Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Beautiful Day in Boston

Beautiful Sunrise as we prepare to leaving the (now tranquil) anchorage to head into Boston proper!

[Kyle]The anchorage at Long Island (one of the Boston Harbor Islands) was perfectly flat in the morning at sunrise. We pulled up the anchor and had a quick trip the last few miles to the Boston waterfront with the help of a rising tide.

Since we’ve still managed to beat most of the crowds to the sailing season up here, we were able to pick up a mooring right in front only a water balloon’s throw from the dinghy dock or a soft shout from the people enjoying the public pier, or perhaps the other way around. (I didn’t!).

As we were finishing up our arrival checklist, Mark, the marina guy came out and offered us a dock for our stay for the same price as the mooring. Being able to step on and off of Begonia onto a dock tremendously convenient. The dinghy dock wasn’t too far, though, and the weather was supposed to be nice for the foreseeable future. Our mooring was in such a beautiful spot, and as the tide came in and out, we would have rotating-restaurant views as we swung on the currents. We decided to stay put.

For the first time all year, we got to launch the dinghy and go through that whole learning curve again. We rowed ashore. I had a long shower and shave (the beard was starting to get itchy) while Maryanne checked us in. Boston Waterboat Marina is small, but well equipped. The best thing, though, as I said before, is that it’s right in the middle of everything.

After a quick round-trip to Begonia to change, we headed out to tramp all over the city center. We had no itinerary, just a vague plan to wander in a rough circle. The only thing I specifically wanted to do is end up in the North End for dinner – Boston’s Italian neighborhood.

From the waterfront, we headed inland using our, “Let’s go that way because it looks more interesting” method. The first place we came across was the Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, both packed with people out enjoying what was probably the second nice day of the year. The sun was shining. The trees were blooming. All of the tables at the outdoor caf├ęs were full. It was a great day to be outside.

Boston Public Gardens - in early spring bloom and full of people enjoying the beauty

From there, we made our way to Boston Common and the Public Gardens. The grass was green there and the flowerbeds were all blooming. Lots of people were out having picnics or just enjoying a nice walk in the park.

The Esplanade and Charles River Basin - With the Hatch "shell" where many free music concerts are held. Sailing is encouraged for all with a very modest annual fee for unlimited use of boats and training

We made our way to the Esplanade at the Charles River (another fantastic public space filled with Bostonians enjoying the novel sunny weekend), along with tons of people out sailing in dinghies and small boats. It looked like a nice place to bring the Pudgy except for having (possibly) having to portage it around the lock and over the train tracks to get in.

We were getting hungry by then, so we made our way inland into the North End for an early dinner. One of the hardest things in a neighborhood like this is getting past all of the delicious smelling food on the edges to get to what you want in the center. I was heading specifically for La Famiglia Giorgio’s. We had eaten there before, the last time we were in Boston, and I remembered it as being the best Italian meal I’ve had. Actually, the meal we went out for with Pasquale and Enzo before we left Italy in 2011 squashed that one, but it is still the best non-Italy Italian food I’ve had. I hoped my memory was accurate.

We weren’t disappointed. The food was (again) amazing. I had Big Al’s Arrabiata with deliciously tender chicken and Maryanne had a Mushroom Linguine Cacciatore. I swear, each plate had a pound of pasta each, plus there was lots of bread and salad. After dinner, our server asked if we would like dessert. She said they had only one special dessert – a lava cake. I couldn’t imagine they sold many desserts here. Maryanne mused that one special dessert was literal. Perhaps they only make one and keep offering it to their overstuffed patrons until they sell it, maybe once only every few days, then they start making another one. I would have loved to be the guy to take it off their hands, but no way. Try the next table.

There was no way Kyle was not returning to this restaurant, he'd been bending my ear for days - I'm so glad we found it again... and boy did we need that walk back to the boat after such generous portioned and excellent food.

