Today started off simple enough, raise the anchor, raise the sails, away we go! We anchored in the lee of the land last night with full exposure to the East. Our plan was to ride the land breeze away from shore in the morning and be blown right out into the bay.
Come the morning, there was a gentle breeze that was blowing the boat away from shore which put us on a run as soon as the anchor came up. I started sailing under just the staysail (Stanley) and slowly put the main (Marge) up. Marge kept hooking her battens on the lazy jacks and the aft lowers, then the checkstays as she went up. Since I was alone on deck (Maddie was still sleeping), this meant many trips between the helm and the mast to correct our course and avoid a jibe while working the battens free. Eventually Marge was fully raised and set and we began sailing clear of the markers at the entrance to Herring Bay.
Once out in the open waters of the Chesapeake Bay, I raised our jib, Josh, and we began powering along under full sail! The winds were light but we were making our way towards the Eastern Shore.
It was a gorgeous day, with steady light winds and clouds slowly building in the distance. I knew that the weather later on was going to turn, so I made sure to keep an eye on the sky as the day progressed. If I saw a storm developing, I would quickly reef the sails and prepare to ride out the storm hove to.
Clouds started to fill the sky, coming in from the North West, starting off as thin clouds which slowly grew thicker and heavier. It was a very gradual process without much change in wind speed or direction which made be think this was a warm front (low pressure) approaching. Warm fronts usually come from the South East (in the Northern Hemisphere), which was the opposite direction of approach of this storm. As they approach, wind will gradually pick up speed as it draws you into the storm.
Cold fronts usually come from the North West, approaching with very thin and wispy "mares tails" cirrus clouds, followed by a massive thick shelf cloud that marks the border of the front. Cold fronts (high pressure) will have little change in wind as they approach, then the wind will stop, and then blast you with cold air that comes at you with full furry! The strong wind in a cold front will blow away from the storm, whereas a warm front will blow into the storm.
We watched the clouds slowly get thicker and thicker throughout the day as we headed towards the Southern tip of Sharp Island to work our way into the Choptank River. There is a very long and pronounced shoal extending South of Tilghman Island and I didn't want to risk getting stuck because we tried to cut a few miles off our journey. Maddie and I both decided that we didn't want to get stuck on a shoal, so we set about the long way where the water was plenty deep and expansive.
As we entered the Choptank River, the clouds became very dark and we began deciding which sail setup to use when my grandmother called us (Verizon Wireless has great signal in the bay!) to tell us about a severe thunderstorm that was approaching. This made me take my eyes off the sky and onto my phone, where I pulled up the local radar (RadarNow) to see how severe this storm would be. This mammoth storm stretched from Kentucky to New York and was a solid red glob, slowly approaching with tons of wind and rain! With this new information, we both decided to setup the trysail and reefed staysail as we awaited the storms approach.
We turned on our masthead tricolor light, set up our trysail and reefed the staysail in preparation for a very severe storm! The first wave of the storm hit with 40 knot winds for an hour, then a small break of 15 knot winds, followed by a second wave of 40 knot winds. These storms gave us a chance to test out various storm sail configurations: Reefed staysail and trysail for the first wave of the storm, followed by trysail only for the second wave of the storm.
The clouds gradually became thicker and lower, just like in a low pressure system; we readied the sails to heave to and ride out the storm on the Southern side of the Choptank River, expecting the low pressure to pull us in a northerly direction. All of a sudden, the winds died down and a powerful gust of cold air hit us! We set the sails to heave to but were being pushed onto the lee shore. At our rate of drift, we would be aground in 15 minutes! We changed our plan and clawed our way off of the lee shore in 35 to 40 knots of wind and then hove to out in the middle of the river.
During the lull between the storms, I dropped the reefed staysail and lashed it to the lifelines to keep it from lifting up and flogging itself to death during the fast approaching second wave of this storm. We had plenty of water around us for this storm, so we hove to under just the trysail. It was actually quite comfortable! We didn't heel very far over, only around 10 to 15 degrees and we drifted at a very slow rate of 0.5 knots. Luckily, the storm was making us drift in the direction that we wanted to go! The second wave incorporated a massive down pour of rain in addition to the 40 knot winds, so Maddie and I huddled under the dodger in an attempt to keep dry.
After the second wave lessened to 25 knots, we began running under trysail alone towards the Tred Avon River which would take us to Oxford where we were meeting my grandmother. The winds continued to die down so I raised the staysail once again with the reef in it to balance the sails and provide more power in the lighter airs.
We moved along slowly as we waited for the third wave to come upon us. This wave was all rain and no wind! We were expecting a third squall but instead the water around us jumped up as thousands of raindrops hit the rivers surface. I knew I was sailing up a narrow river, but the visibility reduced everything to a gray world that encompassed the boat in every direction. We kept a close eye on the compass to make sure we didn't deviate from our previous course as we waited for the showers to pass.
By the time the rains had cleared, we were just off the beach of Oxford, passing the bouys that outline the shoals in this river. The bouys helped us realize the strength of the tidal current in this river, leaning fiercely away from us and creating quite the wake behind it! It turns out the storm sails we were flying were not powering us along as quickly as I had believed, but instead the boat was being carried along by the current at nearly 3 knots!
Knowing that we were dealing with a strong current, I decided to get as close to the inlet to Town Creek as I could. I didn't want to miss our mark and be swept further up the river. We were in no condition to try to fight such a strong current because of a slight miscalculation. I began our turn into Town Creek a good ways before we reached the inlet to the creek. The current swept the boat sideways through the water as the storm sails set to beam reach carried us towards the edge of the river. With a little push from our electric engine as we were lined up with the inlet, we managed to get inside the creek and continued to ride up with the current while on a beam reach.
We made it into a small anchorage in the creek and dropped the hook, tied the snubber and went to shore to greet my grandmother in town.
We went out with her to get a nice shore-side dinner and returned for a peaceful nights sleep in this very protected anchorage.
This day was a roller coaster, it started out as bright and sunny, charging up our batteries via the solar panels while sailing along in wonderful winds to all out hell as strong winds and driving rain pounded us for over an hour. We finally made it, tired and exhausted from the long day and ready to relax for the next few days before setting sail again.