After cruising full-time for fourteen months now, I’m getting frustrated by the fact that I still get so nervous when conditions get “sporty.”
Since leaving Annapolis we’ve been trying to high-tail it south so we can stay warmer than we were last year. The last few weeks have shown me how much better we’ve become in some ways (like picking good anchorages for boisterous weather), and how far I still have to go with others (like embracing the sailing conditions that are created by said boisterous weather).
An example of getting better at picking good anchorages would be our stop in Mill Creek across from Reedville, VA to wait out a few days of near gale-force winds. We rode out some weather in Mill Creek last fall so we knew it would be a good hidey-hole. But this time we used our knowledge that we had gained from our friends Jay and Tanya on S/V Minx, combined with our experiences over the past fourteen months, to find a particularly well-protected spot.
With winds predicted to turn clockwise from south to north, we found an area with many tall trees blocking the wind from the south, west, and north, and tucked ourselves close to the land on the southwest side of the creek. There was barely a ripple on the water for the duration of the weather system and we were incredibly comfortable.
That comfort changed when we decided to leave Mill Creek as soon as the small craft advisory was lifted at 1:00 p.m. Our friends on S/V Duchess once referred to a particular sail they had as a “cheese and crackers” sail. I have no problem admitting that I am a cheese and crackers sailor. Give me 10-14 knots of wind and I am a happy camper. Before we started cruising I didn’t like much over 12 knots, and now I’m comfortable up to around 18 knots. But beyond that? Not so much.
So what did we get when we left Mill Creek? Well, we ended up surfing down the Chesapeake with following seas, downwind at 20 knots apparent wind (which means it was actually blowing 25+). I was NOT happy.
We had a similar experience leaving Belhaven, NC. The forecast was for 10-15 knots but we ended up with wind in the high-teens/lower 20’s as we crossed the Pamlico Sound and went down the Neuse River. We bashed into waves that were much too close together for a comfortable ride until we turned into the Neuse, putting the wind more behind our beam and surfing those same waves. Occasionally a wave would hit on the rear quarter throwing Pegu Club off to the side before she straightened out. Again, I was NOT happy.
But why? Why the angst? Why am I so tense in those conditions, internally willing the wind with all of my might to settle down (never mind that the wind isn’t listening to my silent plea)?
Is it that I don’t trust Pegu Club? She’s proven herself to be a sturdy vessel, not just for us but for others who have taken their 29.9’s much farther than we have ventured.
Is it that I don’t trust my own skills? Perhaps, but I really should. While a sailor never stops learning, clearly I can sail our boat in a variety of conditions.
Is it that I’m permanently scarred from our awful trip down the Jersey coast last fall, so that in the back of my mind I’m worried it’s going to get worse? That’s Jeff’s theory, and I am not ashamed to say that I was scared shitless for the first 80 miles of that trip.
But the fact is that the boat is always fine. We’re always fine. We always make it to our destination – even when that destination changes on the fly based on what we are experiencing. Keep in mind that it’s not like we deliberately go out when the forecast is calling for 20+ knots of wind, but sometimes the weatherman is wrong (shocking, I know) and that’s what we get. Maybe we should go out in 20+ knots on purpose, but limit it to an hour or two before heading back in. Perhaps I just simply need to become desensitized to it.
Clearly it’s a mental issue. I think a huge part of it is that the water doesn’t look friendly up here. It’s chilly and it’s dark. When we had almost identical conditions in the Bahamas I relaxed much more quickly. The water was light blue and warm, and we were in t-shirts and shorts. As Jeff jokingly put it when Pegu Club was surfing between the Exumas and Eleuthera, “The water doesn’t look like you’re going to die if you go in.” Of course we know that we can. But it doesn’t look like it, and I do think that makes a difference.
So why do I care? Why do I want to get more comfortable in heavier weather? A big reason is because I want to have more fun and less angst when those conditions crop up. We’ve also tossed around the idea of sailing to more far-flung destinations, but that doesn’t seem like the smartest idea unless I can become less tense in high winds
Maybe it’s asking too much to be comfortable in 20+ knots in a sailboat that’s just under 30 feet and weighs 8,650 pounds. Maybe it would be different in a heavier boat. But we’re not going to get a bigger boat, so I need to play the cards that are dealt.
My friend Chuck sent me this image last fall when we ran away from a front on Long Island Sound. I’d really like to be more like her – I guess I’ll just have to keep plugging away at it: