Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Evening sail on the Chesapeake Bay (8/22/2015)

We had a great and interesting evening of sailing this past Saturday.  We took our daughter and significant other sailing in the area where the York River enters the lower Chesapeake Bay.  We had a couple of firsts and it was an interesting time.  Sara, our daughter’s girlfriend had never sailed in her life, so that was a first.  The week before there were reports in the newspaper about major algae blooms causing gorgeous bioluminescent events on the river.  The photographs in the newspaper were spectacular.  We had seen the same thing during the meteor shower when my wife and I walked along the York in the evening and aquamarine waves were crashing into the shore that night and we hoped we could replicate something similar for our guests. 

So we decided to make it an evening sail in the hope the algae were still going strong.  We made chicken-humus-spinach-sprout wraps for dinner and armed with some snacks and drinks we set sail at around 5 pm.  The wind was from the north at 10 to 12 knots.

Well, 10 to 12 knots does not sound too much, but coming from the north is fun sailing especially in the southern Bay.  Typically waves are the highest when the wind is from the north and northeast.  With wind from that direction, the waves do not encounter land for a long stretch and are able to build (this is also known as fetch); and even with just 10 knot wind the waves can easily build to 2 feet in height.  Maybe no big deal, but especially when it is dark you cannot see the few extra-large wave that sneak in from time to time; both my wife and Sara were surprised one of them and got thrown around and were slightly hurt and definitively shaken up.

But let’s start with the beginning.  We started out with a somewhat bad omen.  The head sail (jib) went up great, and when it came to raising the main, I had forgotten to connect the halyard to the main.  So I had to get on the cabin to connect the halyard.  A little screw up, no big deal.  Somehow, the main did not want to go up all the way, whatever I tried.  It was stuck, this dummy did not put on his sailing gloves and I am still bothered by a blister on my finger from trying to pull the main up.  Oh well, it might not have looked that pretty, but the boat sailed and I was not going to let it ruin our evening.  I just lowered the boom a bit and it worked.  Next problem, I was not able to pivot the outboard out of the water, oh well again, in hindsight, even with our little sea anchor we still averaged 4.5 knots over the ground that evening.

We were flying, but boy it shows that, now I have all the windows in, I need to pressure wash the boat.  Also the headsail is a little dirty, but there is little I can do about that, I understand.

About hour into our sail, “BANG”, and the boom flies down wind.  The shackle that holds the mainsheet block attached to the boom snapped.  What to do?  Start the motor.  Time to take the vang apart, and use the block and the shackle from the vang.  So while the crew holding on to the boom, I tried to get everything rigged up.  Here comes one of those larger waves and the pin goes overboard.  So let’s try the other end of the vang.  I am able to get that one installed without any additional incidents and we are off sailing again.

After the repair.  The admiral and me with the new block and shackle from the vang.

In the meantime the sky is getting absolutely gorgeous.  We are all clicking away, cell phones, go-pros, Olympus T-3, you name it.  After having dinner it was getting dark and it was time to get the lights up.  We still do not have electricity on out boat, so I bought a set of battery operated navigation lights.  Somehow I had not put them up before we left, so I gave the helm to my wife and crawled up front (without life preserver and two to three foot seas) to put the thing up.  Well, a screw came lose.  Miraculously, I was able to catch it but I needed to crawl back to get a screw driver and fasten it again.  Then crawl back to the front and attach it.  Finally back in the cockpit I checked the GPS for our position and had the shock of my life.  Because of all the time it had taken me to get the navigation lights up on the bow, we had gone too far and actually crossed an area that we usually would avoid at all cost.  The area we crossed has a sand bar with a depth of 4 to 6 feet and our boat draws 4 feet and having no electricity we have no depth finder.  Thanks goodness it was mid-tide, but with two foot seas, we could have hit bottom at the bottom of the waves.  With me up on the bow, trying to attach navigation lights, that would have been very interesting.  Nothing happened, but we learned an important lesson: situational awareness; make sure you know where you are and that you need to have enough wiggle room just in case you need it especially when working on something!

The sun is about to set in the west.

A nice head wind, waiting for darkness and the algae glow.


The rest of the evening went great!  After it got completely dark the light show started.  The sail was absolutely spectacular.  Black seas with aquamarine streaks (the crest of the waves), and an aquamarine wake from the boat sometimes bright enough you could read a newspaper by.  Unbelievable.

The algae that are causing the bloom are Alexandrium monilatum.  The algae is somewhat toxic; not horribly toxic to humans, but this species does appear to be toxic to young fish, young oysters and young crab.  Older ones seem to be able to withstand it.  While the bioluminescence is a sight to behold, it is also an indication of too much pollution in the water.  The algae bloom are caused by the pollutants we generate on land and that runs off in our stormwater, in particular phosphorus and nitrogen in animal waste and fertilizer.  An interesting juxtaposition, my hobby (sailing) and my profession (sttormwater education), all together.