Last night I did the Thursday Night casual race with my friend Mac Daddy on his cozy cruiser. Ruby came too, with a girlfriend, so we decided to deem it ladies night on Mac Daddy's boat. We insisted that he wear a temporary tattoo, and then at the weather mark we donned feather boas and gave him the pink wig to wear. It was a slow and comfortable procession around Clapboard Island for the cruising boats, while the racers went up the bay towards Diamond Island. Sunshine, a light but steady breeze, and we were sneaking up on our cruising nemesis and trying to hold off the fast racing boat that was sailing in the cruising division.
And then the sky got black to the west. Not black -- a thick, deep grey, and, scarier to me, a sort of eerie teal grey-green that you only see in serious thundersqualls. We watched it a little bit and then I suggested that we furl the jib, take down the main, and head in. We put away the boat pretty quickly. Several other cruisers were doing the same, and we could see some of the racers across the bay dropping their sails.
We were put away, sailcover on, and motoring in by the time it hit, but it hit fast and suddenly: a wall of water and instant whitecaps. The wind instrument read 31 knots when I looked at it; that was a steady speed, and I expect the gusts were higher. The rain was horizontal, and visibility was severely reduced. I was worrying about my friends who were out, on the racers' course, in an Etchells -- no motor, no cover. I called the skipper, but she didn't answer her phone. I asked our skipper if we could motor out to them to check whether they needed assistance, and radioed the race committee that we were doing so. He had abandoned the race and when I told him the location of the Etchells he drove the RC boat in that direction. Another big cruiser who'd headed into the anchorage ahead of us turned around, presumably to rescue the smaller boats who hadn't taken their sails down before the squall hit.
Our friends in the Etchells were being towed in by a J/110, we confirmed. The Race Committee spotted an overturned vessel near Cow Island and was on the scene, summoning the Coast Guard and rendering assistance. We notified them that we were standing by to aid anyone who needed it. The small boats were limping in okay. The wind dropped down to about 18 knots -- windy but manageable, and the rain softened. We proceeded to our mooring and took cover. I watched a lobster boat towing in a small sailboat. A moored boat's roller furled jib had come loose and was flapping helplessly. On the VHF radio a trimaran with a tiny outboard gave its location to the Race Committee boat to get a tow in.
We sat on our mooring for a while as it got dark outside, below deck with the cabin lights on, eating cheese and crackers and listening to the rain falling on deck. On the launch and the dock people were trading tales of near escapes. One J/24 hadn't yet come in, but the skipper and crew are very experienced and I expect they headed south or took cover across the bay. I don't know the details of the overturned vessel in Cow Island passage yet, but I think the rescue was well under control by the Coast Guard.
It was a night that reminded me how fast things can turn on the water, and how important it is to have working equipment readily accessible -- lifejackets, radio, anchor, tow lines, flares. It also reminded me of the capability and seamanship of the people in the area -- people were on hand to render assistance to boats who needed it. I've never seen a storm come through so quickly. The most casual sail can become an extreme situation in the space of a couple of minutes.
Before and after photos from the evening.
I'd like to tell you about the thunderstorms that came through yesterday, but I'm not sure I can describe them. The first one came through when my mother and I were working in my yard. I have a big yard, which is both a blessing and a burden, and my mom helps me tackle projects that overwhelm me. We were moving rocks and cutting back brush and Lila was rolling on her back like a happy otter as the sky rumbled and gurgled. After half an hour or so the rumbles were louder, urgent, and we started seeing bolts of lightning. I counted beats. It's a mile away, moving faster. The sky turned that black-blue-grey color, darker than a battleship, and you could see pulses of lightning everywhere. It's half a mile away. We picked up our things and raced into the house and the sky opened up, with the kind of hard sudden rain that leaves a sheet of water 1/2" on the pavement because there's not time for it to drain away.
It lasted maybe 10 minutes and then the sun came out and the rain started to evaporate. I went online and checked the radar, because I was race committee for an evening race a few hours later. There was a line of thunderstorms over New Hampshire, moving east, probably hitting right when it would be time to start the race. You can't tell, though, where and when a storm might hit, so I headed down to the club anyway. When I got there the sky over Basket Island was dark and rumbly, but it was relatively clear. You could see a big pile of dark clouds to the west, though.
The racers were assembled on the porch, speculating. Are you going to cancel it? I said, 60% chance we're cancelling. But after it comes through it might be clear and so I may just postpone. I had a few people with me who were beginners and were there to learn how to run races, so we went down to the dock and I showed them how to hook up the shapes and how to operate the gun. We reviewed the starting sequence. I told them what it meant to postpone, and showed them the Answering Pennant. I told them what it meant to abandon a race and showed them the N flag and the A flag. The sky got even darker, like night, and we brought the flags and the gun and a box of shells up to the porch.
