Olaf’s 2002 cruise on southern New England Coast

 

Here is a brief account of my trip up the coast of southern New England, from Mamaroneck, NY, to shy of Provincetown, MA.  I slept, ate, and prepared most meals in a hammock slung from the boom.  Most stops I anchored and swam  ashore with a waterproof backpack.  The emphasis here is on significant events.  For the most part left out are the countless wonderful hours in between, surrounded by sea and sky, finding my way up a beautiful coast previously unknown to me.  I left little more than a novice cruiser, and learned a great deal along the way. Corny as it may sound, chief among the things I gained on this great first trip, was respect, both for the sea and those who know it well, and for my boat.  The long days alone on Wapiti in varied conditions brought me closer to her, and made me feel awe at what she can bear, gratitude for the passage she can give.

 

Sun. 6/23              Endless checklists and preparations behind me, launching day had finally come.  Logistics and timing for an initial leg down the Hudson a week earlier had fallen through, sparing me the motorless passage through Hell Gate.  So after only sailing her on the Hudson, Wapiti and I were getting an abrupt first taste of real salt water in Mamaroneck.  The plan: to go north!

                Joining me on my first day was Phil, a friend who had sailed portions of Long Island Sound in a sunfish, and being an avid cruising kayaker, had taken an interest in my trip.  We waved goodbye to my brother shortly after 2pm and had an exciting sail in crowded waters across to Northport Bay.  Having never cruised single-handed, I was glad of Phil’s company, giving me a last chance to prepare and insure things were stowed handily.  Mesh tent loft sacks were tied under  the benches, for less fragile often needed items.  We ended up anchoring in empty Duck Harbor.  After picking our way through the private terrain to the road, we walked to Northport for dinner, then Phil skated off to catch the last train back to New York.  Back in Duck Harbor, a pair of swans swam by in the moonlight as I blew up my dinghy’s dinghy, a $7 toy that was supposedly limited to 120 lbs.

Two patterns of my marina-free shoreside ventures were already becoming evident: much of the shore north of New York is private in the strictest, often patrolled, sense; and many people don’t walk much and therefore often have a hard time giving directions to a walker.

Mon. 6/24            An early start was of little use.  Becalmed on Long Island Sound.  By 4pm I had drifted five miles east of Eaton’s Neck and taken a few swims, when a nice south breeze picked up, leaving me off Bridgeport as the sun began to set.  I was just starting to row towards shore when the Bridgeport Harbormaster came out and insisted on towing me into Bridgeport Harbor, saying the ferry was liable to run me over.  I didn’t want a tow, much less to industrial Bridgeport, but the man wasn’t taking any guff.

Tues. 6/25            Slow sailing, light breeze in my face.  Once the current turned, the wind died too, so I rowed in to West Haven and the shelter of New Haven’s breakwater, swam to the beach, and met up with Ali, an old school pal, for a beer.

Wed. 6/26            After a brief false start, caused by a misunderstanding with the current tables, took me a little further from shore for a nap, I headed out through the breakwater and into the easterly winds.  As I  passed through the darling Thimble Islands the wind died, dark clouds were building in the west.  I reefed the main in preparation for the run to Sachem’s Head, but halfway there ended up shaking it out again in the race against the oncoming storm.  The weather hit just as I made Joshua’s Cove.

In my rush to get up the boom tent, I did a sloppy job of anchoring, and after dinner, I was woken out of my hammock by the sound  of rocks scraping the hull.  Jumping out barefoot, the sharp rocks sliced me up quickly, but there, coming through the storm across the rocks were two figures coming to help me off.  As Dave and a friend kept the boat clear of the rocks, I waded out with my anchor to try to reset.  Inexplicably, my danforth refused to set in the sticky mud.  After several attempts, we decided to haul Wapiti out on the beach, until things blew over.  Before the rising tide had gotten far in covering my little strip of sand between the water and the rocks, Dave had returned to direct me to a trusty mooring he knew of.  When it turned out that none of my hardware would fit around the old rusty chain, the guardian saint of wayward sailors in Joshua’s Cove gave me a big old shackle of his own.

Before dozing off I could not detect any leaking.

Thurs. 6/27          Left at low tide for a change, so that I could reach the mooring shackle.  With the strong head wind, had to walk the boat out of the shallow cove.  The flood current slowed me down a bit around Sachem Head, but nice tail winds brought me past lonely Faulkner Island to Madison (where the hospitality of Phil’s parents could be enjoyed), well before the forecast thunder storms.  Pulled out onto the town boat beach and tipped Wapiti over for some light epoxy repair.

Fri. 6/28                Delayed by sand in mast, leisure.  Moored so that my departure would not be tide dependent.

