Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Nasty Passage

Dismal Swamp Canal, Deep Creek, Virginia
36 44.73 N 076 20.47 W

Imagine this.   It was the last offshore leg of our passage.  7 miles heading mostly West from Cape Charles to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.  The wind had become fierce blowing 30-35 from the north.  Worse, a frigid rain was falling heavily.   Although we still had an hour of daylight left, visibility dropped to a half mile.  Tarwathie handled fine.  I had a double reefed main, and a small staysail, and the wind was on the beam.  Even with the reduced sail, she heeled over at 30 degrees and plowed through the water at 7 knots.   At first the following waves were big, about 9 feet, but as we entered the bay, they reduced in size.

My biggest fear was missing the entrance, where the bridge becomes a tunnel and where boats could pass over.  If I missed it, we would have a devil of a time making way to windward again to fix it.  There is a second entrance I could have tried as a backup, but if that was missed too, the alternatives would be bleak.  Onward we pressed.  Libby was down below and I shivered in the cockpit, drenched with cold water.  I kept checking the AIS for ship traffic.   Luckily there was none.  The 10 AIS targets within 5 miles were all anchored.  Suddenly, something appeared dead ahead.  It was the entrance right in front of me.  Thank God.  I really really love GPS.

The above was the climatic end of a passage that had more breakdowns, mishaps and close calls than any other I remember.

Up in the Hudson, I restored the wiring that comes apart when we take the mast down.  I was unable to make the wind instrument, or the radar work.

Near Sandy Hook NJ, I struck an unlit buoy at night.  It damaged the teak caprail up near the bow.  It was in a busy area with lots of shoals buoys and range marker towers all around, dangerous to do on a dark night.

We put in for fuel at Atlantic City. We've never been there before, so we learned a new spot.

Cape May, NJ was our decision point for the rest of the passage.  I checked the latest NOAA weather reports.  They continued saying 15-20 knots NW.  I grumbled because they had been saying 15-20 for two days now and we saw only 5-10.  I decided to continue to Norfolk.

6 hours later, I woke from a nap with a feeling that we had too much sail up.  I can't explain how, but I knew.  I went up to relieve Libby.  I found that the wind had increased from 5 to maybe 35.   The wind was dead behind us.   We had only the jib up.  Libby had it sheeted in as tight as drum.  That means that it was showing only a tiny cross section to the wind from astern.  Still we were flying at 7.5-9 knots through the water under control of the autopilot.  White spray was shooting off the sides.  Libby was happy as a clam, thrilled by the high speeds. Oh my God, I thought, if we gybe now, or if the autopilot fails, we'll broach broadside to the wind and the cross section of that sail to the wind will increase 10-fold.  We'll be knocked down in an instant.  Libby didn't realize how precarious our situation was.  I put up the staysail and reefed the jib 90%.   Then we were no longer on the edge of disaster but still we made 6.5 knots.

I relieved Libby but soon after we came to an area with extreme confused waves.  I think it was the outgoing tide from Delaware Bay mixing with the ocean waters.   We were tossed around more violently than ever before in past 7 years.   Libby got sea sick, which left me to single hand it.  Libby wanted help with her sea sickness wrist band at the same time as I was negotiating a close pass with the captain of an incoming ship.   Stuff inside that had been secure for 7 years started flying around.   The shackle at the base of the jib popped open.   The cleat in the caprail where I secure the roller furling line pulled the screws out.   God, what failure would come next.

It only lasted 30 minutes.  Then we passed the confused sea area.  Also the wind slacked quite a bit.  Still, I had to let Libby sleep off the sickness, so I stayed on watch another 6 hours.

I heard a loud noise behind me and we lost steering control.   I checked with the flashlight.  The blade in the water that is part of our Monitor self-steering had broken loose!!! Fortunately, it was tied to the boat with a line, so I was able to pull it on board rather than loosing it.  Also fortunately, the electronic self-steering was able to take over the job.  I had believed that the Monitor would last a lifetime without malfunction.

Despite all that, we completed the passage successfully   After passing through the Bridge-Tunnel around 1830, the rest was easy.   However, I was so pumped on adrenaline that sleep was out of the question.   We continued all the way through the bay, Hampton Roads, Norfolk, and Portsmouth, taking advantage of no ship traffic at night and no delays at the bridges.  We had tide against us, but a strong wind behind us and the sails were still up.  We made it all the way past the Gilmerton drawbridge, and tied up for the night at the entrance to the Dismal Swamp Canal at 2330.

64.5 hours from anchor up at Kingston, NY to docked at Deep Creek Virginia.

Today, we are taking a down day.  The tranquility, beauty and security of the Dismal Swamp Canal is the perfect therapy.  By the end of today, I expect my pulse to return to normal.  It is still cold and rainy here today but we don't care.   Tomorrow it is supposed to be sunny and 70+ degrees :-)

Summary: I really really love GPS, and I really really hate the poor quality weather forecasts we are getting from NOAA.  I'll also confess that this passage was not fun -- it was scary.


  1. What an experience - Congratulations!

    The Traumerei will be at Ocracoke for a bachelor cruise this Friday / Saturday / Sunday.

  2. What? No Pictures? If there aren't any pictures, it didn't happen... LOL

    Good Trip Report.

  3. Wow! The most exciting thing I've done over the past few days is drive OUT the ENTRANCE gate at work because they were having problems with the EXIT gate. :-)

    I've heard it said that cruising is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror. I guess you've had your terror allotment for this year. Here's hoping the rest of the journey is more pleasant.

    Really jealous,

  4. "If it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there" - Captain Ron

  5. WHEW! One for the books, guys! Strong folks in a strong boat!

  6. Glad your both safe, it couldn't have been fun.


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