Tricky Weather and Cool Moments Among Friends

Participants in the 450-mile ARC DelMarVa Rally had a number of choice words for their weather conditions June 8-14: “challenging,” “surprising,” “completely contrary and uncooperative,” and “crap.” Following a spectacularly sunny skippers’ meet and greet at J/World Annapolis June 7, ralliers departed on June 8 to sail from Annapolis counterclockwise around the DelMarVa Peninsula with stops along the way.

 John Williams's crew on Diffugere Nives at the start.

Andy Schell and his wife Mia Karlsson, who organized and ran the event for the World Cruising Club, sailed with Schell’s dad Dennis on Sojourner. Andy says, “It was the longest it’s ever taken me to get down the Bay in one shot (nearly 38 hours!), tacking against south winds in the high 20s. We had good sailing offshore, but with heavy fog at times and thunderstorms to challenge everyone on the Delaware Bay and C&D Canal. The folks who completed the loop, which was the vast majority of boats (only six dropped out), should be very proud of themselves. I was worried about the backlash we might get because of the weather, but most people enjoyed the added challenge. It heightened their sense of accomplishment.”

Tim Foster, owner of the Beneteau Oceanis 321 Molly Kate, planned this trip to celebrate his 30th birthday. “My expectations and anticipation were very high, and everything about the trip met every one of my expectations … and offered so much more,” he says. “For me, the opportunity to bond with friends in an environment where they are removed from their day-to-day routine, pushed out of their comfort zone, and challenged are what makes the experience and creates the bond. This trip allowed our crew to do that. The trip challenged our sailing skills: lots of tacking, tracking our route, managing being under-resourced due to lack of sleep, and problem solving.”

Foster admits that he wondered why no one in the rally seemed to respond to their sunscreen reminders or weather jokes on the VHF and was embarrassed to learn upon his arrival in Portsmouth, VA, that his radio antenna at the top of the mast was unplugged. Oops.

Foster was not the only one with mechanical issues. First-time rallier Jamie Wendell and his four-person crew on the Tayana 42 Mystic Shadow hoped that an award would go out to the boat with the most system failures and problems solved. Among his issues were water syphoning into his propane locker and setting off alarms (fixed hove to in 20-knot winds); a troublesome traveler; a snapped genoa furler; a need to swap out impellers; and a broken bearing on the drive shaft. Although he wishes he had a new boat on which things might not break, he’s planning on doing the Caribbean 1500 in the fall, if repairs are completed by then.

When asked if the rally was as he expected, he says, “It was a rough trip. Although no one would have wanted that, you have to prepare for the worst. Did we get that? I guess it could have been worse, but it was an ‘adventure.’ The comradery was really the thing I hoped for, and we got that. Oh, and I did not think I would be up for more than 40 hours coming down the Bay with no sleep. Although the weather can be rough on the ocean, I think navigating the Bay at night with 25 knots winds on the nose, gusts to 35, ships all around you, flashing markers everywhere, tacking to avoid shoals, restricted zones, unmarked buoys; that was the challenge for sure.”

Gary Wells, who sailed on his Amel Super Maramu Adagio with his wife Robin and crew, had many “aww cool!” moments. He says, “We came across the tall ships heading northbound up the Bay. They had been at a festival in Norfolk, and we passed no less than four of them, including the Pride of Baltimore. Since we were motoring, we could go right over and see them up close and wave to the crews … When entering the channel into Norfolk, as we saw a fast-attack submarine heading out to sea. On our way back out the Norfolk Harbor, we saw an aircraft carrier. We had quite a few cool moments.”

 The crew of Molly Kate at the skippers' meeting June 7. Photo by Molly Winans

One situation felt uncool. “There was one scary moment, on the C&D Canal at night,” Wells says, with two on deck. “We were diligently trying to figure out every marker and every range marker. We ran into a puzzler though when we saw a second range marker where we thought there shouldn’t be one. A couple of minutes later, I stepped up on deck and shone our spotlight ahead and was met by a huge black barge coming in the opposite direction. It wasn’t perilously close, but it was uncomfortably close. Had we been in the center of the canal, we might not have been able to escape its path in time (hypothetically, mind you). We’re glad we took the advice of staying to the side, and we were quite surprised at how difficult it was to see such a large vessel even properly lit. The marker lights blended perfectly into the sparse town lights, and the top lights looked like the range markers.”

As did all of the ralliers who commented, the Wells enjoyed the opportunity to gain some offshore experience and hone their skills despite the uncooperative weather conditions. They recommend the rally to anyone considering such an adventure and plan to do the Caribbean 1500 in the fall. Wells says, “On the Delmarva, we had only two days between stops at most, and if necessary, quite a few places we could ‹escape’ to if necessary. It won’t be like that on the 1500. Our plan for conserving water, fuel, and supplies will have to be much stricter.”

Foster gives this tip to anyone considering a DelMarVa circumnavigation: “Put thought into who you select for crew.  I know I did, and it made the trip all that much more enjoyable. One of my crew was an experienced sailor ... the other two ... let’s just say they were able bodies. That was what made it fun. They had a great attitude about it, and I’m sure, learned a lot. It also helped that one was a pilot, so he had good navigational skills and the other an electrician, so they brought something to the table. I would say don’t be discouraged about inviting crew just because they have no experience. We split the crew into groups of two and trained the other two guys on what they needed to know about sailing. That was part of the fun.”