Living aboard a 37 foot piece of real estate while slowly sailing through previously unknown bodies of water is fun and exciting, yet it is an experience that requires vigilance to your ever changing surroundings while paying attention to ever changing details, details, details.
After successfully launching and finally heading south toward warmer climates for the coming winter, we were now making a mad dash south in hopes to get out of the estimated target zones of the approaching Hurricane Sandy. It was a gorgeous day as Rock Hall, MD, grew distant behind us and the Bay Bridge loomed on the horizon. We waved goodby to our familiar Baltimore and Annapolis landmarks, including all the beautiful lighthouses and our favorite anchorages, disconcertedly uncertain of whether we would ever sail these familiar waters again. We waved goodbye to the South River where we had also lived and kept our boat at a community dock, and where on a quiet morning from that house we could hear the distant lighthouse warnings on foggy mornings. We asked ourselves what we wouldn’t miss, and almost simultaneously we said “the sound of gunshots waking us during duck hunting season” and “the sound of lawn mowers waking us on a Saturday morning.”
We had an exhilarating sail and finally ghosted into a wide yet shallow area for the night, not well protected from wind or waves, but fortunately the predictions for a fairly calm night proved to be accurate. We awoke with the sunrise, made our coffee, lifted anchor, and ate a quick breakfast of hard-boiled egg sandwiches with tomato and Brie on rye while we motored out the creek to once again sail down the Bay. We knew the wind would pick up and the waves would build as we reached toward Norfolk. The approaching hurricane had slightly stalled and the potential track update indicate it would not directly strike the Bay. But hurricane wind-driven waves at the mouth of the Bay would mean extremely short wave lengths with predictably higher heights than normal. We had mostly nice yet a slightly uncomfortable ride into our next harbor, which was off the maritime museum just north of the entrance to Norfolk.
The next morning we briefly explored the museum before lifting anchor in hopes of finding better shelter from the slowly approaching hurricane Sandy. The distance was deceiving, because we could see Norfolk, and the wave action was shorter and higher than we had ever previously experienced for that area. Then as we rounded the corner into the mouth of the Bay and pointed toward Norfolk proper, we definitely had rougher waves than we had ever experienced on the East Coast from Norfolk to Maine, or in our years of sailing in the Caribbean. Now we were having an uncomfortable ride with waves breaking over the bow and burying it. This had become a wet and somewhat cold ride. We had already researched marinas in Norfolk and had reserved a slip in one with floating docks that seemed to be most protected by sea walls, buildings, and the Naval yards. And we had friends from the Sailing Club of Washington who were already staying in the same marina. As we entered the channel and the waves were beginning to calm down, we were hailed by the Navy and instructed to turn around and hold position just outside the main channel. As we were slowly complying at our fastest speed…7 knots with both sails and motor…two little gun boats buzzed around us and the channel as our explanation appeared in the form of 2 submarines emerging from the depths where we had been just minutes earlier. We then sailed into harbor with a respectable distance behind them, and our friend, Jack Schwartz, was in a slip right next to us and was there to catch our lines as we safely entered and tied up. After a brief hello, we immediately began preparing Harmony for the hurricane winds that would be arriving the next night.
We removed the dinghy from its davits and securely tied it upside down on the bow of the boat. We did not want to remove the sails, so we tightly wrapped lines around our two forestays, put a cover over our mainsail and boom and tightly wrapped lines around them. We removed our bimini and cockpit enclosure and stowed them below in our aft berth, and we secured their metal structure with extra straps and lines. We put double lines from all cleats to the docks and back to the cleats so they could still be adjusted or released if necessary. We filled our fuel and Water tanks so there would be less room for sloshing when the boat is rocked by wind, but also in case the marina lost power from hurricane damage. The one remaining concern was the potential height of the coming storm surge: a too high wind-driven water surge combined with the existing moon’s high tide could lift the floating docks off the top of their pilings. The marina manager was as concerned as the boaters, and they added straps from the floating docks to the metal fence pilings behind the piers…seemed like a disaster waiting to happen, but hurricane predictions were now indicating our location was less likely to get a direct hit.
We were tired, but happy to be secure, so we went ashore and had dinner with Jack and others, where we all ordered drinks appropriately named “hurricane”.