As I’ve mentioned before, it’s sailors’ superstition that it’s bad luck to
depart on Friday. We left on Thursday at 9:00 p.m., not entirely to avoid
leaving on Friday, but I thought it couldn’t hurt. Oh was I wrong….
The bad luck started on Thursday afternoon, the marina was closed for the
holidays, so I poured 10 gallons of diesel into the sailboat and tossed the
two empty diesel jugs into the trunk of the Impala. I drove out to the
Chesapeake City Valero gas station to get diesel and top up the Impala for
storage. Unfortunately the diesel pumps weren’t working. Rather than drive
to another diesel pump, I made the decision to head back, after all, we were
a SAILBOAT and we were going to SAIL. The forecast was for strong winds dead
on our stern, diminishing through the night.
Thursday night the winds were gusting to 30 and forward of the beam. We
weren’t sailing because of the gusts that were tight on the bow. I figured
we’d motor the first few hours until the winds abated and then we’d sail.
Friday morning the winds did abate – all the way to zero! We were still
motoring in calm seas. We had a decent forecast when we left, so I checked
the weather again to see what was going on. They didn’t even have the
current weather correct, so I didn’t put much stock into the updated
forecast. Now a small craft advisory was issued for Sunday night into Monday
morning. Friday night, I couldn’t face another cold night of motoring, so we
anchored in a dead calm on Godfrey Bay in the Piankatank River. We hoped the
next day would see our luck improve.
Friday night the winds picked up and the rain came in. Saturday morning we
motored directly into an ESE wind to get out of the Piankatank River. As we
made it out and I turned south to Wolf Trap light I set the sails, and we
made good speed on a close reach in the rain. Then the wind began to shift
and die. What followed was 3 hours of adjusting the sails to try to keep up
with the wind clocking around, culminating in me rigging the whisker pole in
bitter cold rain just in time for the wind to completely swing to our stern
and die. That’s a lot of work when you’re wet and cold. The sails finally
came in and we motored on. Now the small craft advisory was going to come in
Saturday afternoon and last till Monday morning. (Thanks for the warning
Since we were motoring the whole way, we were now getting low on diesel.
Around noon the heater cut out because we were so low on fuel, and I added
our last 10 gallons while trying to keep the rain out of the fuel tank. We
looked for a place that would still be open when we arrived, and
unfortunately we couldn’t make it to Norfolk before the marinas closed. We
called Salt Ponds Marina, and we would make it there before closing and
could take on diesel. They said they had 6′ of water, so it was going to be
tight but we decided to try. As we entered Salt Ponds it looked tight, it
was low tide, and I started to think this was a bad idea. It was. We ran
aground in sand on 4′ of water, but luckily I was going slow and was able to
back JV off. We called the marina to tell them we couldn’t make it. I think
the 6′ that was promised was at their fuel dock, not the entrance.
We decided we had enough diesel to make it to Tidewater Marina the next
morning when they opened. We anchored behind Old Point Comfort on Saturday
night to try to get protection from the WNW winds. (NOAA finally got that
right, the winds were brutal and the small craft advisory was justified from
Saturday night till Monday morning.)
Sunday we had a leisurely morning. Tidewater wouldn’t open till 9, we’d hit
the Gilmerton Bridge at 12:30, and the Deep Creek Lock at their 1:30
opening. Things finally started to fall into place, Tidewater was great, we
docked the boat in 25 knots of wind without incident, we got diesel before
we ran out, and they even let us use their showers! We made it through the
bridges and the locks without issue, and tied up at the free dock at the
Dismal Swamp Welcome Center before dark. We had a nice chat with the
friendly lock-tender at the Deep Creek Lock, and he told us some of the
history of the canal before serenading us with a conch horn. Things were
looking good, and the weather was turning around too!
We’ve never taken the Dismal Swamp Canal, normally we take the Virginia Cut
portion of the ICW. We’ve heard a lot of sailors speak favorably of the
Dismal Swamp, and we figured we’d give it a shot this time. Plus their free
docks coincided with when we’d need a place to stay for the night. I enjoyed
watching ducks fly in front of us down the canal, and it was much calmer and
warmer in the canal.
This morning we awoke to a heavily frosted JV. After the strong winds
stopped the temperature dropped, and this was our coldest morning, the
weather station here reported 18 degrees! We left on schedule to make the
8:30 opening at the South Mills lock. At mile 29 of the Dismal Swamp Canal
we hit a roadblock -er- canalblock. Literally. There’s an 18″ diameter tree
lying across the canal just south of us. It’s blocking the entire canal,
extending shore to shore. So we turned around (with incident, I didn’t
expect a light current to pin us to the submerged tree.) After we extracted
ourselves from the tree we steamed back to the Dismal Swamp Visitor’s
There’s a work crew on the way to move the tree and the friendly lock-tender
suggested we wait them out instead of losing a day trying to get through the
We’re still safe and the heater is working, so this string of bad luck is
mostly just minor inconvenience.
But with everything that’s gone wrong, maybe we SHOULD have left on Friday?