My best friend of a decade, Christina, came to visit us here on the island.  Needless to say, this was not her usual visit: a sail, running aground, and a storm to top it all off!  Adventure?  I’d say so!

She started her visit by joining me for a water aerobics class with all of the retired wives of the island.  We were clearly the youngest people in the class–it was “special.”

Storm in the forecast

Then we joined Damian and Schnitzel on board Gem&I for an afternoon sail.  Our faithful neighbor, Russ from Integrity, came by to make sure that we were aware of the weather forecast, which had a late afternoon thunderstorm in store.  Damian acknowledged the information, and we promised to not be out too long.  We planned to take Christina out to the Chester River just passed the Narrows.

Afternoon summer sail

Things went well for the first hour.  We made it out of the channel and headed up the channel with the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge on our port side.  We were graced with light winds.  We stayed on one tack for awhile, noticing the dark clouds rolling in from the west.  We tacked around and headed back for the channel.  But the clouds just kept rolling in.  Damian and I put down the sails and continued motoring and fast as our little engine could go.

Thunderstorm

But she’s not very fast, so we braced for the storm.  Inevitable as we gazed out over the waters being churned up by the oncoming wind and the pelting rain behind it.  The smell of fresh rain slammed into our boat like a wall, and the rain poured down with fury.  We were grateful for our canvas as we stayed mostly dry in the cockpit.  This summer thunderstorms didn’t last longer than fifteen minutes.  But the poor cat, he was miserable and appeared soaked.  So we toweled him off as best as we could.

More trouble

As the storm swept on passed, we entered the channel.  We made it through the first two channel markers and kept trekking forward.  The sky still looked foreboding, and we recognized that a second thunderstorm would be coming in soon.  Lightning flashed in the distance, and we slowly inched our way forward between the red and greens at low tide.  Our conversation drifted to past sailing experiences, and Christina asked about some of times we had run aground this summer.  We were in the middle of telling her the story about running aground at the entrance of Pickering Creek.

And then we felt it.  The familiar jolt of running aground.

Again.  Really?

Yep.

And we were right in the middle of the channel!  We were in the middle of the red and green on the bow and in the middle of the red and green from the stern.  But this tricky channel has not been consistent this season with its temporary markers that side-step the old dredged section we used to follow without fail.

Damian decided since he was right where we should be in the channel, he gunned the engine to 3000 RPMs to see if we could push the keel forward into deeper water beyond.

Nothing. Stuck.

We could feel the boat rock up and down, and Damian attempted to move the rudder back and forth to see if that may help.  I checked the tide tables with my phone to determine where we were in the high/low cycle.  The tide was on a flow cycle, so the tide was on its way in.  As frustrating as it was with the oncoming thunderstorm headed our way, if we sat there long enough, the tide would slowly rise a few inches, and we would free ourselves.

But that meant going through another storm.

As odd as it was a line of powerboats were on their way out of the channel, including several “annoying” cigarette boats.  As each one made our way between the red and green, they passed us as we were smack-dab in the middle of the channel.  It’s humiliating to have the people on board these powerboats stare at us with that look which says: “What is wrong with you?” and “Oh boy, sailing people are so dumb–they ran aground. ha!”

Not only is it a jab to our pride to sit grounded in the channel being passed by other boats, but it’s also uncomfortable, because with each pass of a boat, a wake ensues.  And the passing powerboat’s wake bounces our boat up and down, up and down.

Woah, wait!  Could the wake actually bounce us off the ground and back into deeper water?

Absolutely.  And that’s what rocked us free less than twenty minutes later.  But now we were twenty minutes behind with a very quick sliver of time left to get back in our slip before the advancing thunderstorm.  Damian navigated us the rest of the way successfully through the channel towards the entrance to the marina.  Christina took Schnitzel down below, and I grabbed foul weather gear for Damian and me as well as the boat hook.  We motored up the fairway towards O Dock.

But we were too late.  The westward wind picked up and slammed our Gem&I towards the port with rocks lining the way up to our slip.  There was no way we could successfully back into our slip with this hammering wind, so Damian chose to pull into the vacant row of slips to just wait it out.  As we waited there, I realized his the sleeves of his rain jacket riding up his wrists and the shoulders of the jacket were quite tight on him.  I had accidentally given him mine, and no wonder the jacket I was wearing seemed two sizes too big!

The wind slowed and then the rain beat down.  Damian started backing our boat down the fairway again towards O-Dock. Despite the initial prop wash, Gem&I steadily worked her way passed our neighboring sailboats.  And who should be standing on the dock behind slip 355, faithfully waiting for us in the rain?  Russ, a man we have come to love dearly.

Coming home to Russ

He’d been waiting for us with VHF on just in case we were in distress with the declining weather conditions.  Damian docked the boat, and Russ threw us the stern lines.  We secured the bow and stern lines in the downpour.  We were relieved and grateful to be back in the slip.  What a day it had been!

Ever been caught in a storm?

We would love to hear from you!  What are your “storms at sea” stories?  Who is the one person you are excited to get home to once you head back to shore?