Michael's Secrets of Winter Sailing on Long Bay
01 March 2013
I guess I should thank Hurricane Sandy. Because of her, I was unable to take "Aria" to the Bahamas this year and discovered, instead, the joys of winter sailing on Long Bay. Since December, I've logged 480nm, including several trips to Southport and Bald Head, crossed Frying Pan Shoals into Onslow Bay, spent two night on the hook at Bird Island and made numerous day sails. I leave tomorrow for Southport. Honestly, it has been some of the best sailing I've ever done in these waters. Winds are consistently 10-15kts and except for the casino boats I have had the ocean and the anchorages all to myself. Over the course of this delightful season of winter sailing, I have developed a few rules.
Commit yourself. I wimped out on one particularly cold morning, and I regretted it later. I have never regreted having gone out, once I was on the water. But getting over the hurdle of the cold takes some fortitude. Inviting crew is the obvious way to give yourself no escape. But crew is hard to find this time of year, so I spent a lot of time single-handing.
Remove the canvas. Radiant heat is your friend. I was shocked how unimportant air temperature is once I was on the water with the sun shining. I literally hold my face to the rays like a cat sunning himself.
Depart late, arrive early. Normally, I love to get an early start, but in the winter, you need sunshine. When the sun starts to get low, I start to shiver. In January and February, I would leave at 9am and be back no later than 4pm.
Avoid night sailing. I wanted to do a Gulf Stream trip, but I knew I would need at 5-man crew so that night watches could be short. I never found the crew.
Long johns. You can't have too many layers. You can always take them off later.
Good hat. I have an insulated hunter's cap, with flaps for the ears. I look like Elmer Fudd, but if my head is warm, then I'm warm.
Good heater: I have a diesel heater. Under sail, I rarely use it. The fan disturbs my peace. At anchor, it's essential.
Protect the Prop: You cannot under any circumstances get in the water, so be extra vigilant for crab pots and your own fishing line. I don't even want to think about what I'd have to do to cut away the snarl.
Reef sooner. Cold air is more dense, and I could really feel the difference between 15kts of summer wind and 15kts of winter wind. Generally, I reefed sooner anyway, often sailing with staysail alone. It made sense to keep things as simple as possible, avoiding having to go forward, where the decks are wet and the possibility of a fall is greater.
Pretty simple stuff, especially when you consider that it unlocks another four months of sailing! As the days warm this month, I know I'll enjoy the warmer weather. But still, as this cruising ground fills up with stinkpots and jetskis, a part of me will be looking forward to the next season of winter sailing on Long Bay.