The Paradigm Shift


The paradigm shift from fast-paced urban/suburban living where life is dictated by artificial schedules, commitments and a litany of responsibilities to a life dictated by weather windows, tides and the availability of fresh water is the supreme juxtaposition. For months, 23 June was the departure date set in stone until the morning of the 23rd actually arrived. We said our fair wells the night before to a group of friends at the local restaurant and declared that we would be leaving at approximately a time to be determined. Then o-dark-thirty arrived, and I realized that the channel leading out of our meandering creek was littered with crab pots. Beyond the threat of wrapping my propeller in the dark, in a narrow channel with crab pot line; a system of storms was moving through the area. The departure date would not be 23 June.

For days, we have watched a forecasted low-pressure system form off of the mid-Atlantic region between the successive high-pressure ridges. With the low-pressure system, we saw a prediction for 20 to 30 knots of wind driving out of the south and our opportunity to catapult from the Delaware Bay north to the Cape Cod region. Pushing our departure date back a day put our ability to be in position for the low-pressure system in jeopardy.

We shoved off the dock on 24 June at sunrise, 0545, without ceremony and with a wave to the Osprey, Hammy, and Harry the Great Blue Herron. The creek was still and the sun lifted above our stern as another cruising sailboat readied for departure. Alison and I sat in the cockpit, sipping coffee watching for crab pots and work vessels as the familiar shorelines melted away. Eleanor arrived on deck, smiled, gave a bawdy yawn and asked: “Where we going today?”

We turned out of the Potomac and headed north under full sail determined to travel the length of the Chesapeake Bay over the long day ahead. The breeze freshened, and Caprica surged with the lift as the bay seemed to burst around us with schools of jumping fish and cow nose rays frolicking at the surface. Visibility was excellent, but it was a good time to turn on the new radar, work with the settings and learn the signatures of large container ships vs. fishing vessels or other sailboats. It was amazing to see boats miles away or to determine that the looming, hulking bulk carrier that stood as a grey monolith in the distance was six miles away. 
By 1000, we were beyond the Patuxent River and vectoring between an enormous car carrier and the LNG terminal just North of Cove Point. Occasionally Alison called up from below asking if I could see the boat off of our port bow? She was reading the radar. “It’s set for 3 miles,” I said, peering down to the navigation table. “What about the boat behind us?” I turned to see a GO FAST boat ripping between a cluster of sailboats. “Prepare a firing solution,” I thought, then watched a classic double-masted sailboat veer wildly towards the shipping channel. Another colossal car carrier was pounding southbound, and the comparatively tiny double-masted sailboat set a collision course. It was going to be a disaster, a disaster that the car carrier wouldn’t have noticed. We watched in quiet anticipation.

They missed.

We adjusted the sails with our next course correction, with luck, the Chesapeake Bay bridge was four hours ahead. The schedule was working out, and we would be in a position to catch the southerly breeze out of the Delaware. I leaned back with a sigh feeling that the trip was really underway. We were making great time, the wind was beautiful and the day was perfect.

Then I checked the weather radar and my sunny disposition melted away with my schedule and weather window.

A line of severe weather formed over West Virginia and was moving East at 40 mph. The storms had hail and wind that exceeded 60 mph. None of this was an issue, except for the lightning. We happen to have a 60-foot metal pole protruding from the deck slightly forward of center that would not survive contact with a megavolt.

A lightning strike would destroy our electronics, kill the fridge, battery charger, electrical panel, engine computer, pumps and most likely blow out a thru-hull sinking the boat. We had to put Caprica in a target rich environment where our chances of getting zapped would be reduced. I began scanning the charts for anchorages and saw that we could poke into the East Bay and anchor behind a small peninsula. It would give us cover from the prevailing winds, there were plenty of trees to get zapped, and it was a great point to cut through Kent Narrows, bypassing the Chesapeake Bay bridge. 

We changed course and watched the day progress without a hint of weather approaching. Dozens of sailboats cruised by punctuated by the occasional powerboat. We passed within a mile of Holland Island; close enough to see the massive rebuilding efforts. The breeze continued to freshen as we headed towards Tilghman creek, rounding the peninsula and poking into a small cove in the corner of a large bay. The water was deep, almost 30 feet and we dropped 200 feet of chain in anticipation for what was coming.

The heat of the day quickly dissipated as evening approached and we sat on the deck in the cool breeze watching the line of weather heading towards us. The clouds curled and swirled under the downdrafts. The day began in shades of lavender and ended with a wall of blue-black. We watched the line of weather, and the land behind a curtain of rain disappear from existence. The juxtaposition was complete, the paradigm shifted, and I remembered my hard-learned lessons.

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