Posted by: wrmcnutt | June 7, 2010

Ship’s Log: September Blue – Accidental Regatta

(This was written during my expedition down the Potomac River. I’m turning into quite the Urban Sailor. )

I joined a regatta by accident yesterday.  I’m working in Washington DC this week, sailing in the afternoons and evenings.  I leave the meetings, change clothes, and race to the marina.  I put out yesterday to light breeze and clear skies. Winds were light in the channel, so I chose to motor out to the mouth of the channel and into the Potomac proper.  What winds there were were favorable, and out of the east.  The east wind allowed me to sail almost all the way to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on the same close reach.

As I exited the channel and passed junction marker number one, I turned into the wind and raised sail.  Passing the airbase, I noticed something different on the water, way up past the Naval Research Laboratory.

Like shards of shattered china, twenty or thirty sails were scattered across the river.  Thus far, I’d not seem much river traffic at all, let alone that many sailboats.  Time was short, so my intended course was to e the same I had sailed the day before, so I stuck with the main channel.  (I barely had time to go sailing at all, let alone run aground.  Again.)

As I moved downstream I noticed something else:  those knife-like shards were all pointed at me. There were all headed for the AToN a quarter mile from the junction marker one.  Behind me.  It was just a bunch of small sailing yachts, not the Sixth Fleet, but all those pointy bows aimed at me all at the same time were . . . intimidating.

It was some kind of race or regatta using the AToN as a turning marker.  Normally I make it a point to stay out of the way of races, even on public waterways without regard to right of way.  But these guys were taking up the entire channel!  I’d already been aground once by wandering out of the channel, and I wasn’t going to do it again.  Fortunately, the air was light and we were all moving slow enough that I was able to thread the incoming fleet with a minimum of collision risk.  I hope I didn’t hurt anyone’s performance.  Only one racer had to ask me to adjust my course, so I didn’t think I caused any problems.  I did get a signal from the judge’s boat when I crossed the second marker.  Of course, when I hit the end of the course and turned about, I had to  thread the fleet again on my way back.

After the second turn, the fleet went off to head down the small auxiliary channel for the Regan National Airport fuel depot.  This cleared the main channel for my use.  Well, for me, four power boats, plus the commercial traffic.  Giant commercial ships don’t get less intimidating just because you’ve looked into their bows a few times.

At this point I was racing the sunset.  September Blue is well-lit, but I needed to make supper and get back to the hotel.  I had more meetings the next day and needed to get some sleep.  After about an hour the wind truly fell off.  With the Sun dropping like a rock and the clock spinning – I needed to be moving.  I chose to put the motor in about ninety minutes from the dock.

The sun was well down by the time I was tied up at the dock, and this time of year, that makes it late.  The water was like glass, the fish were jumping, and the ducks were foraging.  Supper was just a can of chunky soup and a pack of crackers, but it was really, really good.  Since I was by myself, I went ahead and broke out September Blue’s galley table.  I don’t use it often because it blocks access to the gangway, making it very hard to get in and out of the cabin. When I have crew aboard, it’s just too inconvenient.  And, of course, you have to tear up the bed to use it.  It was smaller than I thought it would be, and didn’t make getting around in the cabin nearly as awkward I expected.

Here’s something a lot of people don’t understand about boating:  food at the end of an active day is better that food at the end of a sedentary day. Food you cook yourself is better than restaurant food (in general, there are exceptions.)  Food on your own boat is better.  So food you cook  yourself on your own boat after an active day is some of the best food of all.  The only thing missing was rum.

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  1. No rum? Sounds like the quartermaster messed up.

    • I did, indeed.

      Bill McNutt
      Quartermaster, September Blue

  2. […] […]

  3. Love the Sunset over the Potomac Picture.. very lovely.

    • Thank you – I keep forgetting to bring the real camera, and having to do with snaps from my camera phone.

  4. Reminds me of something that happened to me. I had taken an 18 foot Grand Banks Dory with a new 3.6hp motor over to Chichester Harbour, UK to pick up a free 32 foot mast. Loading the mast fore and aft we set off back down the narrow channel on a half rising tide on our way back to the island. Coming to a bend in the river we were confronted by two fleets – dinghies and cruisers charging to a finish line further up steam. We were about 200 yards from the first boat when the motor suddenly cut out and the Dory cocked to the wind which was coming from our port side. We were blocking the channel and dead in the water.
    The motor would not start and we could not use the oars in the rowlocks due to the mast being in the way. We only just made it out of the way with some frantic paddling and “polite” comments from the fleet.
    After letting the motor cool down it started and the trip back went without incident.

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