It was one of those rare nights that I was actually going to be home alone. The kids were gone on school trips, competitions and other events, so I had the night completely to my self. It seemed like a good opportunity to go sail alone across the lake to Saratoga Springs marina and spend the night, then sail back in the morning.
Setting the boat up for solo sailing took about an hour. Here is what I did:
- Run jack lines from the bow back to the cockpit
- Check the jack line routing by clipping my tether to them and walking the entire length of the boat to make sure there were no snags
- Secure everything in the cabin so it would be safe if the winds picked up
- Place items within reach of the helm so there is no need to leave the wheel: an extra hand held radio, water bottles, snacks, and a warm jacket
- Test the autopilot
- Attach a spot satellite messenger to the life vest
Light southerly winds carried the boat along at about 4 knots about halfway across the lake. 20 miles south I watched a storm system over the lake, but it didn’t seem to be tracking northward. Soon the winds picked up into the upper teens, and the boat settled in to her favorite pace on a beam reach for another mile.
As the wind climbed again into the low 20’s, I thought it might be a good time to reef. I glanced at the storm system, which seemed to be losing focus although it had spread further up the lake. I clipped into the jacklines, and turned the bow into the wind to take the load off the mainsail for reefing. Setting the autopilot, I stepped onto the cabin top to secure the reef. Just as I did, the winds took a healthy jump, and tragedy struck. The wind tore my Conch Charters cap from my head, hurling wildly into the lake behind me. (Clearly, the only way to solve this would be to return to Conch Charters in the British Virgin Islands and get a new hat.)
The wind was clearly into the 30’s at this point, so I went ahead and set the reef for later use but dropped the mainsail entirely. Stepping back into the cockpit I also furled the headsail, and fired up the engine. The anemometer was now reading in the 40s, and at one point peaked out at 47mph. The storm system had concentrated again, and moved up the eastern shore of the lake. Although the rest of the sky was blue, that little storm system was producing an awful lot of wind.
The waves were steep and close together, about 4-5 feet in height. With sails secured and the engine running, I turned westward again toward Saratoga, taking waves directly on the port side. Occasionally, because of the short wave period, the boat would not have time to slide down the back of one wave before the next struck, and the second wave would crash over the side of the boat into the cockpit. I felt so alive.
To reduce the swamping, I turned about 30 degrees north, taking the waves a little more on the rear quarter. This would have me reaching land about a quarter mile north of the marina, but then I could turn the bow straight into the waves and set the autopilot while I deployed fenders and got dock lines set for the marina. I had not entered the marina since last year, so I didn’t know what might have changed inside and wanted to be ready.
As I reached the marina, winds had dropped to around 20 again, and the water inside was much calmer. Not flat, but calmer. The marina entranced opened to the southeast, which let wind and waves filter into the opening somewhat. I tied up at the dock furthest from the entrance, and went about securing sails and making dinner. Which was a peanut butter sandwich I’d made at home. So really all I had to do was take it out of the bag.
After climbing into bed, I got up to readjust a noisy dock line, and then slept through til my alarm said it was first light, 6am. I wanted to be back across the lake to meet the kids coming in on the train for sailing later that morning. The lake had calmed considerably overnight, and I looked forward to catching the canyon breeze that runs for an hour or two at sunrise.
The canyon breeze was perfect, at about 20mph, which let me sail close hauled at about 6 knots all the way across the lake without adjusting the sail even once. The sun rose about half way across the lake, finishing a perfect sail.