Someone on my crew had brought shrimp. I'd brought carrots and hummous, and rum. We drank rum and tonics and watched the sky change. It turned an eerie green-grey over Handy Boat and then the rain took over. Thunder and lightning everywhere, and a downpour of rain slapping loud and hard on the roof and the ground. It lasted ten or twenty minutes, and then calmed into a lighter rain. At six o'clock, I headed down to the big flagpole and while one of my crew loaded and fired the shotgun three times, I raised N over A up the pole.
We stayed on the porch for an hour or so, drinking cocktails and telling stories. A full rainbow appeared, stretching from Clapboard over to Sturdivant. The clouds and rain kept moving east, and from the west the light of the setting sun lit up the white hulls of the boats in the anchorage so they glowed against the grey sky and water. That's my favorite time of night, when the setting sun hits the boats and they pop with a kind of bright vividness that seems almost unreal.
I was sitting outside in a downpour and 50 degree temperatures all day today, while the sailors drifted through slow races in winds of 3 to 5 knots, interspersed with long periods of no wind whatsoever. It's a glamour profession, coaching sailing. Here's what gear I wore, and how it performed.
I wore LL Bean wool & cotton long johns under a pair of fuzzy sweatpants and my Gore-Tex shell pants. Those Gore-Tex shell pants are a few years old now, and are absolutely terrific. The long johns are perhaps 10 years old. Starting to get a little bit saggy, but they work great. My legs were dry and warm all day.
I wore Smartwool socks and my street shoes (similar, but not identical, to these). The Smartwools are great, but I discovered that if I wear my waterproof rubber booties, my feet are dry but cold, and the Smartwools don't help when the circulation starts to slow down in my feet. So today I chose my sheepskin-lined Uggs, even though they're not waterproof. This I came to regret by the end of the day. The waterlogged shoes were probably warmer than any other footwear would have been when this wet, but I need to treat them with waterproofing material, or get a different kind of boot for being in the motorboat on cold, wet days like today. Or maybe Gore-Tex socks. Hmmm.
I wore a wifebeater tank top under a lightweight silk thermal undershirt, under a new insulated fleecey top that I got on sale at the LL Bean outlet store. I was afraid I might be too hot, but nope. On top of that I wore a Patagonia spraytop, designed for kayaking, with a neoprene seal around the neck that leaked steadily. My shoulders and chest were pretty damp after an hour or so out there. I think the layers were the right combination, except for the leaky top.
On my head I wore a windblocking, water resistant fleece hat. It worked great; my head was warm all day. When I came in and pulled it off the hair on my head was dry. I was pretty impressed; I hadn't believed that fleece could really be water resistant.
On my hands I wore fleece gloves. They were sopping wet after the first hour or so, and I would make my hands into fists and squeeze the water out of the gloves as though I were wringing out a wet washcloth. Not sure if there was a net gain from wearing them, but I think so.
When I got in on shore I put on a lightweight synthetic down jacket that I'd considered wearing out on the water (and perhaps will tomorrow). It was just the ticket: light and soft and cozy, and I warmed up quickly once I got it on.
In conclusion: I'm pretty well set for a long, cold day outside in the rain, but could use a better footwear solution and a really good waterproof jacket. Now, in the hotel room, my shoes and tops are draped over the heater. I hope they'll dry by tomorrow.
It has rained the whole month of May. That can't be true, but it is pretty close to true. I just went surfing around looking for confirmation and I can't find hard statistics. I found another blogger who asserts there has been exactly one full day of sun in May. That sounds right. It's been well over a week since I've seen the sun, and then it was only a glimpse, and it was gone within a couple of hours. It has been in the 40s and 50s, grey and wet and drizzly, with a cold wind, for as long as I can remember. Scarf, hat, gloves, raincoat weather. My dad posted about the bleak rain a month ago, and I had to check the date because it could have been written almost any time in recent memory.
The impact on my mood has been dramatic. I haven't been going outside, I haven't been exercising, and that has a big impact on my energy and self-esteem. I've watched more movies than I usually do, and I've read more fluff. I've eaten too much comfort food and drunk too much tea with honey. I have a lingering headcold that's not going away, as do most people I know. I have a big ouchy wound on my left hand that's making me wince. I have a lot to do. All of these things don't help. But the constant rain, the cold wet nasty unpleasantness every time I try to go outside, and the gray unceasingness of it has made me despondent. I feel like an animal in the zoo: listless, trapped, unmotivated, out of my element. I don't want to get out of bed in the morning -- there's not enough light, I'm sick of the sound of rain on the window. I am not myself. It's very strange.
Tomorrow I have to go for a run, and maybe visit a tanning booth or something. The forecast shows nothing but clouds and rain through Monday, when it offers the small respite of a "mostly cloudy" forecast.
How do people live like this? I want to throw myself off a bridge.
