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Little boat trip

2

Cindy doesn’t say much on this blog – but when she does – I’m happy to let her speak her mind.  Take it away, Cindy!

Thanks again to our friends Kim and Eric for helping us with transportation so we could take delivery of our boat, Shearwater, earlier this year!

Ever since then, except for a few brief outings, we’ve been acting like “dock queen” owners, mostly scrubbing, wiping, polishing, fixing, replacing, checking, puzzling and thinking how much like a waterfront cabin (i.e., unmoving) the boat was.

This past Saturday we took it out for our first overnight away from the dock.  We wanted “no” weather to see how things would go, the idea being to build experience gently, one step at a time. We haven’t been doing anything adventurous because we have a possibly wimpy anchor (still not sure), no docking skills when the wind blows cross-wise to our slip, no useful dinghy to bail out with if the need arises, and no storm experience with this particular rig.  Mitch is very experienced on a smaller boat, but this one is different.

We need to run the motor hot for about 3 hours now and then to burn out bacterial and other yuck that will eventually foul the fuel and corrode the engine.  Power boaters generally don’t have to worry about this, but sailboaters are notorious for not getting their engine up to temp long enough or frequently enough, because – let’s face it – you buy a sailboat to sail it, not motor it.

So, we motored across to Smith Island, arriving in becalmed weather and crept along the lovely deserted shore using maps and the depth gage until we were satisfied we found a good spot to test our anchor for the first time.  We’d wanted to go to Smith Island all summer, having used the sailing trimaran kayak there last year and loving every minute of it.  However, with a bigger boat, Smith Island presents a “lee shore” in normal summer conditions, which can be dangerous.  But now, being into Fall, we had a very different weather pattern.  The forecast was more reliable for once, little to no wind was expected, and if any blew it was not going to come from a direction that would blow us into shore.  All good.

Setting an anchor properly so that it doesn’t drag in wind or current is a problem for many.  Mitch had plenty of childhood experience with anchoring a smaller boat over night, and we’ve both been reading tips, and as luck would have it, the anchor set perfectly on the first try!

Then we discovered one of our two batteries had little juice available, despite it receiving the alternator output all the way across the bay.  We had to have one working battery to restart the engine next morning, but we also had to keep exterior lights on through the night for safety.  Not only were there regulations to follow, but we were right where watermen might motor between Tangier Island and Smith Island in the dark, if they had the notion to do so.  Although we’ve been wanting to replace our lights with LEDs to conserve juice, we are trying to limit how much of a money black hole the boat becomes, and still had the power-hungry incandescents.  In fact, even though we’ve been working hard, fixing and replacing all sorts of stuff, one of our two mast lights still didn’t work.  The new ones were waiting in the cabin for us to install them.

There was no wind, and we had some daylight left, so I suggested I go up the mast in the bosun’s chair to try to fix it right then.  The view would be great.  Mitch suggested no.  Perhaps that’s a good thing, since we hadn’t been up the mast yet, and had an accident occurred, we didn’t have a way to get to shore easily.  And, it was a deserted shoreline at that.  (Editor’s note: Cindy is also prone to seasickness and didn’t realize the mast was moving six feet or more at the top of the mast.)

As the afternoon waned, no watermen traffic appeared.  However, we could hear their motors in the distance on the other side of the island to the east.  The moon was almost full and we could practically read out there.  Anyone paying attention would see us, if they were looking and if the moon was still up, and if they were going slowly and if we were broadside to show our white hull, and if….  Hmmm.

We decided to use the low battery during the night for the lights, figuring that way we’d have a starter battery (the good one) in the chilly morning for sure, and perhaps if the bad battery was in bad shape, the lights might dim out right about the time Mitch tends to wake up in the wee hours anyway, whereupon he could use a flashlight if he heard any motors coming.  We truly didn’t know what to expect out of that battery, this being our first time using it away from the dock power.

In the early twilight, we were treated to the sight of a bald eagle sitting on the state line sign, with its head in Maryland and its tail in Virginia.

Many graceful pelicans floated by in various arrays.  Other birds of all sorts came by.  One group grunted in low frequencies as they flew by, and another group whistled in just as high frequencies as if to make up for the grunters.  There were so many birds passing back and forth, Mitch wondered if some might get hurt in our rigging during the night if we weren’t properly lit.

At first, we thought that although the air was alive with birds, the fish life wasn’t anything like what we were used to at Point Lookout.  At Point Lookout, there was a constant flapping and flopping going on all around us in the water at the slip.  But we were wrong.  Once the sun slipped below the western horizon, the water came alive.  Flop, splash, whap.  Everywhere.  And then there were the buzzy ones.  They sounded like grasshoppers briefly flying on the surface of the water with their buzzy wings.

