Chesapeake Born

Sailing Chesapeake Bay, sailing ICWNovember 2017

It’s dark. Darker than dark. No stars. No moon. No anchor lights. No house lights, dock lights, street lights. Just the night and it’s darkness, and it’s only 6:30 p.m. Winter isn’t coming, it’s here as far as the light is concerned. The weather, however, is being more lenient. While freezing rain and frosts are settling in further inland the sea breeze is on my side. I still have time.

I’m in Mill Creek, VA. I crossed the Maryland/Virginia state line today. Virginia welcomed me with a pissing rain squall, uncharted fishing stakes and a nearly lost jib halyard. It was fun and miserable at the same time. Forty three miles. Ten hours. Averaging 4.3 knots. Not awful, but not necessarily what this boat should be doing. I could certainly get better at messing with my sail controls but most of the time I’m just trying to stay alive in conditions like todays. Luckily it was downwind but not dead downwind, our slowest point of sail. The wind was right off either corner of my boat’s tush, depending on the gybe.

At this point the weather patterns are pretty simple to understand and there are two options for getting south: ride the boisterous northerlies from the cold fronts, or motor in the calms in between. I chose to ride this round of northerlies and stayed at anchor for a day of zero wind and a day of gross southerlies. I’m glad I chose to do that and sail today even though it wasn’t necessarily enjoyable or “advisable” (there was a small craft advisory all day). But it wasn’t necessarily terrible or unsafe either just…brisk conditions and not for the faint of heart, especially on a little boat.

Once you get used to the motion and the sounds, however, it’s not so bad. It could definitely be a lot worse (which you hope won’t happen), and definitely won’t get any better so you kind of just accept it. At least that’s what I did.

Swells reached the rub rail but didn’t crest. The boat rolled port to starboard. Sometimes the wind would fall out of the sails and then jerk back full of air again. It rained on and off. Lightly at first and then much heavier. The autopilot couldn’t keep up with the weather helm so I was hand steering. For most of the trip I was on a port tack heading just a hair east of dead south with one reef in the main and my working jib until the wind picks up to 25 knots with 30 knot gusts and I am under small head sail alone. I had the current with me and against me half the time. I don’t know if this affected my speed over the water so much as it affected wave heights and steepness which slowed me down excessively. I’d surf down the wave at six knots then wallow in it’s trough at four before doing it again and again and…


  1. On those gusty, temperamental days, the sail configuration I prefer for down wind is a reefed main, pulled tight. I then choose an appropriate sized jib. The main captures the slower, steadier breeze (which maintains ballast and forward momentum) and the jib is there to catch the fluky gusts.

    I’m turning into quite the fair weather sailor. I’m starting my own quote: “Gentlemen only sail down wind”. The most powerful tool I have as a sailor is time. If I have to beat into the wind, I’d rather just stay put and wait for a more favorable breeze.

    Keep on trucking, soul sista.

  2. Huuhhh….? a post from November 2017? Thought you were in Key West!

    Wherever, hope you are havin’ a great time!