R 22

Rhodes 22


Sailing on the Chesapeake

by David Dawson

The Annapolis R22 dinner was such a wonderful event that I should probably have let it mark the culmination of this sailing season. But no, I just had to sail a little bit more. So I used the end of the season as an excuse to take Ardent down the Chesapeake Bay, from her home port at Bowley's Marina on the Middle River, to Forest Landing, off Cuckhold Creek on the Patuxant River. The first two legs were to put me in Galesville, MD, where I would be joined by my brother for the remaining three legs.

Below is part of a description of the trip I recently sent to Mary Lou and Fred. I thought others might also find something of interest in it. The story picks up a little as you move along. My thanks go to Jim Morrison for our Rhodes dinner chat about his circumnavigation of the Delmarva Peninsula. Without the benefit of his inspiring and emboldening account, I might well have decided to sleep all day Thursday (foreshadowing). But I get ahead of myself . . .

Drove to Bowley's after the Rhodes dinner and spent the night on Ardent. Poured all night. Ellen was planning to meet me by 9 Sunday morning, but by 8:30 I decided the weather was unacceptable for the trip to Eagle Cove. I headed her off at the exit off 702 at 9:15, and returned with her and the kids back to her mother's place. Later that morning, we went down with Ellen's stepfather to the Baltimore aquarium--had a great time, and the kids especially liked the dolphin show. Ellen and kids went back to PA after dinner, while I stayed over.

Left at 4 a.m. for Bowley's and had the boat ready for departure at about 6:30. But once again, the weather was not cooperating. No rain, but heavy, heavy fog (could barely see the end of Bowley's piers). Waited until the fog started to lift around 7:30. Since I was now combining two legs of the trip in one day (about 35 miles), I needed to make the Bay Bridge by about 12 in order to insure not having to find the Galesville marina as darkness fell.

There was no wind, the Bay was polished glass, so I motored most of the way to the bridge, killing the motor and deploying sails about -mile from the bridge. Had a vigorous sail in about 12-15 knots all the way into the West river, where I took a slip at Hartge Yacht Yard (managed to jam the furling line on the roller furler drum--going forward to untangle it in 15 knots provided the thrill of the day!).

Met my brother the next morning around 10:30 and motored (no wind) to Knapp's Narrows, then sailed in about 5-7 knots all the way into Dun Cove. My brother, an amateur gourmet cook, produced crab cakes and accompaniments for dinner. A placid evening. Dun Cove is very nice and isolated, though perhaps a bit more developed than the cruising guides imply. Highly recommended nonetheless.

The next day's trip from Dun Cove on the Choptank to Casson Point on the Little Choptank was a great sail in about 12-15 knots. We sailed the whole way, and had another idyllic evening, this time with a dinner of t-bone steaks, baked potato and mushroom sauce, topped off with a nice bottle of red wine (my brother brought along a wonderful gift--a Magma grill! I suppose my mention of Dinty Moore as my standard overnight fare inspired him!).

The morning we left, it was red in the east, followed by mackerel skies at noon and mare's tails in the late afternoon--that plus the weather forecasts and the darkening SW sky alerted us that the front was closing in. We turned in about 11 pm on Wednesday night, as the wind was picking up and a few drops of rain spattered on the folded up bimini.

At about 12:30, the front arrived. That's an understatement. It was as though someone had suddenly placed us in a wind tunnel used to test airplanes. The wind picked up...and up...and up--until it reached what I would call a wild howl. The sound in the rigging and mast was alternately shrieking and moaning. The basic wind was very strong, punctuated every 30 seconds or so by much stronger sustained gusts. I had anchored with the bow to the west, intending to split the difference between the predicted SW arrival and the shift to the NW in the early morning.

I was in the v-berth, my brother in the main cabin. My sense as we swung, bounced and jerked on the anchor rode was that the anchor was very well set (and setting better by the minute!), and given that I could really not see much from the v-berth, I managed to get some sleep. My brother--accustomed to racing sailboats in bad weather but not to sleeping on a boat, reported that he awoke every 15 minutes and looked out a portlight, convinced that we were dragging down on the 4 other big sailboats anchored nearby.

At 4:00 AM I went out to check all the rigging and add some chafe protection on the anchor rode--it was wild out there! At 7:30 AM we were up and listening to the weather. It was clear, but the wind was, if anything, even stronger, and the anchorage was filled with whitecaps.

At about 8:30, we decided to make an attempt at leaving. Don't ask me why we thought we could do this! I can only say that both of us were groggy from lack of sleep, and we did not give sufficient consideration to the difference between the water state in the anchorage and the state of the water just around the point. But we soon found out.

