My Most Important Piece of Equipment

by PSA member Michael McFeeley, WINGS P-323

The most appreciated piece of equipment on my recent Delmarva circumnavigation was not an item on any of the many lists that I had made to ensure a safe and memorable trip yet there it was performing flawlessly day and night.

It didn’t make the "gotta have" list which went something like this: GPS map and backup hand held GPS; EPIRB; current charts; jacklines, safety harness, tethers and offshore inflatable lifejackets; radar reflector; liferaft (or at least an inflatable dingy), flashlights, lanterns and spare batteries for each; foul weather gear for myself and crew, including gloves and boots; food and plenty of water; insect repellant, sun screen and sunburn lotion (because I’m always too lazy to put on the sun screen before it’s too late).

My list even included fishing equipment as I thought for sure I would finally break my three year record of never catching a fish off my boat though I’ve dragged plenty of lures up and down the Potomac and Chesapeake. My most appreciated item didn’t make that list.

I also had a "to do" list to check the boat and equipment on the boat yet my most appreciated item wasn’t found there either. That list included checking the overall condition of the boat, the batteries (I carried a new fully charged deep cycle just in case), all my lines, halyards, rigging, and sheets. Having radio checks on both VHF radios made the list. Of course, the engine and its necessary spares were checked out. I also made sure I had my Pearson Sailing Association burgee ready to hoist.

With all of the planning that went into this trip the one thing we knew was that we couldn’t change the weather... and did we ever have some weather! Every low pressure system in the country seemed to be converging on the east coast from the moment we left port. Beating up the Bay to the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, we had water coming over the front of the boat almost the entire time, only to find that there were no dryers available at the marina in Chesapeake City. The next day we headed down the Delaware Bay which lived up to it’s potentially nasty reputation when it dealt us some 7 and 8 foot chop.

Staying in port at Cape May, NJ for a day, we set out into the Atlantic for our first enjoyable sail of the trip in moderate seas with 10 - 15 knots of wind. Sailing on a tack that took us 70 miles offshore, we reached the Bay Bridge/Tunnel in 37.5 hours. Once in the Bay, it was a quiet run home (despite a minor grounding in the Rappahannok while attempting to drop a crew member off at his waterfront home!).

So what was my most appreciated piece of equipment? The one thing I didn’t think of yet I would never make the trip without? After a full twelve hours of beating into chop, we were still dry and able to play cards to pass the time, protected by the dodger. That’s about the time I noticed that the boat accompanying us had no dodger, and with every wave, a wall of water was making its way into the cockpit. It’s for this reason that for this particular trip, I’d label my dodger as the most appreciated piece of equipment. Lastly, for the record, I still haven’t caught a fish!