Friday, June 28, 2013

Friends with Fantastic Attitude

[Kyle]The main reason we had come to Bristol for the 4th of July was to rendezvous with Andy and Robin, our good friends from Sotito in Weehawken. They had arrived a couple of days before us, and we were eager to see them. We headed over first thing in the morning.

As we were crossing Massachusetts Bay, Robin sent us a text message telling us to remind her to tell us the story about how they were hit at 3:30 in the morning the day before leaving Weehawken by Festiva, a local dinner cruise boat. Since her message came while they were underway more than 100 miles from New York, we knew it wasn’t too serious. Still, we were dying to hear it. Festiva had scared the crap out of us all winter by coming very close to Begonia and docking with what sounded like an alarming amount of unmuffled throttle. It always sounded like they were a lot closer than they turned out to be on the occasions when we were able to watch them. However they always docked with finesse and without incident, despite the engine noise travelling through the water so close to where we sleep in the early hours, we never really felt any threat. Rumor had it that they had taken out the piling between our dock and the next one over one dark and stormy night.

Andy and Robin aboard their beautiful Sotito

It turns out that Andy and Robin’s story was much more harrowing:

The day before they left for Rhode Island, Festiva was returning from a cruise with passengers in calm conditions to their dock just past Sotito. Apparently, as they were turning into their dock from the fairway, a transmission cable on one of the engines broke and the engine shifted into neutral. The mate, who was steering, was having trouble controlling the boat so the captain took over and sent him to the engine room to see if he could find the problem. Festiva started veering toward Sotito and it looked like they may hit. The Captain, still not fully understanding what exactly was causing the control problem, rudder, props or transmission, attempted to put the engines into reverse to back away from Sotito. When Festiva didn’t slow down, he applied more and more power. It was then that the Mate, thinking he must need the power, manually put the shift lever on the transmission itself into forward.

Festiva PLOWED into Sotito’s stern at full power. Sotito’s lines were stretched four feet. The cleats on the dock were wrenched upwards. A large portion of Sotito’s top deck was badly damaged and part of her swim platform. Festiva’s steel bow was opened up like a tin can. The Captain, knowing that Andy and Robin’s cabin is at the stern of their boat and unable to see them beneath Festiva’s overhanging bow, later told them (in quite some shock himself) that he had thought he had killed them.

{Maryanne: OK, so we may not have the story 100% correct, but YIKES, that is NOT a good way to wake up!}

After quickly determining that Sotito was not sinking, Andy and Robin spent the day checking out Sotito’s systems. Although there is substantial damage to the above deck structures, the hull and cabin were not breached and the engines and other systems work normally. Since their most trusted boatyard was in Rhode Island anyway, they decided to get the hell out of there.

When we arrived for our reunion, there were a lot of surveyors and service managers coming by to talk about the damage. Although a formal determination hasn’t been made yet, I noticed that nobody even bothered to guess at less than a six-digit repair bill. It looks like poor Sotito will be here until next year in the yard and Andy and Robin need to find a place for the winter in New York once “vacation” is over and it comes time for Andy to go back to work. It’s been a tough first year for Sotito, with marina fires, hurricanes, and a host of other issues, and despite the shock of this latest incident, it’s great to hear that they still love their boat and their life.

We spent the evening with them and it was quickly back to old times. Robin made a fantastic dinner out of stuff she just had lying around (one of her many talents). We enjoyed the view, drank too much and stayed up too late and had a great time seeing our friends again.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Arriving at Bristol

[Kyle]It was only a short trip for the remainder of our journey to our next semi-permanent home in Bristol, Rhode Island (RI). There was barely enough time to warm up and then cool down the engines, so we didn’t bother with the sails. I was so pleased to find that Begonia was now 50% faster at all power settings. I can’t wait to see how she sails!

In Bristol, we found the usual: The harbor was full of moorings anywhere remotely close to where we wanted to go ashore. Our guidebook (why do we keep buying these things?) indicated there were a few places within the mooring field with space for anchoring, but to check with the harbormaster for advice as some of them have poor holding. The mooring field had grown significantly since the this year's guide book was written. We actually managed to find the harbormaster aboard his boat in the mooring field. We asked about anchoring and he advised us to get way out of the mooring field and “outside the line”.


We headed back south and anchored a long way from anything useful. This was going to be a perfect scenario for using our electric dinghy motor. Several different sailing schools were crisscrossing the bay in their dinghies, inspiring us to skip the motor and make our initial reconnaissance under sail ourselves. Our “guide” said there was a public dinghy dock in town, but was maddeningly vague about its exact location. We had been unable to find it passing the waterfront in Begonia earlier, so we decided that would be our first goal (after a nap).

By the time I had the sailing kit on the Pudgy set up with a reef in the sail for the strong winds, chop was starting to build in the harbor. What we had originally envisioned as a quick, pleasant sail ended up being an upwind bash into the building whitecaps. Progress upwind was painfully slow. Every time we felt like we had finally made some progress, we would just miss passing ahead of one moored boat or another and would have to drop back to pass astern, losing all of our gain. Tacking against the chop lost further ground, and Maryanne in the bow was repeatedly drenched.

By the time we did find the well-hidden dinghy dock, we arrived in the pretty tourist town shell-shocked and soaking wet. Our initial plan had been to sail downwind past the waterfront to look for a rumored second dinghy dock, and then tack back home. Our new plan was to search from ashore on foot as we dried off, and then just walk back upwind to the dinghy and go straight home.

Town Kids happily ignore the 'No Swimming' signs posted by the dock, while the town is prepared for the July 4th parade with a freshly marked route line

We found it. It’s basically on the far corner of the bay from Begonia, so we’re unlikely to use it. We took the main road back along the upcoming 4th of July parade route admiring the little shops and the tidy homes. We took our time, as we were trying to avoid the inevitable sail home.

After exploring the town stores, Kyle decides his support will go first to the local ice cream shack

By the time we were back in the dinghy, conditions had calmed down a bit. We made it home quickly on one not-too-upwind tack. We were beat and called it a day right then and there.

