To see as much of the world as we can,
Using the smallest carbon footprint we can,
Spending the least amount of money we can,
Making as many friends we can.

Team Red Cruising

Sweaty Palms -- Best Laid Plans

Time for the annual Whitby-Brewer Rendezvous in West River Sailing Club.

It's about 100 nm up the bay. Red Ranger motors between 5 and 7.5 kn. That's anywhere from 13 to 20 hours of travel. She sails between 0 and 7.5 kn. At zero, we'll never make it. But top speed isn't so great either: it means a 13-hour marathon – and we have less than 12 hours of daylight.

One important lesson learned going to Reedville was that we need to secure everything in the cabin. As we bashed around in four-foot seas, everything not nailed down wound up on the saloon cabin sole. We'd like to avoid the bashing.

Some folks have said to break the trip into two legs. They suggested that we stop in the Solomons (near the mouth of the Patuxent river.) That makes 6.5 to 10 hours of travel each day.

We see some potential problems with making for the Solomons:

  • We have to motor precisely on the "as the crow flies" rhumb line the whole way. While we did this going to Reedville (see 2010 Reedville), it seems to be an undignified way to sail. And it was a grueling 5 hours. We don't want to double it.

  • It's October. While twilight (6:40AM) to twilight (7:20PM) is a solid 12 hours, it seems like using 10 of those hours driving is a tall order. I don't want to come into an unknown harbor in the evening. Further, I don't want a time limit on my search for a sheltered creek that's deep enough.

  • I don't think an optimistic plan ("6.5 hours motoring, drop the anchor and done") is prudent seamanship. I may be wrong about our abilities. In Henry IV, Falstaff says "The better part of valor is discretion". I prefer discretion, also.

Off the Wind

For non-sailors, there's an important and not obvious issue. Generally, sailboats don't go toward the wind ("to weather") at all. There are exceptions, of course. The BMW Oracle Racing Machine (one can hardly call it a "boat") is capable of sailing in directions that make little sense to sailors like me.

Next time you're standing on the beach, face into the wind. Can't sail that way. Turn to your left or right about 60 degrees. (We call that "5 points off the wind".) That's the best—the level best—that we're capable of.

This 60-degree angle thing means we have to zig-zag ("tack") to weather. This makes us sail much further. How much further? If our speed over ground (SOG) is—let's say—5 kn (5.75 mph), then our speed toward our final destination drops to about 2.5kn. Yes, our speed made good (SMG) is 1/2 of our SOG. And yes, you could walk faster. [For the mathematicians: it's the cosine of 60 degrees.]

Other sailors on more nimble boats are free to scoff. Essentially, a 45-degree angle to the wind is almost the best you can do. But as the boat moves forward it actually creates some additional ("apparent") wind that allows a lightly-built boat to get closer to the wind than 45 degrees. Once the BMW Oracle racing machine gets started, it creates more apparent wind than real wind. Sick.


One part of making this trip is breaking the trip into three legs of 33 miles, we're talking about 4.4 to 6.6 hours of motoring. It's possible that we could actually sail the whole way—8.8 hours in the best case. In the worst case, we'd have to motor for some of the day, but not all of it.

Further, wiser heads describe the Whitby 42 as a "50-50 Motor Sailor". They say this: "She seems to be making 45 degrees to the true wind, but take a look at your wake (or at least your GPS): 15 to 25 degrees of leeway."

Here's a larger quote.

...when I have needed to go up wind I have motor-sailed, ie, sailed as if up wind but with the engine running just fast enough to keep up with her sailing speed. What this does is cut out the 15 or 25 degrees of leeway. Using sails and engine together this way you only consume 1/2 to 3/4 gallons per hour which gives a pretty amazing range. And of course you don't usually have to go upwind for days (but sometimes.) Crack her off to 55 degrees true and the leeway disappears, speed picks up and engine goes off.

This means that we can optimize our speed slightly by motor-sailing. If we zig-zag up the bay at 45 degrees instead of 60 degrees, our best possible speed made good goes from a maximum of 3.75kn up to a blazing 5.3kn. That makes for 6 to 9 hours of motor-sailing. That starts to look more prudent.

Motor Sailing

If motoring is so undignified, what's up with motor-sailing? Isn't that worse?

Not really. We think it's better. We haven't done it much. But we did some in a sailing class in Tampa, years ago.

  • Motor sailing uses somewhat less fuel. You're tacking, and going further, so it's not a significant savings.

  • The motor optimizes the sailing. Primarily, you're sailing. The motor is just an assist to cope with the inefficient hull shape.

  • Motor sailing actually feels better. When motoring under bare poles, Red Ranger tends to wallow. When sailing, she has a much more solid, predictable, comfortable feel. We expect that motor sailing has the feel of sailing with the efficiency of motoring.

The Plan

Day 1. Bound for the Coan River, about 9 nm up the Potomac. This can become about 50 nm of beating into the predicted N wind. We can save time (and distance) by motoring as the crow flies. We think that the creek to starboard just past the point on the Coan River has good holding and plenty of shelter.

Day 2. Bound for the Little Choptank River, between James Island and Hooper Pt. This should be about 52 nm of beating into the predicted N wind. With luck, the wind will clock to NE on Sunday and we'll be able to do more sailing and less motor-sailing. We've read that there's good holding near Hooper Pt. It might not have enough shelter from a N wind, so our fall-back is to motor further up the Little Choptank until we find shelter.

Day 3. Bound for West River. This should be just 30 miles of sailing; less if we motor as the crow flies.

Fall Back Plans

We have several backup plans. If we can't sail, we can motor sail. If motor sailing isn't effective, we just sail as the crow flies.

Further, at the end of day one, we have a "go/no-go" decision point. If we don't like it, we use day two to go back to Deltaville, move everything into the truck and drive up there. Falstaff says "The better part of valor is discretion", and driving the truck would be very discrete, indeed.

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