We waddled back to Begonia along the various piers of the waterfront (Maryanne made me walk the length of each one) in a vain attempt to work off our meal, enjoying the ambiance of the indoor/outdoor restaurants and the little parks. Boston really is a beautiful city. It was starting to get a bit chilly. I had optimistically dressed for the full midday sunshine, so was fine except in windy, shady spots. Maryanne was more pragmatically attired in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, giving her a more durable comfort. The walk back was increasingly a comedy routine where Maryanne would stop to make a big deal about examining a new blade of grass or carefully reading a historical marker while I shivered and pled with her to get moving. I know I could learn something here (I will NOT!), but being cold was actually part of my plan. I had to get up early for work the next day. Being comfortable would have made it way too easy to stay out late. I really needed to be home by sunset, and we were. Nightcaps in the wind protected cockpit as the city lit up was the perfect end of the day.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

On to Boston (almost)

[Kyle]We spent another day hunkered down in Onset Bay waiting out unfavorable winds. Ordinarily, we would have used the extra time to explore. A big bay like this would have been well suited for setting up the sail kit on the dinghy and just pottering around the various nooks and crannies. The weather was just dreadful, though. That idea, or anything else that would have required venturing out of our heated cabin or, at the most, our rain and wind protected cockpit, had no appeal. We were glad we were already safely anchored with some time to spare so that we didn’t have to be out in it.

Days like these are one of the things I like about how cruising keeps us closer to the weather than most land-based pursuits, because we’re affected by it more. I like how I know the wind and rain are caused by a low-pressure system over Cape Cod that brings cold Atlantic air over the land where the moisture is squeezed out on us. How a cold front will be here tomorrow that will bring a wind shift to the south-west and clearing skies. The full moon is tomorrow, which means high tides and strong currents. With this knowledge, I can figure out which way Begonia will be facing at sunrise, so I know which way to tilt the solar panel to catch the first rays of the sun in case I’m still stuck in my warm bed when it happens. Better solar panel placement means more electricity, which affects how we can live our subsequent day. The weather, the Sun, the wind, and the stars are all things that have real importance in our lives as cruisers far beyond the level of trivia for the drive to work or to know what’s happening outside the window. {Maryanne: Kyle is abundantly cautious about our power consumption and monitoring. There were times on Footprint that we'd be low on power and need to implement disruptive conservation methods. E.g. at anchor I'd have to ration my computer usage to an hour a day, under-way we would only use the autopilot about 1/3 of the time (or less), and would not use the radar unless absolutely necessary, etc. So we were used to monitoring and being aware. We had no idea how Begonia would be. She has a bigger battery bank, a better wind generator, and more solar panels, but she also uses more power (the fridge works on 12V electricity), so it was something we'd have to wait and see. Luckily so far we have yet to have any enforced power conservation periods. Life is good, but I still appreciate Kyle's efforts to ensure they stay that way by tilting the solar panel just so!}

Usually, on a nice day, there’s a huge drive to get out of bed early in order to make the most of limited time to explore. Then it’s go, go, go until we arrive home tired and famished from a day of climbing a big hill or taking in historical spots.

Lousy days have an appeal of their own. They provide an enforced convalescence that would never be voluntarily taken when the weather is good and there is much to do. On these days, we get a chance to sleep in without the guilt of missing something. (I never realized how tired I was). We have time to talk and potter and read. Eventually, with nothing to do, we’ll spontaneously start taking care of minor, neglected jobs. The heads will get cleaned, the fuel filters changed, and that intermittent light will get rewired properly.

This rainy day, Maryanne made something elaborate for dinner the long, slow way while I read to her to keep us both entertained. When we were done eating, we switched and she read to me while I cleaned a mountain of dishes. All the while, the wind was howling and rain pelted the cabin top. The windows were so covered with raindrops that it was hard to see anything other than vague, gray shapes outside. Every now and then, I would forget where I was. At one point, when it was really coming down hard, I looked out astern past our solar panel and thought, “Wow, the weather’s so bad, I can’t even see across the river.” I was still expecting to see the Hudson back there with the Empire State Building beyond it.

I checked the forecast for the next leg. It looked like the next afternoon would have a twelve-hour window of nice tailwinds for the last push to Boston before turning on us again. At daybreak, the wind was still howling in from the wrong direction, although the rain had decreased to a cold drizzle. Our wind generator has this cool (or annoying, depending on your perspective) feature where it shuts down when the battery bank is full and it’s no longer needed. As the batteries discharge, it restarts and runs for a while until coming to a stop with a telltale clunk. The clunk can be annoying, but I like knowing it means our batteries are topped up. The wind had been strong enough over the last couple of days that it had only run a couple of minutes every ten or so, even with heat and computers going. By morning, it had not run for hours.

As afternoon approached, the wind made its predicted shift to the southwest and the sky began to clear. We put the mainsail up and motorsailed into the Cape Cod Canal on one engine at the last of the opposing current (and with a slight delay for the rail bridge). Within thirty minutes, the current was helping us along. Currents in the western end of the Cape Cod Canal are so strong that the only sensible thing is to go through with them in our favor. Unfortunately, with a subsequent trip up the coast, the currents end up being exactly against us for pretty much the remainder of the trip, although no more than a knot or so.

