This week involves a lot of movement. We are pushing south as we are a bit behind schedule, though we don’t have a schedule. All but two days spent in Newport, RI are traveling days on the water. These days of being in motion are when our trip is technical. That is, these are the days that Glenn is watching the weather, plotting routes compatible with the wind directions, and setting up the boat to get us there. While I am involved, I know far less and do far less than he does. For this reason, I have finally cajoled Glenn into reporting – in these very blog pages! – about these days in motion. “Glenn’s Log” will be rolled into my weekly reports and they will be much more insightful on the aspects of the boat’s movement. We hope you enjoy it, but understand if you’re bored. (Just kidding, Glenn)
Monday 16 Oct. – Tuesday 17 Oct.
PLYMOUTH, MA TO NEWPORT, RI
We leave Plymouth Harbor at day break (around 6:30). We take the ebb tide down the channel along with the fleet of fishing boats that call Plymouth home. A cold front has passed through overnight bring winds of up to 30 knots and cooler temperatures. The wind has moderated (15-20 knots) and shifted from the southwest to the north by morning. This would be perfect for us as we would initially be heading south then west. If we hugged the coast, we could sail in its lee for the next two days all the way to Newport. With very little fetch (room for waves to build up) we would have smooth water and good wind all the way.
Upon exiting the harbor channel we hoisted the full main and jib, shut the engine down, and we’re soon making 6 – 7 knots down the western edge of Cape Cod Bay. Our first priority was getting to the entrance of the Cape Cod Canal (15 miles south) by noon. The currents in the 8 mile long canal can run at up to 4 knots – so if you don’t time it correctly you’ll go backwards.
3 miles from the canal entrance the winds began to lighten, so we motor-sail the remaining distance and drop the sails as we enter the canal @ 11am. Our transit is quick, less than 1hr – hitting speeds close to 9 knots at times with the current in our favor.
The canal dumps us at the top of Buzzards Bay. We re-hoist the sails and are soon on a smooth beam reach down the bay @ 6knots.
Our initial plan is to sail overnight directly to Newport with the option of stopping at one of the anchorages that dot the north coast of the Buzzards Bay if need be. The forecast is for the wind to increase slightly to 25 knots throughout the day and overnight. We begin to see this in the afternoon and the wind also moves a bit further forward – to the northwest. Soon we put a reef in the main and roll in a bit of jib and are beating into a northwesterly – which starts to be hard going. By late afternoon we decide to head into Clarks Cove off of New Bedford, MA to anchor for the night. This turns out to be a wise choice as the wind continues to build and turn colder – really howling throughout the night.
By morning the wind has moderated again and shifted back to the north. We wake before dawn grab a cup of coffee and hoist the main before lifting the anchor and sailing out of the cove. The wind is good and at our back and we are doing 5-6 knots with just the reefed main up and fully out. At the end of our little bay we turn west towards Newport, unfurl a bit of jib and we are soon doing 7+ knots in flat water…perfection.
The sun is soon up, the sky is clear and our 35 mile sail to Newport is spectacular – one of the best in recent memory. As we close the harbor entrance the wind moderates further and we shake out the reefs. By late afternoon we make the harbor and drop anchor between the two mooring fields. The big harbor and expansive water front are filled with sailboats – it’s clear that we have entered the sailing capital of the east!
Wednesday 18 OCT
Newport’s large harbor is full of boats. Or, it seems full of boats, but as this is the off-season and many have left, it’s probably only half full of boats. I can hardly imagine the harbor density during the actual season. We have anchored in a crevice between the city’s two large mooring fields, avoiding the channel and the cable area. It’s an eked out area full with fellow cheapskates that would likely be too crowded to accept us in the summer months. It’s free to stay here, at least for a while, but a visit from the harbormaster this morning implies that they watch the transients and encourage them to be, you know, transient.
