Rappahannock 2019

Rappahannock 10/28/19

I’ve had Moga completed for about six months, but before today I’ve only had it out three times on a vacation and that was just for pleasure sailing. For a while I’ve wanted to get hard data on how the boat performs so I can better plan some camp cruising adventures for next summer. Today seemed like a nice day, possibly one of the last opportunities of this year, so I set an out of the office auto email and went sailing.

In my rush to get the boat ready for the vacation back in May, there were a lot of odds and ends that didn’t work all that well but weren’t bad enough to prevent me from using the boat. So I had a few days of repairs to do and then I re-rigged everything to make sure it all works. Furling the sail around the sprit works pretty well, but a brail line has shot to the top of the new list of things to improve.

I probably look ridiculous and my mileage drops from 44 mpg to about 28. Fortunately I don’t have to go far.

Launching Moga at a nice boat ramp on Windmill Point at the mouth of the Rappahannock River.

Here’s a satellite view of the area and my track for the day. You can see the marina at the tip of Windmill Point that I launched from. I grew up sailing around here in a 70’s era Sunfish I bought with grass cutting money. Making day trips to Parrott island, Mosquito island, and Grog island or just around the bridge and back was how I’d spend summers. Sadly, Grog island has washed away and is no more.

And here is the data I collected. GPS track, speed vs time, wind speed and direction, and tide. The winds started out pretty blustery in the morning, but they were down to 10-15 by the time I launched at 10am. Then later around 6pm pretty light to nonexistent. My total trip was 32.7 miles in just under 8 hours.

From the GPS track I calculated tacking angles as best I could. The wind was pretty light on the return trip and the better tacks were when the wind picked up. I have no idea whether these are good, bad or indifferent. The 122.77º tack was when I had a terrible crease in the sail though. Making the snotter and downhaul run back to the cockpit is also high on the list of improvements.

Blasting up the river on a broad reach. I had both the main and jib up, so just over 100 square feet of sail. Probably too much, but fortune favors the bold I suppose. For over an hour I averaged 6.5-7mph with a peak of 8.7mph. A few times a gust put the rail under, but the side decks gave enough margin that I could let the sheet out some. The extra wide rub rail that gave me so much trouble when I built the boat turned into a handy spray deflector. It was satisfying to see the water coming up the hull forced out nearly horizontal. Surfing down waves was pretty fun, although I’m still sitting too far back. A tiller extension makes it onto the list.

Approaching the bridge. Things have calmed down quite a bit since the bigger waves closer to the point. Still doing 6-7mph.

About a mile past the bridge the wind drops out and stays shifty. A small sailboat ahead of me takes down her sails and motors for Carter’s Creek, but turns around and comes over to me to get a look. The skipper gives me a thumbs up and heads back. Credit to Ross, every time I’ve had the boat out someone has given me a compliment. Later I briefly tried to go wing and wing, although the jib didn’t want to stay out. Should have used an oar to boom it out, but didn’t think to.

I make a wide sweeping turn across the mouth of the Corrotoman and start tacking upwind. Hopefully the tide change is helping me. I’ve got a pretty bad crease in the sail, so I try heaving to and adjusting the snotter tension. Heaving to works pretty well and I get the crease out, although fixing the crease would become a theme. I need to figure out where the snotter should live and epoxy a little thumb cleat onto the mast so it can’t slip down. And run the line back to the cockpit.

Little known fact, cardboard boxes are the epitome of high class yachting.

See the line of cars? Traffic is eternally stopped on this bridge. Two years of painting the superstructure (which still bleeds rust), a year of repaving, and annual month long inspections. Back in the 90’s they redid the deck by removing a section and you had to drive over the hole on these big steel humps. Like a little bridge on the bridge.

By this point things were getting a bit old. What little wind there was had shifted to directly where I wanted to go, and I had about two hours of sunlight left. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have time to sail back to the point, so I did the unthinkable and lowered the rig to start rowing. The long straight section between hour 6 and 7 was me rowing at about 4mph. I definitely had some help from the tide though, so maybe actually 3-3.5mph? Anyway, the wind started to return a little, so I put up the rig. Unfortunately, the loop at the peak of the sail came undone and dropped into the water, so I had to sail with it scandalized for a while until I could make a new loop of line. That explains the track, no drinking I promise! The sun was getting low, so I decided to head for a friend’s house and leave the boat docked overnight. No pictures of this section as I was kinda done.

So there it is, the first data gathering sail over a fairly long day sail. Hopefully next spring I’ll do some more of these to get a better idea of the boat and its capability. I will say that this trip reinforced my opinions about it from sailing it during vacation. I think it’s a super capable boat and my sailing ability is the limiting factor.


The next day I motored the boat five miles around to Windmill Point. Steve (the guy who helped me fiberglass the hull) also brought me a British Seagull 40 Plus he had but never used. Today was the day to put it to the test so I first gave it a thorough overhaul. I cleaned the spark plug, changed the lower unit oil, and mixed up some new gas for it as it’s a two stroke. These engines take an eye watering 10:1 ratio, but I am running biodegradable oil and plan to convert it to 25:1. I wrapped the starting rope around the flywheel and gave it a pull. The engine roared to life and I let it run for about 10 seconds before cutting it off. Steve says he last started it 3 years ago, so I guess it’s true these little engines are indestructible.

Anyway, I mounted the engine on the boat’s transom and got rid of the excess sailing accouterments before leaving my friend’s dock.

Sailing dinghy converted to motor boat!

After getting the engine mounted and fired up, I took off. These engines are direct drive, so you need to be pointed in the right direction and ready to go. Everything went fine for seven minutes when the engined started losing power and then sputtered to a halt. I wrapped the starting cord around the flywheel and go it going, but it soon died again. I kept this up for two or three more times before I realized I’d forgotten to loosen the gas tank vent. A vacuum was building up and fuel wasn’t draining properly into the carburetor. With that issue fixed, it was smooth running all the way to the boat ramp.

Smooth running once I loosened the gas tank vent.

The next issue to sort out was the boat’s trim. I had to sit relatively close to the stern to reach the motor’s tiller. This put the bow up rather high and made the stern squat down in the water which causes a lot of drag. So I lashed an oar to the tiller as best I could and sat up on the main thwart. The boat balanced much better, although I couldn’t tell much difference in speed. I also played with the throttle a bit so it wasn’t an apples to apples comparison.

Impromptu tiller extension. I need to make something that will fit inside the hollow tiller arm.

As I approached the boat ramp I had one last issue. When I tilted the motor up, it started leaking fuel into the motor well. It turns out I’d forgotten to tighten the fuel tank vent and should have let the carburetor bowl run dry. Oh well, next time I’ll be prepared. So with that my trip was officially complete.

Graph of speed vs time

Wide open, the engine pushed the boat about 6mph. At slightly less than full throttle it was more like 5.7mph. My boat is 15′ long, so its hull speed should be 5.8 knots, or 6.67mph. Of course my bow isn’t plumb so the waterline length is a little less, so I’m probably going about hull speed. At a certain point more throttle just means more noise, so it’d be interesting to see what the most efficient throttle setting is.

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