Monday, August 05, 2013

Menemsha aboard Sotito

[Kyle]We started by packing and filling up the dinghy with stuff for a few days away. We had yet another evening of fantastic food, great company and perhaps a little too much wine before retiring to our respective berths for the evening. In addition to Andy and Robin, their friend Lynn joined us aboard Sotito for an adventure weekend.

We were all up bright and early the next morning for a trip to Menemsha, one of the few towns on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard. We cast off the lines and glided out of Bristol Harbor. From the bridgedeck, it seemed like we were flying low over the harbor.

Once we got through the Hope and Tiverton Bridges, Andy looked at me and then pointed a thumb at the helm. I figured I was a temporary lookout while he used the restroom or something, but when he got back, he said he was happy enough to leave me there for the time being.

The ladies relax, while the men 'man' the helm

Although the winds had decreased in the last day or so, there was still a pretty good left-over swell waiting for us when we got out of the river into Rhode Island Sound. We tried for a while to maintain a direct course to clear the western end of Cuttyhunk Island into Vineyard Sound, but it turned out of be much too wet and uncomfortable. We experimented with various off the wind headings until we found a comfortable-ish one that ran east towards Buzzards Bay. After thinking about it for a while, we eventually decided to continue into Buzzards Bay to the gap at Quick’s Hole, between Nashawena and Pasque Islands. That way, we would be in the smooth lee of those islands until emerging from Quick’s Hole into Vineyard Sound.

Once on the other side, we were hit full force with the Atlantic swell. The ride became very wet, rolly and uncomfortable. The force of the swell was slowing Sotito down, so Andy bumped up the power from a lope to a trot to maintain control and smooth things out. Robin and Lynn were sitting in deck chairs on the top deck (White knuckled, gipping the arms of the chairs). They were safely wedged into a corner, but effectively marooned there by the big, empty space between them and the handholds on the bridge.

The trip across Vineyard Sound wasn’t too long, so we all only had to endure the conditions for a short time. When we got to the entrance to Menemsha, I was amazed by how tiny it looked from up there on the bridge. It barely seemed wider than Sotito, although in reality it was probably three times that. The wind had really started to blow by then right across the entrance and the current could be seen sweeping by and breaking into eddies on the other side of the breakwater. I was so worried that the wind or the current (or both) would set us sideways against the rocks as we entered. Andy lined Sotito up, gave her enough power to maintain control and plunged right in. No problem! Honestly, I would have been a lot more comfortable landing on a small runway in a snowstorm.

Once past the rocks, Andy had to make a quick 90-degree turn into the small harbor. The harbormaster called and said he was clearing another boat off of our slip and told us we would need to loiter for a while. It was a long wait; Andy managed to look like he holds his boat in tight quarters with counter winds and current every day. Our dock cleared. It was right on the downwind side of the harbor. In order to land, Andy would have to get Sotito sideways to the wind, where the only counter to the winds huge force would be his bow and stern thrusters. We would then be at the mercy of the wind as it pushed us into the dock, relying heavily on fenders during the impact. The bigger a boat gets, the less it can be fended by hand or worked in with lines. Begonia could have been nosed up to the dock until a line could be attached, and then gently eased in using asymmetric engine power to bring her in slowly. Sotito is big enough that all of the manoeuvring has to be done from the helm.

He timed it well and we came to a surprisingly soft landing. I don’t even remember hearing either of the thrusters activate. We were all relieved when the lines and fenders were in place and we could let out that big breath we had been holding in.

Sotito arrives in Menemsha

We had a quick walk around the harbor to get our bearings and in short order, it was decided that dinner would be aboard Sotito with the seafood being sourced from Larsen’s Seafood on the wharf. There was to be hot buttered lobster rolls, stuffed clams and oysters for everyone, swordfish too (just in case anyone might feel hungry).

Exploring Menemsha (as always there is ice cream involved). Do take a good look at the chandlery sign.

We were just sitting down to our hot lobster rolls when the show started. A boat came in and was assigned one of the Mediterranean-style slips. These are slips that have two pilings to back between before bringing the stern to the dock instead of the more usual alongside finger float. The wind was still blowing hard and it was right across the docks. The boat would get lined up to back in and then get blown sideways past the slip. Sometimes the stern would hit the piling, the boat would spin and there would be a mad flurry of all hands on all nearby boats as she was pulled back out for another try. Finally, after lining up a couple of slips upwind, she drifted into alignment and made it in with judicious power and lots of fending.

Kyle watches on as a visiting boat is assisted into its dock with a few good nudges from the harbormaster

Then the second guy came in. He was in nowhere near the same control as the first. He bounced from one boat to another using a random series of manoeuvres, mostly with throttle screaming, and adjacent boat owners running out to protect their boats and offer help. Eventually, the harbormaster came out and used his skiff as a tug to help guide the guy in. (It turns out he had been a tug captain before, so he knew what he was doing). The guy still didn’t make it. He raked his way across a few anchors, tearing a hole in his sides.

The harbormaster, having run out of options, then came over to ask Andy if he could raft the guy up to Sotito. Andy didn’t like the idea (none of us did), and although we technically could say no, it really would have been inappropriate to send the guy back out to sea. The harbormaster put one of his staff aboard at the helm and the raft-up went without incident.

The guy who owned the other boat was weird. After much thought, I imagined that he might be the mentally challenged nephew of some mobster. He had enough money for a big boat and a paid crewmember, but he seemed to have little idea what was going on around him. Usually, when rafting on the outside of another boat, it is customary to introduce oneself and ask if it’s okay to cross over intervening boats, at least the first time. This guy acted like Sotito was the dock itself, even going so far as to push past one of us to get where he was going, all without saying a word or making any eye contact. Only when Andy blocked his path and addressed him directly, did he give vague, one syllable responses. Odd.