Sat. 6/29               Joined again by Phil, after a late start, we went a little ways in light airs, towing his kayak.  The purple sunset, showed our intended destination, the Oyster River to be only a trickle, so we pulled into private Indian Town harbor, and walked into Old Saybrook for food, and to try in vain to scare up a TV to watch the World Cup the next morning.

Sun. 6/30              We set out early hoping to catch the ebb current around Saybrook in time to catch the game, but didn’t make it.  After a couple hours  fighting the mounting flood, we gave up and anchored off a beach.  During preparations to head in, the kayak suddenly lost patience and left, forcing Phil to make a tiresome swim in strong currents  to retrieve it, before meeting me on the beach, not far from which we found some lunch to eat in the shade of a small tree.

After bidding Phil goodbye, I caught the ebb and a strong southwest breeze to the Pataguanset River, west of Niantic.  Pulling into an isolated marsh, I settled in for a peaceful evening.  A passing kayaker soon volunteered that the tidal rivulet I was in would dry out at low tide, and as the bottom was more irregular than my initial perusal had revealed, after dinner I improvised some landing gear with my three fenders and some line, positioning the two smaller fenders along the undersides towards the stern, and the larger one  across the bottom just forward of the mast.

Mon. 7/1               Despite a nice breeze the tidal currents were inconveniently timed, and I decided to take the day off in the marsh.  A red-winged blackbird stood guard atop the mast, tearing off angrily after every crow that approached.

Tues. 7/2              Shortly after 5am I caught the ebb current and a nice southwest breeze to outside Mystic, just east of Mason’s Island.  There I found Bill sitting on his porch.  After 50 years racing sailboats and 50 years in the lumber business, he was starting 50 more sheep farming.  Bill was full of stories about Mystic, and offered me a ride in his old pick-up to the marine supply store where I could pick up an anchor to supplement my danforth.  I ended up settling on a bruce, for lack of an alternative.  Bill took the new anchor and rode back to his place while I took a stroll around town and picked up some food for the boat.

                In the afternoon I sailed over to Fishers Island’s East Harbor, where I had a fine adventure courtesy of Mr. Campbell, who welcomed me ashore and gave me directions, then promptly called the police.  Unbeknownst to me, they spent half the evening chasing me all over the island, as I first got a lift, and then to return to the boat before catching a pool tournament , borrowed a bike.  (A fringe benefit of accidental trespassing, first stumbled upon here, is that if one works it right, free car service back to the boat with one’s newly purchased supplies is available!)

Wed. 7/3               In the 6am mist I headed out with the ebb for the more exposed waters of Block Island Sound, and finding them to be manageable, but still unable to make out Block Island in the mist, took a look at the chart, and compensating 10 –15 degrees for current and leeway, headed away from the soon invisible coast.  Shortly after 10am I was anchored in Cormorant Cove.  Wandered into town, and had a pleasant afternoon.  That evening, back on the boat, I mulled over whether to risk the trip back to the mainland with a cold front forecast to pass through the next day.

4th of July             Left Block Island around 9am with good southwest wind, for Point Judith.  Had a little trouble spotting the entrance in the breakwater, but pulled into Point Judith Harbor before midday.  Inside Point Judith Pond, I missed the split in the channel, sending me across shallow flats, goose-winging eventually to anchor in Congdon Cove in the northwest corner of the island clotted pond.  There I spent the hot afternoon, first cleaning baby barnacles off the bottom with mask and sponge, then climbing a tree, finally returning to my hammock with a sheet for shade, to read and cook dinner.  The only disturbance was the occasional wake from a screaming tube-towing motorboat.   After dusk, watched local fireworks, and thunderstorms passing to the north.

Fri. 7/5                   Twenty knot winds made for a challenging sail to Middletown Beach, on the Sakonnet River behind Sachuest Point, the southeast tip of Rhode Island.  Thank goodness for automatic bailers!  By the end I was down to only the reefed main.  Walked into Newport.

Sat. 7/6  A long sail directly to Martha’s Vinyard’s Menemsha Pond, going outside the Elizabeth Islands.  Cuttyhunk came into view in the late morning, and was joined in the early afternoon by Gay Head.  The WNW wind increased as the day progressed.  I arrived in time for the tail of the flood, but the wind picked up such that the plan of rowing into the crowded little harbor proved impossible, and I was forced to drop the hook to keep clear of the swimming beach while I reefed and re-raised the main before heading in.

Sun. 7/7 thru Mon. 7/15 were spent in happy relaxation on the Vinyard.  After salvaging a bike at the dump, I spent most of my time biking around pursuing my fancy, returning to the boat towards evening.  Among the many friendly people I met, was Andy, who kindly offered me the use of his home to do my laundry, hose my salt-encrusted sails, and recharge my phone.  The week was capped by a happily anticipated visit from Claire, who introduced me to the single burner practicality of couscous, and made use of the until then untouched watercolor supplies.  Except for a brief sail on Menemsha Pond to be hauled out for a scrub, Wapiti lay at anchor all week.  It was difficult to leave, but eventually obligations back home made it hard to justify my island life, and I returned to my original defense.  With newly procured charts I decided I would see what lay outside Cape Cod, and if possible try to round  it.

