Friday, October 13, 2017

The Adventure Begins

As they say, the adventure begins when things go wrong. And wrong they went. After a week of figuring out how to make several of the punch list items work, Aleta (formerly: The Beguine) made her way in slings down to the water and settled in. Once she was tied up at the quay we ran around provisioning and getting things ready for our first shake-down cruise. Of course we needed another week, but that’s always the case. The key to any sailing adventure is leaving the dock and by Thursday we were ready to go. If only Aleta has felt the same way.

First she wouldn’t start - dead after a months on the hard. Her starter battery was exhausted, just not enough amps or oomph turn her big Westerbeke over. Meanwhile the solar panels and wind generator had kept the house batteries sufficiently charged and by combining both sets of batteries we got her cranked over. After 45 minutes at idle an engine alarm suddenly sounded and I quickly switched her off. We scratched our heads for a minute. Still at the dock, we called Bernie, our broker, down from his office and asked for his advice. Bernie is the proud owner of Aleta’s sister ship, literally built at the same time. The engine’s temperature was normal, oil pressure was normal, but the alarm sounded every time we dropped the revs. After a little troubleshooting we narrowed it down a false alarm brought on by the warm engine oil’s lower viscosity and a dicky sensor. With that we decided to hell with it! To hell with the rain that just arrived! To hell with Port Annapolis! We were leaving dock and it was time to sail!

The last few hours of daylight got us as far as the Rhode River, a narrow, well protected inlet perfect for our first night’s anchorage. Chesapeake Bay is as flat and shallow as a bad joke. We picked our way carefully along the river from buoy to buoy staying in the main channel until we turned the corner into the pool and looked for a spot to drop the hook. White marker buoys marked the boundary of High Island shoal. Two hundred years ago many of the shoals around the Chesapeake were farmer's fields. Carol, a little panic stricken at depth sounder reading 3.5’ when we draw 6, flung the wheel over and skidded us back to safer depths without incident. Either the sounder is off, or there was lots of grass, or we got lucky. Our insurance broker told me that rates for boats in the Chesapeake are generally lower simply because running aground is unlikely to damage anything besides the helmsman’s ego.

We finally found the perfect spot. A place where the muddy bottom was 10’ from the murky surface and many yards away from land and other boats. We lined up head to wind, dropped the anchor and 50-ish feet of chain and backed down. Aleta’s heavy Delta-style plow immediately pulled free and we drifted for a bit as the windlass started its slow, steady, and ultimately dirty work. We repeated this falderal twice more until it finally occurred to me we should let the anchor settle, rest in the muck a spell, then, slowly, under gently increasing pressure, encourage it to set. It worked. Marylanders call it ‘wetting the anchor’. We called it a night.  

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