Monday, October 20, 2014

Latest Adventure: Currents

We've had to deal with some interesting, and new to me, challenges, namely currents. This is one of the many variables in the sailing equation that non-sailors likely don't take into consideration when they think of “Hey, let's go sailing”. I know because I am one of those people!

We left Provincetown, MA on Oct 11, 22NM from the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. We left at sunset specifically to catch the Buzzard Bay ebb current (water traveling out or southwest in our case) through the Cape Cod Canal. Sailing at a good clip through Cape Cod Bay, we significantly reefed (lowered) both sails 10 miles from the canal to sail slower in order to enter the canal with the proper current direction at the right time – honestly, who knew?! It's not like we can put on the brakes and wait! We consulted our handy and valuable Eldridge Tide & PilotBook for 2014 (courtesy of s/v Coot) to plan our timing. 

At 12:55AM, the current was scheduled to shift from a NE flood to a SW ebb. This means we want to be at the entrance when the shift occurs so we can “ride the canal wave”. We approached the mouth of the canal at 1:00AM. Awesome timing on my husband's part – I take no credit. Soon after we arrived we were still being pushed by the current away from the entrance so we dare not enter. We turned and bobbed for a good half hour which got me in a tizzy thinking maybe we read the book incorrectly, got the time of day wrong or the information wasn't correct. Did we have to bob until the next ebb current which wouldn't occur for another 12 hours?! Turns out it takes roughly an hour for the tide to turn and come through the 8 mile canal. At 1:45am the current shifted and we pointed Aletheia right down the gullet. Phew!

From what I've learned, you're only allowed to motorsail in the canal if you remain on the same tack otherwise, engine only! We kept the sails up and kicked on the motor. It was an amazing sight to see (or not see). We had dense fog about ¼ mile that seemed to hover just above our masts, it was incredibly eery. We could see stars about the mastheads but barely the lampposts on either narrow bank! Thanks to our handy navigation chart, we managed to steer our way through the center of the channel through some pretty strong and swirly currents. Being in the canal is like floating down a river and unless you're moving through the water (with current going with you) you don't have any control over your steering. We came out the other side of Buzzards Bay, unscathed, at 3:15AM and continued our downwind sail towards Block Island, RI the following afternoon. 

Not having much experience with currents, this made me realize that sailing isn't just about just raising sail and simply going like I'd prefer. There is so much more that needs to be considered including the timing of ebb and flood schedules of a particular area, time of day, wind direction & strength, and ultimately, the direction you'd like to point. Otherwise, with poor timing, you'll be fighting many variables. For me, I felt trapped in The Sound knowing we should only sail at certain times of day, using the currents to our advantage which means not getting to our desired destination in what feels like a timely manner. In our case, it doesn't really matter when we arrive. I struggled with this concept through the Sound. I like schedules. I like planning. I like knowing where I'll be at a certain time. Sailing throws these notions out the window and demands you to just be where you are. We're both learning a great deal of patience aboard Aletheia.

Coming through Long Island Sound we strategized currents to be in our favor and even anchored a couple nights to avoid any ebbs (current against us). When we leave Port Washington in near a week, we'll time the current into the East River through New York City with the help of our dear friend, Eldridge. It's all an equation that takes planning, favorable winds and a ready crew to find the best combination to make the most comfortable sail possible. 

Here are some photos from the last week:

BoatWorks: the family car
Sailing into Block Island...Browns beat the Steelers this day!
Appraching warm and lovely Block Island
Happy Birthday Gigi!
Great Salt Pond, B.I. sunset
Leaving Block Island
Approaching The Race into Long Island Sound - great sailing!

Happy Skipper!
At anchor for the night
Yoyo and mackerel lures
Morning after arriving in Port Washington, NY
Freedom Tower
Lady Liberty to the left
Drinks all around!
My morning run down Battery Park esplanade
Love to all,
Jenn & Nate


  1. Ahoy.......It's fun catching up with you....Love the pictures!!!! Jenn, your writing is amazing....and so much to learn!!!! Guess you are in "sailing school"....learning as you sail....Much love...Aunt Bev xoxo

  2. Go Team Aletheia! Truly experiencing life's ebbs and flows.

  3. Thanks for the explanations! I love learning about all this along with you. Sailing sounds very Zen - in that it "demands you to just be where you are." much love, Sunny/mum

  4. Sunny - I hope my explanations make some sense. It's hard to describe what I'm learning at the moment and transcribe 24 hours later after the experience has had time to settle. It's certainly a better alternative then not learning at all! Thanks always for your support and following along.

  5. I'll never forget my first experiences navigating strong currents in the San Juan Islands. They can be awesomely helpful, or awesomely frustrating depending on your itinerary and timing! How did you enter the Sound? Plum Gut, or the Race? I've only been through the former in sleep-deprived racing scenarios which have left me with the impression of it being an interminable washing machine. Glad you made it to some of the nicer ports on Long Island's north shore!