The blistering heat of summer is behind us. The job list has nothing ranked "top" priority, or "pre-launch" or "critical". We're down to "improvements" and "nice-to-haves".
Further — and this is the important part — we're thinking about making a 100nm trip to Annapolis for the annual Whitby-Brewer Rendezvous in West River Sailing Club.
There are some scary features of a trip of that size.
It's long. It's not like sailing around the Piankatank River for a couple of hours and going back to the dock when you start to get a little tired. It's 3 ten-hour days of pretty demanding work. The tyranny of the tiller is absolute. A couple of hours of steering is fun, after that it devolves to work.
There's a schedule. If the weather looks iffy, it's more difficult to turn back. We have a budget of miles to make before dark. If our average speed isn't 5 kn, we have to start the engine to keep to our schedule.
There's a point of no return. Once you start north on day two, you're committed to the whole outbound trip and the entire subsequent return trip. The possibilities for awful situations jump suddenly when you're beyond being towed back to your comfortable home port marina.
Are we ready? Do we have the skills? The confidence?
Testing the Waters
Our trip to Reedville was a kind of shakedown or sea trial for that bigger trip. The photos are on our 2010 Reedville photo album. Reedville isn't really a big trip. It's a quick overnighter for folks in our marina. Everyone does it. 25 nm is just 5 or 6 hours of sailing. But it was our first overnighter in Red Ranger. So it's a milestone and a Big Mental Deal.
We watched the sailboat races. We watched shipping and boating in the Chesapeake. We found Reedville, we anchored. Wait, it gets better. We met two delightful couples in our branch of the creek, and found Jan and Carl (from White Pepper, who dock right behind us in Deltaville) at the restaurant, also. We fit in with the crowd no questions asked — like we knew what we were doing.
Living in the Historic Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk, we spend some time wandering from bar to bar. This involves lots of coordinating with other folks in our neighborhood; flitting from bar to bar is something we're slowly learning to do. The suburbs weren't conducive to this kind of wandering-around life-style. This bar's too full; that bar doesn't have good pizza; Silcox doesn't get out of work until 8: it's a lot like being 20 again.
We wound up flitting around with our neighbors around in our dighies, motoring from one bar to another in Reedville. It was like being in Ghent. Except at anchor. In our boat. In Reedville. With folks we just met an hour before. And we didn't make any blunders that would label us as n00bz.
There are several obstacles to a 100nm trip.
Mental. Are you emotionally ready? Do you have the skills? Are you committed? Will you rise to the demands of the situation?
Physical. Can you do the work required?
Weather. Do you have the data?
Mechanical. Have you done everything?
Mental is the biggest, we'll return to that.
Weather. This is — all things considered — the easiest. The National Hurricane Center provides an Atlantic Outlook. A tropical storm ("Lisa" is next up on the list of names) may arise in the next week. Additionally, they provide several very handy zone forecasts. ANZ631, ANZ630, ANZ534, ANZ533, and ANZ532. These forecasts cover the whole trip.
What's important is that our trip to Reedville put us in 20 kn of wind and 4-foot seas. More wind straight on the nose would be painful, but manageable. That kind of wind from ahead eats a full knot of boat speed and makes for a very sporty ride.
Mechanical. Our basic boat systems (hull, deck, portlights, hatches, through-hulls, pumps, etc.) seem to be in good shape. Our rig was dismantled and rebuilt. We put spanking new gaskets in the leaky forward hatch. We have reason for confidence there. Our sails seem to be in excellent condition. There's some chafe on the headsails, but the stitching is solid.
Mr. Lehman (our 60-hp Ford tractor engine) has a new raw water impeller, a new zinc, clean oil, new cooling water, and fuel filters with only a few hours on them. He develops maximum torque at 1500 RPM, but we move at 5+ kn at only 1200 RPM.
While trivial, we have a new engine hour meter. This kind of thing required some pretty careful study of how a diesel engine works. It's a real confidence builder to read the engine manual and wire something like this in correctly. And — bonus — actually understand why this is the right spot in the meager electrical system of a diesel engine.
We've had trouble getting him started. That means we now know the common problems. Is the gear shift in neutral? Did someone knock the starter solenoid wire off while checking the oil? We have a "water-in-the-fuel" alarm system and a backup fuel filter and a backup fuel tank. We have a lot of bases covered.
Physical. The tyranny of the tiller wasn't so bad. For three 10-hour days, it seems manageable. We can also power up the Benmar Autopilot to take a break. But between two of us doing 3-on, 3-off, things seemed to work out well.
Further, this is a matter of experimenting with medications. We hurled, but we coped reasonably well. Next time, we're going to ramp up the dosages. Cindy Ann thinks Bonine works better for her. I'm a fan of one or two Dramamine II right before bed.
The questions boil down to wondering "are we ready?" Do we have the skills? Do we have the knowledge? Do we have the guts?
We have been cruising like this in charter boats: 2006 Lake Champlain
, 2007 Tortola, 2008 Ft. Myer to Hilton Head.
But there's a hidden crutch: the charter company has done the maintenance, and they can bail you out. Doing this on our own pulls out that crutch.
Also, the Chesapeake waters are unfamiliar. We worry about this. But we have been in unfamiliar waters. I like to study the charts. But charts are so blasé about epic information. The chart says "☉ Stack" where it should say "ZOMFG!1!! IT'S A ^%\(Q#\) AMAZING STACK OF BRICKS RIGHT THERE IN THE CREEK!" Those hydrographers seem to be a humorless bunch, focused on narrow, literal accuracy and giving no sense of how epic these things really are.
The Saba Rock incident
In the BVI, I had identified a nice anchorage on the chart. It was near the Bitter End Yacht club, at a place called Saba Rock. As we motored into Gorda Sound at the north end of Virgin Gorda, we were — as they say — "on pins and needles" wondering what was going to happen next. The trip through the buoyed channel is a little worrisome because there's nothing much to see except reefs and blank, steep mountainsides.
Then, you make a left turn around the end of Mosquito Island and you have this "Holy Cow!" "Look at That!" "OMFG!" moment when it all clicks into place.
The same thing happened on our way to Reedville. After four hours of sloppy conditions, some hurling and some very unpleasant motoring, we rounded the mark in the Great Wicomico river and had the OMG! LOOK AT THAT! moment.
Suddenly, there was the "Reedville Stack". Right where they said it would be. It's far, far more epic than it looks on the chart.
We have reason for confidence. We fit in with the cruisers on J&B IV and Hallelujah.
And we've been learning a lot.
Dave taught us that everyone will teach you to sail a sloop, no one teaches you sail a ketch. We have to experiment.
Chuck taught us that the mizzen sail is really for balance, not power.
Carl taught us that the cutter rig is really for trade-winds beam-reach sailing. Red Ranger's rig wasn't designed to run down-wind or beat to weather. We didn't feel comfortable sailing wing-and-wing; Carl explained that it our discomfort is a good thing.
The Chesapeake taught us that 3-4 foot following seas will make us puke.
Being welcomed by other cruisers in a random creek was a giant milestone. A "maybe we'll see you at the bar around Tim Point" was a kind of casual invitation that was a real heart-warmer. When we found that place closed (because of a private party) we were forced to try a different bar. What a pile of fun!