Windmill Point to Gloucester Point 2020

August 28th, 2020

Recently it came to my attention that the last time I went sailing was two months ago. In my defense, I have been super busy with work and the month of humid, blazing hot weather didn’t help either. Anyway, after looking at the weather I decided to take my boat out on a really long trip from Windmill Point to Gloucester Point on the Chesapeake Bay. In the morning the wind was forecast to be westerly with a falling tide, while the afternoon would be southerly winds and a rising tide. That means I would have a beam reach down to the York River, the wind and tide would change, and I’d have another beam reach up the river. Easy peasy. If all goes well it should be about 36 miles.

I didn’t realize the sprit was outside the brail line until I’d gotten everything rigged and I was ready to launch. By that point I was getting on for 45 minutes late, so I decided to go with it. Besides, Thames sailing barges brail their sails like this and they seem to know what they’re doing.

Heading out of the Windmill Point Marina on a nice beam reach. The waves were just below whitecap stage and I was making 6.5-7 mph.

I had a nice pink sunrise while I was rigging the boat.

One last look at Windmill Point. Those houses have a beautiful view, although probably a little too good during hurricanes and nor’easters.

I had a stroke of genius heading across the Rappahannock. Since I’m going to be on starboard tack for 20 miles, why not put all my stuff on the windward side to help with the hiking? I bet fishermen figured this out hundreds of years ago.

A bit south of Gwynn’s Island the wind started to die down, so I figured I’d head out towards the Wolf Trap lighthouse in hopes of stronger wind. You can just make it out on the horizon.

Unfortunately the wind seemed to die altogether as I approached the lighthouse. I was staring off at the horizon wondering what I should do when I heard a blast of air and a pod of dolphins swam by! I wish they were closer for a better picture, but whistling and yelling “here boy!” didn’t seem to have much effect.

About a mile from the lighthouse I resigned myself to rowing. It was interesting to see first hand how it takes the waves a while to settle down once the wind dies. I’d always assumed if there are waves then there must be wind, but that’s not the case.

I brailed up the sail and started rowing at 4.5-5 mph, although an unknown amount of that was due to the tide. My plan was to head closer to shore in case I decided to pull out at Winter Harbor Haven, but it was only 11:30am so I still had the whole afternoon to see what happens.

After rowing about 1.5 miles I noticed a few catspaws so I quickly lowered the brailed mainsail, raised the jib, and started sailing. The wind had shifted southerly like it was forecast, but I hadn’t made it as far south as I’d hoped. The tide was still helping a little though. Anyway, that’s New Point Comfort and the entrance to the Mobjack Bay. I’d been sailing with four catamarans since the Piankatank River but they peeled off and headed there.

Because of the angle I couldn’t quite make it into the York River, so I tacked and headed out into the Chesapeake Bay. Eventually I figured I’d be able to just slip in so I tacked again and headed for the oil refinery. I couldn’t point quite that high, but I did the best I could.

Into the York River! There’s a lot of low lying marsh that made it a little difficult to determine where to head, but in the end I just snuck through. Maybe in the future a drawing of the land and some sort of device that always points in the same direction would help. Nah, probably a crazy idea.

To be honest, this trip has been a little boring. Sailing 40 miles in a 15′ boat will be a nice accomplishment, but otherwise I’ve been too far off shore to see much. All day it’s been the horizon on the left and green smudges dotted with houses on the right. So I decided to sail through Allen’s Island to liven the trip up. The wind was just a whisper while I ghosted along. I stood up to try and spot any shallow parts since I’ve never been here before.

Looking back after gliding through the marsh grass. It reminded me of videos I’ve seen of those English guys sailing the Mersea duck punts.

Unfortunately Allen’s Island is suffering from rising water and erosion just like everything on the bay. The picture on the left is from 1994.

The end was in sight but the wind just had to die again. You probably can’t make anything out, but the schooner Alliance is out for its daily sunset cruise and there’s a tall memorial at the Yorktown battlefield marking the end of the Revolutionary War when Cornwallis surrendered.

A small puff of wind hit and I tried sailing wing and wing. I was going nowhere fast and my folks were coming to pick me up, so I needed to be making progress!

Time to brail up the sail and row for the third time today. One of the guys on the fishing pier asked me where I’d come from and had a shocked look on his face when I told him.

Finally tied up at the Gloucester Point boat ramp, 40 miles later! It’s pretty wild how fast the current moves through here, although it makes sense. The river is only 1/3 the width of the mouth so all that water has to speed up. You guys in the north west probably think this is child’s play though. So that was my trip. 40.8 miles in just over 10 hours. My maximum speed was 7.9 mph as I was coming across the mouth of the Rappahannock, but the average was 4.1 mph. It definitely would have been slower without the tide helping me… it was a pretty calm day.

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