Wed 4 Jul 2012
Anchored in Newport Harbor
[photo: early arrival of a tall ship named Gazela]
Hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable Independence Day!
The day dawned cloudy and comfortably cool. There was one rain shower near 0900, but as of 1130 the sun is showing amidst the many clouds. Diane suggested that we first check other avenues for getting another mooring ball, but all were unsuccessful, as expected. She next suggested that we drop the current mooring and go to the anchorage early to get whatever spots there might be. We did so around 0930 and hailed the harbormaster to check our position relative to the cable crossing right next to the anchorage.
We had to wait 90 minutes for him to come by and he said we were fine as long as we were prepared not to leave the boat unattended for too long and to be aboard if storms approached. That is their rule for all anchored boats, probably because too many anchored boats have dragged their anchors and caused grief for others.
While we were waiting, one tall ship sailed in very close to us and then turned around and moved to the other side of the harbor for reasons unknown. We had lunch and got ready to take the bicycles ashore for some exercise and sight-seeing. We were not planning to do any touristy things during this brief stay, so we went ashore at Waite's Wharf on Extension Street, then rode S along Thames to Wellington where we turned W to head to Fort Adams.
It was a pretty ride for the most part, but there were enough hills that our one-speed bikes were difficult a few times. Turning around at the fort, we retraced our steps along Thames, which by then had become crowded with cruise ship passengers and other visitors (like us). We then walked the bikes to The Red Parrot for our traditional shoreside beer. Complaints about beers for $4.50 in Mystic must be shunted aside for the $5.50 beers here.
On the way ashore, we were somewhat surprised and certainly delighted to see Our Whim, a gorgeous sloop belonging to cruising friends we met in the Bahamas in 2008. We had kept up via email once in a while and knew they were bound for Halifax from western Long Island, but didn't realize we would see them along the way.
Right after getting aboard Diva Di, we were hailed by first names by a captain and mate from a Catalina 36 sailboat very close aboard. It was Matthew and Margarita from Que Chevere, a member of our association. They have been so generous with offers to meet with them and it hadn't worked out until now.
By the way, even with the protection from the wind waves out of the SW, there are so many boats of all sizes running in and out of the harbor that the rolling from the wakes is not pleasant. Getting in and out of the dinghy requires special care as the dinghy and mothership can suddenly and rapidly be going in opposite directions vertically.
At 1630 we dinghied over to Our Whim and had a very nice visit with Ron and Barbara. They were serving Painkiller's and what a great job Ron did with them. As Ron pointed out, at any one time there is only a relatively small community of people doing long distance cruising, so you do tend to run into each other more than you might think. We are not in their category of cruising yet.
Back at Diva Di, Duane made a dinner of chicken medallions, sautéed onion and mushroom, and artichoke hearts in pesto sauce (out of a jar, this time) over tortellini. We finished up the last of the really tasty fresh corn and enjoyed it all. During and after dinner, we watched as hundreds of boats from 20 to 100 feet moved into the anchorage and squeezed in for the fireworks display. No one anchored so close to us as to cause concern, and we assumed all would be leaving after the display.
Next up was the fireworks display at Fort Adams less than one quarter mile from our anchored boat. We enjoyed it very much, but we have to say that our fireworks back home in little Punta Gorda, FL actually generates more "oohs" and "aahs." It was cool enough in the moderate breeze that we both had jackets on now that the cold front has come through. Is it just me or have we had a lot of fronts moving through lately?
We will be visiting with our friends, Dan and Sharon tomorrow (on her birthday).
Tue 3 Jul 2012
On mooring ball in Newport, RI
[photo: as yet to be named hotel on the bluff entering Newport]
The hardest part about this morning was waiting to depart. We knew that leaving before 1100 was going to be very counterproductive due to the opposing current, so we tried to schedule a pump-out with the free pump-out boats that service the area. It looked like a close call as we know what happens; the boat goes to a place where it has been summoned, but then several other boats say, "oh, while you are here..." He finally arrived at 1045 and it was a quick and painless chore.
