Sometimes It Blows

I awoke to the sound of an alarm. You guys know the sound. It's the one that sounds in your typical naval warfare movie where the red lights are flashing as sailors run through darkened and smoky passageways to get to their stations. Startled and groggy, I leapt out of bed prepared to do the same only to realize I was still on Constance, and that alarm was coming from my phone. It was the anchor alarm app I had recently downloaded and was trying for the first time. Effective.

The night before, I had left the anchorage I was in outside the C & D Canal which connects the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays to take advantage of the wind direction and with the hopes of getting anchored somewhere protected in Annapolis before this weather rolled in. No rain predicted, just lots of wind. I had reefed the main before even leaving the anchorage, not sure if my finicky autopilot would afford me the opportunity to get on deck again to reef when the wind began to increase the next day. The sail down was calm, and the wind seemed to clock around in the perfect directions for minimal sail adjustments. I was grateful for that as it was cold, I was bundled, exhausted, and taking my gloves off to mess with the sail did not sound appealing. By the time the sun came up and with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in sight, however, the wind shifted further to the south than forecasted and I was now sailing into a wind that was gradually increasing with stronger gusts. Gloves off, now. Tacking upwind across the skinny sections of the Chesapeake was tiring, and the chop was increasing to send spray onto the dodger. Looking at the forecast, my ETA had me arriving into Annapolis at 1030, the heavier gusts increasing at around 1100. Cutting it close. Sailing upwind felt like I was going everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The final 7 miles took the longest and I could have sworn that the bridge, and my planned anchorage, were moving further away. By the time I made it under the bridge and began to turn the boat into the wind to take down the main sail, I was exhausted, and receiving status check texts from the couple I was buddy boating with who had arrived at the Back Creek anchorage a few hours before. They reported that the wind could be felt in the anchorage, but their anchor was holding and it was well protected from the chop. I had anchored there before and it's a tight spot, surrounded by marinas and really only enough room for two or three boats, but that late in the season, I really wasn't worried about a crowd. I carried on, too tired to consider tacking up the Severn River upwind to find a better location. So I progressed, slowly, into the little channel into Back Creek. I saw my friends' boat and dropped anchor just aft of their starboard quarter, leaving 175' to the docks behind me. I let out 70' of chain, in 8 feet of water, backed down, and watched the bow dip. I checked my speed, and my chosen visual reference on my beam. Satisfied that the anchor was holding, I turned the engine off, waved to my friends, went below and surveyed the scene. It was a mess. The latch to my tool cabinet and didn't hold and the cabin sole was littered with sockets, and wrenches, my cupboard had flown open and canned goods rolled this way and that. I stared for a moment before realizing that my knuckles were bleeding from some unknown impact from the sail. I washed my hand, covered the scrapes, ignored the rest of the mess, crawled into my sleeping bag, and fell asleep.

after I had picked up the sockets and soup cans

The alarm was jolting, and I ran, wide awake now, to the cockpit and locked eyes with a man sitting on the sugar scoop of his boat. The 175' had closed to 80'. "I think you might be moving," the man said. Thanks, neighbor. I started the engine and put it gear to open the distance and ran, shoeless, to the bow and started taking up chain. I ran back to the cockpit to adjust the wheel. Then back to the bow, trying not to take up too much chain just yet, as in this wind the anchor was acting as a brake, preventing me from drifting beam to the wind into the boats docked behind me. I was getting my steps in, 43 at a time. "This is impressive to watch," called the man on the sugar scoop. I rolled my eyes. Thanks, neighbor. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement, and a man in a dinghy approached, making sideways progress against the wind, and called out to me. "Are you alone? Can I help you?" Absolutely! He tied off to a stanchion on the bow and climbed aboard to work the windlass. We repositioned forward of my friends' boat and let out an easy 90 feet of chain and it set. I thanked my new friend as he departed back to the warmth of his own boat, and headed back down below. I sighed at the mess still waiting for me on the deck. I knelt down and began cleaning, listening to the wind howling outside. The thing about living aboard a sailboat alone? Sometimes, it blows.

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