Tuesday + Wednesday 20 + 21 JUN / Passage from Port Washington, NY to Buzzards Bay, MA
We wake up leisurely, make coffee, eat breakfast, and clean up. Then, without urgency, we pull up the anchor, fill up with water, turn on the yellow brick, and just before 9AM… leave. It’s unceremonious. No one is there to wave us off on our epic expedition. And except for the couple we met the day before in the coffee shop, there are no witnesses who understand the scale of our departure.* This is fine. In fact, it’s probably better to have this moment woven more or less seamlessly into our typical routine than to have the pressure of a grand exit. Nevertheless, we are leaving, and to me at least, this is a big transition.
As soon as we enter the main body of the Long Island Sound, we take a right turn toward the east, put the main sail up, set the pole, and we are instantly wing on wing. The wind is ideal – somewhere around 15 or 20 kts behind us – and the seas are flat. We are in sailing bliss. Surprisingly, we have the place to ourselves. “It’s the middle of the day on a Tuesday,” Glenn mansplains, relieved to not be working himself. “But fifteen million people live right over there,” I respond pointing in a Manhattanish direction. Given the proximity to the country’s biggest city, the emptiness, I think, is peculiar.
Our speed builds throughout the day as the currents conspire to help us get to our destination. At times we are going faster than 10kts. It’s thrilling and easy. We eat tuna sandwiches for lunch and Niçoise salad for dinner – that’s how calm it is.
And then it isn’t.
As we reach the unprotected waters of Block Island Sound, our former gracious host, the Long Island Sound waves goodbye and abruptly abandons us. The rolling swell of the wild Atlantic is now all around us. We ascend and descend the black moguls in slow rhythmic patterns. Our forward tidal current gone, dissipated by the sea. And then, almost ironically, our wind thins to a whisper bringing our pace to under 3kts. We roll like this for a while.
Coastal navigation is far more involved than I imagine. While I have sailed in the Caribbean and Mexico for long stretches, our point was always to get away from land until our next destination. Here, we are attached to the coast and must therefore constantly avoid it while in motion. In the night time this becomes more problematic as the many coastal lights of the populated region and the lights on boats and even the stars can all mask the lights we need to use for navigation. Plus, at times, the navigational lights themselves are dim or confusing.
Starting at about 8:30PM, then, the sailing gets a lot more arduous. I am lucky. My sleep shift is from 9PM – 12AM. Soon, I leave Glenn to argue with the sea while I rejuvenate. Our shifts are always this short. I like it this way because I fall asleep easily and don’t need many hours in bed to feel good. Glenn and I agree that because of our training as architects – with many late nights of work – our bodies are accustomed to operating while sleep deprived. Does this make the practice of architecture and sailing distant relatives? Third cousins twice removed, I think, as I drift off…
I wake up ten minutes before my shift to the alarm. Glenn suddenly stumbles down the stairs. He is panicked. He turns on the AIS screen and in a flash is back in the cockpit starting the engine then accelerating the engine – hard. I don’t yet understand. I stand below, half in my gear and half in my sleep trying to gain focus. Then I see it. In the turbulent wake of our boat a large, lit up power boat crosses very closely behind. It’s so close it lights up the interior of our boat where I am standing. It’s difficult to grasp. Glenn was trying to get away from this other boat as quickly as possible to avoid collision. Just as the words “oh my god” come out of me, Glenn yells unbelievably, “There are three more!” What? I reach the cockpit and see a line of identical fast-moving boats off our port bow. We are lucky that their formation made each one easier to avoid than the previous, but we are shaken. Glenn is annoyed that his momentary inattention could so rapidly develop into a dangerous situation. He swears by the AIS system, but didn’t turn it on that evening as traffic seemed so low. And we are angry. This formation of boats is US military. The lead boat, which we believe saw us as we had lights on, made no attempt to change course, though we were smaller and under sail (therefore slower and with limits to our maneuverability). They chose aggression over safety. In a few more days we will read of the deadly accident involving the USSS Fitzgerald in the Sea of Japan where the US military boat failed to avoid collision with a Japanese tanker. I wonder about the nature and conveyance of safety protocols to military sailors. I wonder how old and experienced the soldiers driving these boats are. But mostly I wonder about the effects of the new state of aggression we find in our country these days. There has already been a palpable return to open expressions of hostility. There has already been more violence. And this, more than anything, makes me think about leaving.
*To that wonderful couple, thank you for waving to us so exuberantly!
Thursday 22 JUN / Passage from Buzzards Bay, MA through the Cape Cod Canal to Provincetown, MA
We wake up at 3:15AM. Glenn has ideas about getting to Cape Cod Bay riding high on the crest of the forward moving currents. Miserably, there is no wind and we are forced to motor the whole way. So, I knit a mitten in the shape of the state of Michigan, while Ava reads to me from Famous Speeches. We anchor in front of Provincetown at noon. One mitten on hand.
