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.