Newport is a sailor’s town. Its harbor was the site of the America’s Cup races for over fifty years! Unfortunately, it’s not a clean sailor’s town. The town marina has closed for the season earlier this month thwarting our shower and laundry plans. We head into town grittier than we hoped (us, not the town) with what starts to be a growing worry about our hygienic future. We turn right at Thames Street heading away from the shopping and restaurants and toward the fort we saw yesterday as we rounded the point at the mouth of the harbor. Not too far along, in front of an old actually-stone stone building, we run across a gleaming little wooden sailboat on a trailer. A Beetle Cat, halts Glenn in a rush of memories. These are the boats I sailed that year at sailing camp on the Cape, he tells Ava. As he’s recalling memories for her about the tiny boats’ rigging and speed, something he does for me often because of how much he loved that one summer, a woman with an armful of books approaches us. You should go around back if you want to see more. There’s tons of them back there, she says referring to more Beetle Cats (and others) awaiting restoration. We follow her around part way then she points out the series of buildings that house IYRS, the International Yacht Restoration School http://iyrs.edu/school-of-boatbuilding-and-restoration/ , a boatbuilding/restoration school. There are four largeish buildings in total: two building and restoration halls for wooden boats, the stone building which looks to be administration and exhibition, and a brand new high tech building housing newer technologies for composite work. The restoration halls are open for visitation by the public, so we go poking around. In the first building a very large garage-style door is open exposing a high bay space equipped with a lot of small hand tools and machinery. Inside students, mostly young men but a few women too, are each working on individual projects in close proximity. They chat and consult each other as they work, smiling and unconsciously enjoying the pleasures of making things. Watching them I feel a tiny surge of makers envy. In the second building, a polycarbonate clad shed, there are a bunch of on-going wood projects but no workers. Amongst the many small projects is also the restoration of the Coronet, a 130-foot schooner once owned by Arthur Curtiss James and his wife Harriet Parsons. It’s a long-term project in its early phases. In this space the Coronet is a giant whale floating in a school of tiny dependent feeding fish, each project learning dependently from the other.
Later, when I think of this place again, I’ll ask Glenn if would want to teach at this school, thinking he might rather devote his energies to boats, which he loves so much, or he might want to be near the water to be able to sail more frequently. Sure, he says, but his response is lukewarm. He’s happy where he is, he says. I can tell he doesn’t want to think about work right now. he’s worked so hard to be able to not have to think about work. And he doesn’t. I do, though. I think about work all the time. The uncertainty of my next life is both daunting and thrilling. Thrillaunting. When I get back maybe I’ll start fresh by _____, I’ve always wanted to _____. Why not try working with_____. I’ve always been curious about _____. What if I returned to _____. I have more to do on _____. I don’t expect this trip to resolve these questions. In fact, for now, these questions sit in the rear of my brain, incubating passively, because for the first time in a very long time, I am working on myself, not my career. (Do I have a “career”?) I take in what moves me, I put out what moves me, and some days I do nothing but watch my kid grow, with the hope that this expansion as a human (not an architect or professor or whatever) will be important steps to responding to the incubating questions. And it feels right, right now, to be part of a bigger world and to simply not know.
After the boatbuilding school and giant apple turnovers we continue toward Fort Adams. It’s a longish walk, about three miles, and fine until the sidewalk runs out which happens only one mile or so in. From there we have to walk on narrow grassy-gravelly strips of land between the road and the long walls that surround the enormous houses we are passing. No one walks here, obviously. No one needs to. Newport is a very wealthy town. But it’s not just wealthy, there’s also a wealth industry. Here’s what I mean by “wealth industry.” Because of its immense resources and fortunate geographic position Newport, in the nineteenth century, became a resort destination for extremely rich Bostonians and New Yorkers. These folks built vacation homes – humungous homes – that, in time, due to Depressions, great and otherwise, became too financially burdensome to keep. Today, these mansions castles (and their accompanying carriage houses, stables, mini castles, gardens, etc.) have been appropriated by a Preservation Society that maintains them. To pay for the upkeep the Society indulges, with the assistance of instruments like Historic Registers, a public supposedly hungry to see how the wealthy live. Yes, they have made a museum out of wealthy people’s stuff. (Wait. Is this what all museums are?) To add salt to injury, these homes ginormities, with one exception, are not compelling architecturally. Their interiors, furniture, art, and landscapes also do not represent the highest or most unique examples of their time periods. In fact, judging by the brochures, they are rather ostentatious and bizarrely derivative of European villas, chateaus, and even palaces (yes, of course, Versailles – which at least was a seat of government…). So, we are asked to shell out our hard earned dough to look at the mediocre things that these people bought with their hard earned inherited dough. And if that’s not enough, just who are “these people”? Well, the Vanderbilts are at the top of the list. Yep, the first person to be called a Robber Baron and a man known to have grossly enriched himself by cheating his competitors, rigging the markets, and corrupting the government is one of the patriarchs whose empire we are asked to celebrate with our $24 entry fee. Is it ok with you if we don’t participate in this sham? I used to think that these kinds of places were harmless. Now I think the dangers of equating wealth with value promoted by certain Societies are far too great to ignore.
