08/25/2011, Melville, RI
So here I sit, snug in New England's Boatworks secure little harbor. I sought shelter here from a storm that was previously aimed at the Carolinas, but Irene must have seen me duck my head because she is now targeting my current location as well. It would appear that both home and the Song are likely to be hit by Irene. This marina used to be a Navy PT boat base and is surrounded on all sides by terra firma, so the Song is in about as safe a place as could be found in these waters.
I have made all possible preparations that I can for the Song. I have double tied all her dock lines, deployed all her fenders, stripped the headsail, stripped the rigging, stripped the canvas, gasketed the mainsail, and tied down the Dixie ashore on a rack. This is a highly professional boatyard and is well staffed. They intend to manage the boats during the blow, by making any required line or fender adjustments.
I have made friends with Danny Galli on s/v Unicorn, a sail boat in the slip next to the Song. He has said that he will also look out for the Song as he is going to be riding out the storm aboard his boat. Typically these storms are weakened by the time they reach New England, and I hope that becomes the case here. I would not want anything to happen to Danny or others that remain here to tend the fleet.
Aside from a great deal of boats being hauled out, I have not observed a great sense of urgency among the local community as of yet. The prevailing attitude is that the alarm always sounds, and the storms never come. So most people are taking a wait and see approach. Luckily, this marina will secure any vessels which owners neglect (at $72/hr and $100/hr overtime of course).
I will leave for the airport this morning to catch a flight home to NC. I bid you all farewell at this time and I hope that Irene does not affect any of you living in or near it's path. I will return later both the bring the Song home and to continue this story. Thank you for following our saga to this point and good luck to all of you.
s/v Song Of The South
Berthed at New England Boatworks, Melville, RI
08/22/2011, Newport, RI
I decided to layover a day in Sandwich, MA. I used the time to acquire some septic treatment and clean up the boat a little. The boat stays pretty clean when you're cruising it, but it needed a little rust removal from the constant exposure to salt water, an exterior soap wash, and some interior cleaning as well. It was not a good day to be underway in Buzzard's Bay, with 20kt winds in the teeth on an already rough piece of water. Thunderstorms were also predicted for the afternoon.
On Monday morning, I decided to move on despite the fact that the weather system had proceeded slowly through New England and the weather was still very windy. The tide turned fair in the Cape Cod Canal about 0411 hrs, but I waited until 0600 to get underway. I had until about 1000 of ebbing tide, which would put me well through both the canal and Buzzard's Bay before the tide would flood and set the current against me. I exited my sip, motored out into the canal, and I was making 9.5kts of speed over ground in no time with the tidal flow of the canal pushing me along.
At this point, it's relevant to discuss Irene. She is a hurricane that has developed in the Atlantic and she is increasingly behaving like she will come up the east coast. As I made my way southward in the Cape Cod Canal, I called Dave & Brad Simeon (my assisting crew) to discuss how we should handle the approaching storm. Two things were clear: we would not make it home before Irene came up the coast and I will very likely have to deploy in the wake of whatever Irene does in the southeastern US. The bottom line is that it was time for a change in plans. I did some research underway and located a marina in Rhode Island that would be able to take care of the Song in my absence. I went with New England Boatworks because they are a full service yard and they have what appears to be a very sheltered location. They are located up in Mt. Hope Bay, between Prudence Island and Rhode Island proper. They are inland a ways and they have a sheltered marina which is protected by land on all sides and served by one narrow entrance. I resolved that we would stand down on this journey for now and try again later. I cancelled Dave & Brads flights and made plans to secure the Song and head home to work a storm.
Never the less, I continued on my way to Newport, RI and soon I was approaching the western end of the canal. The wind was blowing 15-20kts from the SSW. those of you that are mariners who have transited the Cape Cod Canal, will quickly see the NTDF (not too distant future) of these circumstances. I am running in the Cape Cod Canal, with about a 3.5kt current pushing me along. The exit of the canal into Buzzards Bay faces SW and the winds are coming from the SSW. That means that the winds are going to blow against the out flowing current and are going to push up some seriously square and short-period trichoidial waves. As I rode the current out, the wave action began to increase, but the ride was decent. As I got into the narrows past Onset Beach, where the current is very focused, the waves got very steep and close together. The Song was pitching so hard that the bow was completely buried under green water and wash many times. Three or four times, the water came over the bow, ran down the length of the deck, impacted the dodger, and drenched the entire cockpit, including the Captain. The waves would be so steep, that a series of them would almost completely check my way. Luckily, this was a local condition and soon there was sufficient soundings to the sides of the channel that I was able to bear off and get out of the major current flow, including the square waves.
I set my course to run down Buzzard's Bay and hoisted the main to stabilize the boat during the run. The wind was blowing stiff right up the bay so I was looking at an uphill climb on this leg and I chose to motor sail. As the morning progressed, the wind settled in slightly more west and I elected to hoist sail. I was just able to make my course sailing close hauled. The wind was fresh and very gusty as well, so I hoisted a single reefed main and full jib to start. The wind would gust frequently and the weather helm would become extreme during the gusts, so I experimented with shortening the jib various amounts until I found the optimal trim. For you land lubbers, reefing is the act of reducing the amount of sail area aloft commensurate with the wind conditions. If you have too much sail aloft when the winds are higher, then the boat will be overpressed and will not perform properly. You always have to adjust the sail plan to the conditions of the wind and sea. So there I was, reefed down and sailing close hauled down Buzzard's Bay. It was a fun and peppy sail, in which the boat heeled between 25 and 30 degrees the entire time. Imagine taking your world, tilting it by 30 degrees, and living in that for 8 hours. I could have reduced sail further or changed my point of sail to reduce the heel, but I intended to sail the boat slightly hard in order to make time. I was easily able to average around 6kts under sail during this passage.