More of the Wrong Wind Coming Our Way

[Kyle]With a big blow on the way, we had to keep moving in order to avoid the worst of it. From just outside New Bedford, we resumed tacking southwestwards down Buzzards Bay. As we approached Cuttyhunk Island on what we hoped would be our last outbound tack, our course had us passing outside of the actual end of the land, but inside the rocky shoal of Cuttyhunk’s southwestern tip. We weren’t quite going to make it past the island. We tacked and found ourselves pounding into waves that were wrapping their way around the island, costing us a couple of knots.

We could have put up more sail, but we really didn’t want to be hitting the waves any harder, so we stayed reefed down and relatively slow. With the wind the way it was, it looked like we would not need another tack as long as there were no unfavorable shifts.

We stayed hard on the wind for another ten miles or so, punching into the waves until we were absolutely sure it was safe to bear off for the Sakonnet River mouth. We turned fifteen degrees further off the wind, unfurled the sails and shot across the bay as if we were in a French catamaran. The wakes went from a rapid gurgle to a high-pitched hiss. Oh, that’s the stuff!

The newly restored Sakonnet Light (said to look like a spark plug)
We are finally in Rhode Island!

We turned further downwind as we entered the river. We were still flying past the banks on either side, but all other sense of movement stopped. Boats going the other way were getting thrown all over the place as they punched into the waves and sent spray flying over their cockpits. On our first downwind stretch in days, standing on Begonia’s decks felt as stable as standing at a bus stop, it felt good (finally).

We found a big, wide spot along the bank and put out all of our ground tackle for safe measure. It blew like crazy all night as the predicted wind increase arrived. We were glad to be essentially already where we were going with no more need to tack into that.

Since we had covered more than the average distance in the last few days, we could finally take it easy for a while.

Well, sort of.

Since leaving Jewell Island, the water temperature had risen from 13.2C to 25.7C. I really wanted to finish cleaning Begonia’s bottom and now no longer had the excuse of the water temperature to keep me from it. Since it was the only thing I really had to do that day, I kept stalling and stalling. It was much more appealing to alternate naps in the cockpit with watching the dinghies of the local sailing schools go by.

My excuses ran out however, when one of them capsized nearby. They do this all of the time and everybody aboard is trained in how to right the boats, and has life jackets on, so there was no real concern. After a while, though, all of the other boats were gone and the two teenaged occupants of the capsized boat were all that were left, tenaciously trying to right their boat.

Maryanne couldn’t bear watching on any longer and decided to go and assist. For some reason I still don’t understand fully, she pulled a Jedi mind trick on me and I ended up deploying the dinghy and rowing over by myself to see what I could do.

It wasn’t much, but I did have snorkel and fins. I dove down, relieved to find the water temperature was perfectly comfortable, and found that the end of their mast was buried in two feet of mud. I tried digging it out for a while but the tide was dropping, the mud was too thick and the bottom was too deep for me to stay more than a few seconds. We tried tying a line to the Pudgy and using it’s feeble power (that is, me and oars) to turn and work it free to no avail.

The presence of our little orange boat trying to help the capsized dinghy finally got the attention of a local launch, which had them pulled out and on their way in a couple of minutes. I’m sure that being the last ones back with mud at the top of their sail will get them a pretty good ribbing at the sailing school.

Since I was already wet and since I already knew the water was much more tolerable, I jumped right back in once I was back at Begonia to finish my long overdue bottom scrub.

It was a huge mess. There was no way I could have finished the job in Maine in less than six dives. I spent three miserable hours on it and, finally, Begonia is clean below the waterline. I emerged covered with bottom paint smudges and hundreds of little shrimp, which had apparently been living in Begonia’s underwater forest. They cling on for dear life when removed from the water, so it took quite a while to pick all of them of both my clothes and myself.

Cape Cod Canal and New Bedford

[Kyle]We made it through the Cape Cod Canal quickly with only the need for a single engine to propel us with the current doing much of the work to push us along. On the western side, in the open water of Buzzards Bay, things started getting a little rough.

The wind of the past few days had whipped the bay into a mess of steep, choppy waves. In the deep water of the canal approach channel, the fast opposing current was creating big, scary standing waves. We would come off of the tops of these waves and plunge into the face of the next one, which sometimes stopped us completely dead in the water. Several times, Begonia lost steerageway and began to be blown beam to the waves. Not good. We started the other engine and were able to regain control for the last few miles until the bay opened up on either side and the current abated. Once things calmed down to the point where we felt we could safely go forward to the mast, we hoisted sail. Begonia sped up to faster than the motors would push her, the motion dampened and we started long tacks down the bay. Meanwhile the VHF radio was abuzz with rescue calls to the coastguard and boat towing services; the two ends of the canal were very different worlds today.

Calm seas were a rare view for most of the journey, but we were pleased to eventually reach the Butler Flats Light just outside the harbor entrance

By afternoon, we arrived at New Bedford, Massachusetts (MA). The forecast wouldn’t allow us enough time to go ashore but I was looking forward to being anchored in the historic harbor for the night behind the security of the major hurricane wall and barrier system that protects the harbor.

The secure gates that close off the hurricane protection for the town and harbor

Once we got inside, we found all of the anchoring spots recommended by our cruising guides were completely filled with moorings. Most of these didn’t even have boats. There was no space left to actually anchor. We tried every spot we could, but ended up with no choice but to either pay for a private mooring that had been placed in a public anchorage by someone trying to make a buck, or leave.

Moorings are great for getting a lot of boats into a limited space and we don’t mind paying for one occasionally if it gives us access to other services like showers, garbage disposal and laundry. Paying for a night onboard to swing from a ball in a mostly empty harbor just because no room has been left to anchor is not cool with us. We’ve already paid a small fortune for our capable ground tackle and we trust it more than some mooring of unknown condition.

So we left the harbor proper and anchored on the outside of the hurricane barrier where we swung peacefully for the night as we watched traffic in the channel which included the apparent tug boat assistance of a fishing vessel whose outriggers (long beams for trolling multiple lines) would not retract back into the boat and thus prevented entrance through the hurricane gates.

