Posted by: wrmcnutt | May 31, 2010

Ship’s Log: September Blue – Downriver

The day dawned bright, but not so clear. We’d had heavy rains the night before, and I’d discovered leaks in my boat.  The good news is that they were leaks above the waterline, and not below.  To be specific, my “open-able” portlights weren’t sealing properly, and my fixed portlights also have small leaks.  I’ve tightened the hardware on the “open-able” portlights, but I’m going to have to drill out the rivets and remove and re-bed the fixed portlights to get rid of those leaks.  But I digress . . .

The storms of the night before had moved out and left behind some slightly intimidating clouds and a steady breeze out of the northeast.  Today I was going to have a new experience:  sailing with a crew I didn’t have to train. Of course, every time you lift your anchor, you have a new experience.  Sailing is like making love to a woman:  it’s never the same experience twice.  Sailing in East Tennessee as I do, most of my crewmen typically come from power-boating traditions or are not watermen at all.  It was very different to just be able to say “let out the main sheet’ and have it happen, rather than get looked at like I had suddenly started speaking Chinese.

"If not for the courage of the fearless crew . . ."

Today’s crewman, C, is a lovely lady whose day job is similar to mine – she’s a database administrator up here in Tax Town. She’s reported a fairly extensive set of parents and ex-husbands who had or still owned catamarans or small keel boats.  Like myself, she doesn’t keep a strict log or anything.  It’s all just casual sailing, but after our initial conversation, she likely had had more “large” boat experience than me.  It was a pleasure and a delight to watch her work:  examining the canvas, water, the tell tales and tweak the sail shape.  After about four hours on the water, she sudden said, “Oh gosh, I’m sorry . . I shouldn’t adjust the sheets without direction!”  I told her she was welcome to adjust my sheets any time she wanted.  I really was was just talking about the rigging, but she actually blushed. Tha’s something I’ve always loved about redheads:  the ability to blush brightly and upon an instant.

We cast of from the Gangplank Marina, which sits on the Washington Channel, just downstream from the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial. Alas, there are three bridges with an 18 foot clearance just downstream of the Memorial, and September Blue has a mast height just shy of twenty-five feet.  So no trip to the Tidal Basin or the memorials for us.  instead, we would head south.  And we did so, with the expectation that we would need to motor out of the Channel and into the Potomac proper before we could raise sail.

The day before I had spent three hours beating to windward up the Washington Channel before I was able to get into the Potomac proper and head for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, a local landmark.  To my delight, as soon as we cleared the marina, the wind shifted around to the East, and we were able to raise sail immediately, and were able to sail almost the entire length of the Channel without having to change the sails.

The first feature of note was the Coast Guard Cutter Ibis. She was tied up at the station dock, but was flying all her bunting.  Further, she her decks, upper works, and topsides had been cleaned, painted, and polished to a faire-the-well.  Something was clearly going on soon.  Sure enough, after about ten more minutes of sailing, we passed the National War College, where there was a tent pitched that was big enough to shade half of Shields-Watkins Field.  Of more immediate interest was the giant Defender-class inflatable boat on station in the middle of the channel.  And it’s fixed 7.62 caliber machine gun.  Nobody said anything to us, so we quietly sailed on by.  We cleared the Channel and turned on south, following the AToNs marking the commercial shipping channel next to Bolling AFB.  As the river got wider, it also turned gently westward, calling for a big, broad reach.  As we moved southwest, the wind died down a little more.  Once we were in the Potomac proper, I turned the helm over to C, who kept adjusting course to compensate for the lightening breeze.

Now, C is even more of a blue-water sailor that I am.  Both of us have most of our experience in either good-sized lakes or salt-water bays.  We are both accustomed to having a lot of water under our keels.  The ensuing conversation went something like this (I paraphrase):

C: “Hey, wait.  This chart isn’t marked in fathoms.  These are feet!”

Me:  “Aye-yup.”

C: “In feet, and in single digits.

Me: “Aye-yup.”

C: “I think I’ll head back over to the commercial shipping channel.”

Me: “Aye-yup.”

September Blue: “Scraaaaaape . . . . ”

Me:  “There’s some river bottom.  . . .   feel that?”

September Blue: “Scraaaaape . . . .”

Me: “There some more.”

September Blue: “Scraaaape . . .  shumph!”

Me: “Aaaaand . . . . we’re aground.”

C:  Lots of apologies.  And more blushing.

But really, I told her, and now I’m telling you:L  there are three kinds of sailors. Those who have gone aground, those who are going to go aground, and liars.  We fiddled around for about five minutes trying to sail off or heel the boat off.  The of the downside to decorative crew-ladies who weigh under 130 pounds is that they are not useful for deliberately heeling a boat.  And, fat as I am, I was unable to heel her enough by myself to get her moving again.  I got bored after about five minutes of this, and went below to release the dagger-board.  Then I went aft and raised it about a foot.  This is one of the advantages of sailing an overgrown dingy like the West Wight Potter – 19.  With the dagger-board raised, she only draws 14″ – 18″.

Raising the dagger-board all the way makes her quiet unstable, so I only raised it a foot.  The wind was light enough that I was able to raise the board a little without striking her sails, and off we went.  A side effect of all this was to glue at least one of C’s eyeballs to the sonar for the rest of the trip.

More later.

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  1. I hope you’re having fun!!!

    • I did. It was a great trip, machine guns and all!

  2. it was fun….can’t wait to hear the rest of the tale and I was there! Hee…

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