Sailing out of Secretary. No capsize plan.

My second time sailing solo.
My first time nearly capsizing. 
And the last time I refuse a tow when it’s offered and needed. 

I still felt insecure about my boat, my rig, my oars, and my sailing skills. And the forecast was not ideal for a novice sailor – winds at 10 kts and gusting. But I needed to get the boat and myself back on the water. So I chose a stretch of the middle Choptank that gave me more room to tack but was narrow and protected from stronger winds. I expected an easy run out Warwick River onto the Choptank. Then a beam reach upriver all the way to the town of Choptank and back. It turned out differently. 

I backed my dory skiff into the water at the public landing in Secretary. From the dock, it looked like I should get under the bridge before I stepped my 12-foot mast. I rowed zigzag to the bridge. My oars were too long, too heavy, and too low on the gunwale. And I had not yet figured out that I should use my biker’s clip-on mirror to navigate while rowing. Nor had I figured out to lash my tiller. This was all new to me.

Once past the bridge, I struggled to step the mast while I drifting across the narrow Warwick River. I got the mast up as my rudder gently touched the mud at the opposite bank. A woman in a golf cart sped across her lawn to arrest me for trespassing. I raised sail just in time to escape. 

I expected an easy run out the Warwick River onto the Choptank. Instead, I was sailing into a very light breeze, not at all what was forecast. This would be the story for the rest of the day – “wrong wind”. While tacking my way down this narrow channel, I hit submerged riprap near entrance on the south side. 

My plan for the day depended on strong winds from the east and a beam reach five miles upriver to the town of Choptank. Instead, I ghosted for hours, across to Jamaica Point, then only a mile upriver to Cabin Creek. Plenty of time for sightseeing. And I saw an odd sight – several small trees floating upright on the ebb tide. By 3pm, I was just three miles up from Warwick River, and it was time to turn around and row back to Secretary.

I dropped sail and rowed over to the marsh near Blinkhorn Creek for my late lunch. Wine, bread, and cheese.

While I relaxed at anchor, the wind that was forecast for the morning finally appeared. Wind from the east at 10 kts and gusting higher. I quickly packed up, raised sail, and flew away from the marsh for a wild ride back downriver. It was only my second time solo sailing, and I was on edge all the way. Despite my timid hand on the tiller, the skiff heeled and dipped the lee gunwale to the water twice before we turned up into Warwick River.

I thought later about the capsize plan that I did not have. Now I face a different challenge – beating back up into the narrow channel to Secretary. After 4-5 tacks, I was making little progress. I dropped the sail and tried to row. The problems I had rowing out in the morning were compounded by the headwind. For 20 minutes I made little progress, rowing zigzag, oars popping out of their locks, wondering if I would get back to the landing before dark.

I was starting to get the hang of it, making some headway. Over my shoulder, I saw a homeowner standing on his dock, watching me struggle. He fired up his fishing boat, motored over, and offered to tow me back to the landing. We talked briefly about the conditions and my difficulty. But I turned down his offer. Why would I do that? What was wrong with me? It was part vanity. I was rowing better now and was about to beat this thing, I wanted to prove that I could. And I was feeling embarrassed that I was out on the water so poorly prepared. He waved and turned back.

I tied up at a piling next to the seafood packing house and the bridge to lower my mast before rowing to the landing.

Dinner at Suicide Bridge Restaurant, just ahead of closing. Crabcakes and IPA, thinking about lessons learned.

I also write about traditional Eastern Shore sailing workboats here.

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