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.
“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.
Whatever the choices are, I’m happy that our choices have given Eleanor more than soccer fields, dance class, and the occasional theme park. This weekend she commented on the tides, the birds, and the reasonable cause of a crack in a dinghy parked up in the yard. Boat life has been good to her; hopefully, we have many years aboard that are good to us all.
The weather arrived with a salvo of dramatic wind shifts, and a howl screamed through the rigging. We listed towards starboard and comfortable dock living became reminiscent of being underway in the North Atlantic. White chop ripped and frothed across our little cove, frost formed on hatches and the landscape was suddenly barren of life. Everything was sheltering including us. It was Sunday, we were warm inside Caprica despite the ferocity of the gale outside which coated the piers with layers of frost and the frozen dock lines chewed through the stout pilings. Eleanor colored, I read, and Alison baked. The fantastic aroma of Alison’s boat galley baked bread was quickly overwhelmed by the alarming sweet smell of diesel heater failure. My head spun to the heater control panel. The same fault code blinked at me just as a month-long headache formed in the back of my skull.
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.