Catching Our Breath
11 November 2022
by Richard Cordovano
It feels like a lot of water has passed under Victory’s keel since my last blog post back on October 4. Back then, we were on a town mooring in Port Washington, NY, waiting for some particularly nasty weather to pass. Now it is November 1, 2022, our wedding anniversary. As of this day, Monica and I have been married for twenty six years.
We are in a slip for the first time ever in our travels, having sailed inland from the Chesapeake Bay through the Rappahannock and the Corrotoman Rivers and up Myers Creek to Yankee Point Marina in Lancaster County, VA. It is a warm night, starry and still, with the silence broken only occasionally by a great blue heron’s throaty, startling cry. We have been catching our breath here for more than a week, but tomorrow morning we will be on the move again.
How did we get here? From Port Washington, we made a short hop to Little Bay, in the shadow of the Throgs Neck Bridge. This small, shallow cove at the upper end of the East River was a perfect place to spend a night at anchor in order to easily time our passage through New York City to ensure a favorable current through the swirling and treacherous waters of Hell Gate, where the Harlem River flows into the East River.
The ride down the East River was truly a day to remember. Iconic landmarks drifted in and out of view: the United Nations building, the Chrysler building, the Empire State building. One by one, we passed under the famous East River bridges, culminating with the Brooklyn Bridge, the “eighth wonder of the world.” It seemed like only minutes passed before the combination of the strong current and Victory’s faithful Perkins 4.108 diesel engine propelled us into New York Harbor and the grandest sight of all - the Statue of Liberty. We steered to pass close by the feet of what is one of the world’s most famous sculptures. Monica and I were absolutely delighted that we had taken the time to pass through the City, instead of bypassing it offshore.
The passage through New York City ended in Atlantic Highlands, NJ, tucked in behind Sandy Hook. It was there that we met 78 year old Ken Jackson, a man from New Zealand who first arrived in the U.S. fifty years ago via sailboat. Kiwi Ken has been sailing his 28 foot Shannon sailboat, Southern Journey, single-handed for more than thirty years. Since Victory is a 38 foot Shannon, Kiwi Ken and Victory’s crew had a ready-made ice breaker. Ken has lived an amazing life worthy of an entire blog post of its own, but for now let’s simply say that Victory and Southern Journey became “buddy boats” that would sail together all the way from from Sandy Hook to Yankee Point. Victory’s crew benefited greatly from Ken’s experience, advice, and company during the month we sailed together, and there are plans afoot to reunite for a voyage into Canadian waters next season.
Our stay at Atlantic Highlands was brief. A weather window opened for a near coastal passage in the open ocean from Sandy Hook to Cape May, NJ starting the very next day. However, this did not prevent us from spending some more time in the always available classrooms of the School of Hard Knocks.
After sharing what would be the first of many dinners with Ken on board Victory, Monica and I bedded down for the night confidently, knowing that although the winds were expected to ratchet up as the evening wore on, our oversized anchor and our all-chain anchor rode had already easily handled far more substantial winds than we anticipated that night. We didn’t think twice before climbing into our comfortable little sleeping nook in Victory’s “V-berth” in the bow of the boat. We were very soon sound asleep.
But here’s the rub. The anchorage was crowded and we had set our hook in a spot not quite behind the break wall. Furthermore, we had payed out only a fairly short segment of our anchor chain to try to reduce our swinging circle among so many other boats. But for normal conditions, the anchoring “scope” calculation is: depth of water + tidal range + distance from anchor platform to water x 5, yielding a 5:1 ratio of chain length to anchor depth. Well, for the first time ever, we had laid out less than the prescribed 5:1 scope.
People often get away with this sort of thing. We did not. Nope.
I awakened suddenly at about 2 am, that magic hour for things to go sideways on boats. Something felt wrong. Victory was pitching like a demented rocking horse in steep, choppy waves rolling in from Sandy Hook Bay. Almost immediately, we heard somebody hailing us. We scrambled out of bed and on deck to find Victory side by side with a small sailboat with two young men fending her off with boat hooks. Victory had broken out her short-scoped anchor and we were slowly dragging it over the bottom of the harbor as the wind pushed us backwards through an obstacle course of other boats. Behind us, the land forming the harbor had become a lee shore where Victory could be driven aground by the relentless wind.
Our proximity to our amazingly chill and understanding neighbors with the boat hooks meant we needed to extricate ourselves rather than try to reset the anchor, so Monica fired up the engine and motored slowly forward while I went forward to the bow and brought in chain with the windlass. From time to time, Victory’s bow pitched down far enough to slap the water, sending little geysers spouting up through the grate in her bowsprit.
In the end, we managed to weigh anchor, creep inside the breakwater, and pick up a sizable and empty yacht club mooring for the few hours remaining until first light. I wonder if one ever becomes a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks and is excused from further lessons?
Dawn came all too soon. Monica and I checked the weather forecast and saw that the passage plan was still a go. After downing a couple of cups of coffee and a quick, cold breakfast of Clif Bars, we got under way and patiently bashed our way out of the anchorage and through the shallow bay, still frothing with whitecaps. It was slow going, but once we rounded Sandy Hook, Victory jumped on a conveyor belt of current and northern wind rushing down the New Jersey coast in a surprisingly mellow ocean. Despite needing a pause to laboriously unravel an override in our headsail furling line and a bitterly, bitterly cold night at sea, we made the anchorage at Cape May, NJ the next day.
