Posted by: wrmcnutt | June 1, 2010

Ship’s Log: September Blue – Downriver Pt. II

When last we left our story,  C and I were taking September Blue down the Potomac River from the Washington Channel toward the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.  We continue to vary between a close hall and a close reach and to carefully pick our way across the river, moving in and out of the commercial channel to follow the wind.  At one point we found ourselves in the shallows again, but Regan National Airport takes in jet fuel by barge, so they have dredged a very narrow secondary channel on the West side of the river leading up to the fuel dock.  It’s only about 20′ or so wide, but the winds were favorable to take advantage of us, and we were able to reach along the 3/4 of a mile to where it joined the main channel. 

I’d intended to drop a lunch hook, but the wind was rising and the sailing was good, so C volunteered to man the galley, and she put the sandwiches together under way.  Corned beef on multi-grain.  I’d meant to lay in more interesting stores, but it didn’t work out.  Insufficient attention to detail in advance on my part.  Oh, and no rum.  I’m such a lame sailor. 

Is that not the best set of ping-pong balls you've ever seen?

We passed the Naval Research Facility with its four radar domes that make it look like a four pack of ping-pong balls for the Jolly Green Giant.  The older building next door has an exposed radar dish that appears to be locked in storage mode. I don’t know if they use it any more, but it remains visually distinctive.  Across the river is the five stack coal-fired power plant fo the city of Alexandria.  It’s still in use, but is very old, so it presents an almost ruined grandeur.  


Woodrow Wilson Bridge

Our goal that day was the Woodrow Wilson bridge and then back in time for dinner reservations at Coeur d’Lyon.  The bridge is just past the Alexandria Waterfront, and it’s got a vertical clearance of almost 100′, so September Blue’s 25′ mast had no trouble transiting the bridge.  At least due to height.  

Transiting a bridge under sail is almost always a challenge, or at least entertaining.  Sometimes the bridge acts as a wind tunnel, funneling wind into your face .  You’re always constrained port and starboard by the bridge pilings and it always seems like you need to tack or jibe right in the middle of your freaking transit.  In this case, we got dead air for the transit. In retrospect, we should have expected it.  The wind was, at this point, from due east, and the bridge runs east west.  So of course in the middle of transit we were in the lee of the bridge.  Within 50′ of the bridge on both sides there were light whitecaps, but the space under the bridge was a millpond, and the transit of 150′ took us twenty minutes. 

Primeval Swamp - Well, Not Really, But Spooky Looking

From there the bank became less urban as we left Alexandria behind and the swamp that used be here before the Americans came closed in.  We passed an anchored tug boat and a bright yellow buoy whose purpose I was unable to discern.  We also passed a bay marked with an exposed wreck on the chart, but the bay was shallow and we had a long haul back to the dock.  And dinner reservations were looming.  Best speed to the dock, then. 

The wind had come around farther, and now we had to beat to windward to get home.  At the beginning of the day I’d cautioned C that September Blue is not a true keel-boat, and that she can knocked over if poorly handled.  

I did it wrong.  September Blue and her sisters are pretty damn stable little boats, but my heads up to C made her a bit gun-shy when we heeled past “slightly” or “mild.”  But C remained pretty together and only raised her voice once! 

We manage to sail all the way back to the marina without either going aground or capsizing.  We only put the motor down to maneuver into the slip.  A couple of quick showers and we were off to dinner.

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  1. I only raised my voice heading under the bridge when the wind picked up…but capsizing a small catamaran vs a sailboat on a cloudy day seemed like not much fun; otherwise, I’d would have been all about letting her rip! (oh and those damn shallows! ugh!)

  2. The “bright yellow buoy whose purpose I was unable to discern” was launched on May 14, 2010. It is part of a series of data buoys called the “Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System.” You can call a phone number or view the system’s website to get all kinds of current and historical data. The website is: . Here is a picture of the one you saw: .

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