A Day of Learning
04 November 2010 | The Middle of Nowhere, Delaware Bay
Today was a long, full day and we learned a lot. We almost stayed at the dock in Cape May. It was supposed to be heavy rain and Bud was worried about visibility. Then we were awakened by the wind. Light winds were in the forecast, but when we got up at 5:30 AM (isn't retirement great?) there was over 20 knots of wind pinning us to the dock. There was no way Bud could squeeze back out of that marina in 20 knots of wind. I went and took a good long, hot, shower. When I came out of the shower rooms, the wind was down.
According to the forecast, today was the best day to go until Sunday. When the wind got down to around 10 knots we decided to leave, despite the rain. A man from Maine helped us out and we got out of there without hitting anything, but it was close. The big powerboat had left during the high winds. He did a good job of getting out of his dock, but he could take the Cape May canal, so didn't have to worry about the waves out on the ocean side.
And there were waves out on the ocean side. The inlet seems to be very bad for waves; the current was opposing the wind. Bud figures we went through 10-foot waves. Earendil rode them well, but they were not nice long rollers, they were close together and some were starting to break. One big one broke over our bow, lifting the dinghy lashed to the foredeck and giving a solid "whump" to the dodger. Fuzzy was still in the cabin, when I looked down through the hatch he was looking up at me with very big eyes. I went below to check on things and learned that the TV needs to be secured better, the cutting board can't ride in the slot next to the microwave and we need covers for the dorades and vents; when the bow goes under water, they leak. But there were no leaks around the mast, so that fix worked.
We wanted to cut to starboard right after the entrance buoy, but we went straight out for another 2 to 3 miles before the waves were small enough and spaced well enough for Bud to turn the boat. We went out far enough so we could actually angle back, because there was no way we could take those waves on the beam. We didn't have sails up because we thought we would soon be heading up the channel though the Delaware Bay. Bud suggested we put out the staysail, and after my initial moment of shock I saw the sense in that. We tried it. Immediately the action of the boat calmed down and we gained some speed. We were now angling against the current and any additional speed was needed. The lesson here is that the staysail is great to have!
The wind started to die and the waves settled down, but the outgoing tide was still killing our speed. It was raining off and on and we were getting damp and cold. We hadn't unzipped the main from the stack pack and that's not something you can do in any kind of seas at all. The lesson here is never assume you won't use your sails, have them ready. The staysail was doing great, but a reefed main might have made it that much better.
A major problem with this part of the trip is that once committed you have to keep going more than halfway up the bay to find a place to dock or anchor. We were struggling to make headway and the wind kept moving around to the nose. We put out and took in the staysail 3 times. Each time we furled it we seemed to get it tighter around the foil. That means it made more wraps and took more furling line. After yesterday, it wouldn't quite roll up all the way. A small corner stuck out. We should have fixed it last night but we were too tired and cold to stay out and do it. Today, after the second time we brought it in, we had 5 feet of sail still unfurled. That had to be fixed. We waited for a straight stretch of channel with no boats around. Then Bud engaged the autopilot. He went up and held the furling drum; I uncleated the furling line, pulled it back through the place where it ties on the drum (it take pliers to pull it out of the bottom of the drum to untie it). Then Bud rolled up the rest of the sail by turning the drum and I retied the furling line. It all went quite smoothly, but we were lucky the waves were down by then. There's another lesson here - can you guess? We put the staysail out one more time and kept it up until the end of the trip. We had no trouble furling it.
Despite our efforts to increase speed using the staysail, we still got to the stopping place just before dark (it was 6 PM). The nearest marinas were another 4 miles up the river and no one had answered the phone at either of them, so we decided this would be a good time to anchor. While Bud was selecting a spot and lining the boat up with the current (the tide had finally started to come in) I unclipped the anchor. When he had the boat stopped I released the brake on the windlass (mechanism that winds up the anchor) and nothing happened. After a few moments of struggle, Bud and I switched places. When Bud couldn't get it to release I went below to look up the information on the windlass. I couldn't find it.
Now it's seriously getting dark and the anchor still isn't set. Bud had me hold the boat with the engine while he tried to set the anchor by hand. That took two, so I left the controls and went to help. We couldn't tell how much chain we were putting out. I went back to check our speed (which we wanted at 0) and the depth. We were in 9 feet of water. So we pulled the anchor up and started again. At least the windlass worked like a charm to pull the anchor up.
By now we had to dig out our spotlight to find the shore to place the boat correctly again. Repeat all, only this time Bud was pulling the chain up from the anchor locker and Jill was feeding it out to the anchor. We stopped a couple of times and put the chain back around the windlass while we checked position and boat speed. It was odd. The boat wasn't moving, the current was against the bow, but the boat was moving over the anchor. We backed it off more than once. Anyway, after one such stop, Bud released the clutch on the windlass and the anchor started going out on its own. Evidently the windlass had finally freed up (we knew the past owner hadn't used it in the 8 years he owned the boat because the old chain was rusted into a blob in the anchor locker and some had to be cut out). So now we learned how to use the windlass. We even tied a snubber on the chain (we'll buy one when we can).
The generator is chugging away, the boat doesn't seem to be going anywhere, we're reasonably warm and reasonably safe, but it was NOT a nice day. I'll have to post a photo tomorrow. It will be interesting to see where we are (in more ways than one) in the morning.
The big lessons for the day are:
You never need to be somewhere badly enough to risk going at a bad time.
If you are stupid enough to do it anyway, the boat and you will probably live through it.