Right. So, we don’t go to “The Mansions.” We go instead to Fort Adams, a nineteenth century star-ish fort built to defend Newport. (Why do we go here? I’m not sure. I’m even less fond of war than obscene wealth, but it was the more interesting choice.) The defensive complex, which was continuously occupied by the army for more than one hundred years, is an extensive state-of-the-art-then construction. Its innovations are less technological and more in the many layered redundancies conceived to combat the relentlessness of intruders’ attacks. The fort however, our tour guide sort of sadly tells us, was never attacked. This is why this great fort is only a state park. To be a national park there has to have been a battle fought, says Greg wistfully. He brightens when he calls the whole place a “deterrent,” saying that our enemies stayed away for fear that they could not take her. I am skeptical. I want to ask of which nineteenth century enemies he speaks, but why spoil a good story, you know? In any case, for me the fort is fascinating in so far as it is a stone manifestation of our paranoia. It has many clever features intended to prevent all forms of “enemies,” except, of course, those of which we have yet to conceive.
We finish the day with a three mile walk back to town. I call my sweet mom, who is always willing to listen to my blah blah blahing about war and wealth. I go on for far too long and she indulges me. It makes the walk back so much better and I am grateful, but I don’t tell her. Next time.
Ava has her first raw oysters today. She likes them!
Thursday 19 OCT
Yesterday Glenn stumbled on the Isaac Bell House , a McKim, Mead, and White house in the middle of town. We go there today. Though this is one of the “Mansions,” it is the one exception on the list because it’s architecture is supreme. It is an early (1883) shingle style house with a largely open plan and with eastern motifs. It is lovely and I think we would have toured it had it been open. From there we visit the Newport Casino, (1880) a sublime tennis, shopping, and social complex, also designed by McKim, Mead, and White. We don’t go into the Tennis Hall of Fame, but do walk around the pristine grass tennis stadiums getting the feel of how the sport was viewed at the turn of the last century. Lastly, we go to the colonial core and oldest part of Newport. Here there are houses, public buildings, faith buildings (the oldest synagogue in the U.S.!), and public squares that give us a glimpse into the town’s origins. It’s beautiful and largely informative. The town has been well maintained and deserves to be visited. It’s fantastic.
Since we are leaving tomorrow, we pick up some groceries. We don’t know how long the trip will take to Port Washington because we have left it open-ended whether or not to anchor along the way. There will be a lot of wind tomorrow and we may find it perfect or exhausting. We get just enough stuff to last for the longer time. Then, on our way back to the boat, I stub my toe hard on a metal grate. I have broken my toe twice in this way and since I heard a loud crack, I worry that I might have done it again. I sit for a bit waiting for the sting to die down, but Glenn has walked on, and of this puts me in a foul mood that hibernates… for a while. Back at the boat, after putting the groceries away, Glenn says something to me – it’s not important what – that makes me angry. I take this new indignity add it to my unbroken toe anger and explode. Sometimes we just need to fight, to get out our frustrations and annoyances. Here on the boat there’s no place to go and maybe walk it off or find other options so we stay in each other’s way and sometimes say too much. Incredibly, we don’t fight very often. More incredibly, the fights can’t hang around too long because we have to cooperate to sail the boat.
Friday 20 OCT
In the morning, when at we wake at 5AM still bruising from yesterday’s barney but having to work together, we get on with life as usual. Though it still takes a few days to completely shake off the remaining barnacles, we don’t have much choice and have to mutter words to each other. Eventually, our brains are faked out and we can’t recall if we are still at odds or not. It’s the weirdest thing, not being able to hold a proper grudge.
Friday 20 Oct. – Monday 23 Oct.
NEWPORT, RI to PORT WASHINGTON, NY
The night before we leave another cold front comes through. The wind again shifts from southwest to northwest and we pull anchor a little after sunrise, taking the ebb tide and sailing a beam reach down Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound towards Point Judith.
The prevailing winds on the New England coast are generally west. Long Island, Block Island and Rhode Island sounds run pretty much east/west. So if you are trying to get west you have either two options; wait for a cold front that hopefully brings northerly winds, or wait for a high pressure and no winds and motor. Of course there is a third option to sail into a westerly wind and seas, tacking many times as you slowly make your way. We can do this, but its slow and hard going and if we have the time to wait for more favorable conditions we will. As the old saying goes, “Gentlemen (and gentlewomen) don’t sail to weather.” We are also in the middle of a seasonal change and the prevailing winds will start to have more north in them, but also once we get past NYC we are essentially traveling south, so westerlies coming off the coast will be preferred.
