After a short but pleasant stay in New York City, we headed out toward the Delaware Bay for our first overnight sail. It had been blustery all day, with moderate seas, and we made about 7 knots. But the winds and seas picked up that afternoon, and gradually pushed us farther from the coast. The motion of the boat became rougher and increasing amounts of spray hit the deck.
Just as the sun was setting, we decided to put a reef in the main. Reefing is reducing the size of the sail, typically in response to high wind. Historically, we have not done much reefing, even when we really should have. For instance, when we were in gale/hurricane-force winds out in the open ocean we didn’t reef. And after the six of us reefed the main in heavily rolling seas, high winds, bombarded by spray on all sides, I understand why we generally don’t do it. It’s a huge pain in the ass, not to mention moderately dangerous. However, my dad had recently finished redoing the reefing system to make it easier, and this was an opportunity to try it out.
All the while the sails, the main included, were flapping thunderously, as we had to spill the wind from the sails and point into the wind in order to do our work. We lowered the main and tied off the dozens of little ropes, called reef points, around the boom. The boom is quite aptly named, as it’s constantly crashing back and forth as you’re trying to hold onto it and do your work. The rear part of the boom extends beyond the stern of the boat, out over the water. My dad did that part.
But it was a good thing we went through all that trouble, because if we hadn’t the force on the sails wouldn’t have been balanced, and it would have been too much for the autopilot to handle. And that would have meant someone would have had to steer. All. Night. Long.
Before it got really rough, Isaac and I briefly attempted to take a nap in our cabin. Each time we hit a wave, we’d lift off our bunks as we crested the wave and come falling down onto our thin foam mattresses as we plunged into the trough. The motion didn’t bother me as far as seasickness is concerned, but it was still very unpleasant, and sleeping down there was virtually impossible.
After dusk, when the ability to sight the horizon had disappeared, a few members of the crew started feeling ill. Scott started to feel a bit nauseous, and wisely took some Dramamine throughout the remainder of the passage and was fine. Isaac foolishly went back down to try to sleep in our cabin again, which was pitching even more violently, and was subsequently very seasick for the rest of the passage.
When Isaac was violently ill and in need of medication, water, and other things I had to do laps from the wheelhouse to the main saloon. While this distance is only maybe 20 feet, going back and forth on pitching vessel is incredibly taxing. Every muscle of your body is engaged in keeping you upright and stable when the boat and seas are doing their best to knock you over. The motion down below in these conditions is typically too severe for any significant stay. But I could accomplish several tasks with only the faintest twinge of nausea. But after about five laps from wheelhouse to galley I wasn’t nauseous, but I was exhausted.
The 10 foot seas were hardly the largest my family has ever encountered, but because they were spaced so closely together the bow was constantly plunging into the surf, and we were taking a lot of green water over the bow. Every so often we would be hit with a wave from the side, sending water in through the slits between the wheel house and its back cover, soaking the cushions we needed to sit on.
Deck leaks are a constant battle for all boat owners, and for wooden boats especially. We’ve been successful in addressing several, but as we try to fix one, another seems to crop up. The most disruptive ones are over our bunks, and there is at least one over every bunk. While our bunks were among the most dry, Isaac and I were without a useable cabin due to the constant crashing of the bow.
Isaac and I were on separate watches, so that a “captain” was present for each watch. My mom, dad, and brother have all passed their captain’s license tests. So I was paired with my mom, Isaac with my dad, and Scott and Molly got to stick together.
We had made the wheel house into a big bed, thinking we’d be able to nap a bit in there, but the boat was at such a slant it wasn’t possible to lay down comfortably, and it was quite moist on top of that. And Isaac was so horribly seasick that when he wasn’t in the head he was taking up half the wheelhouse trying to sleep it off. He was also pretty much useless for keeping watch, so it was probably for the best he was paired with dad instead of me.
When I was off watch I was allowed to sleep with mom in her cabin on their double bunk. But due to the heeling and deck leaks I spent the whole time trying to avoid wet spots and from rolling into my mom. And it was just as well I had to sleep in my clothes. It was too cold for proper pajamas anyway.
Three hours later, I was kicked out of bed to make space for dad, who’d just got off watch. I was allowed to sleep in Scott’s cabin, who was just beginning his watch. Although Scott’s bunk was comparatively more comfortable and dryer—and lacked another person to avoid disturbing, sleep still eluded me. It was not until after my second watch, at around 6 am that I finally got a few hours sleep. Mom had decided to stay up on watch with dad, so I had their bunk to myself.
And finally, dawn came. The seas calmed, and we sighted land. We made it to the Delaware Bay. We anchored behind the breakwater of the aptly named Harbor of Refuge. The sun was shining, and we all pulled our sheets off our bunks—which varied from slightly damp to soaking wet. We cooked a meal and scarfed it down. And we slept. We were all ready for bed before it was even dark out.
The next day, we continued up the Delaware Bay and just outside the entrance of the C&D (Chesapeake and Delaware) Canal. It was Isaac’s birthday. I made his traditional birthday cookie cake, and Scott made a special treat to go with it. When we were last at Trader Joe’s I’d found a box of shelf-stable whipping cream for a special occasion such as this. I’d even purchased a whisk to whip it with. But, after about 5 minutes of whipping by hand, we realized this was not going to work. Scott jokingly suggested we use the electric drill. After chuckling about the idea for a minute, we figured why not! So Scott brought out the huge cordless drill and duct taped the whisk to it. And wouldn’t you know, it worked like a charm. We could have made the cream into butter with that thing.
Bright and early the next morning we set off for the C&D canal. We were up before sunrise yet again. It seemed that every morning for about the past week we were up and under way before sunrise. I think I’ve seen more sunrises in the past few weeks than in the past few years. I’m starting to get sick of them.
When we entered the narrow passageway, the sun hadn’t even thought about coming up yet. Lines of runway-style lights dotted the shores on both sides of the canal, guiding our passage. We had gotten up at such an ungodly hour to time our passage through the canal to align with the tide, so the current would help propel us though. That didn’t work out. The water was like a sheet of satin, just a few wrinkles here and there. The ripples from our wake reflected the red, orange, and gold streaks of the now-rising sun to dramatic effect. There was a sense of peace and stillness about us. Few other boats passed, there were few buildings and little activity ashore, and almost no motion about the water. The very air about us was still asleep. Herons took flight along the shore, their long legs dangling awkwardly as they gained altitude. A few hours later, while the sun was high in the sky, we finally made it to the Chesapeake Bay.