Weathering the Storm
I think that there are a few people on here who have heard me talking about weathering a gale once while at sea. It is an interesting story and it should probably be written down. I had just purchased the Spirit of Liberty in a place on the Bay called Deltaville. My Uncle, who has years before the mast, was going to help me transport the boat home. I had just finished up a week of hard work to prep the boat for the passage and I made sure that all the systems were working well before I cut line. The morning started off very well. The weather was absolutely amazing with a nice wind out of the South East (the wind was at 10 knots). It was ideal conditions for the passage I was making as it was a Beam Reach down the Virginia Side of the Chesapeake Bay to Smith Point. We were making great time and we were far ahead of schedule. The tide was coming in and it was giving us about a 1 knot boost as we headed towards the Potomac River. The wind began to die off as we started to round Smith Point Light House. It then switched and came up out of the North West. This is a very unfavorable direction because the place that we were heading was dead upwind and it would mean tacking back and forth across the wind to get there, thus adding a lot of distance to the trip. At first we had a pleasant wind that was at 10 knots. The waves hadn't built much but the sky had clouded up and it was spitting rain off and on. The wind picked up to 15 knots and I rolled in part of the jib on the roller furling. I hadn't rigged the main for a reef, which was a big mistake, and I didn't have the lines aboard to rig the main for it. Soon the wind built to 20 knots. At that point we had started the diesel engine and rolled up the jib. We had the main sail up to stabilizethe boat. The gusts were touching 25 knots and the waves began to pick up. I noticed that small craft warnings were popping up on the VHF radio. Small craft warnings are for boats under 30 feet and my boat is slightly over 30 feet so I wasn't horribly worried. THe wind built in strength even more and it started blowing at 30 knots sustained and gusting 35-40 knots. The waves built up and they were 6 feet with steep crests because the waves and wind were blowing against the incoming current. Waves began to break over the bow of the boat at times and it was getting to be a rough trip. Finally, the wind hit gale force. I had to go forward in 6 foot seas and drop the main sail onto the boom and lash it down. The wind was howeling through the rigging, spray was flying everywhere, and the decks were being washed down by the waves that were regularlly coming over the bow of the boat. I hung on so tight to the boom while I was lashing down the mainsail because I knew that if I slipped and fell off of the boat I would be lost at sea and never found. What had happened is that we had managed to hit the most tretcherous part of the Chesapeake Bay right at the time a huge front was going through. The waves had gotten to the point where there some 8 foot waves that were breaking on the cabin roof. I kept on thinking that my boat wasn't designed to hold up in these conditions. I have never seen anything like this before and I was terrified. I thought that the boat would be damaged or destroyed. Soon I realized the fight that we were really in and it wasn't a fight to save the boat but a fight to stay alive. If the boat sank we would be tossed in the the frigid waters of the Chesapeake Bay in Mid-April. We would surely die if we went into the water. The other problem with the area that we had gotten stuck in was that there is not a place for 15 miles to go into to duck and run. We were stuck in wide open water with no safe ports. The closest place that we could go was the Coan River and it was 15 nauticle miles up wind. We beat into the storm for 6 hours. Finally we got to the mouth of the Coan River. We went into a safe anchorage inside of the Coan River and got the anchor burried in the mud. We were safe in port but the ordeal still wasn't quite over. During the day my foul weather gear prooved to be faulty and it had leaked. By the time we had gotten into the Coan river I was begining to get Hypothermic. I spent the night drinking warm liquids and huddled up underneath two sleeping bags. The next morning we woke up to find the wind still blowing at 30 knots out of the North West and there was Frost on the deck. This was a substancial artic cold front that we had sailed right into and we weren't prepaired for it. We stayed in the Coan River until late that evening when the winds had abated. We then motored 4 hours in flat water (thank God) to a place called Tall Timbers. The ordeal was over at that point. I had to extend my trip an extra day because we hadn't made it home when we were supposed to. The amazing thing is that my boat had survived this gale without being damaged. We had survived it without getting injured and everything was okay. If I had been more prudent I would have seen the signs that a front was coming. The odd thing is that the forecast just had called for rain and they didn't realize how powerful this front would become. The small craft warnings didn't come up until we were already in harms way. Some people would have tied the boat to the dock when they got home and called a broker and put the boat on the market right away. I will admit that I keep an eye on the weather now a lot harder than I use to and I did take some baby steps before I started going back into sections of wide open water. If I had quite sailing, I would have never seen some of the things that I have photographed. None of those pictures would have been in my photolog here. Life is also like this...Sometimes you don't pay enough attention to realize that a storm is coming. Sometimes you pay attention but you don't know just how bad the storm will be. WHen you are out there and the storm hits you have to dig way deep inside and push through it. When you make it through you will know new things about yourself. The other lesson that can be learned from this is to never quit. Determination and sheer will power will keep you going. One you have weathered the storm and made it into port you will still have some distance to go before the whole ordeal is over. If you do end up quitting when you get home, then you will never know what you may have missed. Dig way deep inside, bite down, and keep pushing into the maelstrom because you will make it through.