Monday, May 23, 2016

Around the Delmarva Peninsula, Part 3

While we were in Cape Charles we docked at the Cape Charles Town Marina. The marina is quite nice and has new docks and a new bath house. It is convenient to downtown and there is a good restaurant right beside the marina. George and I ate an early dinner at the restaurant, The Shanty, and walked back to the boat. As we walked on the dock we met some of our dock mates, 2 couples in separate boats who had sailed to Cape Charles from across the bay. They were all really nice and we had to tear ourselves away in order to get to bed early. We enjoyed another very restful night of sleep. The next morning were up early and again and heading out to the bay at 6:40 am. There was very little wind predicted so we intended to motor all the way home. More good practice for us to tolerate motoring.

In the southern part of the bay we saw several large fishing vessels. They were all painted identical colors of blue and white. We couldn't tell how they were catching fish and have no idea what fish they were trying to catch.

We planned to motor very close to the channel in hopes of avoiding the numerous crab traps that are often outside of the channel. Eventually we encountered crab traps that appeared to be set inside the channel. We did see large ships coming down the bay and passing us going up the bay. There were never very close to us so we didn't have to work to avoid them.

The bay was very calm and the temperature was in the mid-seventies. We felt the warmest we had been all week long. I was wearing a mere three layers of clothing instead of seven!

We enjoyed watching the pelicans flying and then making a huge splash in the water as they attempted to catch fish. We saw more dolphins. Then, at around 5 pm when we were near the Hooper Island Light, George spotted a whale right in front of the boat! It came to the surface, blew out its' blow hole, then went below the surface. Shortly after that another whale came right up to the side of the boat. We both agree it was the coolest thing we saw during the entire trip. Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough to get a photo of them.

It was dark by the time we reached the Choptank River. Since the river was familiar territory for us it was fairly easy to navigate even though only about half the buoys were lighted. Although we had a full moon, the clouds were getting thicker. By the time we reached Cambridge we couldn't see the unlighted buoys in the channel at all. George stood on the bow with a spotlight to illuminate them. We pulled into our slip just after midnight and we were happy to be home.

Our Impressions

  • The trip was way beyond our comfort zones. We feel quite a sense of accomplishment for having achieved it.
  • Night sailing for me was not as terrifying as I remembered. The moonlight did help a lot. George thought navigating at night was not as difficult as he thought it would be.
  • Lack of sleep is still a major issue for me when sailing overnight.
  • George and I worked really well together, in spite of the sleep deprivation.
  • A full cockpit enclosure is a great idea in cool and or rainy weather.
  • We were happy with our provisioning. We had frozen three 2-portion casseroles to heat in the oven for dinners when we were sailing. We had a bag full of snacks clipped into the cockpit. Raw vegetables, hard boiled eggs and prosciutto-wrapped cheese were welcome snacks in the middle of the night.

Statistics

Cambridge to Cape May: 28 hours,176 nautical miles

Cape May to Cape Charles: 27 hours,175 nautical miles

Cape Charles to Cambridge: 17.5 hours, 107 nautical miles

Total distance: 458 nautical miles

Pelicans on the buoy

 

Around the Delmarva Peninsula, Part Two

While tied to the dock in Cape May we walked 1/2 mile to their West Marine to buy a new clevis pin for the lifeline, showered at the marina's bath house, ate an early dinner and went to bed early. It was blissful to sleep without interruption. We set an alarm to get up early and we were heading out just after 7 am. After leaving the channel we encountered dolphins. We had seen even more on our way into the harbor the day before. They didn't come to play in our bow wake but it was still so cool to see them. The winds were light for the first two hours as we headed south in the Atlantic along the coast so we motored. After a few hours the wind picked up and we raised the sails. The wind was almost directly behind us so we had to sail gybing angles (angled to the right or left of our destination). We started out with swells about 2-3 feet but they increased to 3-5 feet as the day went on. That made the sailing more challenging because every now and then a swell would hit the boat just so and push it so that it was pointing 20 degrees more downwind. If we went too much downwind we were at risk of an unexpected gybe (the boat turns through the wind and the boom swings quickly to the other side). We didn't want that because we could easily break something in an unexpected gybe. We were using the autopilot to drive the boat but we had to keep an almost constant eye on it to adjust the sailing angle. The boat was in constant motion, up and down, back and forth. George and I both began to feel a bit queasy after several hours of this. I am guessing I would have felt much worse than I did if I hadn't practiced the Puma Method exercises to prevent motion sickness.

In spite of the challenges, we felt fortunate to have a downwind sail with winds in the upper teens. An upwind sail would have been much more uncomfortable.