Entering and passing through the Cape Cod Canal - a sunny (but cold) day

Once out of the canal, we flew up the coast. Even against the foul current, we ate up the sea miles. The Athena is such a marvelous boat at sea! We were sailing downwind, but into opposing current, as well as oncoming swells left over from the previous few days and Begonia just flew over them smoothly. The wind slowly picked up and we reefed and reefed again, well before it was strictly necessary. I conservatively estimated that we wouldn’t make it to Boston Harbor until 2:00 or 3:00am. We dropped anchor around 10:30.

I had originally expected to anchor in the lee of Long Island (The Boston Harbor one) just as the wind died and backed to the northwest. Instead, we had arrived just as the southwest winds peaked. This left us completely exposed to the full force of the wind and two-foot chop. We set the anchor anyway, backed down hard and then put out more scope as insurance. It was pretty uncomfortable, but we knew it should only be temporary.

Maryanne had the special combination of being tired and being worried about the anchor in the bucking boat. She suggested I set an anchor alarm on our chartplotter. There would be enough wind to run it all night. As I was setting it up, she managed to find a cool iPhone app that will do it for us. We could leave the chartplotter off and save power by using our more miserly phones. Maryanne had previously installed a 12V outlet in our berth mostly for keeping our iPhones topped up at night. Throughout the night, as gusts hit, we were able to see from the comfort of our berth that we had only moved a meter or two before swinging back. We could then go back to sleep.

By early the next morning, the wind had shifted back to the northwest and decreased. The tide went slack and then began to ebb out of the harbor. Begonia slowly drifted from one side of her anchor to the other. At the appointed distance (50m), the anchor alarm went off. I had expected this as we had a lot of chain out. Groggily, I looked at the little screen. We weren’t at 52 or 55m and holding. We were at 63, then 64, 65, 67, 70, 71. Oh, Shit! Suddenly, it was all hands on deck. Battle Stations! We got to the cockpit as Begonia came to a gentle stop at the other end of her rode at 80m. Whew! Good drill everyone! Back to bed.

When we finally did emerge for good, we found glorious blue skies, bright sunshine and flat seas. For the first time in a long time, we skipped firing up the heater to take off the morning chill. The greenhouse effect in the cockpit enclosure was more than adequate to warm the boat up.

We had another day of enjoying doing nothing in particular. Mostly, we mused on how completely different the weather was from two days before. As the day progressed, I found one job or another to keep me occupied. Eventually, I decided to use the calm weather to refurl the sails. In the height of the previous night’s winds, the mainsail especially had been clawed down in fistfuls and shoved into its cover. I decided to raise it fully and bring it down slowly so that it could be flaked neatly along the way, making it fit into its cover better.

As the sail was nearly fully raised, there was a bang and then the halyard went limp. The mainsail came rumbling down the mast. I heard two bangs and then two splashes. Well, that’s not good. Our mainsail halyard has a 2:1 purchase. The end is tied to the top of the mast and the mainsail is raised on a pulley (called a block by sailors) After some investigation of the wreckage, we determined that the axle on the block had corroded through, splitting it and causing it to part. The mainsail was fine, the halyard was fine, although it was stuck in a loop at the top of the mast, but we definitely need a new block.

Broken block leaves the halyard at the top of the mast for Kyle to recover - what a brave guy!

Unlike the evening before, it was now flat calm. I rigged our TopClimber and went up the mast to grab the halyard with the help of a boathook. We made a temporary fix to the main just so we could raise it and stow it neatly. We are so glad the block didn’t explode the night before when I was cranking up the luff tension after reefing. It wouldn’t have been a huge problem – we would have just had to continue under motor – but it would have been at night in rough seas, instead of while anchored on a sunny day. Begonia is only about half as fast under power, though, so the trip could have been a lot longer.

