Rainbow sunset sail

Boat: Egretta (O’Day Daysailer)
Location: North River, Gloucester, VA, USA
Date: October 7, 2017
Time: ~5pm – 7pm
Conditions: ~70°F, brisk breeze

We headed out under cloudy skies tonight for a final evening sail from our airbnb. The wind was up and dark clouds hid the sun. October light shone through rare spaces between them, showing blue sky and blinding white dollops above the grey shadowed bottoms. The kids sailed with us, and they jittered with excitement for the higher wind and the rougher chop.

evening sun over beam
It never looks as choppy in pictures as it feels in a small boat

We beat into the wind first so that we wouldn’t go too far on the first half of our trip and then run out of light trying to get home. As we came around a point of land, and sailed out of its wind shadow, the air became fiercer, the chop larger and white-capped, and the sailing dicier. We called the kids back into the cockpit. “If you want to be up on the bow, you need to wear a live vest.” They opted to stay in the back with us.

As we approached the opening of the river into the bay, we began to feel unsafe. Egretta heeled and snapped up, heeled and snapped up. We were getting knocked around by gusts and heavy chop, and my husband sat up on the combing with his hat straining at the chin strap as the wind tried to tear it off his head. His face was grave and skippering was a strain. After conversations that morning about having never practiced capsizing in safe conditions so we’d know what to do in an emergency, we looked at each other and knew it was dumb to take risks, at sunset, with the kids on board, in rougher wind and water than we were accustomed to.

We turned around to head back into the protection of the river, and a few minutes later our son was back up on the foredeck and our minds at ease. In the distance, I’m not sure how far — maybe a mile? maybe two miles? — stood a huge white-columned house. It emerged from the trees ahead like a mansion-sized Jefferson Memorial. I wanted to see it up close. Near it, on the water, was a double-masted boat my husband wanted to see. We sailed fast with the wind at our backs, running at the same speed as the waves on the river.

Running fast was fun, and we kept saying “Just a little bit further.” But the sun dropped with every minute, and ominous weather swept up the river behind us. We’d have to beat back into the wind to get home, and the storm would bring erratic blasts (or no wind at all). Finally, with the columned house and the double-masted boat still distant, we turned around.

As we did, and we watched ourselves approach the rain that dropped like jellyfish tentacles from dark clouds, and the chop was up and the sailing wet, all of us in the cockpit and the kids hyper with the excitement of the wind and storm and sloppy water and the hour and dark clouds and sun dropping, playing some game by tapping each others’ knees, our son staying quiet as he does, and our daughter getting shrill and cackly and hyper-talky like she does, as we did all of these things, as we headed into the dark sky and imminent downpour like fog on the river, as we headed towards a curtain of rain, a rainbow appeared.

rainbow sail golden light on bow_2856
Sunset on our bow as we steered toward the end of the rainbow(s)

Egretta‘s deck and sails shone yellow-orange in the dropping light of sunset, the rainbow glowed bright as it landed first on the starboard bank of the river, then touched down on the water near the bank on our port beam. The wind was gusting now, knocking us around again, and as we neared the entrance to our airbnb’s inlet, I uncoiled and uncleated the halyard, my husband released the mainsheet, and we the had the cleanest pulldown of the mainsail I think we’ve accomplished to date. If we fumbled any part of it, I don’t remember it.

The sky started spitting, my glasses speckled with sprinkles, and the rainbow completed its arc: a full bow arched over the river, like a gateway that if we sailed through it, we’d turn into unicorns or enter an alternate dimension. I felt like we could have been in a scene from Lord of the Rings.

rainbow over sail_2857
We were too close for me to get the whole rainbow in the frame

We saw both of the rainbow’s landing points, unobscured: the actual ends of the rainbow. They were so clear we felt we could sail up to them and touch them.

rainbow end and bright white sail
Sunset behind us, rainbow ahead

We motored into the sheltered cove of our airbnb, laughing and grinning and giddy with our luck. The storm never touched us, but we got to see its rainbow.

In the shower that evening, the ground shifted under me like the floor was floating. I swayed on sea legs in the clawed tub. There were no walls to grab onto, nor any shrouds. After three sails in two days, I smiled and wanted more. I wanted to be back on the water. The rainbow sunset sail was the perfect close to our first foray into salt water with our little Egretta.