Saturday, June 08, 2013

A Long Day

[Kyle]Awakening for a few minutes in the middle of the night at Vinalhaven, I decided to have another look at the forecast for our next leg. The east winds part was pretty much the same, but the Tropical Storm part was arriving early and looking more concerning. Storm warnings and small craft advisories were starting to fly. Our next day’s planned anchorage would have little protection from the predicted storm winds and no good nearby alternatives. We needed to get as far as possible in the hopes of making our third stop in one go. I never fell asleep after that. I had poor Maryanne up early so we could make the most of the daylight. We pulled up the anchor at 04:35.

The big east winds that were forecast overnight never did materialize. I was gratified to hear our wind generator start up as I was still in bed fretting over the forecast, but by the time we left, the wind was gone again. The forecast was for the wind to slowly build all day, so I was sure we would find it soon.

We motored most of the way through the Fox Island Thorofare, raised the sails and shut down the engines. For a few minutes, we had a decent wind as it funnelled through the thorofare. Once we were into Penobscot Bay, the shadow of Vinalhaven killed what wind we had. We spent the next three hours thinking a single knot was fast.

It wasn’t until we were way on the other side of Penobscot Bay at Two Bush Channel hours later, that the wind reached half of the forecast. We were then able to start moving fast enough to have hope of making it anywhere by dark. I was just starting to enjoy myself when we snagged a lobster pot while trying to avoid another. We sailed forward, we sailed backward, and we hove-to so that Begonia slipped sideways in both directions, but the pot would not come free. We didn’t dare start an engine for fear of fouling a prop. We were slightly fortunate that the current was taking us away from the danger of the immediate nearby rocks. This allowed us the luxury of concentrating both of our efforts on the problem without worrying about hitting anything. It took a while, but with us both hanging over the side and nearly bending our good boathook, we got free of the damn thing. I was getting nervous about our timeline for the day. That delay was not one we could absorb. We pressed on and kept hoping for the predicted wind increase.

The wind kept being frustratingly too light for most of the morning. I was starting to think we would have no choice, but to anchor at our originally planned stop – the one with poor protection – and leave again at first light in the storm before it got too bad. Even though it was currently overcast and drizzly, the wind conditions would have been perfect for using the spinnaker. We were worried about dealing with the ol’ Sail of Death if the wind did suddenly arrive in a hurry, as it was supposed to, so we left it below, stowed in it’s bag.

By afternoon, the wind was supposed to have been in the teens for hours, but we still had just barely six knots on occasion. Our progress would have been slow, but tolerable, if we were doing a more normal twenty-mile day, but we needed to get sixty. Sixty nautical miles would have been a piece of cake in good tailwinds, but so far we were only about a third of the way. Maryanne was the first to revisit the spinnaker idea. I rejected it the first couple of times, worrying about the mad dash that may be required to douse it in too-strong winds. Eventually, the lack of wind became too much and we agreed to give it a try, provided we weren’t complacent about any wind increase we got.

It was great! As soon as the spinnaker filled, our speed shot up until our boat speed through the water was twice the apparent wind speed. This sounds like magic, but it’s not. Two knots of wind in the spinnaker produces enough force to overcome the drag of the boat through the water at four knots. The true wind was six knots from behind us. We were going at four, leaving the last two flowing into the spinnaker to drive the boat. Suddenly, with our new speed, it again became just possible that we could make it the whole sixty miles before dark.

After that, the wind did finally begin to pick up very gradually until we were up to nine knots through the water. The true wind was nearing fifteen, which starts to push into the scary range. In the event we needed to turn across the wind (to avoid a pot, for example), the full fifteen knots would make that spinnaker a real bear to wrestle down. In spite of the fact that we loved our new speed, we decided the most prudent thing to do would be to bring it down.

Despite the EARLY start, delayed winds had us using the spinnaker to make our goal for the day

It wasn’t bad at all. The whole thing went like clockwork. Maryanne steered Begonia dead downwind, then she let out the spinnaker sheet so the spinnaker would move into the lee of the mainsail when the sheet was released. I was forward. As soon as the spinnaker started to collapse, I pulled the sock down over it and it was safely doused. The whole thing took maybe ten seconds. Once we got the spinnaker stowed away fully, we unrolled the jib to replace it. In the building winds, we were back up to speed within thirty minutes.

The leading edge of the storm arrived in earnest. It was rapidly becoming one of those experiences where, if anybody could have seen us, they would certainly have been wondering what we were doing out there and if we were okay. We were fine, although we were getting eager to be done for the day. By the time we rounded our last headland and started in from sea to shelter, we had reefed down both the main and the jib for the upwind leg. The rain was continuous and heavy by then and the visibility was falling, making it hard to spot pots as we tacked our way up the ironically named New Meadows River.

We started the engines and pulled out of the river into the very narrow channel leading to a place called simply, “The Basin”. The howling wind was now completely blocked by tall trees on high ground, although the rain continued to splatter and run in streams off everything. Once safely through the channel inside the well-protected basin, we managed to get the anchor down and the deck tidied up before it got dark. We had made it, barely. We then stripped off our wet foul weather gear, left them to dry in the cockpit and retreated to the warm safety of the cabin, where we listened in amazement as the rain pelted the cabin top in irregular waves of white noise through the rest of the night.

No comments: