Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Fernandina Beach, FL 30º40.388N | 81º28.061W

"I'm good enough. I'm smart enough, and doggonit, people like me!" --Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley (Saturday Night Live)
Okay, today was not my best day. We trade off two-hour shifts at the helm when we're on the ICW. Today, somehow, I got all the "bad" shifts.

First, I was off watch when a big squall marched over us from behind. How is that bad? I took the helm while Chip wrestled with the jib, which we were taking down about 5 minutes too late. The lines got away and twangled all around each other, which required taking the boat out of gear in case we had lines in the water (lines can easily get tangled up in the prop). Fortunately the staysail was flying, and there was plenty of wind to keep us moving, 30 gusting to 35. It was pouring rain.

That's when I realized that in my rush to help above decks, I had left the salon hatch open -- with my laptop open right under it. Chip took the wheel, and I bolted below to close the hatch and assess the damage. The couch was soaked right up to about 6 inches before my laptop. Whew.

By that time, the wind had dropped down into the 20s, so I suited up and went forward to assess the jib sheet (ropes) situation.

I got them secured but not completely unwound. We trekked on, engine now running.

My shift came up, and I looked ahead to see how far we were from the dreaded St. John's River crossing. It's always nerve-wracking, because the current is swift, but now we had wind blowing with the current.

That chart shows the area we had to transit, the red line being our path. You basically skim through gushing water between a shoal and rocks, literally a rock and a hard place.

Of course, the St. John's came right before the end of my shift. Chip heroically offered to take over, but I am Woman, I won't whimper. I was nervous, but I knew I could handle it.

As I approached the river, I could feel the current pick us up. With the motor and staysail, we were going 6.6 kph, which is about 1.6 faster than normal. Then I faced a decision. I knew the wind would be pushing me to starboard (the right) toward the rocks. The current would also be pushing me strongly that way.

I decided to take down the sail.

My thought was this: It would have helped with forward momentum and traction in the water and been a good backup if something happened to the engine. However, first, it would also be pushing me toward the rocks and, second, I knew I would have to turn as much as 40 degrees to port to keep momentum away from the rocks. That would render the sail not only useless but send it flapping, adding stress and distraction at a key moment. I knew I would be tempted to turn off the wind to keep the sail from luffing, essentially taking my eye off the goal.

Was taking it down the right decision? I don't know.

I crept up to the crossing with a dry mouth, hoping it would be easier than anticipated. The wind was a steady 20-25 on the port beam. The current was cranking. I had to point almost upstream, directly into the wind, to keep forward progress without slipping toward the rocks.

I made it. I didn't like it.

The whole day was intense. Squalls, strong wind, crappy conditions. Watches were tense. We dropped anchor in Fernandina, one of our favorite towns, and didn't even go ashore.

It wasn't my best day, but I'm a good person. I'm a happy person, doggonit.

One more 30-mile trek to Brunswick tomorrow, and we are done with the flukey weather!

Your turn. What would you have done approaching the St. John's? Do you think I made the right decision? 


  1. I know what I'll do now . . . give you the wheel and go to the head.

    We had a tornado miss us by 200' feet last week, while the Pride of Baltimore took damage from it, our 200' feet was only good enough to damage my shorts.

  2. I think you did the right thing! I feel it was safer with the sails down at that point! It is better to be safe then sorry!

  3. That's a tough call. We had three boats blown onto the rocks in our marina channel last year and one sank, all because their engines quit and they didn't have the sails up. But to quote my husband, "Better be lucky than good".

    S/V Kintala

  4. I think you made the right choice. That sounded like the safest way to go. Hopefully you'll get some easy watches so you can have a little break. :)

  5. You made it fine, so you didn't make a bad decision.

    With 2 able bodied sailors onboard I would have left it up. It is easy to allow a luffing headsail to distract us and gain our attention because it makes so much noise, but as in aviation - where the number one rule is 'fly the plane', you just have to steel yourself to the the fact that you may have to ignore the flogging headsail for a minute or 2 while driving the boat. I would have rather had it up myself in that situation giving me more options in that tight spot - but being ready and willing for a full luff. All this being based on a 2 crew members. Maybe not if single handing.

    That being said - I could be completely wrong.

  6. The best part of the story is that I was wanting the sail up, but Cara Mia's rule is , the person at the wheel is the captain, so I dutifully,respectfully doused the sail, a great relationship lesson. More dangerous,is two luffing,(arguing) mates in that situation. my name is Chip and I approve this message