We motored out quickly on top of the two-three foot rollers building out of the anchorage and were at the end of Casson Point in less than five minutes. We then turned around the point, intending to raise a little sail. But no. With the turn, a large following wave invited itself across our stern and flooded the cockpit, spinning our bow to the waves coming into the Little Choptank (or, rather, into the creek off the little Choptank proper that we were currently in).

We took the first wave head-on, and what felt like a ton of water came directly back over the cabin top and hit us square in the face (imagine a hundred little stinging bees and you'll get the effect!). Amazingly, we had not put on our foul weather gear (a brain lapse, among a series of brain lapses--we were perhaps bewitched by the blue sky and bright sun). So we were instantly soaked from head to toe. Fortunately, the cockpit self-bailed in about 15 seconds, but we then took another wave head on in similar fashion.

The rollers were also pushing us back toward the end of the creek. At this point I shouted (screamed) to my brother, "We have to go back." We managed to get the boat back around the point, and then used all 8 horses of the Honda to push us against the waves back to the anchorage, making about 1 knot against waves and wind. Finally anchored again in the same spot and thoroughly exhausted and wet, we elected to go back to sleep.

At 11:30, we woke up (after our first real sleep of the evening/day), listened to the radio and determined that the forecast was beginning to prove correct: winds 20- 25 and gusty, subsiding to 15 by late afternoon. We also listened to wind velocity reports, comparing them to some we had heard earlier that morning. Salisbury had been 39 at 8 AM, but was now (at 11:30) down to 22 (we later learned that morning the wind at Pax River Naval Air Station, where we were headed, had also been 40, gusting to 60).

Our anchorage had fewer whitecaps now, and though the wind was still very strong, it seemed that there were fewer big gusts and that they were smaller than earlier. We battened Ardent down, donned full foul weather gear, PFDs, tethers and decided to give it another try, intending to first experiment with a little bit of sail in the anchorage to convince ourselves we could control the boat and see how it reacted.

This time, we made a different series of mistakes. My brother got tangled in the anchor line after he retrieved the anchor, and when I attempted to put out the agreed upon 3-4 feet of main, the wind ripped all lines out of my hands and put out 100% of the main. With the waves and the wind, that was enough to knock us down: for about 3 seconds (it seemed like 60) the top of the mast was almost touching the water. The Honda was way up in the air, screaming in cavitation agony, and my brother was hanging on to the jackline, still somehow wrapped in the rode.

But, of course, the trusty R22 immediately righted herself, and once we had gotten the anchor rode stowed and the main put away, we headed out again, this time having the sense to get some sail out before trying to round the point. When we rounded Casson point, we had about 4 feet of jib and 3-4 feet of main, and the Honda at full throttle. This was sufficient to give us enough forward motion to punch through the waves (the basic challenge was to find enough sail to give sufficient forward motion to punch through the waves, but not so much sail as to allow the wind to knock us down).

The waves still came right back over the cabin, but with the foul weather gear and some well-timed eye-closing, it was OK. We were also able to keep sufficient steerageway to keep the big rolling waves from spinning us and broaching. We were now close-hauled into what was probably the 20-25 knots actually predicted (rather than the 30 plus we had failed to grapple with earlier), and we held this vigorous course all the way out of the Little Choptank till we got past James Island, when we could turn south.

From that point on, we "ran with the seas," flying down the 4-5 foot rollers (some breaking) at up to 7.5-8 knots (according to the GPS). We still kept the 4-foot jib and 4-foot main, with the Honda at about 3/4 throttle. This seemed to provide good stability, though for the next two hours I felt as though a few seconds' lapse of attention at the helm and we would be immediately pooped or rolled from the beam.

By the time we reached Cove Point, the winds seemed to be down to 15-20 and the seas down to 3-4 feet, and once we turned around the point, the winds rapidly fell to 15. We killed the motor and put out full main and 125% genoa and had a nice beam reach all the way to the Patuxant River entrance. We sailed up the river to the Solomons bridge in 7-8 knots of wind at about 4:30 pm. We furled sails and motored the last 20 minutes.

That's the short version (!). The longer one would include the two days of nice day sailing near Solomons, the pleasure of Maryland's eastern shore on the Middle Bay, and a long list of "lessons learned" as well as a short list of "things done just right." All in all it was a terrific experience--the learning curve was a bit steeper on Thursday than I might have wished, but invaluable. I'm happy to report than any difficulties we encountered resided with skipper and crew, not with the boat.

Time now for a rest.

David Dawson
R22 Ardent

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