It was a challenge to stay warm. We both wore several layers of clothing but were still barely warm enough with air and water temperatures around 60 degrees. George found a spot to sit while he was on watch that was quite comfortable. It was protected from the wind a little and he could keep a close eye on the navigation system. As a bonus, the exhaust from the engine room blower (not engine exhaust) was right beside him so it helped him warm up a bit. My preferred spot was huddled under the dodger. When we were on watch, no matter where we were sitting, we would get up every 10-15 minutes and look in all directions.

George in one of his favorite spots. The warm air exhaust is on the left (not visible). A thermos full of ice water is on the right, tethered to the bilge pump.

 

I am now very motivated to make a full cockpit enclosure before we sail to the Bahamas this fall. It will help a great deal to keep the cockpit warmer and protect us from the rain. We recently bought a Sailrite machine to do canvas work. It is an intimidating job, though.

 

As night was approaching we discussed our options for a watch schedule. We took 3 hour watches on the previous leg. I had wanted to try 4 hour watches but we weren't able to do that because of our need to gybe. When we gybe the boat one of us turns the wheel and the other pulls the mainsail in so that the boom doesn't have as far to go when it swings from one side to the other. After the boom swings to the other side we let the mainsail out again. So, it requires two of us to execute a gybe. We talked about sailing one long leg that would angle out away from land, then once we got to a point where we would clear the end of the Delmarva peninsula, gybe and head toward the entrance of the Chesapeake. Neither one of us like that option much. In hindsight I am glad we didn't choose that option. There was a lot of ship traffic entering and leaving the bay and we would have had to work to avoid more ships if we had done that. So, we opted to gybe a few times through the night and keep shorter watches, gybing when we were changing watch. Unfortunately, that meant I wasn't ever able to get to sleep that night. It takes me a while to get to sleep, and I just wasn't able to do it on a constantly moving, cold boat with a lot of noises.

During my watch around 3 am I noticed a brightly lit boat in the distance in front of me. I checked the AIS and identified it as a fishing vessel. The AIS said we were safe (not on a collision course) and our closest point of approach was anywhere between .15 to .5 nautical miles (depending on where our boat was pointing). That was close but acceptable. From my perspective it looked as if we would pass port side to port side. I kept watching and as we got closer I started trimming the jib in and turning more to starboard to give us more room. There were so many bright white lights on the boat that I didn't make out the navigational lights. It wasn't until we were quite close that I noticed just one green light. That is the starboard light! That means that instead passing port to port the boat was crossing in front of me from port to starboard. I quickly disabled the autopilot and began turning toward port past the fishing boat's stern. The jib came over as I turned, making a lot of noise where George was sleeping in the v-berth. He thought we were gybing so he came up into the cockpit to help. Fortunately, we missed the fishing boat and did not gybe the main, so all was good. I was really rattled and shaking, though. I am not sure if I completely miscalculated how we were approaching the fishing boat or if the captain was messing with me. Fishing boats have the reputation of not liking sailboats and I have heard several stories of fishing boats playing games with sailboats. In any case, I wish I had at least tried to hail to boat on the radio to ask how they wanted to pass, rather than I assume I knew. Another lesson learned.

George took over after that and I went below to try to sleep. After about an hour and a half I gave up and came back to the cockpit to see if George needed help. He was approaching the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and I helped navigate. The bridge tunnel is a 17-mile long series of bridges, causeways and 2 tunnels at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. It connects the eastern shore with the western shore. We have driven over it many times on our way to and from Florida. It was interesting to sail over the northern tunnel just before sunrise.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel before sunrise. A causeway is on the left and the tunnel is on the right.
We dropped the sails as we were nearing Cape Charles and George noticed that the mainsail did not fold into the stack pack very easily. On closer inspection he found that we had lost 2 of the pins that hold the mainsail cars to the mast. They were in places where battens are located. He is having quite a time finding replacements.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel before sunrise. A causeway is on the left and the tunnel is on the right.
The pin goes through the part with the number of it
Example of one of the pins that was lost.
 
 
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel before sunrise. A causeway is on the left and the tunnel is on the right.

Shortly before we dropped the sails I received a text from our friend, Dawn. She and her husband, Ray, were on their way to North Carolina and hoped that could snap a photo of us from the bridge tunnel as we sailed over the tunnel. We were too far away by then (darn!) but they ended up stopping in Cape Charles right after we arrived. We had a lovely morning eating brunch and walking around town.

 

Dawn and Ray on the beach in Cape Charles.

