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Sailing with a Chicken

The blunt twin pontoons of the Hobie Wave catamaran pounded down the trough of the surprisingly large wave, sending a shudder through the shroud lines to the top of the mast. Water pushed up through the trampoline mesh and sluiced over the lacings. Wind gusts whined through the rigging. The leeward bow submerged. I gasped. Then it popped back up to thud over the next swell.

Even with my two layers of neoprene socks, my neoprene gloves, my drysuit under which I wore thermal running tights, a thick polypro long sleeve shirt and fleece vest, and the insulation from my PFD, I shivered. Not uncontrollably. Yet.

“I see a sandbar,” Mitch yelled. “I’m gonna have to tack.”

No, I wanted to yell back. We can make it!

We were on a close reach, aiming south-southwest, trying to get back to Holt’s Landing where we’d launched about three hours earlier. If we tacked, we’d be heading southeast, and I’d be able to see the Indian River Inlet Bridge again. The bridge over the inlet with its five knots of out-going current, which, according to the tide charts, should have been coming in by now. That’s why the waves were so big—wind against current.

The rational side of my brain, in that calm, patronizing tone it has, said, “We are nearly two miles west of the inlet. We’re not in any danger.”

But the melodramatic side of my brain, in its most pathetic, simpering tone, sobbed, “We’ll capsize, get sucked out into the Atlantic Ocean, trash the boat, and have to get rescued. But probably I’ll freeze to death first.”

We’d been wanting to get out sailing for weeks. But during April here at the beach, a solar system of planets have to align: Enough wind but not too much; air temperature minimum of mid-50s; no east in the wind (any wind coming off the ocean is way too frigid right now, no matter the air temperature).

Finally, all conditions were a go. Upper 50s and SSW winds at 10-15 knots. The late afternoon forecast was for the winds to increase to 15-20 with gusts to 30. We’d be off the water long before that.

My friends, you know where this story is headed. With the initial perfect conditions, we sailed across Indian River Bay to Middle Island to see if the Blue Herons were nesting yet. Then we sailed past the boat ramp at Massey’s Landing to see if it’d be suitable for launching our twenty-two foot sailboat. Then we stopped for lunch on an empty beach and explored the quiet, forested interior high ground of the uninhabited island. Then we sailed to the north side of Burton’s Island, wanting to see which migratory birds had returned. That’s when our blue sunny sky clouded over, the temperature dropped, and, without preamble, the wind picked up.

Burton’s Island blocked the strongest gusts. Things got messy once we’d cleared it and entered the channel. Still, from where we were, had the tide been about three inches higher, we could have made it back to Holt’s in one tack. But the shoals extending south from Middle Island would not cooperate. We tacked, then tacked again, and again, and again.

Hobie Waves, while almost indestructible, are not performance boats. They have heavy blunt hulls so when you get into choppy water, the bow nose-dives. This slows and sometimes stops your momentum, making them nearly impossible to tack in these conditions.

But by reversing the rudders and back-winding the sail, Mitch massaged it through the wind each time. His intense concentration and slight grin told me that, while I was terrified, he was thoroughly loving this challenge.

Soon (although it felt like hours) we made it out of the worst of the current, and the waves became manageable. While still cold, seeing our progress towards the far shoreline warmed me a little. A nice gust shot us forward and Mitch yelled, “Whoo hoo!” My rational and melodramatic brains called a truce.

We made it back to the ramp, loaded and dismantled the boat, and changed into dry clothes. The sun popped out and the blue sky returned. Warm and cozy in my hoodie and sweat pants, munching on a granola bar, the memories of my brush with death faded. “That was great,” I said. “We’ll have to do that again soon.”

Additional Info:

Holt’s Landing Boat Ramp Info:

Holt’s Landing is on the south shoreline of the Indian River Bay. It is a nice boating facility with a recently renovated ramp area. It has two ramps and ample trailer parking. The water around the ramp is shallow though so if your boat draws more than two feet, you’d be dragging. Our rudders kicked up about 20 feet from the ramp. It is a state park so there is a parking fee.

Hobe Wave catamaran:

Above I’d mentioned the downside to the Waves. But the upside is that they are so darn easy! Easy to rig, easy to launch, easy to sail. And they need only about fifteen inches of water to float (although steering is tough in low water), making them ideal for exploring the shallow bays here.

By Jenifer

My husband, Mitch, and I own an eco-tour business at the beach in Delaware called Coastal Kayak (http://www.coastalkayak.com/). We work very hard during the summer so that we can have fun during the winter!

4 replies on “Sailing with a Chicken”

Was having a similar conversation with a friend about hitting a strong wind kayaking. Glad you are safe and happily ashore.

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