We were sailing on a broad reach, the tiller pressed tight against my thigh. I braced my foot sole-to-transom, sucking gulps of spray with her rise and fall. Thirty feet of beamy, the Grampian sloop ran rough and hard and fast, plowing through the three foot swells, the chop short on a long fetch. The damn sheets raked my naked palms, but I hardly noticed.
On a corkscrew—lifting, ducking and dodging—the boom swung in a sharp, unexpected arc as we dropped into momentary dead air space. It’s like slamming into a brick wall. The tackle groans and jerks under pressure, the strain rocking our lady beam-to-beam.
We laugh. Near miss. Tempted to feel for our skulls to check we still had them, we instead hustle to regain control. The working jib sloughs, jiggering past the mast with sultry slaps, teasing until the whistling makes good and the bucking halts and she strains and lifts.
Hoarse shouts, frayed at the edges, ricochet back and forth. It sounds angry, strident, but the wail of sound makes it impossible for the niceties of please and do you mind. None take umbrance.
Oxford and the Tred Avon lay to port. The bow slices through a lighter chop. It’ll ease rounding the point, turning to glass with barely a ruffle on the surface. The wall of trees and houses in the lee of the wind do their job.
I turn the tiller over to my partner and make my way forward as he engages the engine. The bow slices the mirror surface clean and sharp as I drop the jib. I make quick work of rolling and gathering and stuffing the sailcloth into its bag, taking care it won’t foul when it’s time once more to fly.
We slither into Island Creek, following the buoys, keeping her centered. It’s deep water up to the bank in most cases, but not all. Off to starboard, there are several anchorages, many already crowded with weekenders and those, like us, who squat in the Bay’s inlets and safe havens. We’re off the grid, looking for a shallow bowl big enough for only one or two our size. I wave to my helmsman as it hoves into sight. My partner gears back and we ghost into position. I scurry to the bow and drop anchor, a thirty-pound plow that will dig into the muck and hold us steady, even in a hard blow.
The sun sets on rolling glass, the movement barely detectable, yet the halyards slap in an ancient rhythm, a high-pitched desultory cadence you forget until it changes. Rays move upstream, their fins two-by-two, slicing through the water. It’s spooky and we watch half-nervously, letting our imaginations run wild.
Stars wink through the trees. We’re too close to Baltimore and Cambridge—the light pollution smears away our vision, but it’s enough, there in our solitude, to find a measure of peace in the cacophony of silence.
For now we are safe.