Thursday, October 14, 2010

Continuing Education: The Budget Committee Gets Pooped

Written on October 14, 2010
Hampton, VA

So I have to begin by telling you that we've broken out the booze and are having a ball. The past two weeks, although silent on the publishing end, have been unbelievable.  Are we pumped or what.

We have learned more about heavy weather sailing in the last 3 weeks than we have in the last 10 years.  More importantly we have been tested, and to date, not found wanting.

A day in New Bedford was very pleasant.  The three days following, sitting aboard in Bedford in horrid weather were less so.  When the weather finally cleared on October 1 it was time to move.  Plan was to sail the length of Long Island Sound and put in at Port Washington, New York at the very south end of that island.

Port Washington, we were told by friends Peter and Heather of Yarmouth, offered two free nights on a mooring ball.    The trip was about 135 nm - a good overnight trip.

We had no idea.  Which isn't to say we were clueless but you might have thought so.

Entering Buzzards Bay out of New Bedford we were pleased to find conditions were as forecast.  We settled in for a lovely day's sailing.

That's how it works right?

As the sun traced its flaccid early autumn arc through the sky winds, nicely off our stern through the morning, moved westward as though tended by a solar shepherd.  That put the late day winds off our bow and on went the diesel late afternoon as poor Meredith struggled with wind 30 degrees off the bow. As we were to learn it was not her upwind sailing ability that mattered.

As dark set the dogs of wind were let out.  They started to build at dark and then, politely, they moved to our stern.  They did not, however, stop building until they reached an apparent wind of 28 knots (28 to 32) with gusts to 35.
We made very good time.  With 3 reefs in the main and no headsail out we were travelling at 8.5 to 9 knots continuous.  I always figured our maximum hull speed was about 7.5 knots (our length at the waterline is 29.5 feet.  Max hull speed in knots is a bit more than the square root of that length times 1.34 producing 7.3 for our Meredith).  We were hastened along by waves from the stern giving us a good push forward with each cycle.

Usually waves are just water moving up and down - not forward and back.  When there is not enough water depth to support the wave it can "break" or fall forward making those rolling breaking waves so beloved of the surfing set.  When the waves are breaking or just about breaking you want to be very careful.  More careful than were we.

Our waves were a bit higher than the freeboard of our boat but we rose with each wave and the wave passed beneath us harmlessly.  So it continued through the night until we got to the "Middle Ground" an area of shallowing in Long Island Sound populated by large rocks high enough in elevation to be called islands.

Still doing 9 knots sightless in the all encompassing gloom and raging wind and rain we made our way through the middle ground. it was just after 3 a.m. and time for a shift change.  In the galley the Budget Committee, scheduled for the next watch, made wakeup cuppa before settling in in the cockpit.

Then it happened.  We were pooped.  Sitting in the cockpit in my full foul weather gear I watched as a monstrous wave closed on our stern at high speed.  The wave was a good ten to twelve feet higher than any of its neighbours - and it was breaking. There was no time to do anything.

When it reached Meredith our stern remained where it was; we did not rise into the breaking crest of the errant wave.   The wave reached and then passed Meredith.  Except that it broke over the cockpit - a current of water just envelopes you.  You are dry one minute and swimming the next.

I moved to adjust the helm hoping to find a point of sail that would avoid a repeat.  I found myself in the cockpit surrounded by warm comforting fluids and waited for things to drain.

But the poor Budget Committee.  She was preparing her tea in anticipation of taking a shift at the helm.  She had not yet donned her foul weather gear - that nice warm waterproof gear.  Standing in the galley in her woolies she was met by aflood of seawater forcing its way through the companionway.  Hundreds of gallons of water hit her with no warning no pity.

She took it square on.

So did the galley.  After things settled down poor BC found her teacup full to overflowing with tea coloured salt water.  The fridge was full of warm salt water.  Every cupboard and drawer, every pot and pan was full of salt water: green, slimy, mucky seawater.  The quarterberth had been immersed.  All our bedding was soaked. We are still removing salt stains from the woodwork in the main salon.  

But the BC, standing at the bottom of the companionway stairs making her tea took the full hit -  a hip check from Neptune.

She's still standing.  And I want tickets for the rematch.

 Followup Notes:

In Hampton VA we met Bill and Jeanie aboard .   This quiet and eminently likeable couple found themselves sailing on the same night we were pooped.  They, however, were sailing outside Long Island on the ocean.  Waves for them were much higher.  They found their dinghy, hung on davits, immersed in the ocean when they would ride through the waves.  They too were pooped and it filled the dinghy.  These two had an interesting night.  Both of us relied on a rock solid forecast that contained none of the elements we encountered.

We (I, since I was on duty) should have anticipated the potential for an errant wave, especially as we were sailing into shallower water with big rocks.  The rocks act a bit as a backboard in tennis - the waves can bounce off and as they reverse direction can double the height of the wave.

We should have had our companionway boards in place the entire night.  We will not make that mistake again.

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