The most dangerous pieces of equipment on a sailboat is a calendar.
This is one of those sayings that circulates around sailing blogs, internet forums, message boards and through dock-talk. Essentially when you let a schedule dictate if you should leave a safe port and head for the next rather than the weather window, sea state and your crew and boat being ready for the passage you can get yourself in trouble.
This is great advice and very understandable when your full-time cruising. Why not wait another day on the hook for a better weather window? Doesn’t cost you much if anything. If you’re doing it right then you are in a beautiful place. But when you are still working and your cruising consists of a nine day window, a weeks vacation plus the two weekends, this advice becomes much harder to follow.
For our 2014 Summer Cruise we had tried to stretch this window as much as possible by adding a holiday and another vacation day. It took a lot of convincing with bosses and a lot of long days to get the work done but we had gotten our window to 11 days from July 3rd to July 13th. Our schedule was originally to leave Hingham on July 2nd after we got out of work and head to Scituate. That would leave us in a great jump off point for an 8-10 sail to Provincetown. We had planned to spend a couple of nights there with about 15 other boats. Then we would head south to the Cape Cod Canal and spend the rest of our cruise kicking around the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. Not as long as we would like but a nice break from work.
For the most part, New England was only going to get some heavy rain from the this storm. Except for this little part of Massachusetts known as Cape Cod and the Islands.
Thus began my obsession with weather (in truth whenever we are in cruising mode I am checking weather like I have ADD). What did the spaghetti models say, what did the wind models for the Cape look like, what was going to happen with this slow moving low that was over New England? [I use Passage Weather, Weather Underground, NOAA Marine Forecast and Accuweather as my prime resources and will sometimes also go to the Weather Chanel and Weather Bug. Always looking for new weather sources so let me know if you have any suggestions.]
The 15 boats going quickly became five; two sailboats and three power boats. This is where the difference in travel time really began to play a role. Based on the timing of the storm we could all make it over to P-town with little problems. On Thursday, July 3rd the sailboats had planned on leaving from Scituate. With an estimated travel time of 8-10 hours we would be safely secured to our moorings by late afternoon on the 3rd and would not be traveling on the 4th when the storm was predicted to hit. The power boats only had a 2 hour travel time so they could leave the morning of the 4th and still be secured to a slip or a mooring by the time Arthur hit at around 9PM but most planned on leaving early on the 3rd so they could have the day to spend in P-town. Coming back the sailboats would have to leave early on Sunday, July 6th and have another 8-10 travel day to get back. Typically this means a 6-8AM departure and arriving back at the dock around 4 PM. The power boaters could leave P-town at 4 PM and make it back by 6PM. This gave them another day in P-town to enjoy the area. So the power boaters would end up with essential four days to enjoy the area, July 3rd through the 6th, and the sailboaters would end up with two, July 4th and 5th.
I’m not complaining about the slower speed of travel on a sailboat. I would rather spend 8 hours sailing then 2 hours powering. I am just pointing out how this became a factor.
So now we, the sailboaters, began watching the weather forecasts for the 4th and 5th. Both days were going to be mostly rainy. The 4th was predicted to be a total washout and the 5th we might get a decent after noon out of it. Not great when those are your only two days to enjoy the area.
Now the storm path. Just how bad was it going to get in P-town? The early models were predicting that P-town would receive 25-30 knot winds from the north to northwest. Nothing bad and from the direction that P-town harbor was best protected. Remember that slow moving low I mentioned. Well it started to slow down some more. This was causing the path to be pulled further west, closer to P-town. Now the predicted winds were in the 40-50 knot range with gusts to 70 knots. Also, there was less confidence in the models due to the affects of this low. Some forecasters were even making comparisons to the Perfect Storm.
Another power boat dropped out. The group was down to four. By the way, this was the largest boat in the group and the one that could best handle large seas.
With this change of path we now started being more concerned with the sea conditions in Cape Cod Bay. This closer path would stir up the seas and make it a washing machine on Cape Cod Bay. Saturday would be bad and Sunday may still be pretty snotty.
So now it’s Wednesday morning. We are supposed to leave for the first leg that afternoon when we get out of work. Instead of working we are spending time looking at all the weather models. In the end, we returned to the quote at the top of this post. We were letting our schedule influence our decision. If we were full-time cruising we would never consider leaving a very safe harbor that will only see minor impacts from a hurricane to head closer to the eye of the storm. That’s just a bad decision. And now its not just our boat but our house we are putting at risk. We dropped out of the P-town part of the trip. The other sailboat followed shortly after.
Thursday morning came and it was really nice. The two power boats left. The other sailboat left and went to Gloucester (further away from the eye of the storm). We did some work to better ready us for the rest of our summer cruise (post coming soon). Friday came and we saw some winds around 20 knots and a lot of rain. Good day to go to the movies and do some stuff on the inside of the boat.
So what happened in P-town? The whole time our friends were texting or putting posts on Facebook that it was fine in P-town and we were wimps for not going. But something started to seem funny about these texts and posts. It was 9PM and all of the photos were in daylight. Hmmm. It turns out they made them leave the docks (no boats on slips, everyone had to go to a mooring). They were all hanging out on one of the power boats, eight people and a small dog. At around 10PM some of them went to leave to take the dinghy back to the other boat. They went to the rear cockpit of the boat and quickly realized it was too rough to dinghy back to the other boat. All eight of them slept on the one boat. A boat that only had one full berth and a dinning table that could be converted into another berth. No boats were damaged. The conditions calmed down in the late morning on the 5th.
I feel we made the right decision. The whole experience also makes me want to get out there even more so that don’t have the time constraints we now have and we can enjoy cruising more without having to worry about the calendar.