August 22nd, 2021
Today I went on an 18.3 mile trip on the Rappahannock River. The primary goal was to test my new topsail that I’ve been working on and today was forecast to be pretty light wind. Excluding the time I spent hove to to rig the sail, I averaged 4 mph over the day which seems to be the historical average for this boat.
I launched from the public boat ramp at the mouth of Mill Creek, just behind Parrott Island. I don’t usually come here since it has a problem of silting over and earlier this year I just barely got out. They must have dredged since April since it was in good shape today.
I tried sticking the 15′ topmast under the jib and out over the bow like a bowsprit, but it interferes with how the jib sets. Maybe I can stick it out the back, otherwise I might need to think about making the mast two pieces.
To raise the sail, I first hove to, tied the sheet onto the clew, and unrolled the sail. In the future I’m going to change this to a clip or something so it’s a lot easier.
Next I tied the halyard onto the topmast with a rolling hitch and slid it up between the sail and sprit.
Things were going way too smoothly so the sheet decided to tie itself in a knot around the end of the sprit as the sail flapped away. I managed to poke the knot off with an oar, but then the topmast slipped out and the whole thing turned turtle on the far side of the mainsail. So that involved taking everything back down, getting the lines sorted out, and trying again.
But eventually I got it situated. The mast bows quite a bit more than I was expecting and I later lashed the top mast to the main mast in a better way so it didn’t lean back so much. It almost seems like the sail is too big in actual use, but I will try a stiffer topmast rigged more vertically before cutting the sail down.
And with that I was off. I didn’t have much of a plan for the day, other than to see if I could get a screenshot of myself from the traffic camera at the foot of the bridge. That’s the southern end of Parrott Island off to the left.
I drifted south east at .8 mph for about a third of a mile as I was rigging the topsail. It took 20 minutes, but I’m sure with practice and no mistakes it could be as little as 5 minutes. Coming back I hove to to get the topsail and jib down which went much quicker.
Heading out into the Rappahannock towards the bridge.
This marker is really looking bad. I came by it in May 2020 and the metal was still supporting the concrete top, but it has since collapsed causing the concrete to break.
The goal of the day! I didn’t know how close I needed to be to get a good picture on the traffic camera, so I sailed to the far side of the bridge, tacked, and headed closer. Then I crossed back through before I slipped out of frame, although at about a 30 second delay on the website.
I took a number of screenshots, but my wife snagged the best one from the comfort of our bed at home.
I crossed under the second span and the camera is on a pole just to the right of the clump of trees.
With the day’s goal completed, there wasn’t much else to do but sail around and see how the topsail handles.
So I headed for the center span and upwind towards Carter’s Creek.
This was probably some of the best sailing of the day. I was moving about 5 mph with just ripples on the water. I’d gotten all the slack out of the snotter and the sails all seemed to be setting pretty well.
Up ahead I saw a fire engine red sailboat coming out of Carter’s Creek. As we got closer the two sailers wanted to know more about my boat, so I pulled a 180º and we sailed out into the river chatting. Come to find out it was one of my metalworking clients, Mike, and his sailing buddy. They were out getting their Cape Dory Typhoon Radio Flyer ready for the upcoming race season. Eventually they decided to go downriver towards the bridge and I kept going upriver.
With nowhere in particular to go, I decided to head towards Meachim Creek on the southern side of the river because there’s an island that looked interesting on Google Maps.
A bit shallow! I wanted to land on the beach so I could take a picture of the boat, but there were no trespassing signs everywhere. In Virginia property rights extend to mean low water, so I guess the signs were legitimate.
I didn’t realize from the satellite view that the island’s trees were on 20′ tall cliffs eroding into the river.
Rounding the island. I came in through that gap in the trees on the left.
Back into the river heading downwind. I think the top half of the topsail is wrinkled because the topmast is bending so much. I went back by the traffic camera, but the angle of the sails wasn’t as good as the morning.
It was still a bit too early to head in, so I decided to cut across to the northern side of the river and round the barges that are always tied up over there. You can just make out Windmill Point by the jib, and Stingray Point off on the right with the Chesapeake Bay in between.
Rounding the barges. I didn’t quite realize how massive they are. Tons of boats were anchored around fishing.
Heading back across the river towards Parrott Island. This was the roughest part of the day with maybe 15 mph winds judging by the Beaufort Scale. Definitely over canvased with the topsail, but I didn’t feel it was necessary to heave to and take it down. I was making about 6-7 mph upwind.
I decided to call it quits since it looked like the daily afternoon thunderstorm was moving in.
Coming back around Parrott Island.
I didn’t get much hard data on how the topsail performs today, but I can tell that it definitely helps out when the marsh blocks the wind lower down. I’ve read the the Albemarle Sound shad boats would work with just their topsail, or gullwing as they called it, for this reason.
It’s a good thing that I decided to call it a day when I did since this was just an hour and a half later.