As water filled my boots, I sat wedged between the cockpit table and steering pedestal where somehow my safety tether had ensnarled the spoked wheel. I worked in the near-continuous strobe of massive purple-blue electrical burst to untangle my self. A rush of bitterly cold air shocked me out of step by methodical step assessment of taking in another reef vs. maintaining speed and considering the likelihood of facing a massive breaking wave over the stern. My ears crackled then popped with a radicle change in pressure, and those two events in quick succession gave me a reason to pause. I looked up from the winch I was cranking to see clear skies above and a stream of meteorites pouring into the top of a massive supercell storm violently rippling in shades of orange, blue and purple electric light. Beneath the spectacle, a series of waterspouts slow danced to a song that echoed in tones of thunder.
On deck, Eleanor was afraid. She looked into the darkness and absolutely did not want to get into the dinghy. We had our reference points, a course to follow, and a place to come back to but to put away into the blackness was still hard to do. Alison talked Eleanor through what would happen, how we’d keep ourselves safe and eventually our girl was ready to go with us. Eleanor climbed down the stern of The Smooch then we pointed away from the steel ocean-going pilothouse and (hopefully, we thought at the time) towards our Caprica.
The air was electric, loud and filled with a deafening roar as a torrent of hail pummeled me. I shivered violently and my ears rang with a high pitch insect whine as the storm intensified. For a moment I thought it was going to be the end.
A calm anchorage, great beaches, places for trash and easy access to water was a no brainer. Although we felt a pressure to move on, to see other sites and develop an itinerary, we also realized that we didn’t have to do any of that. We found a place that we liked, and it was okay to stay a little longer.
As night fell across the anchorage, the sea of stars that hung about Caprica was slowly enveloped by thick cloud cover dotting our hatches with speckles of rain. By midnight, our weather window north blew the window in with thunderstorms, wind and torrential rain. Caprica tugged at her snubber and anchor chain, and I felt the stress of the lee shore just a few hundred feet from our stern. Using our high definition radar, I dialed in the surroundings locating the rocky beach and our neighbors as pulsing red blobs. Tuning the gain, I filtered out the thousands of green and blue dots that filled the radar screen with interference until we had a perfect picture of our surroundings. From the warmth of my dry cabin, I was able to stand anchor watch through the night watching the radar and making sure that other boats weren’t dragging down on us.
Alison reluctantly disappeared below with the promise of returning in the pre-dawn hours, but we both knew that sleep now meant energy for when Eleanor was awake later. I comfortably settled in for a long night as conditions freshened and the wind picked up. The nearly full moon rose in a low arc across the sky, and a fishing vessel appeared off our starboard bow. The AIS CPA proximity alarm chimed, letting me know that a boat was within an exclusion zone that I set. The boat was 3 miles out and would pass dangerously close to Caprica. We were sailing close to the wind, and only able to vector to port by 10 degrees. I scrolled through the AIS data and called the fishing vessel expecting no response.
“It’s ugly,” Alison said as she handed me the phone. It was the next morning, and we were both anxious to see if we blew the weather window or made the right call. An extensive line of storms developed to our west, and the weather models moved in line with our initial predictions. The sector we would have been in out in the Atlantic was going to get hammered by multiple squall lines, 40 knots of wind, massive amounts of lightning and torrential rain.
The currents in the Delaware Bay are swift, relentless and can be dangerous. The chart shows the Delaware to be shallow, strewn with shoals and divided by a series of heavily-trafficked shipping lanes with few places to tuck into. Within an hour of exiting the C & D Canal, according to the forecast, the Delaware’s power would have turned against Caprica, leaving us to cover approximately 60 nautical miles with a current on our bow. We’d be facing a long day and even longer night with Alison at the radar calling out positions for crab pot floats that can easily disable a vessel and inbound freighters that have little room to maneuver.
On our way back to Caprica, the heat of the day was growing more intense, and I grumbled that we had been stuck in Chesapeake City for so long. “By this date, we’re usually in Maine,” I said and pointed the tiller towards our little floating island. Then I thought about the people we met, the stories we heard, and the few that we had come to be acquainted with. The town was beautiful, friendly, and welcoming. It was the longest I’d ever stayed in Chesapeake City, and I’d come to find the town to be more than a cruising crossroads; it was a destination.
Between NOAA weather radio warning bursts and frantic calls to the Coast Guard, we listened to horror stories and tragedies unfold on the water as we held a steady course towards sheltered waters.
I exhaled and looked in the deep blue darkness that filled our cove, and immediately remembered that a plan was just a point of departure.