It's been drizzling for days and days, and the weather predicts more rain as far ahead as the projections go. The cumulative force of unending dull greyness and the chilly 50 degree mist makes me want to throw myself off a bridge, or at least curl up with a warm dog and a blanket and unhealthy food. This afternoon the rain took on a harder sound and the wind rose. The trees with their new, still-wrinkled leaves started dancing and now it's a full gale outside, rattling the windowpanes and hissing and whooshing outside, with sudden bursts of raindrops hitting the side of the house in unexpected gusts.
I like the cozy feeling of being inside a warm house on a rainy night, usually, but tonight in the back of my mind each gust of wind makes me uneasy. My boat is in the water again. We launched it the weekend before last, but postponed putting the mast up until later, and tied it to the mooring hastily. We imagined there would, eventually, be better weather to go check all the halyards, and we headed to my garage for projects that could be done indoors. Every jangle of the neighbor's windchimes and rattle of the windows makes me think uneasily about the boat. I try to recall the knot I tied. I'm sure it was good. There's no reason to believe it wasn't. But I didn't check the knot that my boat partner tied. I should have double checked. And I didn't tug at every line tying the mast onto the boat. I should have done that. I wonder how big the waves are down there right now.
This must be a little bit like what a parent feels, when a child is off somewhere. It's not worry, exactly. There's no specific reason to worry. Just a constant background awareness of something I care about, somewhere else, subject to forces I don't control. Only a hope that she is safe.
It's too early to be up, and I'm about to go back to bed. The first dusting of what is predicted to be one of history's biggest snowstorms is on the ground. The morning has that muffled feeling, a thick quietness, that happens when the snow dampens all the usual noise.
What I notice this morning is the sound of windchimes somewhere nearby, and I realize that I have begun to associate windchimes with snowfall. Maybe they're always there but in ordinary weather ambient noise from the highway not far away competes with the windchimes so they don't make it to my awareness. In a snowstorm sound doesn't travel and it dies quickly, and the absence of background noise almost feels like a sound or a quality all its own. It's a hush. And, here in the dark of the morning, with the snow falling and promising to bury us and my warm bed calling me back, there is the quiet tinkle of windchimes.
I take it all back. The weather here stinks. It's freezing cold and the surface of everything is dirty slush and nobody seems to remember how to drive in a snowstorm. We're getting pounded with snow and the wind won't let up and when you go outside the cold feels like a shock every time. Everyone has a headcold; mine is the very sneezy kind. It's still dark way too late in the morning and way too early in the evening. And winter will be tormenting us for at least two and a half more months.
There are people who live in places where bougainvillea is blooming right now, where the air is warm, where oranges grow in the backyard, where you can go swimming outside after work. Why aren't I one of those people?
UPDATE: Coming home from a game of chess in a cozy pub, I passed a big municipal plow truck that had gone off the road into a ditch. Great.
I suited up for a walk around the neighborhood. The temperature is 7.5 degrees but the wind is fierce, biting. It feels very, very cold. The exposed skin on my face started to hurt right away.
Although the sky overhead was cloudy, the clouds broke near the horizon, and the setting sun lit things up with this reddish purple light. I walked to the water and could hardly stand facing into the wind. In places, the ground was bare where the wind tears along. Nearby there were waist high drifts.
Coming back toward home I came upon two young men on the porch roof of a house on my street. They had shovels and snowboards. While I watched one of them strapped into the snowboard and slid off the roof, dropping straight down onto a snowbank, which he boarded down into the street. I applauded. He shoveled a little more snow into the bank, and his buddy dropped off after him, landing well on the snowbank but wiping out into the street. He got up laughing and wiping off snow, while the dogs and I waved goodbye and headed back to the warmth of the kitchen.
It's 10:30. I've got Mozart's Masses playing downstairs. Outside I can hear the squeals of the neighborhood kids playing in snow. There's the hum of a snowblower -- probably Housemate's boyfriend, who just got one and has been happily snowblowing our driveway, and the driveways of our neighbors, all morning. I hear a jingling sound -- someone putting chains on their tires? A dog with a bell on its collar? The snow is still coming down, and the wind has really started to blow now. The powerlines are bouncing up and down, and from time to time a line of snow falls off, leaving a section of the wire bare.
The marine forecast has hurricane force wind warnings and heavy freezing spray warning. I guess on days like today the waves can crash onto your boat and instead of spray hitting the boat what lands on the deck is ice -- the waves freeze while in the air and the heavy ice can coat your hull, change the way the boat steers and its balance in the water. Sounds dangerous. They're calling for winds from the north at 45 to 55 knots, with gusts over 65. Waves 10 to 20 feet. I'm thinking about going up to Popham Beach, a wonderful state park about an hour north of here, to watch the raging seas and winds on the beach. Seems like a long way to drive on my lousy tires in some nasty weather, though. Maybe I'll go somewhere closer. It seems worth witnessing, 10 to 20 foot waves. We don't get those around here often.