Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bad Decision

The longer we've cruise the more unabashed weather wimps we've become. It seems like every year we reduce the wave height and wind predictions that we consider acceptable. Hey, it's suppose to be fun!

We have learned to be perfectly content sitting at an anchorage or dock for days, even weeks, until the winds die and the waves subside, preferably to glassy calm. We're happier and the kids are definitely happier. It has worked very well for us.

So how did we end up in rough choppy seas in the Chesapeake on our final day of cruising? In fact, it was the worst day of weather we'd experienced in at least 2 years. Well, you start by forgetting everything you know, then you add a touch of impatience to get to your destination, and you finish by ignoring the signs around you.

We left Portsmouth after two great days on a picture perfect morning. The day stayed beautiful so we decided to go a couple of hours further than planned to shorten the next day, our final cruising day of the season. Going the extra distance left us only 30 nm to get to the dock were aCappella will spend the summer.

We were thrilled that we would have 2+ weeks there with good friends Robin and Jim, and Pat and Chuck. A 5:41 am email from Robin (she was awake, we weren't yet) let us know that boats were being shifted around to open up our spot. We awoke at 7 am to rain and some wind, so we decided to make blueberry pancakes and wait for things to clear.

When the sun came out mid-morning and the winds died down, we decided to go. First mistake, we didn't take a final look at the weather radar, predictions, or existing buoy reports.

We warmed the engines, prepared the pilothouse, and Jeff went on deck to pull the anchor. It started to rain again and the wind rose making it difficult to hear each other on our headsets. It did occur to me that maybe we should wait, even stay one more day at the anchorage, "but it's only 30 nm," I thought. Mistake number two, listen to your gut and heed the signs around you.

We started off in a moderate chop but were convinced we could see clearing up ahead. Now I must digress. Can someone please explain why it always looks like it's clearing up ahead and that the waves are subsiding when they rarely do? Or more importantly, why are we able to convince ourselves of this illusion time after time?

So we soldiered on. With each turn in our route we hoped the conditions would improve. 4' waves, then 6' waves, then a few 8 footers thrown in just to test how well we could avoid getting seasick. We hoped for relief in vain. The kids went from giving us dirty looks to circling up in a tight ball and ignoring us. This was the worst weather this canine crew had ever experienced (Tucker knew much worse weather but this team has only grown up in our newfound avoidance mode for weather). All waves vanished when we pulled off the Potomac and it was flat-dead-calm when we pulled onto the dock greeted by Robin and Jim who said, "We were surprised you guys left. It must have been bad out there."

Full disclosure, the wave pictured above was not taken by us but is symbolic of how rough it felt.


Master Plan said...

We had a similar experience crossing the mouth of the mouth of the Potomac. The forecast called for 3-4's and we ended up in 8-10's. This was in late April 2011

Mike T. said...

I’ve crossed the mouth of the Potomac several times, but knock on wood, it’s always been fairly calm.

I can imagine what it can be like when all the water flowing out of the river meets strong opposing winds.

Short period, nasty, and brutal!

I’d like to hear what you think of this idea - after clearing Windmill point run to the NE and enter Tangier Sound. Run north in the Sound and cross back to the main bay at Hooper Strait not too far south of the Solomons.

On the other hand, maybe it’s just better to wait out the weather.

I’ve never been in Tangier Sound but I think you have.

Mike T.
DeFever PM 40

Todd and Brenda Lanning said...

Been there, done that.....almost. Last fall we spent 10 days in Deltaville, VA waiting for the wind & waves to calm. We tried sneaking out after about 5 days but when we turned and got the waves on our beam we heeled over farther than we ever had. Scared us to death! Needless to say we turned back around and "enjoyed" another 5 days on the hook in Deltaville. Glad to hear that you're OK and safe at the dock. Life's2Short arrived yesterday in Demopolis, AL, we'll spend a week here and then head on up to the Tennessee River. Have a great summer! Todd & Brenda

MV Red Head said...

Mike, I think Todd & Brenda had the right approach - wait out the weather. There are so many wonderful anchorages in the area. We were comfortable and secure at Sandy Point on the Great Wicomico. It was, well, a bad decision to venture out.

Going across the bay to Tangier Sound would have put 4-6' waves on the port beam which is better for us than on the nose but it wouldn't have been nice. It would have been a long way out of the way too and that area on the eastern side there is very shallow.

I think this was our 14th time across the Potomac. We've turned around twice before. We just shouldn't have gone out on this day. It was really dumb to not even check the current buoy reports to see what the sea state was actually at too.


Unknown said...

Great post. Here on the W coast I too have taken time at an anchorage waiting for better weather. One of the worst that always strikes fear in any of my family are two places - Strait of Georgia, and Queen Charlotte Sound. Both have caused us great discomfort in crossing. What I have come to realize is that the boat will take more than the people inside of it.

Summer Wind said...

Most cruisers have had similar experiences. Maybe its the call of the seas to the soul that makes us impatient. Several times now heading up the Chesapeake just at Wolf Trap Point we've encountered higher seas than forecast. The captain even told me I was seeing a 'mirage' once when looking through the binoculars. It was no 'mirage' thats where the wind and tide collided and we were met with 4 -5 ft waves.
Currently we're waiting out the weather in Baltimore, not necessary for the Chesapeake to settle, but at the mouth of the Delaware Bay there are 4-5 ft seas, not counting wind and tide.