Final sail of the season: Nov 17

The weather has been up and down lately: 40 degrees and 20 knot winds one day, 55 degrees and calm the next. The weather was looking good for a sail last Friday, and since I was on a flex day from work, we decided to take Egretta for one last sail on Claytor Lake before putting her away for the season.

The sky was brilliant blue, that crystal clear, I-can-see-forever sky that only fall and winter bring. The November trees contrasted against it in gorgeous yellows and oranges.

November Claytor Lake sail
November on Claytor Lake

The lake had been lowered significantly, maybe 5-7 feet, for dam maintenance. We used the public ramp, as the state park warned that the ramp we usually used would be too dry to launch a boat. Launching was challenging as we had to climb down a ladder to step onto the boat once we launched it. The dock was 2-3 above our heads when standing on the deck of the boat. Retrieving was even harder. Holding a bowline from 10 feet above and trying to manuever the boat with only a line was not easy.

Out on the lake, the world and the water were silent. We were on a different part of the lake than usual, which I loved. We were able to sail along some of the cliffs of Claytor Lake, which until now we haven’t accessed in our sailboat.

Claytor Lake Cliffs
Cliffs of Claytor Lake

With the exception of the occasional lawn mower or cawing of a crow, there were no sounds. The lake was like a liquid mirror. Somehow there was enough air to move our boat while barely rippling the surface, and for the first time I recall, we glided through the water in silence: no gurgles, no sloshing, no mushing or slapping. The only time our movement made any sound was when we crossed a small boat wake and the tiny waves tinkled against the bow hull.

We were wrapped in tall socks, jeans, fleeces and light windbreakers, and with no wind and clear air, the sun was warm on our clothes at 3pm. As soon as the sun started dropping, it got cold fast. By the time we returned to the dock, my hands and feet were numb.

On land at the ramp, Brian pulled all the halyards out of the mast to stow for the season. No more sailing until spring :-(.

Swirly sail

Originally published on Butterfly Mind.

Our daughter gave up her seat in the sailboat this past weekend, and I took it. It was likely to be our last chance to sail before it gets too cold. Already it was chilly for a small, wet boat: sweatshirt and long pants weather rather than sweatshirts and swimsuits.

“I don’t know,” my husband said. “There’s a wind advisory. Gusts to 20 knots.” He looked out the window at the brilliant autumn sky. I sipped coffee and was happy for my slippers.

He looked down at his phone, at the forecast again. “It ends at 6pm though, I think we’ll be okay to go out this afternoon.”

When we arrived at the lake, the sun glittered on its surface, which was free of boats.

Beautiful day for a sail. Or so we thought.


After rowing a short distance from the dock, the wind blew us steadily into the middle of the lake while we hoisted the sails, and then zipped us fast across the dimpled surface.

“It’s not so bad!” I said.

“Yeah, I’m glad we came out,” said my husband.

“The wind is perfect, look how fast we’re going.” It blew splashes of water over the bow, into my face, and down the neck of my sweatshirt.

“The mountains are protecting us from the gusts.” The puddle from the bow splashes grew deeper.

“We’re probably going to regret saying these things.”

Then the sail whipped and snapped and we lost our momentum. We were pointed towards a bend in the lake where we don’t normally go, because there’s not usually wind enough for it. The boat tugged, tipped, took off for a second, and then stalled again.

“The wind is swirly,” said Brian as he pulled the mizzen sheet to fill the main sail to point us where he wanted to go. “Unpredictable.”

I shielded my eyes to look out over the water in the direction we were headed, toward the bend off to the right. The water was getting pretty choppy. “Wow, the wind is tunneling down that part of the lake up there, between the mountains. I see white caps.” Which we were headed towards in our tiny little boat.

My husband looked up at the mountain behind us, where tall trees not blocked by the mountain to our right were twisting and bowing in the wind.

“Coming about,” he said.

The water was not calm any more. The direction of the chop did not match the direction of the wind. My back was soaked. My bare feet were wet and numb in the puddle I sat in. And the boat continued to jerk and snap in gusty air that kept changing direction.

I’ll be honest, I was scared.

We made our way back up the lake in squirrely wind that was growing stronger and more erratic by the minute. We watched the sailing team who had come out onto the water to practice also struggle. They seemed to be having as much trouble as we were. They had jammed rudders and flapping sails, or they’d fly along with their mast at 45° and their rails almost in the water and then suddenly the mast would be straight up and down.

The further we got toward the far side of the lake, the gustier the wind — and it didn’t seem to want to let us turn back. I wanted to turn back. I thought about a crazy thunderstorm I was caught out in a boat with my dad when I was a kid, and how now that it’s over, it seems like a grand adventure.

I hoped this sail would seem like an adventure once it was over, too. At least the sky was blue and there was no risk of getting struck by lightning. Capsizing in the cold doesn’t seem quite as bad as getting struck by lightning. Maybe.

We finally cruised in close enough to roll up the sails and row to the dock.

“Well,” my husband said, “now we know. If there’s a wind advisory we should listen. That was too much for this boat.”

We’ve got soccer games and swim meets until the weather will be too cold for wet sailing, and now I’m sad we might not be able to sail our little boat until spring. Last weekend was an adventure on a glittering mountain lake under a brilliant October sky. It was gorgeous. I was glad when it was over. Now that it’s over, and we’re safe on land, I want to go out again.