“Today is rain free and just a little bit on the windy side in the Boston Harbor. Let’s go sailing ehh?” “The bay will be much like the open ocean. Sounds like an adventure!” “I really want to get out there now!”
Thus were my lamentations as I watched some formidable weather pass the East Coast while I was stuck ashore without a ship to sail on. So when an opportunity to do a delivery from Newport, RI to Annapolis, MD popped into my inbox I double checked that conditions would be merely crazy, not insane, and signed on up.
I arrived in Newport Saturday night and met Pat and Chip; the skipper and regular crew for the delivery. We planned to depart at first light. Coming out of Newport harbor the wind and seas built to moderate gale conditions as forecast. As we rounded Point Judith the autopilot began to struggle with the scrap of jib we were flying and the following seas. This was fine with me as I wanted a crack at the helm in these conditions anyway!
The helm was fun and less work than I had expected. The seas were steep and the true wind didn’t drop below 30 until we made it through The Race. There the current was slightly against us which built up the seas; add in the reflected seas and my first transit through The Race was made memorable.
An hour into Long Island Sound the winds and seas had calmed and the wind was directly behind. We checked the tide tables for the East River and put the hammer down; if we made superb time the current would be with us as we passed Manhattan. We made superb time.
I was disappointed that we would be passing NYC at night even if we traveled at full speed. Pat and Chip, experienced with the transit, chuckled. They knew that it would be spectacular at night and they were absolutely right:
Coming east out the Ambrose Channel the seas were right on the nose and we had to reduce throttle as they reached 10′ and the wind approached 30 knots. As we turned south the wind was behind and the swell was on the beam. Because the jib was self tacking we couldn’t control the leech well off the wind. This meant deploying more than half the blade would cause the top to flog; our scrap of jib didn’t provide much stabilization. The seas and the motion of the boat were very sloppy. It was overcast so there was very little light but sitting in the cockpit the waves were tall enough to obscure the shoreline.
In New York harbor we saw plenty of commercial vessels and expected that we’d see many more off the coast of New Jersey. We only saw one commercial vessel that entire night which was very surprising. Other than New York Harbor there was very little commercial traffic thus far this trip.
I went to sleep around 4am and the next thing I knew I was rushing on deck to furl the jib as we entered the channel to Atlantic City. The surfers were out and absolutely loving the erratic sailing conditions. If the harbor entrance were any shallower it would have been imprudent for us to enter given the sea state. After a quick stop for fuel we were off again and I tried to grab a few more hours of sleep.
I awoke as we started the turn into the Delaware Bay, probably because the angle of the seas has changed. The bay was an interesting milestone because, from then on, we’d be confined to a narrow channel. 150nm to go, shorthanded, contending with commercial traffic and mostly in the dark. I’d never done more than a 15 mile segment of any trip in such confined waters which had always allowed me all hands to deal with the sailing. The 10x distance after already being short on sleep necessitated shifts.
The routine was pretty simple: check that we were on course on the chartplotter, make any corrections to the auto pilot’s course, try to get a visual bearing on the next marks of the channel, fine tune the course and then look around for traffic, obstructions or other aids to navigation. Finally, wait 10 minutes or until the next turn and start again. The routine was complicated because the boats chartplotter only had charts for its home waters, which didn’t include anything south of New York City, so we were juggling handheld chartplotters. I found the challenge interesting: navigating my vessel through very restricted unfamiliar waters at night at nearly 10 knots using only the charts I had brought and the lighted aids to navigation (and a spotlight to find the necessary unlit aids).
Around 3am we were prepping to arrive in Annapolis; plenty of time for the boat to be readied for the boat show. Over the last few hours the wind had died down and the water was glassy. It was an calm and uneventful end to an exciting yet uneventful trip. In hindsight I was glad we took the inshore route; though it was less exciting it was newer to me and I think I learned more than I otherwise would have. I am definitely glad I made the time to do this delivery; I’d definitely do it over if given the chance.
I was very impressed with Pat and Chip. Due to their preparations and skill we speedily navigated trying conditions for almost two full days without putting a scratch on the boat or a single gear failure. That made the trip less of an adventure than I am accustomed to but it speaks volumes to their skill and professionalism as a delivery crew.