July 4, 2011
Well, on this Independence Day, I knew I wanted to go sailing since I had missed the opportunity both Saturday and Sunday. My wife decided she wanted to go as well, so I told her I would meet her at the marina. The winds were just enough that I could envision us having a couple of hour sail on the Patuxent. We took care of all the preliminaries, and got ourselves out of the slip and into the river pretty easily.
We had a typical sail for this time of year (people tell me): lighter winds than you like followed by a few nice puffs. Since while we were riding one of these puffs, we were headed straight to the bay, I thought that finally we would have a little fun there. Eventually, the puff ran out, and we fired up the engine to shift to another location on the river, like nearer the bridge. I should have figured something was wrong when it took me a few times to get the engine switch to “run” rather than “off,” but I got it going and we went for it. After a few minutes when I thought we were catching a puff, I raised the engine to reduce drag and we were off. After that puff ran out, we tried just shifting ourselves to catch the next puff, but no dice. So, I lowered the engine to get us closer to the bridge and … nothing… the switch just wouldn’t go to “run.” We were stuck about a mile — perhaps a little less– from the breakwater.
What to do, what to do. My wife consulted the engine manual, and I considered calling BoatUS. We all have those memberships and towing, but I thought it might be frivolous to call when we were so close to shore. Predictably, my wife couldn’t find anything about what to do when the switch doesn’t work because there is nothing in the manual about what to do when the switch doesn’t work. It does say that the engine won’t work if the switch won’t go to “run.” Thanks for that one.
Eventually, I decided to try to sail into the marina. I mean, if those little sailboats from the sailing club on the base can do it, why can’t we? So began the epic journey to West Basin Marina. We were riding out a little puff, which was really helpful, taking our time and trying to get the boat to the right location so we would continue to go through the rocks, rather than end up on the rocks to port because of the current. We had a couple of challenges to making this work. First, we were sailing toward a fishing boat that was anchored right in our path. And since the owner was pulling his boat forward to retrieve his anchor, they stayed in our path as we continued toward the rocks. Fortunately, he got out of the way and began motoring toward the bay before it became crucial for us. My wife had already gotten our air horn out just in case we had to alert someone.
Then as we got closer to the rocks, two PWCs came out, belching power all over the place. They were quick enough that they didn’t really pose a threat to us getting in safely, but they were annoying none the less. We took our time, as did the wind, and with adjustments made every few seconds, managed to get through the rocks with lots of room to spare. I figured once we were in the canal and moving toward the docks themselves, we were out of immediate danger, which was true. However, the current and the lack of wind made it very difficult to get into our dock area, let alone our slip. My thought was to sail to a certain point, then let the current carry us toward the opening to the fairway, then use a little muscle and a bow line to move toward our slip. Well, the first pass was wildly unsuccessful, and we moved off away from the docks, and raised the main again. There, we caught a nice puff and began sailing in a big circle to make another pass. This started to work, but without a little more correction, we just weren’t going to make it — which is when the paddles came out. I paddled on the port while my wife steered, then she paddled on the starboard until we got close. We had lowered or furled our sails by now, and let the current finally guide us into the fairway, and toward our slip. We were going slowly enough that I was able to snag the port bow line and slow down the boat. My wife got the starboard line, and with a little shift here and a little shift there, we were docked. It was very stressful, though I didn’t get too flustered, nor did she. She was impressed that we got back into the slip without too much difficulty (though it didn’t seem like so little difficulty at the time).
It was probably good that we had this practice and accomplishment, but I doubt I’m going to do it again anytime soon for “funsies.”