From outside the hurricane barrier we had views of the distant Fort Phoenix, and plenty of passing commercial fishing boats

A Brief visit to Portland

Sunsets and sunrises in Portland, Maine

[Maryanne]With Kyle safely off to work, I again was left to flit between chores and exploring. I love Portland, but this time the list of chores seemed overwhelming, we were especially low on provisions and this had to take priority. I even looked into renting a car, but eventually persuaded a local grocery store to deliver to the boat. That process didn't go quite as smoothly as I hoped, but eventually all was delivered, and I was very happy to have had the chance to fill up the cupboards without having to lug it all by hand.

I also spent significant time (and money) in the local discount boating store; I finally managed to replace the decaying horseshoe life ring with a more sophisticated life sling, along with a host of other upgrades and minor repairs.

I did a lot of walking around town, even squeezed in a movie at the local Nickleodeon cinema, and by coincidence passed by the Historical Society just five minutes before a town walking tour was to start. I paid my ticket fee, and then found I was the only customer - a private tour (and the guide was very convincing in assuring me he didn't mind in the slightest that I was his only customer, and of course they would still run the tour). Entry fee included a guided tour of the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which was donated with all furniture and family items, and without any modern conveniences (no power, no mains water supply, etc) to the society by his sister who owned the house and lived in it all but two years of her life.

When Kyle finally returned, I was able to bombard him with all my new found town knowledge as we walked back to the boat (via the Ice cream shop, just one more time, he really can't resist).

[Kyle]The day I returned from work the weather was perfect for the trip south to Rhode Island: sunny and warm with winds out of the northeast at 15 knots. By the time of night that I would actually make it home, though, that great wind would be fading fast. This meant that, yet again, we would have to leave at the very first possible minute after I got home. The forecast for the foreseeable future was increasing headwinds and it was to be our only chance to get out relatively unscathed for at least a week.

Since the profusion of lobster pots makes Maine unwise to sail at night, I actually had the luxury of a couple hours nap before we could set off at 3:30am. With the wind decreasing from five to zero knots, we motored in flat seas for the first 10 hours. After that, the headwinds gradually started to build and turn, causing us to leave our direct course and begin tacking the rest of the way.

By nightfall, we had just failed to clear Cape Ann. We tacked and headed back out into deep water, then I went off watch. The wind continued to increase during the night and Maryanne had to reef and reef again in the building seas.

As usual, after a stint at work, I was on about my third night with little sleep by then. This meant I was out cold minutes after climbing into the berth. Every time she would tack or reef, there would be a bang as the sail was freed, then the rattling sound of the flogging sail followed by her cranking it in. Everything would get quiet again and then the sound of the water rushing by outside would gradually increase. Every time the cycle would start with the first bang, I would wake up totally disoriented. Sometimes I thought we were still on the mooring and the adjacent boat had swung into us. Sometimes, I thought I was in a hotel room on a layover and the people next door had let their door slam a little too hard. I was still exhausted, but relieved when Maryanne woke me up for my watch at 1am.

We kept heading offshore for another hour or so, and then I tacked us back, this time putting us on a line that looked like it would almost miss Boston Harbor. We were heading more directly into the building swell and the ride started to become rougher. As we passed over the shallow underwater portion of Cape Cod, which extends another 25 miles into Massachusetts Bay from Provincetown, the ride became downright wild.

The wind continued to shift toward the south, necessitating a gradual curve in our course to the west and then almost northwest. It now looked like we would miss Boston Harbor the other way. At least sleeping conditions for Maryanne had improved. I made it as far as Nahant Bay on the north side of the harbor before tacking again back out into deep water.

When I woke Maryanne, she was expecting us to have made it almost to the Cape Cod Canal by then. Instead, I pointed to the Boston skyline over my shoulder. She looked so deflated.

The good news was that Nahant Bay was sufficiently west for our next tack to be on a good line for the canal. We were able to skirt the southern shoreline of Boston Harbor and then toward Barnstable, only nine miles east of the canal entrance.

We tacked again and arrived at the canal entrance just as the current started to turn against us. The wind was gusting into the twenties by then from ahead and I knew we would have no hope of getting through the canal against it and the five-knot current. The next favorable current was after dark, so we pulled off to the side and anchored off Scusset Beach for the evening.

Back to Portland, via Jewell Island

[Kyle]After a couple of days of genuinely nice weather in the Basin, Maine returned to its pre-summer state. For a change of scene, we motored over to the next inlet along the coast and anchored in the eastern end of Quahog Bay. We were hoping for at least a few hours of clear-ish weather while we were there, but our whole stay ended up being high winds and pouring rain so we ended up with a couple of indoor/maintenance days.

I had to go to work in a couple of days, so we moved a few miles closer and anchored at Jewell Island for a couple more nights. After half of a day of drizzle, it finally began to clear up. For some insane reason, that was a surprise even to myself, I decided to go in the water again and try to scrub some of the boat’s bottom, building on the work done previously on the newly clean props.

I think it was even colder. This time, I got right to work instead of wasting precious time adjusting to it. I worked as fast as I could and got the bottom down to nice fresh blue bottom paint from the back of the keel aft. This included all of the rudder and drive leg surfaces. When I started getting to where I couldn’t control my muscle movements anymore, I crawled out and stiffly flopped on deck. Maryanne sat me in the sunny side of the enclosure and filled me with lots of tea and several bowls of hot soup. It was good to get a substantial portion of the underwater real estate in proper condition again. The rest will have to wait until a warmer climate.

Well, Maybe. After I got rewarmed, I inexplicably went back in for more. This time, I got both hulls ahead of the keels done, leaving only the keels themselves and the fat part of the hulls adjacent.

{Maryanne: Please don't think me a terrible wife, I reasoned and begged with my husband not to enter the frigid waters, but there really was no stopping him. Eventually I resigned myself to rolling my eyes and preparing recovery conditions, and making sure the emergency services and life insurance company were on speed dial!}

When I got out, I couldn’t even hold a cup or utensils for half an hour because of the violent shaking. Maryanne kept the warm food and tea coming and even made me a hot water bottle to stuff down my shirt. It was four hours before I didn’t feel cold anymore. I was glad to have more sections of the hulls cleared off, though. I hate having stuff like that hanging over my head.

