November 17, 2017
We had the good fortune of excellent sailing conditions to Mobjack Bay. Though we had to fire up the engine a couple of times because of temporary lulls in the wind, we were able to keep the sails up the entire day and, of the nine hours we were underway, we were sailing without engine for six of those.
There is a marked change in weather, even though we are only about 100 miles south of Annapolis. There can still be a serious chill in the air, but with the sun out we find ourselves actually shedding layers during the course of a day! The early sunsets bring a crash of the thermometer by 5:00pm and we still find ourselves going belowdecks almost immediately after it gets dark. Still, the return to late-autumn rather than early-winter conditions is most welcome.
Upon entering Mobjack Bay, we opted to head up East River, the closest of the four rivers feeding the bay (East River, North River, Ware River, and Severn River if you are going in a counter-clockwise direction around the bay). We dropped anchor in a spot with good wind protection from everywhere but the South. On the shore just across from us was a small, old, abandoned mill complete with paddlewheel which sat right next to a pristine, though apparently also unoccupied, massive plantation-style mansion. The location was great, and it would have been easy to stay for more than a day.
However, two factors contributed to our decision to move the next day. Our holding tank, though not at a critical level, would need to be pumped out within the next few days; and our limited experience was quickly teaching us that waiting until the last minute to address an issue was how small problems became big problems. The second factor was weather information (something we constantly have to monitor for just such a situation) which was indicating a high probability that we could see heavy winds from the South in a few days.
Calling around to marinas in the bay started to establish a pattern that suggested easy access to pump-outs, fuel, and water may be a much easier prospect in Maryland than Virginia. Hopefully, this is a Virginia weakness rather than a unique Maryland strength – meaning, it would suck if Maryland is the exception to the rule and we simply got spoiled right out of the starting gate!
We found only one marina that offered the possibility of at least a pump-out (every other marina dock was far too shallow for us to access); however, after motoring for an hour to get there, we found that the facilities were located right at the shore inside a tiny slip.
We circled a couple of times to try to suss out things as best we could. After deciding to give it a go, we committed to entering the narrow alley. Slowly passing a dozen boats secured in their slips on either side of us, we approached the slip we’d have to get in and out of.
Immediately, we both realized the slip was tiny, the turn into it was going to be way too tight, and backing out would be a nightmare. We momentarily tried to think through a solution, but a bit of breeze was coming directly at our port beam.
Anytime Exit’s speed drops below one knot, we start to lose all steering control which is obviously something we always have to maintain an awareness of. Just creeping along, steering was already becoming a concern. But as we slowed, the wind began to push our bow around in a clockwise direction, compounding the problem.
We had no choice but to abort, trying to get around and out before the wind pushed us sideways into the slip pilings directly to our right. With no way to stop the clockwise spin as well as the drift being caused by the wind, Kris made the quick decision to gun the engine forward, giving us a tighter steering turn, trying to complete the turnaround the wind had initiated while we still had room between us and the closing pilings… we thought.
Riding on a 40,000+ pound metal object traveling forward through the water at about one knot, straight toward a stretch of wooden posts and boats, can instill an almost dreamlike moment when time both seems to speed up exponentially and slow to a crawl, simultaneously.
The geometry question (once again, damn my near failing high school geometry grade!): given the forward momentum of Exit, is the angle of turn sufficient to avoid a collision with the objects ahead? On one hand, more speed makes the turn tighter but makes the stuff we’re trying to miss get closer even faster; slower seems logical but forces a wider turn. The calculations relentlessly clicking away in the brain continue, although the reality is we can’t change anything more at this point… it’s either enough or it’s not.
From the bow, forty feet forward of where Kris is standing at the wheel in the cockpit, I am trying to judge whether the turn is going to clear us or, worst case scenario, where do I need to be to try to help push off if necessary. Poking out ominously from between each of the wooden slip pilings are the pointed bows and bowsprits of a dozen or so boats. Even more ominous looking are the line of anchors affixed to the front of each bow, like armored soldiers in a battle line with weapons bristling forward.
In a movie, the sideswipe maneuver of sheering the bow off each boat as we pass by would be a brilliant special effects stunt; in an insurance claim it would be… game over.
As the distance between us shrank and the excruciatingly slow turn continued, my mind vacillated back and forth between “We’re gonna make it” and “It’s not gonna be enough”. Oh shit… oh shit… oh shit…
Positioning myself on deck just left of the bow, I prepared to try to push off the first thing I could reach, trying to gain us an extra degree of turn to help our 55 pound Rocna anchor jutting about 18 inches forward of the bow from becoming a joisting lance; or more accurately, a battering ram.
Suddenly, as our distance of separation dwindled to only about a foot, it became obvious that our anchor and bow were going to clear the piling just ahead. At least we weren’t going to slide in behind a piling and start plowing through the inside of the slips. Woohoo!
But the sideswipe was still a real danger. The flared shape of Exit’s hull means that her widest point is midship, and we were yet to clear that.
I quickly walked back along the deck pushing off every piling I could reach as I worked my way towards the stern. And then our widest point abeam was clear of danger. It looked like we had just squeaked through until I looked back at Exit’s stern. Protruding a good eighteen inches from the stern arch was the bow of our inflatable dinghy, which hung from a davit over our transom, about five feet above the water.
A boat planing on the water turns more like a car trying to turn in snow than on dry pavement. The turning momentum causes the back to come around and slip a bit sideways; that is exactly what happened to us.
Thankfully, the dinghy’s point of contact was a wooden piling instead of a passing anchor. A glancing blow about a foot back from its’ bow caused quite a jolt to the dinghy which got shoved violently around on the davit, but the heavy rubber tube flexed and we passed clear. As we motored away from the marina, the small consolation that should have occurred to us was that, having both just shit our pants, at least our holding tank wasn’t any fuller…