Maryanne timed the big dinner to coincide with sunset and the rise of the full moon, which we got to enjoy in the cockpit. As I write this now, she’s researching halyard blocks and I’m facing a mountain of dishes.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cruisers Again

[Kyle]The time finally came for us to leave our winter home in Weehawken. A couple of weeks earlier, the bitter cold of winter finally broke and we had a few days of gorgeous spring weather. The boaters in the marina emerged from their cabins bleary-eyed and disoriented like bears coming out of hibernation. Suddenly, the outside of the boats became useable. On Begonia, we ate in the cockpit. It was as if our cabin had doubled. Our Webasto heater went from being needed continuously when we were home to just taking the initial chill out if the early morning air. I finally was able to do my morning runs along the Hudson in shorts.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. By the time we actually set off, winter was once again winning the battle and doing things outside could only be accomplished after prodigious bundling up first. Several people wondered out loud why we didn’t just wait until it was nice again before taking off. The main one is that docking rates in the marina are WAY higher in the summer. Staying for even one more month would cost us more than we had paid for the entire winter. As much as we love it, New York is not a place we can afford to be in the summer. The other main reason is that I still have to work. Time off from there is increasingly difficult to get and I have to make the best with what I can, even if it’s not ideal. With limited time off, we have fewer sailing days, effectively making us slower cruisers. The best way to make the most of the summer sailing season is to start early and sail farther per day than we would generally like so that we have time left over to see the places we go.

When my big block of days off work started, the wind was mostly forecast to be strong and against us with the exception of two widely separated days worth of strong tailwinds. My initial plan for our next leg to Boston was to do short to medium day sails for a week, anchoring along the way every night. The latest forecast made it pretty clear that most of these days were going to be long, miserable bashes into the wind. The new plan changed to sailing straight through to the fifth stop, anchor for a couple of days to wait out headwinds, then make another big dash into Boston before we got pinned down again.

In order to do this, we needed to leave at the first slack water after I got home. I arrived late and exhausted after a day of weather delays and only had time for a fitful hour and a half nap before I had to get up again and get going. Maryanne had completed almost the entire departure checklist the day before, so there was little left to do except make a big pot of coffee, give the weather one last check and untie the lines. As the appointed time arrived, our friends from F-dock, Andy and Robin from Sotito and Michael from Justine arrived to wish us bon voyage, give us big hugs and help cast off our lines. Robin had also made us a box of cookies to keep us going for the journey. Earlier in the week our friend Kate had also sent us a cake; we would not be hungry.

We were in the river just as the ferries started for the day. We had escaped having to ride out their wakes in the marina while Begonia surged back and forth. We got our big mainsail up and were quickly dashing down the Hudson and making the turn at The Battery into the East River. Manhattan is so beautiful from the water.

Leaving Weehawken at slack water unfortunately put us in the East river right at maximum ebb. The buildings of Manhattan blocked most of the wind. What was left seemed to swirl in from every direction. We tacked a few times, jibed a lot, had great burst of speed forward followed by being pushed backward by the strong current. Ordinarily, I would patiently play the wind’s game until the current reversed in our favor, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how far we had to get and how all of the good wind in Long Island Sound wasn’t going to be there much longer. I started the starboard engine to “help” our poor confused mainsail. This gave us steady, albeit slow progress forward. We inched our way through Hell Gate and made the transition into the sound. Passing La Guardia airport, the wind steadied and we were finally able to shut down the engine. The wind increased as the current died off, then grew in our favor, catapulting us into the sound, where the water changed from ugly brown to a clear, pale green, and bringing smiles to our faces.

Leaving New York

As I watched the New York skyline recede, It was strange to realize that it would be a very long time before we would see it from Begonia again. Our minds trick us into thinking New York is a natural stop on the way back south because it is along the coast. The truth is that New York is at the end of a pretty big indentation in that coast. It is actually much shorter to take the offshore cut across the gap. New York ends up being significantly out of the way. If the weather were just so and I had more time off from work than I do, we could make it happen on the way back south, but probably not.

We managed a brief chat on the radio with our friend Mark as we sailed past City Island. He was stuck ashore repairing Hurricane Sandy damage at his yacht club on City Island. Late into the afternoon, as we made it into the big open part of the sound, the wind began to decrease and the current once again turned against us. Our average speed dropped and dropped. I had a running calculation in my head of the average speed needed to get us to our intended anchorage before dark the next day. This calculation was requiring a greater and greater level of optimism for success. The current would turn in our favor again and there was still plenty of time before the sunset after next, so I decided to wait it out for a while and reserve any possible panic for later.

By nightfall, I had had it. Two days of almost no sleep was getting to me and I had to turn in. As I went below, I asked Maryanne to try to speed it up a bit. She did just that. As I climbed into bed, the faint gurgle of the water past the hull changed to a whoosh, and then a hiss. Begonia’s motion increased. To the rushing water were added strange bangs and clunks that are still new to me – the only time I’ve ever slept on this boat while underway was the two-day trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Charleston almost a year before. In spite of the fact that I was exhausted, the strange noises and the worry about what they were and how Maryanne was faring kept me from sleeping except in the briefest non-rejuvenating naps. Later on, I could hear the wind in the rigging. Begonia would shake and I would hear Maryanne going on deck to reef the flogging sails before sheeting them in and rocketing off again.

