I've decided to share this tale of my first solo cruise
because there are people who don't think I should be allowed anywhere near a boat or a body of water
larger than a standard drinking glass and I simply can't resist "poking the bear".
This summer I had planned a solo trip from my river on the Chesapeake to the tiny, historical town of Oxford, MD. It's a round trip of 40-45nm. I figured it was a good way to get my feet wet in the "cruising" aspect of sailing. (Provisioning, trip planning, achoring, accomodations, etc) Up 'till now, I've been focusing on the "sailing", racing
, and learning
What actually happened:
I completely forgot any kind of linen or bedding. I slept on a towel for 3 days on the berth cushions
as in "could not find" the meal I was supposed to cook for dinner. I misplaced the bag of food
at the house. In disgust, I gave up looking for it and grabbed a military "MRE" (Meal Ready-to-Eat).
So, I departed at 1 pm instead of 10 am like I wanted. The wind
was light and intermittent. With a little frustration, I sailed and occasionally motored my way across and down the Chesapeake on more or less of a broad reach.
and chart said that south of Tilghman Island, there would be a green bouy "9" marking the point of a shoal. I simply could not find that bugger. After sailing well south of Tilghman Island, I turned East on a freshening breeze. Very soon, the bay bottom came rushing up to greet me. I had not sailed south enough before turning in. No matter how much I scanned, I couldn't find that stupid bouy. I turned SE, trying to sail off of the shoal, my depth
finder reading 3' the entire time. My boat grounds when the depth
finder reads 2 feet. For at least 45 minutes, I sailed over this broad shoal watching my depth finder flit between 4 and 2 feet. This shoal is broad.
On top of this, there are fish
traps (large circular areas of wooden stakes driven into the bay bottom) to avoid.
Abruptly, the bottom fell away to 30 feet and I let my breath out. I should have cross referenced the GPS
position to the chart instead of eyeballing it. My visual perception of where I am is always skewed.
Call ahead for accomodations.
The breeze is fresh, but I have a long leg East to sail before reaching Oxford. It's now 6 pm and I'm going to be late. I didn't want to make slip reservations at Mears Yacht Haven in case I didn't sail fast enough. Dumb move. At 7:30, on the setting sun I grabbed my cell phone
to call and make a reservation. All I got was a voicemail listing their hours. I guess I'm sleeping on the hook tonight.
Night sailing and navigation
in unfamiliar, restricted waters.
I left late, and the wind
was light, so I ended up sailing at night. I'm not sure that this is a "mistake" because when many of you say that the first thing to fail when "cruising" is your schedule. Nighttime navigation
and sailing are just part and parcel of the experience.
NOW I wake up and start plotting my position from GPS fixes to the chart in the cockpit
. The sky is crystal clear, the breeze is very fresh and I'm hauling a$$ up the channel. There is a string of red bouys flashing in different patterns that are easy to line up on the chart. At the end, is the Choptank River Light and a flashing green bouy making a narrow "slot" into Tred Avon
River. There is a serious shoal outside of the green that I definitely would have grounded on, so I'm favoring the Choptank light until I'm certain that I've found the correct green bouy.
I sailed north into the Tred Avon
, coming head-to-wind. I put Otto on the tiller and ran forward (clipped on) to drop the sails
. I motor
up for about 10 minutes until I'm just outside of town. The chartbook says that it's 15' deep outside of the channel, all the way to shore. There is a considerable space outside of the channel, so I motor
out, into the lee provided by a point of land.
I set the anchor
, dial in the anchor alarm
on the GPS. It's 9:30 pm and I have finally arrived. It's too late to cook anyway, so I'm not missing the meal I couldn't find. I eat my MRE in silence, marvelling at the stars. I'm the only boat in the anchorage. I arrange my little towel on the v-berth and sleep the sleep of the dead.
Buy a decent toilet.
I had an RV toilet. The plastic bellows that you pump to flush the bowl, split. Now all it does is pump fresh water
all over my hand, not into the bowl.
Next morning, 0610:
(The piece de resistance)
I awake to the motor of a crab boat, on it's way to the day's harvest. I perform the morning's ablutions and look forward to making a decent breakfast: Eggs, toast, bacon, and coffee.
I break out my trusty, liquid fuel
, Coleman camping stove that has been in my family
for nearly 40 years. I set it on the galley
countertop, pressurize the tank, and light the burner.
I fill a small pot with water for coffee and set it on the burner. I reach for the cast iron skillet and notice a puddle of "water" on the counter. I grab a paper towel and mop it up and set it nearby for a moment. I set the skillet on the other burner and....
The whole galley
countertop and stove erupt in flame about 8" high. Not a small fire by any means. I spazzed out and threw the burning paper towel on the cabin sole
. Obviously, this only reduced the fire by a small amount and put it in two places. The stove is immolated, and I can't get to the fuel
I calmed down, and reached for the extinguisher, through the flames on the cabin sole
. A short burst to the cabin
sole, a short burst to the stove. A fire is still burning behind the stove. Huh? Ok, a burst behind the stove and the fire's finally out. I shut off the fuel to the stove.
The powder from the extinguisher made more of a mess than the fire ever did. I crawled out into the cockpit
, powder billowing from the cabin
as if it were smoke. If the CG had been around, I know they'd think my boat was burning to the waterline. Powder was EVERYWHERE.
Cause of the fire
: Investigation revealed that the O-ring in the filler cap was partially disintigrated. The stove didn't leak during transport, but under pressure, fuel slowly burbled out of the cap, trickling onto the galley countertop into a large puddle under and behind the stove. Vapors provided a means for the flame to jump from the burner to the puddle, igniting the whole affair.
I burned the hair off of my left hand, melted the cup I was drinking from, my contact lenses were in their case, over in a corner and was melted, and my synthetic Under Armour shirt melted to itself. Amazingly, there was NO damage to the boat at all.
The whole event took 10-15 seconds but seemed to last an eternity.
I sat quietly in the cockpit for about 10 minutes until the powder storm subsided. Then I went below and spent the next two hours cleaning
the powder from the galley, quarterberth and under the companionway
ladder. Breakfast was ruined and I had no way to cook it anyway.
Now it's about 8:30 am, so I called Mears Yacht Haven and asked if they had a slip I could rent for a few hours, which they did. I motored around the corner into my slip. I made the sails
tidy, took a shower
and walked into town for a fabulous breakfast served by a sympathetic, beautiful young woman in a historic B&B.
The rest of the trip was textbook and uneventful, thank God.
Oh, and I purchased a new fire extinguisher in Oxford, before I departed.