Then, we hailed the railroad bridge tender who said the train was coming and he was closing the bridge for 20 minutes. We waited for the countdown display to reach 2 minutes and then cast off the lines and exited the slip. When the counter reached zero and nothing happened, I hailed the bridge again and was told it would be a few more minutes. Fortunately, it was only that and we were on our way down river.
The weather was gorgeous and there was a nice breeze from the WSW. That helped us just a tad, as it was mostly behind us, but the small waves were also astern and we had a very enjoyable motor-sail along the eastern portion of Long Island Sound and turned NNE after Point Judith up towards Newport. We only had one large commercial ship coming southbound, but quite a few very large, beautiful, and expensive pleasure craft passed us on the way in.
We hailed the harbormaster to check availability of a mooring ball and were told there was just one left, so we took it. Only after we were committed did we find out the owner will be back tomorrow, so we have to leave it. We have two options: another mooring ball will become available tomorrow (unlikely since it will be July Fourth and the tall ships are coming on the fifth), or we anchor in the designated anchorage area and hope that all goes well.
We have now run 2010 statute miles since leaving home. I wonder if one traveled the same general route that we have, but never pulled off the most expeditious track to anchor or enter a port, how many fewer miles that would be. Surely, we have added 10-15% to the shortest distance by necessity and choice.
Dinner was the flank steak we grilled yesterday and some pretty good corn on the cob we got at Mystic (6 ears for $1; can you believe that?). We ate in the cockpit as the wind was moderate and the air comfortably cool. It started getting cloudy an hour after we arrived and it is likely to rain for part of tomorrow. We are very close to where the fireworks will be launched, and will likely be close even if we have to move.
By 2100, there were fireworks visible in several areas to the N and NW and then flashes in the sky and distant booms to the SW, which I only wonder if that was Block Island. It did rain a few times during the night, but it was quite pleasant.
Mon 2 Jul 2012
Docked at Fort Rachel Marina, Mystic, CT
[photo: small, light wooden race boat at the show]
It was, indeed, a comfortable night and we spent the first few hours in the comfortable temperatures with the hatches all open. The big challenge today was re-provisioning. Had we access to a car, it would be a snap, but everything is just a little too far to carry on a bicycle or by walking. Checking out cab fares to do it almost gave Duane a heart attack, so this is what we did: lowered the dinghy, loaded the bikes, went up river to the public dock on the E side of the river, biked to the liquor store and returned to the dinghy to stow it out of sight, biked to the big grocery store, and then returned to the dinghy for the ride home to the boat.
It was only about 3 miles of biking, but there were some moderate hills and we had very heavy stuff for half the two trips. We made it, though, and enjoyed a nice lunch aboard after stowing all that stuff. Ironically, our friends Dan and Sharon called back (while we were ready to check out at the grocery) to say that when we are in Newport with them over the next few days, we can use one of their cars. Oh, well. It was good exercise and I am sure the prices were much better here.
Following some rest and reading time, we got back in the dinghy to go slowly up river past all the marinas, and Mystic Seaport. It was a pretty ride. On the way back, Diane had me stop at the dinghy dock where we tied up while she shopped in a store she remembered seeing. She got a nice little skirt and then we were back to Diva Di.
I used the nice marina grill to cook the remaining small piece of flank steak, that we will eat cold for supper tomorrow night after our relatively late arrival in Newport. Soon after that it was time to get cleaned up for the arrival of Sean and Susan. We had a drink on Diva Di and then walked to the Daniel Packer Inne, just up the road. This time we were forced upstairs to the formal dining room where everything is more expensive, but we all enjoyed our meals very much.
We walked back and had a nightcap on Diva Di and chatted for quite a while longer. Susan and Diane are teachers and Sean and Duane are mechanical engineers, so you can imagine how the conversations went. It was great meeting them both, but we finally said our goodbyes, and got to bed.
Sun 1 Jul 2012
Docked at Fort Rachel Marina, Mystic, CT
[photo: looking up at the foremast on a 111 foot training vessel from the days of the square-rigged sailing vessels]
We were glad the air conditioning was on to reduce the humidity, but the morning dawned very bright and beautiful. Needing to pay for our dockage, and with the office not opening until 0900, we had a lazy morning and ate blueberry pancakes for breakfast with the last of the blueberries. There is some comedic value in the phrase, "these are going bad; we better eat them."
