Paul Manicone from Deale, Maryland was first place cruising winner in our Ultimate Challenge Contest last fall, earning himself new Quantum sails and a day with one of our experts. Last month, Paul tested his new sails and gained “an extra dose of humility”. He credits his new sails as the reason he didn’t end up on the rocks. Read on to follow his wild journey and learn what he will make sure is in order with his O’Day 34, Meritage, before his family sails across the Atlantic in 2018.
In celebration of my kids' last week of school we decided to live aboard for a few days so they could walk to school (their school is only a few blocks off the South River). I sailed up from Deale on Monday, anchored in a small cove. Each morning we rowed to a small neighborhood marina and walked to school. Throughout the day, I tinkered with the boat, read and relaxed until it was time to pick them up, then we did some exploring in the dinghy, played games, ate dinner and hung out. Just great quality time!
On Wednesday morning, I set off to solo sail back home to Deale. I knew the weather forecast: winds coming from tropical storm Colin would be blowing at 20 knots with gusts to 30. I should have stayed in my quiet, protected anchorage but I wanted to test the working jib in bigger wind and get more experience in stronger wind conditions. So off I went…by myself. As I motored out of the mouth of the South River, all I could see was white water! The winds were sustained at 30 knots, not 20. The gusts were 40, not 30!
The waves began to spray over the deck as I turned southwest towards home which put me on a beam reach with winds coming from the northwest. I tried to sail with just the jib but I was not staying on my heading nor was I moving with enough speed. Tacking was extremely difficult and ineffective. I motored again briefly to gather my thoughts and to try and figure out what I should do next. The motor was overpowered by the sea state and I was only getting about 1 knot COG. I knew I needed the mainsail. I put the boat on autopilot, only to have it fail and the boat get knocked over (the autopilot wasn’t designed for the choppy sea state). I was barely able to raise the main and place the first reef, fortunately I had already set up my jack line and was wearing a safety harness. It was a sloppy raise and a sloppy reef, but it would have to do. I eased the main sheet a lot and at last Meritage was happy! She had enough forward speed to punch through the waves without burying the bow and without too much heel. She was moving at seven knots on a perfect heading home.
Over the next two hours I was mentally rattled by the constant updates from the coast guard regarding gale force winds, the terrible sound of a distress signal broadcast on the VHF, the face-slapping spray of salt water, and eventually a shaking cold from being soaked without the proper foul weather gear on. I kept checking the mainsail for stress but that fully battened mainsail was unwavering and held strong (even though I knew I should have had the second reef in). As we rounded "Red 2" into Herring Bay, I dropped the main and began motoring again. 30 minutes later I called for assistance with docking and was met by three staff members ready to help. Moments later it was all over...I survived my four hour solo sail in a gale.
Although I made many mistakes, I learned a lot starting with a healthy respect for the sea. Fortunately, I had a stout boat and a brand new, tough set of sails from Quantum, and for that I thank Quantum for getting me home safely.
Paul was fortunate he wasn’t far from land and that he made smart choices in the heat of the moment. Once he was safe and warm, and before cleaning up, he did what felt right: took a swig of rum and kissed the mast.
Here are the lessons Paul took home from the day:
- Anticipate what will come next. Paying close attention to what’s on the horizon can help you to prepare the boat and sails before getting into danger. Especially if you’re sailing alone.
- Mother Nature doesn’t care about your schedule. …and she won’t wait for you to get your things around. In the event that a storm unexpectedly arrives, binoculars, gear and water should be at arm’s reach. If you’re solo sailing, keeping a small kit near the cockpit with the essentials so you can grab them without having leave your post will save time and keep you safer.
- Have the dodger up! This would have saved Paul from drinking so much saltwater and kept him warm and dry. If the weather has the potential to get nasty, prep things ahead of time while it’s easy.
- Know your equipment. Just as pilots know their planes, sailors must know all equipment (…and have them ready), know the vessel, and know the crew. Most importantly know the limitations of all three.
- Have an extra dose of humility. You can’t beat Mother Nature. Make sure leaving the dock is the right thing to do and that you feel prepared!