Tues. 7/16            Barely made it out of Menemsha, as I overslept a little and just missed the turning  of the tide.  On the fish wharf bets were being taken on my chances.  Once out of Menemsha, I fought north winds up the coast and across to the mainland.  On the way I encountered a tough rip with tightly packed 4’ standing waves about halfway to West Chop, but was then rewarded by the shelter of Middle Ground before making for the lee of Cape Cod.  Having reached smoother water around Falmouth Heights I headed on to Waquoit Bay, off of which the Quashnet River offered an isolated anchorage with road access, and the company of various large water birds.  Walked into village for an indulgent meal.

Wed. 7/17            Headed out around 9am with a fair wind for West Yarmouth.  after a pleasant and uneventful  sail I was almost flipped by a ferry’s wake coming into Lewis Bay, where behind Pine Island, I dropped the hook.

Thurs.  7/18 was spent cleaning off the hull and buying supplies.  The following day the sky looked unfriendly, and I decided to stay put.

Sat. 7/20               Northeast winds and overcast.  Started out with just the reefed main, but halfway I raised the jib to combat the almost overwhelming weather helm, making for a very exciting sail to just inside Monomoy’s  southern end, where I found  noisy hoards of nesting birds, swaths of poison ivy, and various large carcasses on the beach.

During the evening I made ready for the attempt to round the Cape.  I restowed for the most effective weight distribution, made some sandwiches and cut up a pineapple, and to ease recovery of the fully loaded Wapiti in case of a dreaded turtle, attached a fender to the spinnaker halyard.  Southerly winds were predicted, and I hoped to catch the tail of the flood out Pollack Rip Channel early, leaving myself the option to ride the ebb back in if I found the waves too big, and a full day of sailing to make the long trip if they weren’t.

Sun. 7/21              The option to turn back with the current became a mandate as the winds were too weak for Wapiti to have much of a say in the matter.  So most of the morning was spent anchored  just inside Monomoy Point,  surrounded by seals.  I headed out again as the ebb slacked, and with wind and current with me, made sweet time.  I decided to head far out, clear of the many shoals, and didn’t jibe for the first time until I was several miles due east of Chatham.  After the fishing grounds outside Monomoy Point, I saw maybe three other boats all day.  As the day continued, the following sea began to build, and I had to be careful not to bury Wapiti’s bow and precipitate a broach.

Around 6pm I was nearing Highland Light, hopeful of making little Haskes Harbor just round  Race Point before dusk, when I made  the gamble that would end the trip.  Lured by the smooth water in their lee, and wishing to sail the most direct route, I sailed ever closer to the huge dunes.  Raising the centerboard almost all the way I hoped to be quick enough on the mainsheet and tiller to spill sudden gusts  caused by the dunes ‘ unpredictable eddies.  This worked well enough for a little while, but then suddenly Wapiti was knocked flat, mast in the water.  I managed to kick out the centerboard, but it took a while to right her, and my hat and a sponge drifted away.  Another gust hit just as she came up, and full of water, with the centerboard down, and the mainsheet hopelessly tangled around the tiller, Wapiti rolled over, this time turtling completely.  The water was around 60º, and I was grateful for my insulation.  I went under the boat, things were a complete mess , but I was eventually able to raise the fender, and the boat was soon upright again, full of water and sailing uneasily under jib alone.  Both my bucket and bailer, which had been tied down were nowhere to be seen, and Wapiti was not making enough speed for the automatic bailers.

                At this point, had I been thinking clearly, I might have anchored and swam to the beach to borrow a fisherman’s bucket.  Instead, however, the urge for dry land suddenly overpowering other considerations, I made for the beach.  The surf was easy enough to ride in, but once on the beach, it crammed every nook of the boat with sand in the fifteen minutes it took to get her clear.  Most of the moving parts, including the centerboard, were jammed.  The supposedly waterproof bags holding my clothes had failed, and I had lost my charts and my radio.  My newly met ride, Tuck introduced me to fellow fisher Tom, who was willing to take the boat off the beach on his trailer in the morning.  Christa, a friend of Claire’s in Provincetown, was kind enough  to put me up.

                So the next few days were spent in the company of newfound friends, working on the boat, mostly clearing the jammed centerboard .  Tom made a mean striped bass casserole, and he and his brother Jim told a good story, brewed a good coffee, and had plenty of advice and assistance to offer.  As I took the ferry to Boston, leaving Wapiti anchored in front of Tom’s place, I waffled as to whether I should return with supplies to continue on or  with the trailer to head home.  After a month away, the comforts of home won out.