Yahoo! We Made It!
30 August 2007 | Northeast harbour, Maine
I wish to report the successful crossing of the Gulf of Maine and safe arrival in Northeast Harbour of the sailing vessel, Madcap.
On Tuesday evening, Strathspey and Barefoot left Shelburne to go out the harbour and anchor at Cape Negro, while we opted to stay in Shelburne to glean some local knowledge from some folks who have done the crossing several times. That meant a verrrry early start of 3am for us to meet up with them in Cape Negro at the agreed upon time of 6am Wednesday, but we were up for it - literally and figuratively!
The moon was bright, the air still, the water like glass as we quietly dropped our mooring line and turned Madcap's bow toward the mouth of Shelburne harbour. As we passed Charlotte and Leroy's house I waved our big spotlight in an arc to offer a silent farewell and thank you for their hospitality. Three hours later, we saw Strathspey and Barefoot moving out from their anchorage, and for the next several hours the three boats moved along within sight of each other. The rising sun cast a rosy hue over the water as it swirled around us. Then the fog moved in, and for much of the day we motor-cruised along with the sun shining over our heads and grey mist all around us, seeing the other boats only as blobs on the radar. Barefoot eventually peeled off to take another course for a destination further down the Maine coast. Strathspey generally travels faster than we do so they moved off in the distance ahead of us.
When the fog lifted, we caught sight of an occasional seal spy-hopping to take a look at us; a couple of whales surfaced and dove gently, and a group of porpoises (or dolphins?) cruised by. I had our bird book open in the cockpit for much of the time, trying to identify the birds we saw. I'm pretty sure some of them were Wilson's Storm Petrels - black with white bands across their tails - and some were Greater and Sooty Shearwaters. There were of course, the graceful terns and ever present gulls, and also small black birds that I still haven't identified darting in close to the boat and then swirling away. I'll have to consult with my bird expert brother-in-law! Apart from a few fishing boats early in the day, we saw no other vessels out there until we got close to the Maine coast.
Jim and I take roughly two-hour watches during the night. During daylight hours we are often both awake, but one person is at the helm and, if we are not sailing, the other gets to relax or do other chores. At night, we have learned to be really good nappers. We can both fall asleep almost instantly and then wake up in reasonably good shape to go back on watch. During one of my off-watch periods in the morning, I made a big pot of chicken soup and a pan of cornbread. The smells drifting up through the companionway apparently helped Jim perk up during a sleepy stretch, and there is nothing better than chicken soup on a cool day.
The temperature was quite comfortable during the day, but at night it was downright cold! I had layers of fleece on under my foulweather pants and jacket, two pairs of socks, wool cap and gloves. And I still wrapped myself up in the quilt my Healing Pathway friends in Ottawa gave me before I left.
We could feel the effect of the famous Bay of Fundy tide as it pulled us one way and then the other over the course of the trip. At tide changes, the water would get choppier and from time to time we'd see our knotmeter register a boost of speed as the tide helped us along, or a drop in speed as we moved against it. We thought we might notice a more dramatic difference but it didn't happen. The wind didn't rise past 10 knots so unfortunately we weren't able to truly sail even a tiny bit of the trip. We filled up with diesel in Shelburne, and set our engine to 2600 rpms for the first part of the trip - a setting that allowed reasonable speed and good fuel efficiency.
In hindsight, we'd have taken a more careful look at exactly what the time frame could be for the crossing. We were working on a rough figure of 30 hours, and wanted to arrive in daylight. The 6am start from Cape Negro was too early but by the time we figured that out, it was too late to change the prearranged plan. As it turned out, we kept dropping our speed back during the night so as not to arrive off the coast before daylight and we still encountered our first lobster pots before the sun was up. By the time that happened, our rpms were down to 2100 and we were trying not to make more than 4 or 5 knots an hour - a very odd feeling since we are usually trying to get the most speed we can.
And now for the lobster buoy part of this narrative! I don't think there is any way to truly know what the Maine lobster buoy picture is without seeing it with your own eyes. The closest description came from a friend of Mary's who likened it to a great scattering of smarties all over the water. For the first while, we encountered them in singles and duos - in the fog - and swerved our way around them. Madcap has a full keel with no protruding parts that are liable to catch, and we read extensively on the best methods to avoid getting a line wrapped around our prop, so we weren't terribly worried, but were determined to proceed cautiously. We wanted our super sharp knife, and wetsuit for the unfortunate person who might need to dive down to untangle a line to stay tucked away in a locker!
We took turns at the wheel and keeping a lookout on the bow, and soon got into the rhythm of it. I felt a bit like I did when I used to play with the children's Nintendo game after they went to bed - go this way, that way, around this corner, back on the track again. Thank goodness for the chartplotter and compass, because all this swerving around in the fog can get disorienting very quickly. We had to rely on the instruments to keep us moving toward our destination. Whenever we'd have a near miss, we'd put the engine in neutral so the propeller wasn't turning, and with our foresail picking up the little bit of breeze, we would slip on by.
Once we got close to the channel past the Cranberry Islands and along Mount Desert (pronounced like dessert) Island, the fog lifted to show us the most amazing sight of hundreds and hundreds of candy coloured buoys scattered all over the bay. These were in lines, but the lines crisscrossed in every direction. I have never seen anything remotely like it, and we were too busy weaving through them to take pictures. Because the water was flat calm and the sun picked up the colours, they were clearly visible and making progress was just a matter of looking for pathways and taking a zigzag trip along them. Soon enough, we came to the entrance of Northeast Harbour, turned in and wiggled some more along through lobster bouys and mooring balls. By the time we located one and hooked the line over a cleat, the fog had dropped again. We had a perfect little window to do this last bit. How lucky is that?
Jim had called the 1-800 number for Customs as we came in and received word that an officer would meet us on the dock. We had thought that perhaps our Nexus passes would allow us to do it all over the phone, but that wasn't the case. We dinghied in to register with the harbourmaster and just as we finished that, Officer Hutchins came along, climbed into our dinghy and came out to the boat to do the paperwork. It was straightforward and pleasant. We had our cruising permit already so he just copied down the information and welcomed us to the USA. Blair came by to take him go over to Strathspey, and we laid our weary bodies down for a few hours of sleep. It was a good trip, and a good beginning to this next stage of our journey.