When it was all over, we returned to our cold lobster rolls, followed by glasses of wine at the bow for sunset. Much has been said about the beauty of Menemsha sunsets. We missed it. The sun just descended into the haze and then faded away. Andy announced the official sunset time fifteen minutes later with a long blast of the big horn.

After dark, the beach emptied. The high tide arrived, and with the strong recent winds was unusual high (well over the fixed docks). It was quiet for a while, and then the docks started to fill up. The whole town had come out with flashlights to catch squid for bait. It felt like another era. Parents and older siblings were teaching the little ones how to fish. The kids were so animated and excited about the whole process. I didn’t see anyone on their smartphones and there were no teenagers rolling their eyes and declaring, “Omigod, this is soo stupid…”

Enjoying the last of the sun at the beach, and then the high tide at Sotito

Waiting for Sunset

. . . . . .

And then there was sunrise...

Our second morning in Menemsha, we were all up bright and early. The three women got a bus to the Chilmark Flea Market while Andy and I stayed behind. After a while, he was getting groggy and I was getting antsy. Fortunately for me, we had brought along the Portland Pudgy. While Andy napped, I rigged the sailing kit and set off for Menemsha Pond.

I was initially fighting both wind and current, so I spent a long time being the entertainment for the crowd in line at the ice cream shop as I tacked back and forth, back and forth, advancing only a few feet each time.

Kyle enjoys some sailing on the dinghy (and a LOT of tacking)

After a couple of hours, I was getting weary, but the current was starting to slacken making my tacks more productive. I told myself that I would at least get into the pond before turning back. Once I got there, I realized I had enough depth to make long tacks, so I changed my goal to making it across to the other side of the pond.

Along the way, I saw that I was about to be overtaken by a bunch of 5 meter racing sailboats. I tacked to get out of their way. After a while, I ducked to look under the sail and found that they had tacked, too, and were paralleling me. One of them tacked again and we were on a collision course. I was on a port tack, so he had the right of way, but I didn’t want to interfere with the race either, so I turned downwind to pass him port to port before rounding up again astern of him as he went by. As he passed, he held out a gloved hand, gave me a high-five and yelled, “Cool boat!”

“You, too!”

We were both having fun.

At the far end of the pond, I turned to run back downwind. Even though the current was now flooding against me, I made it back to Sotito in a fifth of the amount of time it took me to get out. Along the way, I even got to surf the Pudgy down standing waves in the channel.

When I got back, the harbormaster came and told Andy and me about his plans to pull our neighbor off of the raft so he can leave. They attached a bridle and pulled the guy out straight sideways. He was at the helm, but was given very clear instructions not to touch the wheel or rev the engines, only to shift into idle forward or reverse as directed by the tow.

There was barely enough power in the launch to counter the wind force on the big hull. It took ages of working in the lulls to inch him away. During the process, Andy was able to converse a little with the guy’s Ecuadoran deckhand, who spoke very little English (The owner spoke no Spanish). He worked as a fiberglass guy in the marina where the owner keeps his boat. He was offered a few extra bucks to come along and make repairs along the way. It was his first time and he was clearly very anxious about the condition of the boat and its owner. We don’t think he’s going to volunteer again.

Once the bridle was disconnected, the guy proceeded to scare the crap out of everybody in the harbor by coming right at them, and then narrowly avoiding collision with LOTS of power and black exhaust. It was both a relief and a worry to see them make it through the harbor entrance into the open sea.

We stayed put for another day to give the winds a chance to die down. The sunset was another fizzle. When Andy blew the horn, a couple of nearby kids nearly jumped out of their skin. At first, they looked really scared, then they squealed with delight at the big noise, encouraging him to lay on it a little longer than last time. {Maryanne: During our stay in Menemsha Sotito had a steady stream of friends visit to share in the feasts; we were so lucky to meet with some amazingly talented and kind folks. Indeed, the whole stay was packed with great company, great views, great food and fantastic weather.}

Fun and Food - the nature of the weekend

. . . . . .

By morning, the wind was gone. For the first time, since we got there, Sotito was not getting squashed against her fenders. Robin, Maryanne and I took Sotito’s dinghy for a last trip around the harbor and then out to Menemsha Pond. We covered my whole day’s sailing in the Pudgy in 30 minutes.

Robin having fun with a quick blast in the Dighy to Menemsha Pond, and a lone boat anchored outside as Sotito departs

We untied Sotito, left the harbor and were immediately in swell left over from the blow of the previous few days. The weather was forecast to be mild, but we had one more big, red blob on the radar to traverse before we would be in the clear. As the storm approached, it started to rain in sheets. We got the bridgedeck windows rolled down just before it hit.

We spent the 20 minutes or so rounding Cuttyhunk Island with all five of us squinting through the rain streaked windows trying to visually identify and correlate every radar return. While it rained, gusts added height to the swell and Sotito rolled uncomfortably.

The storm passed as we entered the Sakonnet, the banks on either side blocked the ocean swell and suddenly it was a nice day again. Andy did the thumb-at-the-helm thing and I was back in his seat. He decided to stop for lunch and a swim at an indentation called Fogland. I kept expecting Andy to step in and take over, but he let me stay at the controls until the anchor was set and the engines were off.

Kyle gets to play at being captain of a much bigger boat, Robin and Andy finally get to relax once the storm has passed and all is safe

It got hot fast, so we all wasted no time jumping in for a cooling off. We had lunch (more amazing food) and were soon back underway for the dock at Bristol – what a weekend!

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