The next day was bright and sunny. It was already warmer at sunrise than it had been the whole previous day. I think Maryanne could tell that the fouling on the rest of the hulls was bugging me. Before I could protest, she had the dinghy deployed and we were off for a hike on the island. Whew! I needed to do the hulls, but I didn’t want to do the hulls. Instead, we hiked every trail on the island, which is a much nicer way of getting fresh air into our lungs and fresh blood into our muscles.

Hiking the four corners of Jewell Island

The downside was that the island’s mosquitos were taking the rare opportunity of a nice day to come out double. I seem to remember that this happened the last time we were here as well in 2008. Rather than cover myself in repellent, creating a toxic cloud that even I didn’t want to be in, I covered myself from head to toe with long clothing. For some reason, biting insects aren’t very interested in Maryanne.

Inspecting the WWII Military towers on the island, long abandoned.

So, as you could imagine, instead of freezing, I spent most of the hot day wanting to run down the beaches and into the cold water. This would not only cool me off, but also warm up the bay. Win, win.

I didn’t do it. When I got home into bug-free air and changed into more temperature-appropriate clothing, I briefly thought about using my heat surplus to get another couple of patches of hull done. Fortunately, my sense kicked in before it was too late and I didn’t. Nah, I’m kidding. It wasn’t my sense, it was Maryanne. Her job wasn’t too hard. Once I sat down, gravity kicked in and I was stuck.

We pulled up anchor early the next morning for the last few miles to Portland. After a brief stop at Spring Point Marina to top up everything except the food lockers, we were back on a mooring at Portland Yacht Services.

I had just enough time for a shower before I had to do the long walk to the airport. Not only did Maryanne walk with me, but she also stopped in at the grocery store near the airport to restock before carrying the whole load all of the way back home on her back. Lately, I’ve developed a fondness for things that are grilled on a stone. It’s not strictly necessary, but I like to use a brand new stone for each item. I also like her to buy beer in cases because it saves 20¢ over the cost of the same beer in much easier to carry six-packs.

Just in case you’re thinking it’s all one-sided, I stopped for marshmallows and Cheetos on the way home a few days later.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Basin

[Maryanne]We last visited the area known as The Basin back in 2008, it was beautiful then and still is now. So glad we were able to return, as you'll see from Kyle's report ...

[Kyle]We must’ve been tired. I awoke in the morning feeling like I hadn’t had nearly enough sleep. I toyed with the idea of getting up briefly, then decided I’d do so after a few more minutes of slumber. I repeated this process a few more times. This was fairly uncharacteristic of me. I’m generally not a “snooze button” guy. Even though I didn’t have an alarm this day, when I have one, I prefer to set the alarm for when I plan to actually get up instead of setting it early and then ruining the quality of my last few minutes of sleep by constantly interrupting it to hit a snooze button. I also tend to have a hard time getting back to sleep if I know I’ve only got a couple of minutes left.

As much as I like a good night’s sleep, I also tend to get up relatively early. Getting up after 9am makes me feel like my morning is already gone. So, imagine my surprise when I finally decided I was feeling awake enough to get out of bed, looked at my watch, and saw that it was 12:43pm! Whoa! How does that happen?

I know that an hour is an hour. We could have a full day and go to bed at 4am. I do this way too often at my job because they make me. That’s not how I work, though. If I didn’t want the next morning to mysteriously vanish too, we had to get to sleep at a somewhat normal hour. Our day was looking like it would be: Make coffee, eat dinner, watch the sunset, go to bed.

Well, almost. It was a bright, beautiful day that was bordering on being just a little too warm. I wanted to get something done so I didn’t feel like I was wasting the whole thing. One of the things that has been bugging the hell out of me since last year is the condition of Begonia below the waterline. Sitting in a marina all winter and not moving much, even fresh antifouling paint will start to get covered with a coat of slime. It grows very slowly in the cold waters of winter, but by spring, we had what I think is an unacceptable layer of fuzz on the bottom. A few hundred miles of sailing since we left Weehawken has washed a lot of it off, but there’s still some left and it bothers me, even though we don’t seem to have suffered much of a performance decrement as a result.

The other thing that does have a noticeable effect is the cleanliness of the propellers. Even though they are bronze, which has some antifouling properties, there was no time to prime and paint them properly when they were installed. That will have to wait for the next haulout. Last summer, I would dive on them every few weeks to knock off the baby barnacles and give them a good polish to keep them smooth and efficient.

Since arriving in New York, the water has been way to cold for swimming. Not to mention the Hudson is also, uh, gross. We left just as the water temperature started to increase from winter’s near-freezing levels and headed north, slowing the increase. We remained in single digits (Celsius) until we finally turned back southbound.

By the time we made it to the Basin, the water temperature had made it all the way to 13.2C (55.8F). My previous record for coldest swim, which was really a VERY quick bath, was 17C. Not having physically checked the condition of the props was driving me nuts, though, so I decided to at least consider the idea. After all, when I was a kid, I regularly splashed around in the icy waters of mountain lakes or the Pacific Ocean on the California coast. Water like that is a shock at first, but you do kind of get used to it, especially if you’re having fun.

I honestly expected myself to chicken out after climbing down the swim ladder to my knees, particularly since clouds had replaced the nice, warm sun. I was surprised that it wasn’t actually that bad. I kept going. The worst part wasn’t actually my, um, …bits, but rather my chest and shoulders. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to don a mask and snorkel to protect myself from inhaling a bunch of water in the event my mouth got below the surface when the uncontrollable gasp from the cold hit me. I needed it. Wow, that water was cold!

Kyle gently lowers himself into the cold water, before donning mask and fins and 'going for it'. Maryanne was there to record the event (tough job)

The next terrible moment came at full immersion. The urge to gasp at the cold is almost continuous and it took real concentration to hold my breath. I could only stay under about a third of my usual time before it was just too much and I had to surface again.

I never harbored any fantasies about scrubbing the paint, but I wanted to at least check and clean the prop blades. The growth on them didn’t turn out to be as bad as I had feared, but it was nice to get them scraped off and properly foil-shaped again. The first went okay, but I was really struggling with the second. I was determined to stay in until both props had equal treatment.