We tell Ava that Provincetown is an enclave for homosexuals. Judging by geography alone, I get how this town, on the furthest point of a long, swirly loop of land, would have been chosen. It’s a dreamy shape on a map. One that easily fuels fantasies of freedoms and choices (Bay or ocean? Bay and ocean!). Sometime in the last century long after whaling and after The Big Gale, Provincetown resorted its fortunes onto writers and artists. Along with this came gay folks. By the 1970’s the town actively marketed its shores as a haven for homosexuals. And now it is. Today P-Town boasts the highest per capita rate of same sex couples in the country.
Around 5 we go into town. It’s lovely. The commercial area is small-scaled, cedar-shaked, and authentically historic. (The Mayflower Compact was signed here!) We play tourists. We look in shop windows and browse for local history in the bookshops. We come across a stunningly beautiful cast concrete building that is an art museum and vow to return during proper hours. We stroll and we people watch. We garden envy. We eat dinner at a small place called the Squealing Pig where we drink local beer and cider (with ice! Is that local?). And as the evening falls it get gayer, I suppose. By this I mean, the shorts get tighter, couples get more demonstrative, the leather gets strappier. It’s raucous and fun.
In the end though, enclaves are sad places – refuges from a world that has forcibly created immigrants out of citizens. For me, the pain is intensified by the accepting nods of the liberal tourist. Our tacit approval is more for us, no?
Friday 23 JUN / Provincetown, MA
We go into town again today. Our mission, slightly diverted by the alluring thrills of Commercial Street where I buy more mitten yarn from a lovely queen with a waxed mustache wearing a flowery kimono, is to go grocery shopping. P-Town has made this very convenient with a Stop-n-Shop less than a mile from the town dock. Once there, we load up on proteins and snacks and drinks. Speaking of proteins, at the fish counter I meet Nikita. Nikita is a Russian spy (i.e. medical student) sent here to gather information (i.e. work for three months) and then destroy us (i.e. travel for one month). Nikita is tall, thin, blue-eyed, and charming. He tells me that there are twenty-one Russian students in town this season, as well as two Romanians (I asked), and “a LOT of Bulgarians.” Oh yeah, I ask, why’s that? By which I mean, are the Bulgarians taking over the spy industry? Because I have noticed that the Bulgarians are a particular power force in the corner of Etsy that I like to peruse (the designer fashion corner). But Nikita doesn’t know what’s behind the Bulgarian invasion. Later at a pizza place I meet a Bulgarian counter-worker. She is a Management major (my heart sinks a little) and she “loves it!” (and a little more). One day we will all be managed by Bulgarians.
We are on the boat again by the afternoon. My dad calls on Glenn’s phone. They talk about nothing and then I get put on. He asks me a series of questions which sound a bit worried, though I’m not sure… Did I think about the fact that it might get cold? Why, yes, I did. Am I prepared? Yep, we have warm clothes, boots, comforters, and I’m knitting mittens (!!) as we speak. What about water. Did we think about having enough water for the longer passages? How will we wash our clothes in the middle of the Atlantic, for example? We have very large tanks for fresh water. Why not a water maker? Because they take a lot of energy. And they break, Glenn adds. We have been strategic about which of our daily needs we want to have consuming our energy and what things we want to/can fix and, of course, which things came with the boat already. We have NOT been strategic, but very conservative, with all of our safety equipment. But my dad doesn’t ask about these…
He starts again, Are we adjusting to the lifestyle? This one… I don’t know how to answer. It’s a question that presumes that I would be surprised by the lifestyle: it’s crampedness of space or roughness of environment or limited of resource. But I am not. We have lived this way a lot over the last six years of preparation for this trip. Plus, just as he asks, I am sitting in the warm, glowy late light of Cape Cod with a glass of cold white wine, and I am knitting a second mitten. Nope, I am not finding it hard to adjust… yet.
I am speculating now, but I think what he really wants to know is why we are doing this. Why are we taking this trip… this kind of trip. I know he thinks it’s dangerous. We are not naïve nor new to this. We know the dangers much more than he does. But we also know the rewards. I hope in writing all of this down, I can answer his question so that he will understand some part of my experience. But if I’m honest, I hope that he can feel proud too.
Safety Equipment we are carrying:
COMMUNICATIONS + ELECTRONIC SAFETY: Yellow Brick Tracking, Iridium Go, Inmarsat Satellite Phone, AIS, EPIRB, VHF, GPS
ON DECK + EMERGENCY SAFETY: Spinlok auto-inflate life jackets, Jack Lines, Life Raft, Life Ring + Auto Strobe
SEA ANCHOR: Jordan Drogue
Saturday 24 JUN / Provincetown, MA
Waiting to leave…
Drinking Masala Chai
Sunday 25 JUN / Provincetown, MA
Waiting to leave…
Monday 26 JUN / Passage from Provincetown, MA to Boston, MA
Decide to leave around 10AM though conditions are not optimal. We are optimistic that the wind will turn our way. We are dumb. Motor on a lot. At least it was sunny.