Autumn Gales

The weather has certainly been keeping things interesting for me the past couple of weeks.  We have had two extended periods of southwest gales that really stirred things up around Cape Cod and the Islands, so I decided that I needed to move Sirocco to a more sheltered bay.  This move had to take place after I had finished my regular daytime obligations, so I missed the afternoon tide and had to move the boat at midnight, as the entrance to the little bay where I planned to shelter Sirocco from the forecast strong winds is too shallow to pass at low tide.  Luckily, there was a full moon to make the move easier.
I arrived at the boat ramp nearest to where Sirocco was anchored at about 2200–just in time for it to start pouring.  When I left the house it had been clear.  Now bands of rain and thunderstorms were rolling through.  I waited a few minutes for the rain to taper off before launching my dinghy from the beach next to the boat ramp.  The wind was already blowing at 20 knots out of the SW, which caused an uncomfortable chop in the harbor and made rowing more challenging.  As soon as I shoved off the rain came in again, and hard.  I rowed the half-mile to Sirocco through the dark and rain with a sailbag containing my pillow and some clean, recently dry bedding on my lap to keep it out of the rising water in the bottom of the dinghy.  The oars occasionally caught on my cargo, causing the blades to strike the surface of the water on the return stroke, which slowed progress and showered me with salty spray.
I made it to the boat, hauled the dinghy on deck because the anchorage was too rough to leave it snatching at its’ painter, and went below to shelter and stow my sopping bedding by the light of lightning strobing through the portholes.  Luckily, the wind and rain slacked off in advance of the front that was to bring the first round of gales, which made it much easier to begin hauling up the anchors.  Just as I finished hauling the first anchor the wind came up all at once to 35 knots.  I worked quickly to haul the other anchor.  I was only able to make progress between gusts because of the pressure of the wind pushing on Sirocco.
Once the anchors were both on deck I secured them and started motoring upwind against a rapidly building chop.  I was very glad that I had taken the dinghy on deck, as the wind began to gust ever higher, and the chop in Phinney’s harbor was soon up to about two feet high, with the occasional higher wave pitching Sirocco enough to cause her propeller to suck air and lose all drive.  After those waves it would take what seemed like ages before the prop would bite again and Sirocco would begin to regain momentum.  At least while we were stopped dead in the water there would be no spray blowing back from the bow to cover my glasses.  That gave me a chance to lick them dry enough to see for a few seconds to get my bearings relative to the channel markers before Sirocco built a little speed and sent the top of the next wave showering over the cockpit.
It took an entire hour to force the boat to windward two miles to the new anchorage.  I was thankful for the light of the full moon that shone down in between low, racing clouds that moved across the sky so quickly that they reminded me of some movies where the scene is an entire day that has been sped up to fit into a couple of minutes.  Only the angle of the moon’s light didn’t change quickly enough to complete the effect.  When possible, my attention was focused on following an electronic trail that I had previously plotted in calm weather to lead me into the sheltered bay behind Toby’s Island through a very narrow, unmarked channel.  I only had one shot at it because the wind made the island and gravel bar that guard the bay into a lee shore that night.  I was thankful that I had taken the time to commit the entrance to my memory as well, because I don’t like to be overly dependent on the electronics, but I needed the GPS trail to show me exactly where to turn into the bay, as the small buoys that normally mark the entrance had already been removed for the winter.
I made it through the entrance without incident and drifted downwind about one quarter of the length of the bay before turning up and dropping anchor.  I set one anchor and let out plenty of scope.  I wanted that anchor to dig in deep, as the overnight wind would blow to about 40 knots, according to the forecast.  I reasoned that if the single anchor held, then when I set an additional anchor later on the boat would be secure enough to ride safely without me having to stay aboard.  It was almost 0300 before I went to sleep to the sounds of the wind howling in the rigging.  The anchor was holding fast, though, and the bay very sheltered from waves, so it was a relatively peaceful night.
After I awoke in the light of day I set a second anchor so that it also held the bow to the strong SW wind.  The boat lay very quietly to the two anchors, as they worked together to keep her bow from falling off very far to either side.  It was good to have the insurance of two good anchors down because that day the wind blew at up to 47 knots–a test for any boat’s gear.  Once I was satisfied that the boat was holding I got in the dinghy to return to the car.  Within one minute of leaving the boat on a fast downwind ride to the boat  ramp a very heavy shower passed over and threatened to completely obscure the shoreline only two hundred yards on either side of my course.  The deluge was short-lived, thankfully, as it also threatened to burden the dinghy with a load of rainwater.  My mile-long dinghy trip back to the boat ramp was powered by the strong wind.  I had only to correct my course by occasionally dragging an oar.
I contacted the town’s harbormaster during the week for permission to stay anchored in that bay for the rest of my visit here.  He granted me permission to stay, so now I don’t have to worry about where I will keep the boat for the next couple of weeks until I start my trip south.  The bay where Sirocco is anchored now is protected from all directions, so I don’t have to worry so much about each new wind that comes through.  That is doing very good things for my peace of mind!

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