Saturday, October 31, 2009

Silly Kids, Exhilaration and Hair Cuts

Albemarle Sound, South of Elizabeth City
October 29, 2009

After an unintended 3 day stay in Elizabeth City, it was time to go. Crew were awake half an hour before sunrise. The Beta, our diesel, was warmed, nav lights lighted and our lines cast off within 10 minutes of the Sun reaching an elevation sufficient to light the crab pots that litter the departure channel out of EC.

Even with this preparation we were the third boat off the dock. Apparently everyone was anxious, not to say desperate, to leave. Eastward we sailed into the bloodshot quickening dawn.

Wind was up even as we left the dock and our sails were set forthwith. Within 10 minutes of leaving the dock we were making 6.5 knots under sail alone. We ran the Beta to feed the batteries.

The first sip of the freshly made coffee from Connie was just tickling my nose and palate when we ran int0 the bloody crabpots.

It is an unwritten law of the sea that the only specimens of aqueous species worthy of being caught inhabit the waters of the CENTRE OF THE CHANNEL. Why are the crabpots always in the middle of the channel?

I quoted my dear departed mother: "Damn bugger shit piss hell".

Evasive manoeuvers are usually called for when you enter a field of crabpots but today Meredith did not need her diesel. We had our sails up. With the Beta slipped into neutral we could forget about catching our prop and sail through those suckers with nary a thought. Well, we did share the occasional thought about how tasty it would be if the keel did accidentally snare a pot full of large crabs for dinner tonight.

The wind continued to build strongly as we left the southern approach to to EC and entered the wide bodied Pasquotank River. Wind was oscillating from North to North East at a brisk 15G25 by the time we entered the river proper.

It was a lovely sail. A lovely sail.

Entering Albemarle Sound it occurred to us that we could sail this body of water too. Formerly the Albermarle had been too snarly or too calm to attempt with sails up except for stability.

It would be a glorious day if we could master the Albemarle under sail. Both crew were game.

The only problem was the consistency of the wind. And the following sea.

OK. The only two problems were the wind and waves. A 4 to 5 foot following sea just off the port quarter made helming an interesting job. The autopilot was not overwhelmed but neither was it very good at maximizing the boat heading for best speed given the wind.

At the wheel I felt like the epitomized "workman" from Fritz Lang's Metropolis - chained to a wheel requiring Promethean endurance and frequent adjustment.

Initial winds were so strong and gusty we put a double reef in the main. Still Meredith maintained a decent 6.8 knots. It was all that fancy work on the wheel.

Ahh but the fickle wind faded.

A reef was shaken out. Then the second reef was shaken out.

As the wind built a double reef was put back in.

The rule on Meredith is that we reef when the boat heels more than 15 degrees. I am allowed to shake out a reef when the boat velocity is below 4 knots unless the first rule would be violated.

I like to shake out reefs to go faster. The Budget Committee insists that reefs go in at 15 degrees of heel. Insistence trumps liking.

Reefing and unreefing was a near full time job.

Connie took over on the helm and we were both employed full time. Occasionally we would swith jobs and Connie would start the incessant trimming necessary to keep us in motion at peak speed on a level keel. Take it in, let it out, bend it on, drop it.

Each time I went to the mast to put in or shake out a reef my lips would quiver as I recited to myself my mnemonic:

Two Silly Kids Having Their Hair Cut.

Topping lift - Snug up the topping lift
Sheet - Ease the MainSheet
Kicking Strap- Ease the Kicking Strap (the Boom Vang)
Halyard - Ease the Halyard
Tack- Secure the mainsail at the reefing point Tack
Halyard - Snug up the Halyard
Clew - Tighten the Clew

Like most good ideas this one came from someone else, in this case Tom Cunliffe. He's British and they use the term Kicking Strap instead of Boom Vang.

All the hard work paid off and we sailed the Albemarle in style.

Then we sailed into the Alligator River and made another 20 miles with no diesel power, save only for the brief period as we approached the Alligator River bridge - It is too low to sail under and it is hard to stop a sailboat with sails flying and the wind behind her.

It was a glorious day, a glorious day.

We were third boat into the anchorage which filled with an amazing array of vessels we had met in earlier sailing: Oneday, Witchcraft, Kinvara, Mystic, Navigator, Second Wind and more.

A full 12 hours of sailing, rest among friends and fresh orange juice for the rum (Oh yes, I forgot about the fresh orange juice - another time but you should have been there).

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