Friday, May 3, 2013

Calendars, Schedules, Plans and Boats

In a perfect world, most cruisers would never make plans, never live by a schedule. Not to be care-free (though that is fun too), but rather a recognition that too many factors can and do disrupt plans and ruin schedules.

This week, our friend Bob planned to head north on Tuesday, the last day of the month. Bob is a mountain lake sailor from Colorado who travels with his white Schnoodle, Sweeney, on his ComPac 27, S/V Pooka. As all cruisers do, he fretted over weather forecasts in the weeks leading to his scheduled departure. The forecasts the past few weeks have been worse than usual. Not bad weather, just not even accurate for a quick twenty-four hours, not good in the evening for the following morning, just a wide open wild ass guess with less certainty than the flip of a coin or the tossing of I Ching yarrow stalks.

Bob's principal requirement was wind out of any but the northern quadrant. He did not want to beat for an entire day into headwinds and whitecaps with his little 12 hp diesel. Over the weekend leading up to his intended Tuesday, the weather looked accommodating with northern quadrant winds (which we had had for days) breaking in a brief window from the southeast on Tuesday before roaring out of the northeast again for several days after. Privately, I thought "No one gets that lucky." And Monday arrived with the forecast for Tuesday unchanged, favorable.

Tuesday morning, wind and river were calm. Had Bob left "on time," he would have been miles away and mid-river when the fog dropped over us. With GPS, he would have known where he was and how he should get there, but without radar, he would not see the daily phosphate barge until he was looking up at its blunt, black bow a moment before collision.

Luckily, a few unexpected factors delayed Bob, not least of which was a sudden change in the forecast wind; it would blow out of the northeast at 10-15. "Buggers!", he might have said when he abandoned his departure for at least a week while waiting for next weather window, but I was not there. I was driving a crew from an Island Packet 45 to the airport in New Bern; the owner and volunteer crew had spent ten days motoring the ICW after planning to shoot offshore from Vero Beach to New York; their desired southwest winds never arrived.

By noon Tuesday, skies were blue and sunny, the breeze out of the northeast but less than 10 knots. As suddenly as the weather had changed, Bob reconsidered and left. With a nervous smile, he motored out of the marina and into the river, the beginning of his saltwater summer voyage around the Chesapeake. We look forward to his stories.

Three days later, dawn on a partly cloudy day with continuing northeast winds forecast to increase to 15-25. Before morning ended, winds were 25-30 with gusts to 40. Rolling breakers all the way across the river as well as our entry channel. How should a mariner spend such a day? Mid-morning, Bill (S/V LZ Sea Dogs) and his son William and a couple of William's friends ventured across the river on their way to Beaufort for Bill's birthday weekend. Other than a frisky hop like that, my suggestion would be to curl up with a cup of hot tea and a well-written book.

But this is the season for moving boats back north after winter in the islands (or at least Florida), and Friday is part of the weekend. Therefore, with fingers in the eyes of the wind and wave gods, boats paraded northward, bows crashing endlessly into four foot breaking chop, exploding in clouds of spray. Small sailboats beat for an hour to gain a mile, masts arcing through 45 to 60 degrees like silent metronomes marking the river's rhythm. Large powerboats -- likely with paid crew and no owner aboard -- slam and jam their equipment as they speed recklessly into the seas, possibly because the owner agreed to pay for a maximum number of days with no allowance for weather. Think clenched jaws and compressed vertabrae.

Many boats left from Beaufort or Morehead City before the winds ripped apart Newport River. Hours later, as they emerged from the protected waters of Adams and Core Creeks, they may have been shocked to see the cataclysm ahead of them. The Neuse River, the widest in the US, torn by howling winds and breaking waves, creating miles of chaos and tumult from the direction the boats are headed.

It is a sporty day for a fast and wild sail under reefed main and storm jib. It is a perfect day for kite-sailing. It is a lousy day for equipment failure that casts a powerless boat to drift and roll, a nauseating surge from side to side while rocking up and plunging down, banshees in the rigging and land a far, unreachable shore.

Yep, racing adventures aside, a good day for a book.


  1. Ah, yes, bashing north on the Neuse. We've done it once and never will again. Too shallow and too narrow, changing in a minute. I'll take a good book in the cockpit anyday.

    1. A wise and experienced mariner...
      Happy derby day.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.