Last Waltz 2016: Big Wind and Big Seas

The best-laid plans… According to our scheme, we’d follow our leisurely two-night stay in Burlington with an early morning rise on Saturday in order to sail west to Willsboro Bay Marina before the wind and waves had a chance to build.

By 5:00am I was up and showering, fretting over the increasingly rough water and the ever-mounting wind. Meteorologists failed. Again.

Looks calm enough in the photo, right? Well, it wasn’t. With stern into the wind and waves, Errant was see-sawing bow, stern, bow, stern. The docks were moaning and groaning. And I nearly wore out my weather apps trying to get a handle on what to expect.

For context, I take you back a couple of days:

So, one side of me is aching to wrap up the season with a final day of big wind and big seas. But I know for certain that this is not the best way to nurture my bride’s extremely restrained interest in spending more time sailing Errant. (Source: Last Waltz 2016: Preparations | Sailing Errant)

Plan vs. Reality

By 8:00am we’d set sail in gusty winds fluctuating between hight teens and low twenties. Directly out of the south, so looong fetch. Huge rolling seas.

My bride was not pleased.

But with worsening weather and a Monday haul-out date (driven by travel booked shortly thereafter), we knew what we needed to do. Double reefed main and genoa, nose into the surf, and off we went. We soon discovered that we’d be unable to sail directly west to Willsboro Point. This put us broadside to the building waves, and we were taking tons of water over the deck and into the cockpit. Not fun with many miles ahead.

So he headed further north, enduring a rodeo ride between Burlington and Port Kent, New York. Wind quickly starting pushing into the low 30s. Hull speed never dropped below 7.5 knots. Waves were as large as I ever experienced on Lake Champlain. I was wavering between concern for my bride who turned out to be an incredible trooper, helping solve crises as they arose, and keeping us focused on the goal of our crossing.

At one point port side bimini blew free, the stainless steel tubing having pulled the screws free from the deck. No time to round-up, we kept barreling through the waves while lashing the support to the stanchions, a solution that held despite the odds.

When we finally reached the New York shore we began tacking our way south toward Willsboro Point. I’d hoped for a wave and wind shadow behind Schuyler Island. Moderate reduction in wave action, but the winds continued to howl. Endless tacking, but gaining little ground. A dozen tacks. Two dozen. A fouled jib sheet. Bride at the help while I fought my way up to free the sheet. More tacks.

We were drenched, but finally we reached the mouth of Willsboro Bay. I’d resisted shifting over to engine power since Errant handles so much better (stronger, steadier, and more predictable) under sail power, but by the time we entered the bay we decided to switch over to diesel. It took the ages to fight south despite having the throttle wide open. We continue to take waves over the bow, continued to get slammed with water. But slowly we inched toward Willsboro Bay Marina where our slip awaited us.

No sooner had we tied up than the sun came out and the wind began to fall. We changed into dry cloths, and enjoyed the lunch we hadn’t been able to eat during our 5+ hour adventure. It tasted sublime!

What an end to the season. I’m incredibly proud of my bride for rising to the occasion. I’d marry her all over again! And I’m proud of Errant. What a wonderful ship. I’m never once questioned my good fortune in finding and purchasing this reliable vessel, and it’s been three years.

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