My wife, Randy, and I sail the Catalina 320, Downtime, out of Mamaroneck, New York, at the western end of Long Island Sound among such beautiful harbors and bays as Rye, Larchmont, and City Island to the north, and Hempstead Harbor and Manhasset Bay to the south. Last year we got into the water by early April, and after already having a chance to go out several times for the day, we felt ready for our first overnight of the season.
Fully provisioned, we set sail on a Friday afternoon with the sea breeze picking up out of the southwest as we motored past Execution Rock and then Gangway Rock light. Turning south toward Manhasset Bay, we put out just the 135% genoa and sailed close-hauled in 18 knots of breeze, making around 6 knots.
Being at anchor for two days was an early season gift. The sunset that first night consisted of a huge ball of orange going down in the west amid an azure calm as the lights of the houses ashore twinkled in the near distance. We spent the rest of the weekend swimming, rowing, reading, and eating—one needs fuel even when not doing much!—until it finally came time for us to return on Sunday afternoon.
Making our way north under power toward the mouth of Manhasset Bay with the weather forecast having called for up to 14 knots of wind, I raised the main all the way as we approached the Sound. Since the anemometer was soon reading 15-17 knots, though, I only unfurled the jib halfway. Within minutes, the wind was not only roaring up to 25 knots but pushing us toward a navigation aid sitting atop a pile of rocks. As we tacked to avoid it, I realized we were soon going to be overpowered by the conditions. Fortunately, I had just ordered new sails, and our main had two sets of reef points. I’d also had a single-line reefing system installed, which meant I no longer had to go forward to reduce sail.
As the wind continued to build, Randy began to have trouble handling the steering due to the weather helm. She set to work adjusting the main halyard, while I took in on the reefing line. Soon enough we had both reefs in, after which the boat felt much better. With the main and jib now reefed, the boat was more stable and a good deal easier to handle as we set a northeasterly course for the port of Mamaroneck and home. Despite winds of 25-28 knots, we glided through the water at 7 knots with hardly any heel, secure in our ability to handle the unexpected winds.
The winds peaked at 30.5 knots, probably the strongest I’ve encountered in 12 years of sailing our Catalina. Although I was a bit worried about the rig, Catalinas have a long history as stout sailers, and Downtime did fine. When we arrived at the inner harbor, the winds dropped to 6 knots, making it easier to get into our slip.
Looking back on that day now, it strikes me how the experience was a great reminder that you can never depend entirely on the weather forecast and that the actual conditions you experience may differ significantly from what is expected. If I had known the true wind speed, I would have put a first reef in the main while we were still inside the bay. In retrospect, I probably should have done so before I unfurled the jib. At least I only unfurled the latter halfway, which made Downtime that much easier to handle after we got out into all that wind.
It’s also a good thing I’d thought to install those two single-line reefing systems, since it meant I didn’t have to go up on deck to hook the reefing grommets. Randy and I also worked well as a team, so that each of us was comfortable with our particular task. It’s rarely a good idea asking anyone to do something they’re not comfortable with, especially when it’s blowing! Except for a few rough moments in the beginning, we had a great sail back home, making for a great day on the water overall.