Monday, 24 December 2012

A brief winter run north

As part of our journey south we had wanted to call in on Russ and Alison, our great cruising companions in last years jaunt to northern Labrador. They'd become good friends over that summer and we decided to head north (in winter!) to catch up with their refit and plans for next year. The day of departure came with zero wind and thick fog...the duvet beckoned and we went back to bed. The following day, Sunday, came bright and cheerful with a decent southerly wind we began to get ready to leave. This time the engine refused to start and the fault was traced it to a dead starter battery which had, incidentally, started without a problem two days previously. Much to-ing and fro-ing but in the end we had no option but to dip into our rapidly dwindling funds for a starter battery and departure was delayed another day. So Monday Dec 10 saw us underway and heading north with a southerly breeze but with the knowledge that the wind would veer to the north long before we arrived in Annapolis. We sailed through the night, steering by hand as we were too over canvassed for the wind-vane to cope properly(we were trying to get as far north as possible with a favourable wind), but the cold meant we limited steering to 30 minutes at a time and grabbed quick naps when not helming. By 6 the following morning the wind had gone NW and headed us but at least the self steerer could function. We dumped the genny in favour of the working jib and stays'l and beat our way slowly northwards. By mid-day the wind had begun to ease and by 4 we decided to motor the 4 miles toward Soloman and anchor for the night.  A wise choice as the night turned cold but the anchorage was calm and protected. We'd sailed 147 miles to make good a distance 100. The final third (50 miles) we would complete the next day.

Wed 12 Dec. We left around 08:30 and beat our way past Drum Point and entered the narrow part of  Chesapeake Bay. Tack followed tack as we slowly made ground. The speeds were reasonable; 4 to 5 knots but adverse current played havoc with the angles and we sometimes moved forward only 1/2 mile despite having sailed 4 or more miles. The bay was busy with ships and tugs heading north or south, occasionally with yachts, under power, heading south. "Stan" the steerer kept us on track and the crew would appear together on deck only to tack before disappearing below out of the cold. In these circumstances keeping watch meant taking a good look around before ducking below where the oil lamp at least created some warmth. Most of the traffic came up on the AIS, some of the fishing boats didn't but we were far enough away for us not to be involved in their waters. Not so the tugs however. We've never had a problem with these guys before and a radio call on 16 or 13, the working channel, quickly clears up any concerns we or they might have. On this night however one tug wouldn't respond on 13 but did on 16 whilst some hours later the "Chesapeake Coast" ignored calls on either channel. It was a dark night with little light from the moon and we were closing rapidly. We had no intention of standing on but wanted to warn the oncoming tug of our intention....not to be so we simply tacked away and left him to it. He then chose to respond calling Hannah on 13. Seems he heard our call clearly enough to note the vessels name but lacked the manners/seamanship to respond. His waffle included the information that we produced a poor radar image,it was a dark night and we needed to be careful but no indication on why he had chosen to ignore our calls. Somehow came away from this exchange with the feeling that some individuals allow their contempt of people on yachts to transcend their professional calling. We carried on beating our way toward the glow of Annapolis and the succession of anchored ships in the roadstead. The sun came up; by 10 we were approaching Back Creek where Andante was getting a paint job and by 10:30 we were anchored opposite the water tower and ready to sleep. 26 hours and 111 miles of beating to make good 50..... a tough day.

So we've been here a week, helping with some of the refit, spending time with good friends and moved across to Mill Creek with them a few days ago. We had intended to head south today but stiff westerlies and a rain ladened sky persuaded me that tomorrow might be a kinder day. The westerlies are good although we could do without the accompanying 40 knot gusts - it'll be a cold trip for sure.

Monday Dec 24

Mill Creek was a winner! Very well sheltered with banks and tall trees overlooking placid, if a tad, shallow water. A last few days with R&A plus their nephew Will whilst we geared up for the journey back. Friday and Sat. looked to be good with stiff W-NW winds.....gusts between 40 and 50 knots. In the end I opted not to leave Friday as the day promised little sun or something equally as pathetic; in hindsight a mistake. That day the water was very high whereas Sat. gave us about a metre less and this wonderful creek is protected by a bar. We crossed the bar on our inward leg with a scant 25 cm under the keel so we were both somewhat nervous about our exit. Sat. came with gusts whipping across the water and we reefed well before leaving. We'd decided on a reefed mizzen plus stays'l and spitfire jib but motored slowly out of the creek and safely across the bar. Outside the water was far more agitated than it had been inside but we raised sail and took off. By the time we cleared the land the water had become a mass of white although the waves remained less than a metre so conditions were almost perfect, a stiff wind just abaft the beam. The gusts were not, we think, 50 knots, but possibly over 40 knots and at one point we both wondered whether we had made the correct choice in leaving..... but we cracked on, rarely going below 7 knots, sometimes over 8 and Drum Point just 5 miles from where we anchored when heading north was passed seven hours after we slipped our lines. If there was a downside it is only having one reef in the mizzen as Hannah carried a fair bit of weather helm which required a human to steer but the sun shone, most of the water remained in the  sea rather than smashing into the hull and soaking us. We did wonder to each other why we hadn't used the trys'l rather than the mizzen as "Stan" would, no doubt, have steered but as we were comfortable, the boat stable without excessive rolling so we kept on. The forecast called for the wind to ease as we went further south down the Bay and then turn to the SW by evening. In the end the wind began to ease about 5am and became very light, giving speeds around 1-2 knots and then switched to the south. We changed sails, began beating and used the motor to boost speed. The familiar sight of Hampton Roads became visible as we continued, traffic became more frequent but we made it down the river and to our slip that Cary so generously lets us use. A quick call to the Customs and Border to notify them we'd changed anchorages, food, a glass of something and then bed. Result! As Bee would say. 

So another year comes to an end and a further 6500 miles or so sailed, so an average year I guess. Thanks to all the folks we've met, the kindnesses received and the readers who come across these pages. This is, we think, our last year we'll spend exploring the northern latitudes for some time as we go in search of new old friends and cultures. Have a safe and peaceful year ahead.

Lastly......the Newtown shooting of 20 kids and 7 adults has been and continues to be an unbearable experience. The "debate" over here continues; guns are to blame; people are to blame; mental health needs be a much higher priority. Well we're firmly on the side of no guns, which isn't to say that mental health care needs drastically improving but why any person needs a semi-automatic military style weapon for their own use is incomprehensible. Why the gunman's mother insisted on having guns in the house, where an, apparently, mentally ill young man lived, because she could....and the NRA arguing that schools need to have armed guards posted in order to protect.......
If ever "the lunatics have taken over the asylum" tag was deserved by any group of people it must surely be them. Sad, sad times

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