When I got out, I was shivering badly. Maryanne had not one, but two cups of hot tea waiting for me. Oh, that felt good! I was almost shaking too badly to drink the first one.

Well, at least I no longer felt guilty about being a lazy, good-for-nothing. I have no intention of even trying to go in the water again until it hits 20C.

The next morning, we were up properly early(ish) for a day of exploration.

First, we took the dinghy on a long rowing exploration of the whole Basin. Apart from the water constantly going up and down 3m or so, the place feels like a secluded lake in the mountains, accessible by two 90-degree turns through a narrow channel that is essentially invisible from anywhere in the anchorage.

Bald Eagle family nearby

The highlight of the day turned out to be pretty much the first thing we did. On the island in the middle of the Basin, in the top of a tree on the end that was facing Begonia, was a Bald Eagle’s aerie (nest). We rowed closer to have a look. In the aerie was a nearly full-sized juvenile that still lacked the white head and irises of an adult. Signs posted said we weren’t allowed to land on the island, but the chick seemed unperturbed by our floating in the water below snapping pictures. After a few minutes, its mother came back with a fish, which the chick seemed old enough to eat as-is, without any special help. She was much more interested in us than her chick was. She didn’t threaten us or seem agitated by our presence, but we got the feeling she was reluctant to leave the aerie for the next fish until she was sure we were moving on.

When we left to row around the island, she followed us and perched on a high branch on the tallest tree on the little island. We stopped below and admired her for a bit. As I looked at her through our binoculars, admiring her feathers and watching her eyes dart around in their sockets, the thought occurred to me that we were probably able to see each other equally well.

Ospreys entertain us around their nest

We went on our way and eventually she left to go fish again. At a point on the other side of Begonia, we spent time watching on Osprey nest. Two adults attended this one. No chicks were visible, but one of the adults spent a lot of time getting comfortable, like a dog doing three turns around a pillow before lying down. She then had that droopy-winged posture of a bird lying on eggs.

We explored a few more places before landing ashore at a place I vaguely remembered had access to shore via one of the trails maintained by the Nature Conservancy. We found iron pins driven into a big rock at a place that seemed like it dropped off steeply below. Since it was high tide, we hoped the Pudgy would remain afloat on our return and we wouldn’t have to drag it over a bunch of kelp, mud or rocks to get back to the water.

Shoreline views

We hiked all the way round the eastern perimeter of the Basin on dirt roads before coming on another of the Nature Conservancy’s trails to Denny Reed Point. We were never able to find out who Denny Reed was, although we did find out that the trail was 1.2 miles each way to cover ½ mile as the bird of your choice flies. The trail did seem to go on for ages. Maryanne supposed they had done a lot of pointless zigzagging in order to get the most trail out of a relatively small patch of land.

At length, we reached our reward for the very long walk from the dinghy: a bench upon which to sit and enjoy our Gatorade and granola (muesli) bars while looking out on Begonia and the Basin. As tired as we were, our stay was short-lived. We were quickly driven away by a cloud of increasingly tenacious mosquitoes. Where’s a bat when you need them?

We made a hasty retreat along a trail that somehow seemed shorter than on the way out. We had decided to wait until the turnaround point to break out the food and drinks. Being fed and hydrated on the way back made a difference.

After rapidly dining at 'mosquito point' we retreated back to the dinghy

Back at the dinghy, we found it WAY lower than we had left it. It was still afloat, but barely, straining on its painter. It was straight down too far to jump. I was able to untie it and lead it around to a place not too kelpy where we could reboard for the trip home.

Mom the Eagle was back on her high branch looking over her not-so-little one. The Ospreys were also settling in for the night. This is a pretty special spot.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

A Long Day

[Kyle]Awakening for a few minutes in the middle of the night at Vinalhaven, I decided to have another look at the forecast for our next leg. The east winds part was pretty much the same, but the Tropical Storm part was arriving early and looking more concerning. Storm warnings and small craft advisories were starting to fly. Our next day’s planned anchorage would have little protection from the predicted storm winds and no good nearby alternatives. We needed to get as far as possible in the hopes of making our third stop in one go. I never fell asleep after that. I had poor Maryanne up early so we could make the most of the daylight. We pulled up the anchor at 04:35.

The big east winds that were forecast overnight never did materialize. I was gratified to hear our wind generator start up as I was still in bed fretting over the forecast, but by the time we left, the wind was gone again. The forecast was for the wind to slowly build all day, so I was sure we would find it soon.

We motored most of the way through the Fox Island Thorofare, raised the sails and shut down the engines. For a few minutes, we had a decent wind as it funnelled through the thorofare. Once we were into Penobscot Bay, the shadow of Vinalhaven killed what wind we had. We spent the next three hours thinking a single knot was fast.

It wasn’t until we were way on the other side of Penobscot Bay at Two Bush Channel hours later, that the wind reached half of the forecast. We were then able to start moving fast enough to have hope of making it anywhere by dark. I was just starting to enjoy myself when we snagged a lobster pot while trying to avoid another. We sailed forward, we sailed backward, and we hove-to so that Begonia slipped sideways in both directions, but the pot would not come free. We didn’t dare start an engine for fear of fouling a prop. We were slightly fortunate that the current was taking us away from the danger of the immediate nearby rocks. This allowed us the luxury of concentrating both of our efforts on the problem without worrying about hitting anything. It took a while, but with us both hanging over the side and nearly bending our good boathook, we got free of the damn thing. I was getting nervous about our timeline for the day. That delay was not one we could absorb. We pressed on and kept hoping for the predicted wind increase.

The wind kept being frustratingly too light for most of the morning. I was starting to think we would have no choice, but to anchor at our originally planned stop – the one with poor protection – and leave again at first light in the storm before it got too bad. Even though it was currently overcast and drizzly, the wind conditions would have been perfect for using the spinnaker. We were worried about dealing with the ol’ Sail of Death if the wind did suddenly arrive in a hurry, as it was supposed to, so we left it below, stowed in it’s bag.

