Adventure Cruising


Adventure Cruising
by Jimmy Havok

Last Monday, I took little Intrepid B, my D4, out to a small rock about two miles offshore, commonly referred to as Birdshit Island. I estimate the distance from my launch point at about 3.5 miles. Winds were 10-15 out of the north, with light chop and a fairly regular 2-ft swell.

Going out was fairly easy, as I have the sail rigging worked out pretty well, though my dropcloth sail is beginning to be a bit worse for the wear, and the clew is getting a bit ragged. It was a run down the inside of the reef until I cleared its north end, then a long starboard tack until I got close to the rock. For the longest time, the rock didn't seem like it was getting any closer, and I got the eerie feeling it was slinking out into deeper water to lure me on.

The adventure begins

The rock is a bit close to a military restricted zone, and the Marines launched a patrol boat as I started to get closer to their territory, so rather than following my original plan of staying on the starboard tack until I got room to make a single tack back to the rock, I came about and worked my way up to the island in a couple of shorter tacks. Even then, until I was almost on it, it seemed almost as far away as it did from the beach, but suddenly, I could see and hear the waves breaking around it. A large flock of terns patrolled the water around it, and circled my mast as I came into their territory.

Intrepid B's limited hull speed and upwind performance became frustrating as I approached the rock, she seemed to go slower and slower the closer we got. I began thinking of just turning around and heading back when I was within a hundred yards, but my natural obstinance made me resolve to go all the way around before turning back.

Feeling just a little overwhelmed

The swell seemed to grow as I passed outside the rock, and the water took on a darker, chillier color. I came round onto the port tack and headed around the back of the rock. The offshore side of the rock was rougher than the inshore side, and as the swells rose and fell against it, I could see how a long shelf extended out. Every swell seemed to push me closer to that shelf, and Intrepid B seemed to be losing more leeway than I had noticed before. By the time half a dozen swells had passed, I was back on the starboard tack, putting a good piece of comfort room between me and that jagged shelf, even if it meant I was going away from the launch ramp.

Going out had been a simple matter of finding my heading and going. Coming back was not so simple. I aimed myself at the ridge above the launch ramp, with the idea I would take the shortest course, and deal with the reef when I came up on it. But I was at a 45 degree angle to the swell, and Intrepid B showed a nerve-wracking tendency to bury her bow on the larger sets. A Marine patrol helicopter came by to have a look at me, and decided that despite my insanity I was probably OK. Fortunately, they weren't there when the worst wave caught me, slewing Intrepid B around, tumbling me on my rear, and making me lose my grip on the sheet, or they would have dragged me out of the water bodily and left Intrepid B to take care of herself.

After fighting the waves for a while and taking a few gulps of water over the rail, I gave up and decided to run straight for the beach until I was inside the reef. That put both the wind and the swells directly on my stern, but made fighting them easier. I let the boat head up into the wind for a few minutes and pumped out the accumulated water, and that made her ride a bit better too.

Once again, Intrepid B's limited speed was frustrating. The beach never seemed to get closer, and when I looked over my shoulder, the rock looked like it was in swimming distance. If I could have realxed and enjoyed the ride, it wouldn't have been so bad, but I had to stay sharp on the tiller the whole time, fighting the swells.

Eventually, I came over the reef, and as the water paled to aquamarine, the swells moderated to a light chop, and I came around onto a beam reach, aimed straight at the launch ramp. This was more like it! I finally felt comfortable enough to crack open the water bottle and take a big swig.

Jimmy Havok