Arriving in Tangier Island by Sail

After waiting for the two hurricanes (Hurricane Jose and Hurricane Maria) to pass by while anchored out in Reedville, VA, the time had finally come to sail to Tangier Island! Our planned route was only 16 miles long, but the weather was still of a concern to us. Hurricane Maria was still in relative proximity to us on this early morning, and we would be swept along with powerful winds from the North, followed by a wind shift with winds coming from the West. This wind shift was to occur as the hurricane moved further North of us, and the circulating winds would change direction from our perspective.

As the hurricane is East of us, we would feel winds from the North. As she moved more North of us, the winds we would feel would come from the West.

This wind pattern would be perfect for us, as we first needed to travel South to exit Reedville, and then East to get to Tangier Island.

As we left, the winds were rather powerful and we were glad to have reefed sails set. According to the forecast, the winds were going to shift and also get lighter as the day progressed, owing to the fact that the hurricane would be farther away from us as the day moved on.

Knowing this, I was less reefed than I would have liked to have been, granting me more speed (but a less comfortable ride) as we went along. I knew that the winds would get lighter and lighter as the day moved on, and the afternoon would be becalmed. Worse yet, early the next morning a powerful cold front was to move in, making it very uncomfortable to anchor midway if we did not make it in one day.

It is rather ridiculous to think that we would fear not making it to our anchorage that is only 16 miles away, especially when we are starting off with 20 knot winds in the right direction! Our speed at the beginning of the journey ranged between 5 and 6 knots, and we were slated to arrive in under 3 hours. The problem was that the winds were to be getting lighter each hour as the day moved on, and that would make our travel speed slower, and our elapsed time longer. When you depend on the wind, it is always a vicious cycle!

While swooshing along through heavy seas and leftover chop from the passed hurricane, the winds did begin to lessen. Instead of waiting forever like I usually do to let out the reef, I promptly let it out early to maximize our speed in the powerful, but diminishing winds.

We raised anchor at 7am in Reedville, and yet dropped anchor at 5pm in Tangier Island. A 16 mile trip took us a full 10 hours to make, owing to the constantly lessening winds. The worst part of the arrival was the tide. As we rounded the southern tip of Tangier to enter the Tangier Sound, we were confronted by a tidal current of nearly 1kn! We had light winds and were now giving up a knot of speed to the tide.

This led Maddie to ask "are we even moving? It feels like we have been looking at the town of Tangier for hours!" We were moving, but our speed over ground was pitiful! We practically held our position in the Sound until the tide went slack around 4pm and finally made our way in.

Entering the harbor was fun! I sailed farther to windward than where we needed to be so that we could come in on a run. At this point, Maddie had fallen asleep from boredom, so I knew I was sailing solo. I lowered the mainsail and sailed in under only the staysail. As we neared the anchorage, I went forward on the deck, dropped the staysail and then released the anchor with 100 feet of chain (in 8 feet of water).

The momentum of the boat kept us moving along at around 2 knots even though we had no sail up at this point until the anchor dug in! The bow stopped and the stern swung around quickly as we came to lay to the anchor.

I chose to anchor in this fashion because of the approaching cold front. I anchored in the direction that I anticipated we would be pointing tomorrow and wanted to be certain that the anchor would be well set. Once the anchor had been buried into the bottom, I then let out even more chain (totaling 180 feet of chain in 8 feet of water) that way we would have no risk of dragging as the cold front moved in over night.

With the anchor set, Maddie, Morty, and I, went to shore in our rowboat Tooth to check out the locals and the town.