By afternoon, the wind was supposed to have been in the teens for hours, but we still had just barely six knots on occasion. Our progress would have been slow, but tolerable, if we were doing a more normal twenty-mile day, but we needed to get sixty. Sixty nautical miles would have been a piece of cake in good tailwinds, but so far we were only about a third of the way. Maryanne was the first to revisit the spinnaker idea. I rejected it the first couple of times, worrying about the mad dash that may be required to douse it in too-strong winds. Eventually, the lack of wind became too much and we agreed to give it a try, provided we weren’t complacent about any wind increase we got.

It was great! As soon as the spinnaker filled, our speed shot up until our boat speed through the water was twice the apparent wind speed. This sounds like magic, but it’s not. Two knots of wind in the spinnaker produces enough force to overcome the drag of the boat through the water at four knots. The true wind was six knots from behind us. We were going at four, leaving the last two flowing into the spinnaker to drive the boat. Suddenly, with our new speed, it again became just possible that we could make it the whole sixty miles before dark.

After that, the wind did finally begin to pick up very gradually until we were up to nine knots through the water. The true wind was nearing fifteen, which starts to push into the scary range. In the event we needed to turn across the wind (to avoid a pot, for example), the full fifteen knots would make that spinnaker a real bear to wrestle down. In spite of the fact that we loved our new speed, we decided the most prudent thing to do would be to bring it down.

Despite the EARLY start, delayed winds had us using the spinnaker to make our goal for the day

It wasn’t bad at all. The whole thing went like clockwork. Maryanne steered Begonia dead downwind, then she let out the spinnaker sheet so the spinnaker would move into the lee of the mainsail when the sheet was released. I was forward. As soon as the spinnaker started to collapse, I pulled the sock down over it and it was safely doused. The whole thing took maybe ten seconds. Once we got the spinnaker stowed away fully, we unrolled the jib to replace it. In the building winds, we were back up to speed within thirty minutes.

The leading edge of the storm arrived in earnest. It was rapidly becoming one of those experiences where, if anybody could have seen us, they would certainly have been wondering what we were doing out there and if we were okay. We were fine, although we were getting eager to be done for the day. By the time we rounded our last headland and started in from sea to shelter, we had reefed down both the main and the jib for the upwind leg. The rain was continuous and heavy by then and the visibility was falling, making it hard to spot pots as we tacked our way up the ironically named New Meadows River.

We started the engines and pulled out of the river into the very narrow channel leading to a place called simply, “The Basin”. The howling wind was now completely blocked by tall trees on high ground, although the rain continued to splatter and run in streams off everything. Once safely through the channel inside the well-protected basin, we managed to get the anchor down and the deck tidied up before it got dark. We had made it, barely. We then stripped off our wet foul weather gear, left them to dry in the cockpit and retreated to the warm safety of the cabin, where we listened in amazement as the rain pelted the cabin top in irregular waves of white noise through the rest of the night.


[Kyle]Our original plan for the next day, after sailing the western half of Eggemoggin Reach, was to turn north into Penobscot Bay and anchor in Smith Cove, which I will forever be able to think of as anything except Kumbayah Cove after our last stay there in June (or July?) of 2008. The remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea changed our plans, though.

The latest forecast predicted a day of calm, then a day of reasonable strength winds out of the east, and then Tropical Storm style mayhem from TS Andrea. It looked like our best option would be to advance our schedule, skipping several of our originally planned stops in order to be in the best position for making use of the east winds.

Another Early start, another calm day

Knowing the first day would be with no wind, we didn’t even bother unzipping our mainsail cover. Off in the distance in the other direction over coffee, I had been watching a ketch with full sail to our east going very slowly indeed. They were still essentially in the same place when we pulled up anchor. Finally, we were able to enjoy the beauty of Eggemoggin Reach. The only other boat we saw in the whole of Eggemoggin Reach had been that ketch. We passed under the suspension bridge and along shores with beautiful houses, many of which had equally pretty boats swinging on moorings below.

We didn't see another boat underway in the whole of the length of Eggemoggin Reach

We turned south into Penobscot Bay and slowly weaved our way through the various islands along the way on one engine, enjoying the sunshine and hot (within the enclosure, anyway) weather.

More Maine sights on a calm sunny day

At Vinalhaven (pronounced: vinyl-haven), we had originally intended to anchor in beautiful and isolated Perry Creek. We had been foiled the last time from doing this by a couple of big cabin cruisers that had managed to position themselves so they were taking up the whole little anchorage. This time, it was a little earlier in the season. I was hoping we might be able to beat the crowds and get a spot.

Well, a lot of things had changed in the years since we were here last. Perry Creek is now wall to wall with moorings, leaving no space for anchoring and very little for even maneuvering. Just to be sure we couldn’t anchor, most of the inter-mooring space was filled with lobster pot buoys.

Oh well, on to plan B – again.

Knowing it was supposed to start blowing hard from the east-northeast, we found a spot in a nearby cove with protection from that side. There were suspiciously no other boats there, likely because the tidal zone was very wide and the cove was ringed by private property, leaving no shore access. It was only after we had the anchor set and were all settled in that Maryanne discovered that it was called Shipwreck Cove. Ah, great!

I suppose it would have been an easy place to wreck before the place was well charted. At high tide, it looks like a big deep cove. In fact, in the middle, it is over 40M (133’) deep. About a third of the way from there to the edge, there is a nice, wide shelf of sticky mud, in which we set our anchor, then it rapidly turns into a lot of rocks, which reveal themselves at low tide.

From where we were, we had nice views in all directions, particularly to the west through the Fox Island Thorofare, dividing the islands of Vinalhaven and North Haven. We watched a couple of big schooners get underway from their moorings there and head to sea. As the tide fell, Shipwreck Cove turned out to be the place where the seals take their naps on the drying rocks. They are so cute and they have this amazing ability to sleep in the most uncomfortable-looking places. Perhaps their blubber acts like a big, comfy pillow.

It was still pretty early in the afternoon. Maryanne was feeling a little industrious, so she decided to improvise a recipe for pineapple upside-down cake using our pressure cooker as the oven. She had little idea about the specific ingredient mix and no idea about cooking time. She was expecting it to be the first unpalatable version in a series of long experiments that may eventually result in an edible cake.