The Cape May anchorage provided us with another new experience. In most anchorages, the anchored boats all point into the wind and more or less swing together with each wind shift. Here, the interaction of wind and current made the anchored boats dance to their own tunes, depending on hull shape and which factor asserted dominance. Victory placidly swung around in a full circle while other boats indulged in various antics. One boat, for example, was sailing back and forth at a good clip, reversing direction again and again like a caged tiger pacing.
Needless to say, we were not sorry to push on at first light on the third day after our arrival at Cape May. Our next passage would be a run up the Delaware Bay, into the Delaware River, to the entrance of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. We saw a good weather window opening up one day out, so we set off on a short sail across Delaware Bay to Lewes, DE to get past the shifting shoals near Cape May with plenty of time and daylight. The passage was quite short, but nonetheless remarkable for a huge pod of dolphins that frolicked with Victory as she nosed into Lewes Harbor.
Before dawn the next day, Victory and Southern Journey whispered through the darkness on their way out of Lewes Harbor. As the sun rose, we maneuvered through three massive tankers anchored in a row. We could not have picked a better day for the passage. The winds were a bit light, but they were blowing south to north as expected, so they didn’t kick up the steep, choppy waves that can make Delaware Bay a place of dread for small craft. Unimpeded, our vessels glided north on the incoming tide.
We had a long way to go, but our timing was just right. We moved fast enough that we kept riding the flood current as it moved successively up the bay. By early afternoon, Kiwi Ken got on the radio to tell us he had never moved so fast up that bay. We quickly agreed to forgo our original plan of anchoring at Reedy Island near the canal’s entrance. I was over the moon about this, because I had been dreading spending a night forecast to have very strong winds in yet another anchorage with a strong reversing current. Instead we sped by Reedy Island and rocketed through the canal. Soon we were in the Chesapeake and we made it to a comfortable, sheltered bend at the mouth of the Bohemia River by nightfall. Ken was starting to talk about how Victory had somehow been sprinkled with pixie dust, a theme that held true all through the Chesapeake.
Our next stop was another cove at a river mouth, this time the Sassafras River. We then headed for Weems Creek, the “back door” to Annapolis, MD, snagging the last two spots in the anchorage and arriving in time for the Annapolis Sailboat Show, one of the biggest and best boat shows on the East Coast, rivaled only by the Newport Boat Show. The three of us visited every booth at the show. Meeting the fabled Lin Pardey was a highlight. Lin and her now deceased husband and sailing partner Larry were big influences on me during the initial conception of Victory’s voyages, even before we laid eyes on Victory herself.
The Annapolis Boat Show was also a turning point for Victory and her crew. We had become convinced that our fiberglass rowing and sailing dinghy, the elegant nine foot Dyer Dhow that we called Percy L. Nelson because Victory’s first owner had painted his name in block letters on the little boat’s interior, was the wrong dinghy for a year round cruising boat. Our experiences with being ashore in stronger winds at Rockland, ME and New Haven, CT had made it quite clear that we needed a tender with a bow that would ride higher in the waves. Reluctantly, we picked out and paid for an inflatable replacement for Percy, to be delivered to Taylor’s Landing on Weems Creek.
Besides being better in waves, our new dinghy is a roll up instead of a rigid bottom inflatable, allowing it to be stowed below instead of on deck when offshore. We thus gain a lot of visibility when steering, and the cleared deck lets us run a center line jack line instead of a side deck jack line to attach our tethers to in rough weather. And remember that icy night we endured on the Jersey Coast? With the increased visibility, the person on night watch will be able to perch in the warmth of the companionway steps to look out for ships instead of shivering in the open cockpit. So goodbye, Percy, fare thee well. Hello to the new tender - Defeat. And our lucky streak continued. We paid for a nine foot inflatable, but the salesman oversold that model and we ended up with a ten and a half foot dinghy for the same price. Onward, Victory and Defeat!
After Annapolis, we resumed making our way down the Chesapeake. The next two anchorages were Selby Bay and Solomons Island. We then decided to delay parting ways with Ken for a while by accompanying him on what would be for us a side trip to Yankee Point, where Ken would have Southern Journey hauled for the winter so he could do some overdue refit work while we continued south.
But before we actually tied up at Yankee Point, Victory and Southern Journey enjoyed a blissful weekend at Sandy Point in the Eastern Branch of the Corrotomon River. The anchorage was nothing short of idyllic, with still waters painted by the reflection of the Autumn foliage on its banks. Ken’s friend Warren, soon to be our friend, too, heard Ken had arrived and sailed in in his boat with lunch and some beer. Ken’s friends Jeff and Malia invited us to their beautiful River house for a cook out and tales from the years they were live aboard sailors.
So, yeah, we have had a chance to catch our breath after a hectic, even frantic run from Boston to Maine, then down the coast from Maine to rural Virginia. And we will be leaving Yankee Point with new friends and a new buddy boat - Shawn and Cynthia on s/v Santiago, a lovely 46 foot Amel Maramu. The Intracoastal Waterway beckons, a 1200 mile path that winds from Norfolk, VA to Florida. Maybe Victory will continue to enjoy the influence of that sprinkling of that pixie dust…