Monday, November 10, 2008

Arriving in Annapolis

At my next watch at 8am, we were still on the Delaware. I had a restless night with all the pounding, but I was able to get a few winks. My wife called me around 6am to see how we were doing. I was pretty groggy and told her I'd call her back later. Here's a question - why is that when people call you and you can't talk, you pick up the phone anyway and tell them you'll call them back?

Over Monday night, we only had a couple of large commercial vessels call us on the radio to pass us. They could see us just fine on their radar, which is comforting since I forgot to put the reflector up. It's more needed for 20 foot waves than 7-9 foot waves though. Going up the Delaware at night is interesting. Actually, going anywhere on a boat at night is interesting. The Delaware is a fairly shallow river, with a lot of 3-5 foot deep areas, many 10 foot areas and a big channel for the big ships running along it at around 50 feet deep. Just to the side of the channel, it is usually about 15-20 feet deep, so that's where we tried to run for the most part.
Unfortunately, when it's dark out, it's tough to figure out what blinking light ahead is the next marker. On the chart, you may show only one red blinking buoy ahead, but at night, you may also see the two after it blinking. The Delaware doesn't have much lining its shores, so you know that most lights are either buoys or ship traffic. You can measure the timing on the blinking lights, match up the information you gather to the charts and figure out which one is which, but it's hard to read charts with a boat slamming, and our chartplotter was still flaking out - flickering at the most inopportune times. Oh well, we made it though.

I came up about 30 minutes before my watch started as we were approaching the C&D Canal. By the end of my nap, as we had reached the upper part of the Delaware, the water was fairly calm. The C&D Canal (Chesapeake and Delaware Canal) is a connection point between the two rivers. There are no locks, but it is fairly narrow when there is a huge oncoming commercial vessel. You have to lower your sails when transiting the canal, but with the wave action much lower it was pretty straightforward. My wife usually flakes the sail as it comes down, but since she wasn't here I had to do it this time. I'll be happy to let her do it in the future - I'd much rather pound through waves and get seasick :).

I took the wheel just after we entered the canal. About a quarter of the way through it, we stopped at Summit North Marina to take on fuel and drop off one of our crewmembers. He suggested I take my wet, soggy memory foam mattress from the V-Berth and strap it to the front of Pelican to dry. I'm glad I didn't. We fueled up, taking 45 gallons on the port side tank (it only holds 50, and the pickup tube isn't on the very bottom so you can't use the last little bit of fuel, which is often filled with junk and/or water by the time the tank is empty) and 9 gallons on the starboard side. Since the caps for the tanks had moisture on them, we added some stabilizer to see if that dealt with some of the random RPM drops we were still experiencing. The fillup wasn't cheap, but we were glad to have the fuel onboard. We said our goodbyes to our leaving crewmember and continued on our way. Five guys on a sailboat were now three.

Did I mention that the wind was blowing 15-20 with gusts close to 25? As we left the marina and re-entered the canal, the small waves would create a salt infested spray covering the dodger windows. For those non-nautical people, the "bimini" is a canvas top directly over your heads. The dodger is a canvas top, with clear "windows", over the steps that lead down to the inside of your boat. On Pelican, and many other boats, you can put a connector piece of canvas in between the two other parts to completely cover the top of the cockpit. This helps keep the spray from smacking you in the face. Unfortunately, as we were in salt water, every time the salt-laden waves would spray the windows on the dodger, they would cover them in, well, salt. You couldn't see through them. Every five minutes, someone had to go forward and pour water on them to let us see. Thank goodness we didn't put the mattress on the foredeck (front of the boat). It would have been like putting a big giant sponge there. Helpful.

At this point we were running way ahead of schedule. We had expected to arrive at Annapolis around midnight or 1am on Tuesday morning, but because we hit the Delaware and the C&D Canal at just the right time (I'd love to say it was planned, but we just happened to leave Manasquan at the right time and have the right winds to get us to the Delaware at the right time) our new ETA was around 4pm on Monday. Suprisingly, this was only 8-12 hours behind schedule, even with stopping overnight in Manasquan.

We entered the Chesapeake River pretty happy, albeit VERY cold and unable to see through our salt encrusted dodger windows. A cold front had shown up the night before, and with the wind up at a steady 20+ knots at this point we were freezing our butts off. Our highest clocked winds on our windspeed indicator showed 28.4kts of true wind, and it's always low. It was almost right on our nose, so add 6-7kts of boat speed to the 28kts of wind, and it was like we were in 30-35kts of wind (34-40mph). The temperature was in the high 30's overnight, so people weren't happy, and it didn't go up much by the time we entered the Chesapeake.

When we were a couple of hours down the Chesapeake, the tide started to turn. You might not think this is a big issue, but it can cause some real nastiness. Think about it this way. When the tide is going out, there is a large volume of water moving out of the river into the ocean. When the tide is coming in, there's a large volume of water moving in. What happens when this water collides, just as the tides are shifting? It creates some pretty large waves. Now, we were fairly experienced with large waves at this point, but the Chesapeake threw the best it had at us. We weren't just slamming in these waves. They were so close together, that as our bow would come down to its lowest point, after having been raised high by a prior wave, it would bury itself in the next wave, sending hundreds of gallons of water flying all the way over the top of our boat, reaching even the cockpit. In addition, the wind was blowing just as hard, driving the waves even larger and creating a blinding maelstrom of sea and spray. At this point, we were actually being pushed backwards. Our motor was racing to try to drive us forward in this motion, and was strainng hard. We couldn't go on deck safely to raise our mainsail, although if we were at risk we would have, so we motored as best as we could to be closer to shore where the waves weren't quite as big.

Someone or something wanted to keep us from reaching our destination. We motored very closely to the coast - as close as we could without getting in water too shallow - and about an hour later the seas calmed somewhat. We put our genoa out and our boat speed went to 7.2kts under the one sail alone. Did I mention the wind was blowing? I think I did, but I can't stress it enough - not for the speed, but for the cold it created. At around 3pm we saw the Bay Bridge. It looked close, but we were still 2 hours away. That wasn't frustrating. We finally made it under the bridge at around 5:30pm, and carefully navigated around the shallow waters to its south and aimed ourselves at the Severn River.

I'd love to say our fun ended there, but as we approached Spa Creek to grab a mooring (we didn't want to enter our final destination - Back Creek - at night due to a difficult approach) there was some argument as to where exactly Spa Creek was. I will say that it's very difficult to get your bearings at night with a lot of lights on shore conflicting with lights on the water. In addition, it's tough to use landmarks that you can't see. I insisted on following the GPS and also our paper charts, and recalled reading some information in a cruising guide on how to locate Spa Creek. We went my way, found Spa Creek, and grabbed a mooring. We received a generous mea culpa for adding an hour to our trip from the crewmember that wanted to ground our boat in a 3 foot section of shallows, put the dinghy engine on, threw the dinghy off the foredeck into the water (yes, we actually kind of just tossed it in), went to Pussers and had Painkillers and appetizers. We then went to the Sailyard for some food and drinks, and retired, exhausted, at around 10:30pm.

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