It didn’t happen. The cake came out PERFECTLY! It was delicious! She’s a genius! It didn’t last long, though, and she used our last eggs to make it. The next one will have to wait. She did write down exactly what to do for next time, though.

Lounging seals, and Kyle appreciating Maryanne's latest cooking experiments

More Sailing Fun

[Kyle]This is what sailing is supposed to be like. It was a beautiful, crystal-clear day. We got up when we were done sleeping and set sail for south-eastern entrance of Eggemoggin Reach, towards an area pretty universally regarded as the best sailing spot in all of Maine.

We left the Little Cranberry Island anchorage and set sail. Our course had little resemblance to our planned route, which took the shortest course along a zigzagging route through the intervening islands. Instead, we tacked upwind, going offshore around the outside of the intervening islands before making our way up the next bay.

For the first time since arriving in Maine, we saw other boats out sailing. One of them was The Louis R. French, a 101’ two-masted windjammer schooner that seemed to be going the same general direction we were intending after the next tack.

We went as far out as Northeast Harbor on Long Island before tacking behind them up the Eastern Passage of Blue Hill Bay. After the tack, the wind shifted slightly aft, allowing us to let the sails out a bit from their tight, close-hauled positions. Our speed went from six or seven to just over ten knots. Wow! The current was flowing out against us, but we were still eating up the miles. After a while, I couldn’t help but notice that the schooner was getting larger and larger. Science tells me that it’s really an optical illusion; It was getting closer! (Thanks Kate!) Now I had no real expectation that a 38’ catamaran could hold its own against a 101’ windjammer flying full sail, but we were catching up to them. How thrilling!

I was looking forward to passing by close enough to get a few good photos, all while trying to appear as blasé about it as possible. Further on, though, it became apparent they were continuing up Blue Hill Bay, while we were about to break off and tack into Jericho Bay. Oh, well. It was nice while it lasted.

We entered Jericho Bay just as the current started to get strong the other way, requiring very acute tacks to fight wind and current. Complicating matters was a huge population of lobster buoys that required both of us to spot and thread a path through. It was tough. Every time we would have to turn downwind to dodge a set, we would lose hard-fought ground. Most pots have two buoys strung together, one or the other of which might possibly submerge in the strong current.

We snagged one such buoy, which dragged us to a stop and kept us from being able to steer. So far, when this has happened, we’ve been lucky enough to be able to get them to float free by stopping completely or drifting slowly backwards. Most of the time, we can do it without adjusting the sails using what’s left of our steering. Other times, we need to pull down one or both sails to get control. This time, we needed to furl the jib before Begonia would turn upwind and slow down enough to allow them to float free. While we were dead in the water and helpless, we drifted into two more sets that we picked up and released.

In the tiny patch of water before the next set of lobster pot floats, we set the sails in record time and got them pulling just in time to allow us to avoid picking them up. Picking up the buoys had set us back ½ a mile, requiring us to do one more tack and sail through two more miles of pot infested waters.

After much stressful pot dodging, we finally made into Eggemoggin reach. I was eager to see it since the last time we were here, on Footprint, it was completely fogged in and the only part of it we saw was the middle of the span of the Deer Island suspension bridge as we passed under. It is stunningly beautiful, full of little pink granite islands capped with pine trees or stately homes surrounded by big lawns.

The pot buoy population increased. Allow me to digress a little on what is a few percent of my full rant on the subject: From shore to shore, with no navigable gap anywhere for other traffic. This is in one of the most heavily trafficked sailing areas in the state. I know everybody loves a Maine lobster, but pots in this density are a legitimate hazard to navigation and the men who put them everywhere are a menace. Fin.

So anyway, after abandoning our first choice of anchorage (which we discovered full of mooring buoys) we found a gorgeous little cove just big enough to swing and dropped our hook right in the middle. We could see both ways down the reach and were protected from the wind by an island of a few acres smelling like pine and emanating birdsong. {Maryanne: We found ourselves anchored in tiny NorthWest Cove in view of a beautiful home that according to the chart is called Bemis Castle}.

The day had been a little of everything, but it was hard not to feel lucky in such a pretty place.

Anchored in time for dinner in the cockpit by sunset, we found ourselves alongside the grandly named "Bemis Castle"

Back to Sailing

[Kyle]For about a week or so, the forecasts had been saying we would have a day of strong tailwinds for our next long westward leg. I was really looking forward to that, but a couple of days before we set off, they all changed their minds. The new forecast was for 15kt direct headwinds. Ugh…

I made a plan for two, or even three contingency stops along the way in the event that we just couldn’t fight our way very far down the coast. Decent anchorages that aren’t way inland are few and far between on this stretch. Our first possible stop was the anchorage at Petit Manan, where we had stopped eastbound.

We tacked our way past the lighthouse just after noon, making it barely feasible that we could make it across Frenchman’s Bay by nightfall. If it didn’t look like we could make it, we could always turn and make the fast downwind run to Petit Manan before it got dark. The ride wasn’t bad at all and we were doing a better angle to windward than I had anticipated. We developed a strategy of tacking up the various bays along the way as far as we could. This gave us close up views of the coast and islands, and kept us where the seas were flatter, giving us more speed and a more comfortable ride.

As we passed between Schoodic Point and Schoodic Island into Frenchman’s Bay, the wind shifted slightly to the north, allowing us to sail close-hauled directly toward our anchorage on the southern side of Little Cranberry Island, dramatically improving our speed to the destination. I was greatly relieved. The next day would not need to be a long slog. Instead, we only had a short way to go, allowing us the time to sail as long as it took without worrying about running out of daylight. We even had enough time to get settled in by dark, allowing us to enjoy sunset over nightcaps in the cockpit.

A calm start as we leave through Roque Island Thorofare and head west. Trees and rocks change too as we head west.

Maine: A Couple of Slow Days

[Maryanne]In Kyle's last post, he ended with "perhaps it's time for a slow day". Wish granted!

[Kyle]At Roque Island, we actually got two slow days. The first was blustery, but otherwise pretty sunny as the cold front approached. Inside our cockpit enclosure we were out of the wind and the sun warmed the space up to just the perfect temperature. {Maryanne: I even wore a swimsuit all day}. By the time night fell, it was getting cold and starting to rain.

