Wet Sails

We left Solomons for points south, but we weren’t really sure how far south we would get. A half-dozen possible anchorages presented themselves for our consideration, but it really depended on our progress.

Three hours of good sailing turned into a sloshy but surprisingly mellow motorsailing passage across the mouth of the Potomac. That got us well past Smith Point, but not far enough to pass by the Great Wicomico River’s Ingram Bay and Cockrell Creek, so in we went and anchored.

The next day started beautifully, perfectly, with a lovely stable breeze. A full main took us out to the bay, where we turned downwind and began to sail fast and furious for points south. A reef went in pretty soon and then two more reefs in a row as we barreled down the coastline, land to weather, sticking pretty close in order to keep the chop down. (The distance over which a wave can build height is called fetch, and we were trying to keep the fetch short, which keeps the chop down.)

Triple Reefed in 35 knots heading into Deltaville, Va.

When the current turned against us, and the breeze turned a bit too fresh, we got serious about riding the chop at the best possible angle. With the water flowing in and the wind trying to push it the other direction, the bay begins making peaks that aren’t very soothing to sail in.

When the land petered out, though, and the miles of fetch known as the Rappahannock River made itself known to us, those peaks were close, high, and mean. James handed the tiller over to me (Dena) with a shift kiss right before the roaring river mouth and I had the strenuous job of maintaining our desired direction while also riding the waves at an acceptable angle. I worked hard at it and did a great job…until I didn’t.

A giant set rolled out of the river at 60 degrees west of the direction I was expecting waves. That put us broadside to it and the boat rolled right into the second wave of the set. I tried to steer away from it, but couldn’t get my body out of the way fast enough.

The main sail, strapped for half its length to the freshly refinished boom, speared into the water and scooped up enough that it was too heavy for the boat to lift. Water flowed onto the deck and covered the cabin’s port side portlights, then it flooded the cockpit and drenched me from the knees down.

I (James) was down below when the wave hit the trunkhouse and it seemed as if we had gone completely under water. I watched Dena do the most amazing dance! With the tiller in one hand, as the wave broke over the cockpit and the port quarter, she circled the cockpit passing the tiller under her left hand and around her back to her right as she swept her feet through the (now completely full of water) cockpit. At that point she pulled the tiller hard to leeward as the boat leapt back out of the wave.

I (Dena) couldn’t toss off the mainsheet – it was out as far as it could go. I could only steer and know that the thousands of pounds of lead bolted to the keel would win the wrestling match in the end.

As soon as the boat lifted the main clear of the water, I had control again and I set us on a course right away from the waves. James dashed to the companionway, unhurt, and made sure that the cockpit drains were clear. The water pooled about a foot deep and drained far, far too slowly for my taffy-minded time sense, but drain it did and sail we did, and everything was fine except that the conditions hadn’t really changed.

With nothing to do about my wet feet, I just buckled down and steered. My arm and my hip grew tired and sore, but there was no way I wouldn’t see my shift all the way through. I gave it up to James just as we came behind the shoal on the south side of the river, and I carefully lowered myself below.

I (James) brought her into the downtown Deltaville anchorage by snaking our good ‘ol boat through a very nicely dredged channel where we dropped that hook in about 12 feet of good holding sandy mud. We slept the sleep of the sailor that night knowing that our systems were built by us, meaning, our systems were built right!



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