Old Fat-Guy Makes it in Spite of Himself
07 November 2022
Well, the "short" of it is that after a few miscalculations, geriatric embarrassments and what have you, the B24 is safely in its new home at Jennings Boatyard in Reedville, VA. The lessons are many but primarily;  a sailor should allow enough time to learn the essentials of the boat (especially the equipment aboard),  start with enough time for the planned trip and of course  plan your steps in advance as much as possible.
The third item, regarding planning in advance, I felt I'd sort of done -- at least partly -- had spent an evening studying the chart and identifying the GPS track/route/waypoints for the expected 120 nm trip, and had them all logged into the Garmin 78sc and foresaw no issues there. The other items were more a matter of "haste makes waste...," or nearly so.
My initial error was that I started out from Williamsburg almost a day and a half later than I'd originally allowed for, and since I had a semi-hard arrival time to allow me to be at my desk early Monday morning, I couldn't easily extend/delay. More on that later (perhaps), but by starting off from Williamsburg later than I'd planned meant a day and a half boring motor-sailing down the James river; following buoy after buoy to Willoughby Bay.
Willoughby Bay is in the middle of one of the eastern US's busy naval ports and is an often used anchoring spot for civilian pleasure-boats transiting through the Newport News/Norfolk area. Two days of mild, almost windless conditions from Williamsburg, with official weather predictions of more lazy down-wind motor-sailing, lulled the geriatric skipper (who a week later turned seventy-five) into complacency. I found myself half-snoozing in the cockpit on a sunny, mild Saturday morning, making lazy course adjustments to avoid ever-present commercial shipping and tugs with tows of barges, as well as occasional naval vessels.
The fly in the ointment was my gross unfamiliarity with the boat, indeed the previous owner had actually hanked on the sails in an effort to get me going more quickly -- trying to be helpful. I'd owned a B24 for some years previously, so had confidence in the design, but this particular boat was brand new to me. Indeed, we got to the boat at Williamsburg, installed a new battery, threw my duffels on and was on my way in less that forty-five minutes (as noted; haste makes waste... probably a lesson there somewhere). And, as I was to find out, the fact that there was no stowage for the oversized anchor (Bruce/claw type -- apparently exceptional holding, but very, very heavy for these geriatric arms), nor a haus/deck pipe to lead the rode below deck; meant the whole affair just sat in a loose pile of chain and anchor on the foredeck where the previous owner had piled it.
But, what the heck -- it was a sunny, almost windless day, what's the issue?
This lack of anchor stowage is clearly un-seaman like, but the arrangement wasn't of much consequence, until two days later on Saturday (Shabbat) afternoon about halfway up the Bay, when the wind piped up, gusting to about double the forecasted 12-15 kts, and in one of the rolls when the semi-alert skipper was inattentive, the anchor, chain and the whole shooting match went over the side -- although all still tied to a bow-cleat... at that point I was still sailing downwind (more like bounding in 2-4 foot, occasionally breaking chop), but it was now blowing 20 something, gusting to 30 with sunny skies, accompanying by singing in the rigging (I later checked the buoy data, so these numbers aren't just a figment of white-knuckled, paranoid imagination); thankfully this loss of the heavy anchor and 75-plus feet of chain all happened in deeper water in mid-Bay and the boat's downwind speed apparently made it stream, so it didn't grab the bottom, but had to cut it free. Even at anchor I was nearly pooped just pulling it in, and by now this old skipper was far too exhausted at that point to drag it all back aboard -- the Creator guided the boat since I was occupied freeing the ground tackle from where it was entangled.
After all this, I heard a rattling, clanging commotion in the motor-well and eventually noticed that auxiliary outboard motor had come loose (although it had been puttered contentedly for two days, it was apparently not firmly clamped down -- thankfully it was not running once the wind piped up) and was just rattling around in the well... so by dusk of Saturday, after a series of usually harmless operator errors, I found I had no anchor and no motor, and was zipping downwind with too much sail (using a "fishermen's reef" to keep things quieted down) at times apparently bumping above 8kts according to my GPS recorder; oh well... The Father is good and He got me through to Reedville okay, by about 02:00 -- now with a list of several forthcoming modifications.
But, not to keep folks in suspense -- all's well, and the Bristol is safely in a slip... but once again I'd relearned one of the critical lessons of my earlier posts; the skipper's responsibility, even when solo, is absolute!