We moved effortlessly along the hard packed sand of the island, we had arrived only hours before aboard Cu Na Maura our well found sloop. It had been a night of rabble rousing among the inhabitants of Furnace Bay. The crew consisted of myself, my son Ryan and his two friends Jamie and Calum, we had set out for the island the day before from our home port in Cara Cove. Our goal was treasure, as always, to achieve that goal we had to cross an exceptionally tricky body of water known as the Susquehanna Flats, around Carpenters Pt and down the busy Havre De Grace channel.
We had made the trip several times over the past two years, a well worn path shown under Cu Na Maura’s keel, a well found crew on a capable ship, and easy passage, or so we thought.
The day broke as many others, we were in the grasp of the mid summer Bermuda high on the Chesapeake with warm tempatures and humidity to match. The breeze was light out of the south, a slow slog around the point I thought. The sky to the east was red as the sun boiled just on the horizon. “Red skies in the morning, sailor take warning ” repeated in the back of my mind somewhere as I peered into the rigging looking for the tell tales high on the main sail. The barometer had been dropping over the last 24 hours or so as a precursor to an incoming frontal boundary and wind shift, we knew it was coming, we didn’t know when.
I ordered the cabin below to be stowed for sea, the morning meal had been served, it was the off going watches responsibility for making these preparation. We were running a port and starboard watch rotation 4 hours on 4 hours off during daylight hours 2 on 2 off overnight. The sun arcing higher in the eastern sky had a bit of a halo around it impressive as it appeared also brought it own feeling of foreboding.
I’m not exactly sure what it was, a slight shift of the wind on the back of my neck, a change in the rhythm of the deck moving below my feet, but at that moment I felt uneasy, as skipper on a sailing yacht your instinct bears prime consideration in executing your duties. I looked about the horizon, smoke billowed up from the beach to the south of us on Spesutie Island, probably an abandoned camp fire. To the North the mighty Susquehanna flowed as always from 426 miles North in upstate New York, to West though a low line of ink black clouds were slowly forming on the horizon. The glass had been falling for 24 hours now as we anticipated a pesky low from the Canadian Maritimes moving South towards the DelMarVa peninsula. I felt uneasy as my crew were all young and yet to be tested in a frontal passage such as we see here frequently on the Chesapeake Bay, I called all hands on deck.
I typically go the second reef in the main right away, too many times I have thrown in the first reef finding it was not enough for some of our typical frontal passages here on the bay and would rather not be struggling with that at the most inopportune time. We tightened down the tack at the mast with the Cunningham and cinched it on the mast cleat, I use a block through the clew at the back of the sail with a single reef line, we tightened that and tied n our crinkles. The reefing gear on the Genoa is simple and effective, we can adjust it on the fly as needed. I called for all crew to be in their PFD’s and latched to the jack strap if on deck. We stowed for sea below, we settled in and waited.
Cold fronts for the most part are very predictable as they cross the US west to east. Cool arctic air forms into a mass over the Canadian Maritmes and moves south and east via the jet stream.
One eye on the glass and one to the sky is really all that is needed, at this point I had both eyes on the sky as a black mass of clouds roared down the Susquehanna toward our position. Typically the wind hits ferociously, one minute it is blowing 5 to 8, the next it is blowing 20 to 30 knots.
We had Cu Na Mara prepped and battened down the best we could in preparation for the frontal passage, the sails all reefed to the smallest point, the hatches dogged down watertight, the crew well prepped, fed and anxious.
The initial gust of 20 knots or so laid us over on our side quickly, Cu Na Mara struggled at first, then dug her shoulder into the warm bay water, lurched forward and quickly stood back up and picked up speed. We had a clear path forward for a good 2 miles or so and I was confident of my position, my ship, and my crew.
As typical the blow lasted 30 minutes and slowly subsided, it was early evening, the front moved over us, the rain had stopped, the wind had died down to a comfortable 5 knots and the breeze was fresh. When these fronts move through pushing the hot humid air from the region we are left with cool dry air, the visibility is remarkable to the horizon, the air smells clean, we have a new start, until the next air mass rolls through.
We ghosted up to our anchorage off of Sand Island, dropped the hook and sent a scouting party ashore. The cook was prepping the evening meal, the scouting party came back aboard bubbling with excitement to have been on dry land and ready for the event no meal. We ate heartily as pirates do, using our hands instead of utensils, laughing, belching, making off color remarks and having a great time celebrating a successful passage across a dangerous body of water, and a challenging weather passage all in one long day.
It was approaching midnight, the crew still restless dove off the transom for a night swim, I cautioned them about creatures in the water, they looked at one another laughed and continued. After 45 minutes or so of this I called them back aboard and told them to hit the rack. After all we had to make the same passage back tomorrow, and they all need to be at school Monday morning. I was not going to write absentee notes for a bunch of 6 graders for missing class because of a pirates weekend on the Chesapeake Bay!