June 28, 2011
Well, my daughter and I just returned from what was probably my fastest speed on Ilya yet. It didn’t start out that way. After I called her to go sailing, and we got to the marina, it was incredibly hot. And while there was some wind, it wasn’t doing anything to keep the sweat from my eyes. We finally got Hercules untilted and in the water and got out of the slip pretty smoothly. We got the sails up pretty easily too, though they weren’t catching much wind, and I was getting discouraged. We made a little progress, then the wind stopped, then we turned Hercules on and went in a different direction, stopped the engine, then sailed for another while. Fortunately, the sun was behind a couple of clouds now and we both commented on the lessening heat.
While sailing through a puff of wind, we got to see two very different things. First, we saw a lot of turbulence in the water coming from fish presumably leaping up out of the water and falling in again. The only problem was we never saw any fish, or more accurately, my daughter only saw one fish, which she quickly dubbed the “lead fish.” This little show went on for a few minutes and was really cool to see, as we had never “seen” invisible fish before.
Not long afterwards, we looked toward the bay, and were looking in an area of the bay silhouetted between Solomons Island and Cedar Point. Off in the distance was something we had never seen before — a city that we assumed is on the Eastern Shore of the Bay. In all the times we had looked to the bay as our ultimate destination, I had never seen this city, and don’t know what it was. More on that later.
Finally, I asked my daughter if she wanted to try to catch the wind one more time, and if so, if we should aim toward the Johnson Bridge or the Bay. She chose the bridge, and off we went. No, really — off we went. Without much buildup, we caught a breeze and it actually carried us clear across the river toward Solomons. It was a really good breeze, and we finally felt that coming out today was worth it and worth the heat we had to deal with when we first got to the marina. We tried to tack and probably gybed instead and turned back toward West Basin Marina. We had to be careful not to heel too badly on the way back, but maintain our position, and saw other boats taking advantage of the winds. When we first turned around at West Basin for another ride toward Solomons, I saw one boat — a ketch — lowering its jib, and thought “what an odd thing to do now that we finally have some wind around here!” We kept sailing, and I kept adjusting our angle so we wouldn’t heel too much. At one point, I looked up and we were only about 30 yards away from a motoring sailboat, and even though he was under power, we were going faster, so I quickly steered around him. He didn’t seem bothered by how close we had come. It was at this point that I realized the wind had gotten even stronger — not dangerous, mind you, but probably more wind than I wanted given how much sail we had out. Which was when it hit me — maybe I should have reduced sail rather than or in conjunction with letting the sheets out. And that was why other boats were reducing sail and probably wondering why we weren’t doing the same. Since I really couldn’t reef the main at this point, and didn’t think of furling the jib to half size until later, I took the jib sheet in my hands to let it out, and let out the main about as far as it would go to maintain control. My daughter also used the Wind Mate which said the winds were only about 8 mph, but I don’t think she was using it correctly, not because I’m such a great sailor, but I’m just sure there was more wind speed than 8 mph at the time. “When in doubt, let it out” had definite meaning for us today.
I then asked my daughter to get ready to heave to so we could take in the main and jib. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, and I still don’t know why. In any case, we were safe in the water, and I took in the jib first, and then the main. It really wasn’t too difficult and I wasn’t at all scared, so she didn’t get scared either. Once we got the main down, we lowered the motor (the first time!) and started in. As we started our leisurely jaunt back to the marina, my daughter took up her phone from the dinette and found that my wife had texted or called us about 40 minutes earlier to let us know that the Navy had issued a thunderstorm warning. Oops!
Oh, and remember that city on the Eastern Shore? On the way in, we looked in that direction to check it out again and it had disappeared! Invisible fish and a disappearing city all in one day. Who ‘da thunk it.
We learned a couple of things today. First, don’t rely on the last NOAA forecast, turn on the radio and listen before going out (obvious, I know, but now we’ve had an object lesson.) Second, while I didn’t reef before going out or partially furl the jib, when it came to the sheets and steering, I did exactly what I was supposed to do to maintain control and keep us safe.
This was probably a good thing for us to experience today and I know we’ll be better prepared the next time. But, still a definite winner of a day!