As we make our way down the bay, the winds increase and move more west (unfortunately). We have two reefs in the main and a scrap of jib and we are still making 6knots, but starting to bang into heavier seas generated by wind against tide around Point Judith. We realize the best heading we can manage will take us to Block Island (about 15 miles out in the sound). Block Island has a fine anchorage, but this won’t get us any further towards our goal. We decide to go into the Harbor of Refuge on Point Judith and Anchor for the night. This provides good wind protection, but is a bit rolly from all of the wakes of fishing boats entering and exiting the channel.
Friday morning we get an early start, before dawn, catching the favorable current along the south coast. Overnight the northwest wind had completely died and for the next two days a high pressure will sit over us. We’ve resigned ourselves to the second option – motoring. Today is a short one, only 26 miles to our anchorage on Fisher Island. Our primary objective is to cross from Block Island Sound to Long Island Sound, an area fraught with strong tidal currents of up to 3-4knots. By hugging the south coast of Rhode Island and then Connecticut we enter the pass behind fisher island. We time it correctly and get a favorable current all the way to a lovely anchorage on the islands west end.
The forecast is showing we will begin to get wind from the south late in the day on Sunday. This will continue to build through Monday until it’s a full blown gale (part of a slow moving front) on Tuesday. So our plan is to be definitely hunkered down in Port Washington by Monday afternoon.
Saturday morning, we pull anchor, again, before dawn and head out across Long Island Sound towards Port Jefferson 50 miles west. There isn’t a hint of wind so it’s a long day of motoring. We time our departure correctly to get favorable current until 2pm. By that time, we’ll be on the north shore of Long Island and will hug the coast the last 12 miles to Port Jefferson, staying in shallow waters out of the worst of the counter current when the tide turns. We make the anchorage by 4pm, motor-sailing the last few miles when the south wind starts to fill in.
Port Jefferson is familiar to me as a spot from my youth. My father, brother and I would charter boats for weekends in Port Washington and Port Jefferson was always our ultimate destination and turn around point. I have fond memories of those sailing adventures and being anchored in Port Jef snuggled in my sleeping bag in the cockpit at night gazing at stars. For nostalgias sake I repeat this after sunset, falling asleep in the cockpit, but waking to retire to the cabin – as the night is cool. I recall, as a child, the location felt so distant. Funny to think of it in comparison to how far we’ve traveled on this trip.
Port Jef was also the site of our refuge from a late season storm we were caught in during one of those weekends. It was a storm that came up very quickly, (our forecasting was limited in those days) burst our sails and nearly cost my father his life when he was partially swept overboard. I was only 7 or 8 at the time, but I remember how quickly the seas built to steep and towering monoliths. I also recall my uncle’s rain poncho shredding off of his body as he drove the boat for 8 hrs into wind and seas as we crept towards the harbor. This experience, at such an early age, did not turn me off to sailing, but taught me a valuable lesson of respect for the elements and knowledge of how quickly things can transpire.
Monday morning soon after sunrise we raise the full main and hoist anchor. The forecast is for 5-10 south easterlies building to 10-15 in the afternoon. This is a very good direction for us – coming off the land on our beam. We are soon doing 5 knots under full sail heading west towards Port Washington. Puffy clouds dot the sky. Tankers, other sailboats and day fishermen are scattered on the horizon.
We sail pretty much all the way from Port Jef to Port Washington, motor-sailing for a brief moment when we dropped below 3 knots. By the time we make the entrance to Manhasset Bay the wind has picked up considerably and we have a single reef in the main and 50% of the jib rolled in.
Overall it is a fantastic day of sailing. We make 35 miles in about 6hrs, sometimes hitting over 7 knots. Long Island’s north coast from Port Jef to the East River is characterized by one deep bay after another. Each point we pass causes the wind to both accelerate and ‘bend’, bringing the wind further forward necessitating sail trim both before and after we pass each point. This pattern repeats all day – requiring some work to keep the boat moving. This combined with the lack of ocean swell and only small wind generated waves it felt like we were sailing on a big lake, reminding us of our dinghy days.
By 2:30 we pick up a mooring ball in Port Washington (free for the first 2 days!) in anticipation of the following days gale. We recognize a few of the boats around us from our previous anchorages. It appears we are not alone in our march south.