By the time we paid at the office and set off with our bikes, it was hot and humid enough that any exertion brought on heavy perspiration (or in Diane's case, a gentle "dew"). Pedaling the bikes generated a little extra breeze, however, so the several miles ride was not too uncomfortable. Diane's sound logic was to tour the Seaport first since it is mostly outside, and then tour the aquarium in the afternoon since much of it was indoors.
While the combo fare for the Seaport and Aquarium was a pricey $51 per adult, you would be hard pressed to find so much history in one place. You could easily spend a few days there if you had a mind to see and study everything there was to see; we did it in 3 hours. Diane bought a nice "crushable" hat. The woman selling them did not laugh at first when I told her that ALL hats are crushable - just not all hats are useable afterwards.
The Wooden Boat Show was in residence this weekend, so there were many dozens of small and not-so-small wooden boats both in the water and on land. The craftsmanship of most was amazing. Our good friend, Pete, would have enjoyed it. Along with such a show comes a huge tent with vendors displaying their wares, many having to do with satisfying those dreaming of, or actually, building or restoring wooden boats.
The restoration of the Henry Morgan whaling ship is very interesting and when you see how men used hand tools to saw, shape, trim, and bore those heavy timbers, you can only imagine how long and how many men it took to build a ship. I found the blacksmithing and cooperage (cask making) demonstrations very interesting. By 1230, we had seen enough and got ready to move on. It was not a far bike ride at all to the Seaport, but I would not have wanted to walk it, and going twice that distance to the aquarium would not have been possible for me without the bikes. We are so glad we have them!
We passed up many nice lunch places in town so we could eat at the Olde Mistick Village. I suppose it likes to be billed as a nice collection of interesting shops and a number of eating establishments. Diane didn't think the shops were worth much and there wasn't a lot to choose from in eateries after all. We wound up at Mango's wood-fired pizza and had a good salad and some mediocre chicken wings, plus some very expensive beers.
Then it was time for the aquarium, and as we entered, the Sea Lion show was starting. We were quickly reminded that these venues are very child oriented, and the show was geared to a child's taste, but it was entertaining nonetheless. As we toured the many indoor exhibits, we were glad the architect had accounted for numerous double strollers negotiating through the labyrinth of passages. He or she couldn't account, however, for large groups of people (sometimes in both number and girth) moving as a clump and blocking anyone else from moving at anything but their pace.
It was interesting (and not a criticism) that so many non-English languages were being spoken by the visitors. Most common was Spanish, but also German, French, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, Japanese, and I think some middle-European. It must have frustrated the staff at the various pool exhibits when their just-spoken command to keep hands out of the water was immediately disobeyed. To sum up, it was crowded and very hot outside, so it was not the best time to be enjoying it.
The ride back was fine, but it was good we hydrated as much as we could before we left. Diane had her little water bottle holder on the bike handlebar (thanks Walt and Gretchen!) and that helped. Once we pushed the bikes down the dock at our marina, we noticed a large powerboat that wasn't there before. It turned out to be the Vice Commodore of our Catalina 36 Association (don't ask why he now has a powerboat), Sean and his wife, Susan. We will be staying here an extra day and will dine with them Mon night.
Diane and I have not made time to study and confer on the next few stops, but right now it is looking like Dutch Harbor in Narragansett Bay, RI and then Cuttyhunk. Breaking News - another Catalina 36 owner, Matthew, is currently in Block Island on a mooring. He invited us via email (and comments to this blog) to join with them before they leave on Tue, but as nice as that is, it will not likely work since we can't leave here until Tue and we have to leave near 1000 to not have the current working against us. That puts us in Block after they are gone and that means we won't meet them in person, and we won't have any guarantees of getting a coveted mooring the day before the big holiday. At this point, Diane has moved her sights to the Tall Ships in Newport Harbor starting 5 Jul, so that is our focus as of this moment.