As we were turning off the lights and getting ready for bed, I did one last lap around the deck to check on things and noticed something extraordinary. There was not a single artificial light visible anywhere. (Our anchor light is shielded by the mast cap and is not visible from the deck). I’m pretty certain that’s the only time that has ever happened when we weren’t offshore. There’s always been a distant streetlamp or porch light visible somewhere.

We got up the second morning at low tide expecting to see seals basking on the nearby rocks. Instead, the cold air behind the front moved in over the warm water and created a fog so thick that we couldn’t see shore at all. It stayed like this all day. We hunkered down inside the warmth of the heated cabin reading to each other. Later on, Maryanne made a big pot of potato soup to help keep us warm.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Maine: Roque Island

[Kyle]We were up super early for what turned out to be a windless motor through patchy fog to our next stop at Roque Island. We were up so early that we had the anchor set at our destination before 7:00 am. Unlike Cross Island, which is a National Wildlife Refuge with lots of public trails, Roque Island has been owned by the same family for a couple hundred years (for all but a couple of years). Visitors are asked not to go ashore beyond the confines of one side of the island’s mile-long beach. The place is beautiful, though, and the large secure bay filled with lots of adorable seals, so we were happy to spend the next couple of days aboard admiring the view and doing some maintenance while we waited out the next blow.

We started by changing the oil and filter on our port engine. My plan after that had originally been to get the second half of the last night’s sleep, but it was such a beautiful sunny day that I decided to lower the dinghy and go sailing.

An early passage through calm waters, but chores start once we arrive.

I started by tacking my way up the Thorofare (another Maineism) between Roque Island and Great Spruce Island to the other anchorage I had considered for this stop to see if it was as nice as advertised. Once in the channel, the quickly rising tide created a current in the wrong direction for me. At the first pinch point, I found myself passing the same lobster pot buoy over and over. I would get ahead of it a few feet, then fall behind on the next tack. At first, it was frustrating, then it was personal. I was tired of looking at it. I had to pass that buoy. I tried patiently for an hour or so, then finally gave up, turning downwind and rocketing back to Maryanne and Begonia.

Not satisfied, I decided to take the consolation prize of a downwind sail past the long beach and then tacking across the bay home. I was exhausted by the time I made it back to Begonia, but then I realized it should be about slack water in the thorofare. I decided to use the last of the day to try again.

This time, I quickly vanquished the buoy that was my nemesis that morning. Further along, I came to another narrow spot and found myself repeating the morning’s sail all over again. We had read that the currents around here were strong and hard to predict, but this was nuts. How could the current be slack in one part of the channel and flowing fast (the wrong way, by the way) in another part of the same channel?

The winds were starting to get weird, too, in the lee of one of the islands blocking the other entrance. My only hope of progress was to do everything perfectly. I had to ride every available puff perfectly, then do perfect tacks. I was just starting to make headway when my legs got all caught up in one of the life vests in the dinghy as I swung around to the other side on a tack. I ended up with a huge mess of life vest, floatable cushions (which I was sitting on) and the loose end of the mainsheet. I straightened everything out while the dinghy sat in irons with the sail flogging uselessly as I drifted backwards past a buoy I had spent 30 minutes trying to get past.

I got things straightened out and the dinghy moving again. I decided I would set a limit of ten more tacks to get to the anchorage, just around the next bend, before I would give up and go home. I had already been out way too long.

I made it after eight. Just as I arrived, the current I had been fighting mysteriously stopped and the wind just stopped trying. It came from seemingly every direction at once, but only long enough to bat at the sail like a cat before disappearing, then batting at me from another direction.

I took a quick look around, too frustrated and spent to enjoy my accomplishment. At least it was stunningly beautiful. It would be a nice place to anchor amidst tree covered islands, but the swirly winds and currents would drive me nuts worrying about the Gordian knot being made in the ground tackle and having to reposition the solar panel constantly. Where we were, we would have only slight swing and plenty of wind for the batteries when it started to blow, without being exposed to the seas.

I set an arbitrary goal to reach the last buoy in the string before turning for home. I spent another twenty minutes crawling the last fifty feet to the buoy in winds that were simultaneously from every direction at once, gave it a celebratory smack with my hand and turned for home.

Kyle took the Portland Pudgy on a mini adventure to explore the harbor and thorofare, while Maryanne relaxed in the cockpit with a book

It took another twenty minutes to get the first fifty feet of the way back, then the wind and current kicked in and I retraced my last two hour’s hard work in fifteen minutes. It was the fastest I’d gone all day, even in Begonia.

Since we knew the weather was supposed to be bad for the next couple of days, I packed up the sail kit and handed it and the oars to Maryanne on Begonia while I prepared to hoist the dinghy into its davits. I was pulling the dingy into its harness when I realized the harness was caught up on the leeboards, which ordinarily stow under the aft seat. I removed and stowed them and then looked up to see that I had drifted twenty feet from Begonia. I had just disconnected the painter to move the dinghy into the harness when I was distracted by the leeboard problem. Now I was being blown away from Begonia in building winds. I had no motor, no oars and no sails. By the time Maryanne got a line to heave to me, which was only a couple of seconds, I was out of range. It was looking like Maryanne may have to start the engines, pull up Begonia’s anchor chase after me to rescue me. Then we both simultaneously realized I had the leeboards, and could use one of them as a makeshift paddle. She yelled, just as I dove for them under the seat. I had to paddle like a madman to counter the wind. Adrenaline is amazing for strength and focus. It took several minutes for me to close the distance to where I could finally grab an outstretched boathook. I handed Maryanne the painter, she clipped me on and gave me a deserved dope slap; and I was suddenly safe again. I was exhausted and sunburned. I'd being playing in the dinghy for seven hours.

Perhaps it’s time for a slow day.

Messing about around Roque Island - home of the longest sandy beach in Maine

[Maryanne]Roque is famed for puffins, and eagles and much impressive bird life. As hard as we've looked, we've seen nothing, but I've sat for hours in the cockpit with the binoculars hopefully.