our surrender. We were throwing in the towel-coiling our sheets.
Short tacking all the way through the narrows would have been a nice memory to relive during the coming winter. Oh well, maybe, next time.