As we dined on a weird combination of leftovers, all tasty dishes on their own but nothing you would ever think to serve as a meal, a brief thunderstorm hit and we got a fair amount of rain. After we left the cockpit for the air conditioned space below, Duane realized that it was not all that cool or dry. Checking the main cooling duct exhaust, it was barely blowing any volume of air, so it must be the fan or something blocking the flow. When I lifted the covering, I saw lots of frost on the refrigerant tubing and surmised the coils, too, were frosted over.
Because this is a reverse-cycle unit, it will provide heating as well as cooling and it was a simple case of making it switch to heat for 10 minutes to get rid of all the frost. When it was reversed back to cooling, the airflow was normal and the temperature was cold. Of course, if this happens when you are not in the boat, or awake, or don't know how to solve the problem, it will remain a problem ad infinitum.
We'll hope for another restful night and see what tomorrow brings.
Sat 30 Jun 2012
docked in Mystic, CT
[photo: for my friend, Larry, a mosaic in Manhasset Bay depicting PanAm's first transatlantic flight]
I don't know why the locals and the cruise boat crew were talking about scorching weather; we had delightful conditions all night. It was pretty calm when we awoke at 0530, but a light breeze started soon after. It is actually just a tad cool in the boat at 0700 and that is a good thing.
Weighing the secondary anchor by hand in the calm wind and slack current was a snap and we were off at 0820. Any earlier and we would have had a current against us (although not too strong). It was a nice and interesting motor-sail in the Sound just off the CT coastline. Along the way we encountered some places where the currents swirled in tight spirals, and a few other places that seemed like a washing machine on the agitation cycle. This must be due to the current interacting with shallow spots and the surface winds.
The wind was helping a little for much of the day, but it was the strong current that boosted our speed from 5.5 knots to as much as 8 knots for a short while. We averaged 6.7 knots, which is quite fast for us, especially considering the start and end parts are done much slower than the long middle part.
When we reached the lower end of the Mystic River, there were many sailboats just sailing around for the fun of it, and we looked sad under motor only with the light wind right on our stern. I hope they understood we had somewhere to be.
The dockhand was very helpful with local info, but we wanted to get some chores done first. Diane set out to the very nice laundry room to take care of that while Duane scrubbed the decks and cockpit. She returned after her shower and then Duane went up for his.
We dressed for dinner and walked a few long blocks to the Daniel Packer Inne where we ate downstairs in the rustic bar and had a very good meal with tasty wine and ale. Diane enjoyed her first lobster roll in a long time and it was good. Following dinner, we walked up the Main Street where there are many nice shops, restaurants, ice cream places, and a very quaint drawbridge over the narrow river with a riverfront park and dockage. We will explore this further tomorrow, along with the aquarium and seaport.
Back at the marina, we gathered the laundry that had finished drying and got back to Diva Di. It is good the air conditioning was on because the laundry room was like a sauna, so we needed to cool down. There were many people sitting in the cockpits of their boats (the vast majority we spoke with kept their boats here permanently) and they were all quite friendly.
We have contacted two Catalina 36 Association friends who live in the general area to see about getting together. Tomorrow will be a busy day, for sure. I called the Harbormaster at Block Island who said that the marinas were full, all the moorings were full (and most paid past July Fourth), and the anchorage area was crowded. We will bypass Block Island for now and hope to visit on the return trip mid-week with no holiday.
We now need to scramble and decide on the planned stops for next week, so tomorrow that is another task to do. As of tomorrow, first of July, it will be exactly three months underway. Once we pass 100 days, we will have been out longer than our previous long cruise to the Bahamas in 2008.
Fri 29 Jun 2012
Anchored in Thimble Islands, CT
[photo: one of the pretty, but very modest homes located on very small granite islands in The Thimbles]
I posted last evening before the band started playing at the shore-side park not very far from us. Sometimes being able to hear music floating across the bay is a great thing, but this time the band (local, we assume) had a penchant for playing the rhythms "off," and the lead singer sang flat on almost every song. It became a game for a while to figure out what song they were trying to play, but we eventually put in the earplugs and tried to sleep.