Since there was no wind, the water was smooth and looked lustrous, reflecting the orange sunset and deep blue sky, contrasting against each other in silky lazy “s” forms on the water.  There was no one to be seen except two people on shore that were either clamming or hunting for shells.  I thought, no aircraft either.  When I remarked about it, Mitch said he’d actually noticed a few.

As the water became more glassy and smooth, a low swell developed that hit our boat at just the right angle and frequency to make it really rock and roll.  It was odd – smooth glassy water, no wind, no motor sounds any more, no more aircraft, big quiet moon, a slight traveling bump in the water moving across, and here we were rocking and rolling like we were in a storm!  We’ve been out in whitecap conditions a few times already, she sails great into or away from the wind and takes wakes just fine.  This boat has been far more stable out in waves and wind than many others we’ve seen, so far.  So, this was really odd.  It just happened to be a harmonic I guess.  I left the edge of the boat where I’d been watching fish, and moved toward center so I wouldn’t get tossed off.  We were totally bemused. We want to develop experiences so we will be… experienced (what else) when we need it later.  So here we got to see how well things would stay in the cupboards and what wouldn’t.

When we went to bed in the V-berth in the front, I wondered if I might get seasick.  Then I remembered just how fun it was as kids when Roy and I would play in the hammock Dad made.  One of us would get in the middle, then it would get pinched together at the long side edges and spun around to totally enclose that person so they wouldn’t fall out, and then the other person would wildly flip and yaw, heave and push and make it go crazy in every direction, so that it was like bronco riding inside a cocoon.  With those fond memories, I had no trouble going to sleep, although it was rolling me around on the mattress enough to make me think maybe we needed a lee cloth after all.

In the night, the swells causing the rocking eventually calmed down, but Mitch’s meal didn’t agree with him.  This was not seasicknesses, but actually a real food problem, and each time I awoke to his stirring I thought I heard a boat coming at us.  Then in the next moment when my brain engaged a little better, I realized all was quiet and peaceful.  There was no boat.  Closer to daybreak, the swells and rocking started up again, so now I suspect it was tide-related.  There was a significant current there near the island, and tidal action can do interesting things.

Once the sky started lightening up a little, we got a breeze.  This set up normal waves, and our boat settled into its familiar steadiness. No more rocking.

The anchor had held, through the tides and all that crazy rocking.  We had anchored next to a Maryland/Virginia border buoy, had an anchor movement alarm app setup on the iPhone, and everything was still in the same spot the next morning.

The breeze was so great that we realized we could just sail away.  A little whitecap here and there.  No need for the engine (and thus battery) to get off the dangerous shallows at all.  And surprise, surprise:  our exterior lights were still lit, and there was still quite a bit of juice left in the bad battery.

So the next challenge was pulling anchor.  We hear and read this causes people trouble too.  The trick we’ve been told is to pull in the anchor line, so that you pull the boat bow all the way up to where the anchor sits until the boat is right over the top of the anchor. At this point it is probably buried in sand or muck and can’t be budged.  Then you are supposed to tie it off, and go make some coffee.  The natural bobbing action of the boat’s bow in the waves will pull it free in the meantime.  So in our case, we wanted to sail away when it broke free, not motor away.  Mitch, who knows what he’s doing unlike me, put up the main and got everything situated, put me at the wheel and told me what to do once the anchor broke free.  He then went to the bow and hauled the boat up to be over the anchor.  I figured we’d then have to wait, but no – we broke free instantly.  Better yet, our boat started sailing off in the right direction.  Even better, the anchor line wasn’t all yucky with muck.  It seems we had anchored in sand, and he didn’t have to clean anything.

We sailed almost completely across the bay to the west, in the direction we wanted to go, on a single tack!  This was crazy!  Everything was just too ducky.  The wind died and we completed our trip with the motor.  While crossing, Mitch has an app on his phone that plots the location, name, nationality, speed and other interesting tidbits about ships in the area.  We came closest to one hauling coal to Poland of all places.  Another was headed to South America.  One of these had a bow wave that looked to be about two stories high.  I can just imagine how fun the dolphins would find those humps of fast-moving water.  Such ships can go almost 20 knots and come out of the blue.  Mitch is very good about training me to keep an eagle-eye out for them and planning how to navigate around them.

As the sun came up more and we got closer to the western shore, we eventually had to take our coats off (and my gloves), and as we motored back into our little creek we discovered it was actually hot.  We refilled our fuel tank, pumped out the holding tank (hopefully for the last time…our next project is installing a composting toilet), and our perfect little getaway was over.

It was a great weekend!

 

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