Sunset on passage, feels like we have the world to ourselves

I came back on watch at 1am to find Maryanne sailing us through choppy seas at double-digit speeds. Begonia sped up a couple of knots more over the next hour and then stayed there all night. We passed our original day two anchorage at 3am and were screaming past the third at sunrise. Around number four, the wind finally gave out, and then slowly built against us.

We fired up the starboard engine again for the last push to our day five anchorage in Onset Bay just on the western side of the Cape Cod Canal. As the headwind increased, so did the drag our poor engine had to overcome and we slowed and slowed. I suspected our prop was also a little foul with growth, but it will still be several weeks before it will be warm enough for me to go overboard and clean it.

We finally made it to our anchorage, and Onset Bay, with an hour or so of daylight left. The last time we anchored here was in Footprint over four years ago as we went south in the height of the season. Back then, the entire bay was packed with boats at mooring and at anchor and we had to shoehorn ourselves into a spot too shallow for most others. This time, we were the only boat in the entire bay. Most of the mooring fields still had small marker floats in place of the real mooring balls. The trees were still mostly bare, just starting to bud.

Sunset drinks before collapsing in rest, and Kyle manages to catch the sunrise the following morning... not a bad home fo a couple of days.

We found a spot and dropped anchor. Since we had all of the room we wanted, we put out an extra 20’ of chain for insurance and after a celebratory glass of wine with a beautiful sunset we collapsed into our bed in an exhausted heap. We managed to emerge the next day just before noon to bright sunlight and strong winds in just the wrong direction for the next leg. There was frost on the decks and it was cold inside. With all of that wind and sun, we had all of the power we needed to run the heat for a nice toasty off day together. Finally, we are cruisers again.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Farewell to New York (and New Jersey)

The snow has finally left, and Spring has arrived - time to move on

[Maryanne]It’s been some time since we wrote, but we are finally just a few days away from sailing off again. Over the last few months we’ve been busy between visiting, entertaining, having fun, and preparing Begonia for the next chapter of our life.

We did manage to escape to Arizona, to visit with Kyle’s mom, and for some very much-appreciated sunshine. While we were away there was a pretty serious fire at the marina and 3 boats were destroyed to the water line; thankfully nobody was injured, but two families were left homeless. We were grateful not to be around, and the first we heard of it was a call to assure us that Begonia was safe and unharmed.

Spring preparations

We treated Begonia to a new bimini top and enclosure (actually two enclosures, one of clear window isinglass, and one of bug screen). And new anchor and chain, and a whole host of new things that I'm sure kept the local economy happy.

Anniversary fun in the Snow

In March Kyle and I celebrated our 10th Wedding anniversary, with a trip into the Catskills for some fun in the snow, we were lucky enough to catch the last of the snow and went snow shoeing, and cross country skiing through some great scenery, and each day return to our cabin for relaxation with open fire, hot tub and wine.

So nice to be able to entertain with friends

Since the new year, we’ve also had visitors to Begonia. Angie & Nannette, Annie & Emily (from the UK), and Kate & Mark (from Virginia). Thanks so much to all who came.

We’ve kept up with making the most of this amazing location, and attended NECSS (a Skeptical & Science Conference) in NY, and yet more amazing astronomy lectures hosted by the Amateur Astronomy Association at the Museum of Natural History.

With all the new stuff aboard, and with it being sooooo looong since we’ve sailed, once things finally defrosted we took Begonia for a shake down sail, up the Hudson river to Ossining (where the famous Sing Sing prison was our anchorage view). The sail was a success and no stowaways were found in the morning.

New York seems mostly (at least on the surface) recovered from Sandy, but some subway stations continue to undergo major repairs, and the Statue of Liberty and its associated islands are still not expected to open until the 4th July.

We’re very much looking forward to sailing off, and being nomadic again, but we will leave Lincoln Harbor Yacht Club with mixed emotions. We’ve definitely loved and will miss New York, and we’ve made some very good friends here in the marina – especially Andy and Robin aboard Sotito, who have entertained us throughout the winter and kept smiles on our faces, wine in our glasses, and assisted with many grocery store trips with their cute baby blue T-bird.

Andy And Robin, and the T-Bird!

Departure – early Saturday morning (to catch the tides), and we’ll be headed off up the Long Island Sound to make Boston within the week. Two very excited sailors!