Over the past several days I've been sailing with my friend Ralph as he begins his journey down to the Caribbean. This first leg of his trip was kind of a shakedown as he recently had a lot of repairs and upgrades done to his boat. So, plan was that I would accompany him as far as we could get in several days (I was expected back at work on Monday) give him a hand with his boat and help him make better time since we could trade off standing watch.
Evening of Departure:
After a few minor delays, we departed Annapolis, Maryland around 21:00 on Wednesday, January 25th with the goal of heading to the southern-most end of the Bay. There we would assess if the conditions would permit a run around the outside down to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina or if we would continue to Portsmouth, Virginia and the entrance of the Intracoastal waterway (ICW).
The weather was unseasonably mild, but began to cool to around 5˚C (41˚F) as the sun set. The wind was very light and after watching our speed drop from 5 knots at the start down to 2.5 knots, Ralph decided to start the engine. I stood first watch with the diesel droning all evening long. I had a cold earlier in the week and was mostly over it - or so I though. After nearly four hours in the wind and cool temps I was beginning to feel more tired than usual and slightly chilled when Ralph appeared in the companionway to relieve me. As tired as I was, it was still difficult to fall asleep with the diesel running. Luckily, the wind began to pick up after about an hour and Ralph shut off the engine. I fell asleep to the blissful sounds of wind in the sails and water slipping past the Ericson 38's hull.
I awoke a few hours later to the sound of my iPhone's alarm alerting me that my watch was about to begin. I silenced the alarm and immediately noticed what sounded like a small electric motor cycling on and off every couple of minutes or so. Ralph had been in the wind and cold air for over 3 hours and was ready to come below, thaw out and get some rest. Unfortunately, sleep would have to wait.
When you're aboard a boat, especially one that's kilometers from shore, there's one sound you don't want to hear - the sound of a small motor cycling on and off. This means your bilge pump is running, which means you are taking on water. I alerted Ralph as we changed watches and he came below to figure out what was going on. We speculated that the float switch might be stuck and the pump was running for that reason, but after he had been below for about fifteen minutes he shouted back up to inform me that the water was rising above the floor of the cabin. After another 20 minutes he had located the problem: an unused, above-the-waterline through hull that, since the boat was heeled, was now below the waterline. He sealed the open hose barb with some self-fusing rescue tape and, with the flow of water stopped, the bilge pump was then able to clear out the flooded cabin. With the leak fixed, Ralph was finally able to lay down to get some rest and I settled in for my three-hour shift.
About two hours into my watch I began to feel sick and started shivering - my cold was back and rapidly getting worse. Trying to give Ralph as much rack time as possible I began heading for what looked like an acceptable anchorage. As we neared shore, it was time to wake him.
We anchored the boat, then checked the weather. We knew that high winds were forecast and after considering where we were and from which direction the wind would come, we decided the anchorage was too exposed and a better anchorage was a few hours away. So we weighed anchor and I went below to take some ibuprofen and get some rest - I fell asleep a soon as my head hit the pillow.
Some time later I was awakened by a loud noise that turned out to be caused by some play in the boom vang's connection to the mast. The conditions had deteriorated and from the way the boat was rolling and pitching I guessed that we were in the gale-force winds that were forecast. The boat was sharply heeled, but I was cradled by the lee cloth which was holding me in my bunk. As I looked across the cabin to the "down" side of the boat, I noticed that the portlights were completely underwater and there were waves sloshing past the deadlights (windows that don't open) at the top of the cabin. I glanced up the companionway to make sure Ralph hadn't been washed overboard (Just kidding - I new he was tethered) and saw him cranking away at the port jib sheet winch. In my half asleep state, I reached across the aisle and grabbed my PFD (personal flotation device) which had my personal locator beacon attached, then I snuggled down in my sleeping bag and went back to sleep.
When I awoke again the boat was level and the weather calm. Ralph had anchored us in the quiet waters of Bell's Creek - a small cove off of Indian Creek. The ibuprofen I took earlier was keeping my fever in check and I remember looking outside at where we were, I think I ate some dinner, then I went back to sleep. When I woke in the morning it was a beautiful day and I was feeling one hundred percent better. I think it was around this time we decided that trying to head out to the Atlantic with the cold weather that was on the way, wasn't a good idea. So, we had a quick breakfast, and got underway to Portsmouth, Virginia and the ICW.
The day was uneventful and the sailing was good, but the weather was definitely getting colder as the forecast indicated it would. We arrived at the Southern end of the Bay following a gorgeous sunset and easily spotted the tall cranes in the shipyards at Hampton and Norfolk. As we passed over the Hampton Roads tunnel I though it was kind of funny that my driving route back home tomorrow would take me through the same tunnel we were now sailing over. Anyhow, it was really pretty sailing through the city at night, Norfolk on one side, Portsmouth on the other. On the way in we caught a glimpse of one of the Navy's new stealth ships, I couldn't read the name so I'm not sure which one it was, but it was probably too small to be the Zumwalt. We tied up to a public dock in Olde Town Portsmouth with a huge Navy vessel in view (see picture), then went to grab dinner before settling in for the night.
After picking up the rental car, I chauffeured Ralph on a few errands to restock provisions, then headed back home. I had a great time in spite of my cold and got some great sailing experience.
may your sails be full,
your course be true,
and your journey fulfilling.
Safe travels wherever you may roam :-)