In spring the sailing on Chesapeake Bay is grand, the air fresh, winds reliable. The weather’s changeable, though; tee shirt or foul weather jacket, you never know. Most times you need both in the same weekend. Spring marks the beginning of a season that stretches before us, a blank page to be filled with familiar landfalls and new destinations. Before we can sail, though, we have to prepare; anti-foul the hull, drain the antifreeze from the water system, flush it and top up, change the engine oil, check the rig tension and load the sails back on the boat. Let the season begin.
The summer winds are fickle. A tiny breeze, a mere zephyr, tickles the surface. This is more frustrating than a dead calm. In a dead calm I’d give up, drop the sails, secure the boom and settle down with a good book. Or crank up the engine and be off to my destination. But where there’s a whiff there’s a way; the temptation to try is irresistible. I hoist the main and my lightest jib, use the topping lift to take some of the weight of the boom, go easy on the halyard tension. I know that attempting to move downwind in this tiny breeze is hopeless so I work her onto the wind, a tad below close hauled. I tell the others to keep still, whispering so as not to scare the wind-gods. Is she moving? I watch the wake, toss bits of lint into the water, and stare up at the sails willing the jib to be caressed into shape by this hint of a breath of a breeze. Eventually the tell-tails flutter into life, the boat begins to make way. This movement conspires with the true wind to create an apparent wind and that brings more movement. Yes! We’re sailing. Now let’s just keep her going – a tweak here, a tweak there.
Summer afternoons often bring thunderstorms and we try to get the hook down in a snug anchorage or settle into a marina berth before they let loose their venom. Once in a while, in September and October, hurricanes threaten the Bay; they’re born in the tropics, grow in size and intensity as they move across the Atlantic and many will re-curve when they reach the US, some heading up the coast and reaching Chesapeake Bay as vicious maelstroms threatening the coastal communities with high winds and huge tidal surges.
By the end of October the hurricanes are gone. Autumn is in the air, a magical time on Chesapeake Bay. The breezes are back after the stultifying heat and calms of summer, the trees are starting to acquire what will become a magical mantel of golds and reds and yellows and browns, and delta-flights of honking Canada geese arrive for the winter. I step onto a dew covered deck at dawn and watch the mist rising like steam; all is quiet except for the occasional slap and roil of a fish taking its prey. The first hint of the sun shows itself through the trees on the eastern shore, a promise of another fine day for sailing. But sailing comes later, when the wind arrives; for now I finish my coffee and slip below for another hour in the snugness of a still warm sleeping bag.
Chesapeake Bay – one of my favourite sailing grounds.