 

 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Around the Delmarva Peninsula, Part One

I have had a dream to sail Breeze On to the Bahamas and spend the winter there. Many people from this area or farther north who sail to the Bahamas do so by taking their boats down the intercoastal waterway (ICW) and then sail to the Bahamas from Florida. We bought Breeze On before I thought about going to the Bahamas so we didn't take her 64'+ mast height into consideration. Since the fixed bridges along the ICW have a 65' clearance it is too close for comfort to try take Breeze On down the (ICW). So, the only other way to get to the Bahamas is to sail on the ocean. We don't have experience sailing several days straight so the thought of that kind of trip is really intimidating. In order to gain more experience sailing in the ocean and sailing overnight, we signed up to participate in the World Cruising Club's Delmarva Rally. The Rally takes a week to circumnavigate the Delmarva peninsula by starting in Annapolis, going down the Chesapeake Bay, out into the Atlantic, then into the Delaware Bay, across the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal, then down the Chesapeake and back to Annapolis. We were scheduled to go with the rally last June but my cancer got in the way of those plans. George and I decided to go around the Delmarva Peninsula on our own. We weren't able to fit that trip in last year so I have been especially motivated to do it as early as possible this year. I wanted to make sure we did it before sailing to the Bahamas this fall.

This past week seemed to be a good time to go. We initially planned to go in a counter-clockwise direction and sail from Cambridge, MD to Cape Charles, VA; Cape Charles, VA to Cape May, NJ; and Cape May, NJ home to Cambridge. Each leg would take 24 hours, plus or minus a few hours. We would rest a night between each leg before starting on the next. The winds seemed to be more favorable to sail in a clockwise direction so that is what we did.

Our goals for the trip were:

  • Practice sailing at night and increase my comfort level with night sailing (i.e., reduce my terror).
  • See how I coped with lack of sleep. I am a person who likes my sleep and don't cope well when I am sleep deprived.
  • Learn to cope with motoring if the winds are too light or from the wrong direction. George and I love to sail and are not especially fond of motoring. We have found that limiting our trips according to the wind has limited how far we have been able to travel.
  • See how we manage with sailing in the ocean, where the swells tend to be bigger than in the bay or river.
  • Gain confidence in our ability to sail a longer distance.

We set off early Monday morning and sailed down the Choptank River. The winds were in the 20's (knots) and the waves were 3-4 feet at times. It was a wet and wild upwind ride. One wave that broke over the bow was so big that it crashed into the cockpit and got both of us wet.

Once we got out into the Chesapeake Bay the waves calmed down and ride was much more comfortable. We sailed under the Bay Bridge, still a thrill.

 

The winds eventually died down so we furled the jib and turned the motor on. The sun set after we passed Baltimore and I went to bed while George took the first watch.

 

Our plan was that he would sail up to the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal and then I would take over. The canal has lights along both sides and is quite beautiful. George had to drop the main before entering the canal since you are not allowed to sail in the canal. As I was motoring through the canal and enjoying the lights and smell of honeysuckle, I was also beginning to dread entering the Delaware Bay. It was supposed to be much windier there and the bay usually has a lot of ship traffic. I am not very comfortable indentifying ships or boats by their lights at night. It turned out to be not bad at all. The combination of a bright moon and our decision to stay just outside the channel and motor down the bay made it much easier than I anticipated. We had enough wind to sail but if we had sailed we would have had to cross the channel a few times and possibly go farther away from the channel where there are usually many crab traps. We were both comfortable with the decision to motor and even congratulated ourselves for our comfort level.

George took two watches the first night and I took only one. Nevertheless, he slept more than I did. I don't fall asleep as easily as he does, especially if there is a lot going on (movement of the boat, noises, etc.). I probably slept no more than one hour total.

We made good time on the first leg and arrived in Cape May just before noon.

Heading into Cape May while fishing boat is leaving

 

It was earlier than we had initially planned. We had thought about anchoring in the anchorage near the coast guard station but that was already full of boats. Since we wanted to get fuel anyway we continued on to the Canyon Club Resort (where the WCC Delmarva Rally stops). As I was pulling into the slip I noticed I lost all of my momentum. I revved the motor a little more and just inched forward. I looked at the depth indicator and it said 5.2 feet, then 5.0 feet. Our boat draws 5' 8"! We managed to get in and I am sure we dug a trough to help the next sailboat that comes in at low tide. Fortunately, we planned to leave at high tide the next morning.

Breeze On is one of 2 sailboats docked at Canyon Club. No wonder with a 5 foot depth at low tide!

 

We walked to a West Marine about 1/2 mile away to search for a replacement clevis pin that had been lost from the starboard lifeline earlier in the day. We ate an early dinner and went to bed early. George discovered an unexpected bonus from staying at a marina instead of at anchor. We both slept much better than usual. George didn't get up 2-3 times to check on the anchor and we didn't hear the usual noises as the boat moves back and forth on the anchor chain.

We got up early and headed out into the Atlantic for the next leg of our trip.

Cleaning the salt spray off of the Windows
Fixing the broken life line. You can't really tell, but George is wearing a life jacket and is tethered to the boat.