Once the band stopped, we enjoyed a very comfortable evening and Duane awoke at 0520 to the distant rumble of thunder. My bladder thought it was time to get up anyway, so I turned on the smartphone's Internet connection and checked the radar. Sure enough, a fast moving storm was bearing down on us, but it looked like it would pass in about 20 minutes, and it did. We got another rain to wash the boat, and with Diane's timely suggestion I had taken all the stuff we didn't want wet inside.
We just reflected that we have been cruising in 9 states so far, and today we leave NY for CT. And what a pleasant motor-sail it was. We could have purely sailed today and "only" take 8 hours to get here or motor-sailed and take 5. We chose the latter. I think until you get into the trade winds, you are stuck turning on that engine most days unless you don't care if you go anywhere that day or care how long it takes to get there. That is really not very practical in many cases on this cruise.
We had visibility of only 5 miles for the first several hours, so for a while we could not see land on either side. There was not a lot of traffic out there that we could see, even when the visibility increased to over 10 miles. The apparent wind was out of the W off the port quarter, and the timing of or departure was chosen to take advantage of the current, so we went 30 statute miles in just over 4 hours, but then lost 10 minutes anchoring. The chain had somehow jammed in the chain wheel when it was hoisted the last time and it would not release.
I took 5 minutes trying to unjam it unsuccessfully while Diane circled slowly in 7 feet of water at low tide with rocks in the general vicinity, so I went to plan B and deployed the secondary anchor. It set well in this hard sand bottom and I will leave it in place for the expected mild weather conditions. Five minutes after anchoring, I had the chain wheel unjammed and we are good to go for next time. Imagine if that were your only readily-available anchor and rode and you needed to get it down quickly in an emergency?
Diane had prepared a tasty, healthy lunch 40 minutes before we arrived at the tricky part of the navigation, so we just needed to clean up and get the dinghy down to go to the small town of Stony Creek. We had no expectations other than to dock the dinghy safely and board the Volsunga IV tour boat run by Captain Bob. It was $12 per adult ($10 for seniors) and lasted 45 minutes. It was a very interesting tour and if you are in the area (not likely for most folks), it is something worthwhile to do. Diane's very brief exposure to the town left her not needing to explore further, so we didn't.
We got back aboard Diva Di after 1600 and Duane tried to isolate the fresh water system problem where the pump runs too frequently, as if there is a leak. The goal was to disconnect the water heater and plug the hose so that the entire system was pressurized, except the water heater. That is a likely place for a leak, even though we have not found any specific areas where water is running. As of this morning, though, we noticed more water in the bilge than is explainable by the recent rains (and it is fresh water - yes, you have to actually taste it).
It started out as a typical boat job with uncomfortable contortions required to access the fitting and at least two other hoses in the way of your hands and tools. Where it finally ended was that nothing I tried to use to plug the hose would withstand the pressure. The items used to plug the hose were all smooth, with no typical hose barbs, so the plug was forced out within a minute of turning back on the pump, regardless of how tight I made the hose clamp. I gave up and reconnected the water heater (so that we have a mostly-functional system) and will have to look for appropriate fittings in Mystic, CT - our next stop for the weekend.
Dinner was a delicious pan-seared marinated flank steak with mashed potatoes, sautéed onions in a teriyaki glaze and Brussel spouts. It was all very yummy. We had braced ourselves for the onslaught of high temps that everyone was griping about, but as of 2100, it has been just wonderful with a gentle breeze keeping us cool. The only complaint might be that this is Fri evening of the weekend before July fourth, and there are lots of people running around in small skiffs and runabouts all over this place, most with no regard for wakes or navigation lights.
It is now dark and there are boats zipping past with no lights at all. Maybe they think they are doing their part for energy conservation. As for noise pollution, there are the aforementioned boats, to be sure, but there are also frequent high-speed passenger trains running close along the coast which make a surprisingly loud noise considering how far away they are. Fortunately, they are here and gone in mere moments. We are not regretting this choice for our stop, however, and we are taking into consideration the time of the year, but anyone coming here needs to be aware.