It is true that all this fast paced sailing was a lot of fun, but it was also a lot of work. The winds changed speed and direction constantly and I was constantly busy. I was constantly changing course, trimming sail, and absorbing wave action, all of which leads to one tired sailor. By the time I rounded Sakonnet Point and began again to motor-sail directly into the wind, I was beat. It was good to set the course and to be able to sit down for a spell while Ray and Otto brought her into Newport Harbor. By now, my nice clean Song was completely covered in salt from stem to stern. The sun would bake off the water and leave the salt on the surfaces in such amounts that I could scrape it into a container and cook with it. After some research, I determined that there was no rain in the forecast and that I would need to rinse off before taking a mooring in Newport Harbor. I stopped by and tied up at Goat Island marina to use their hose. Those land sharks charged me $30 to use the hose, can you believe it? But there was not other option and the Song needed a fresh water rinse down. After the work was done, I picked up a mooring from Old Port Marine and squared away (that's sailor talk for putting everything back in it's place so that it is seaman-like, orderly, and ready to be used later). The Song again lie among the literal sea of masts that make up Newport Harbor. After dinner and a few drinks, this sailor was done and asleep between feet leaving the deck and the head hitting the pillow.
s/v Song Of The South
Moored in Newport, RI
08/20/2011, Sandwich, MA
I awoke about 6am from a deep and roberative sleep. It was peaceful on the Annisquam River and though this passage is reported to be very busy with fishing traffic, I really like this location in spite of all the power boats. After the java was made I slipped my mooring and began to motor through the current of the Annisquam River and Blynem Canal. The passage is reported to be both narrow and very shoal. The reports were right as I witnessed a lot of shoals and the passage was both narrow and winding. I found the soundings to be adequate in the channel and the channel was well marked, however I would advise others coming through here to follow the markers rather than relying too heavily on information from your chart plotter. The soundings showing on the plotter are not accurate here and the channel makes several unexpected and extreme cuts to and fro. The tide enters this canal/river basin from both ends, meets in the middle, and drops it's sediment there in a big fat potato shoal. I ran against a gentle ebbing tide going south, however I was able to take advantage of the ebb on the other side of the shoal which assisted my passage towards Gloucester.
There are three bridges to contend with on this passage. The first was a high rise with 65ft clearance, however the channel makes a sharp turn to port just after the bridge, so don't miss those markers or you'll be pounding sand! The next bridge was a bascule rail road bridge that is manned. I contacted the bridge tender and he cleared me through. As I approached this bridge, I was a bit taken aback at the setup. Just before I would run aground into the rocks, I had to make a 90deg dog-leg turn right at the bridge. It was impossible to see any oncoming traffic coming from the other direction and I had to power through this turn to make it. To make matters worse, there is a fair current running with me from abaft. For those of you that have piloted a sail boat, you will be able to relate to the distress of this situation. The photo at the head of this blog post shows the approach to this draw bridge as I saw it from the bridge of the Song.
Once I completed that turn, I was fully committed and it was at that moment that I beheld what I had committed to: an opening that is only about half again as much as my 12'-6" beam and a bascule bridge that hangs over half of the open space. I honestly was not sure if all my mast and rigging was going to clear that bridge even in its fully extended position. However with the tide running from abaft, the proximity, and no room to turn around, I was committed and I had to see it through. As I entered the throughway, I put my port side as close to the barnacle encrusted wall as I dare (maybe 6") and I motored right through that bridge bracing for the crunch and lurch that was a distinct possibility. I never looked up as I probably would have soiled my britches had I done so! The picture below shows the view of this passage as seen from the Song looking back, after I had made the heart checking passage beneath it. Look how little clearance this was for my 57ft mast and with my beam taking up more than half of the bridge space. As a height reference, the white water level gauge that you see represents a vertical height of only 10ft - can you say OMG!
There was only one more bridge to negotiate: a small twin bascule with narrow opening that lies just before Gloucester Harbor. The bridge opened on request and soon I was free from these beautiful but painfully confined waters. I steamed out into Gloucester Harbor, avoiding the shoal of rock just outside of the bridge entrance. Once I was in good soundings I breathed a sigh of relief and shaped my course for the harbor entrance. Gloucester Harbor is a working fishing harbor, however that did not diminish from its charm with numerous palatial homes lining the rocky shore and fishing wharfs scattered all about. I got to experience another heart check as I was exiting the harbor in the main channel. Their must have been a shoal of bait fish beneath the boat as my sounder read 5.9ft all of a sudden. I quickly powered down and was expecting the impact when I realized my probable plight. I exited the shelter of the harbor and moved out into Massachusetts Bay. I had to go 48 miles across Mass Bay to the Eastern entrance of the Cape Cod Canal and Sandwich Marina.
It looked as if the winds would permit a sail on this passage, but barely. I elected to motor sail to the west in order to buy a few points off the wind so that I could sail to Sandwich close hauled. The plan was working beautifully, til the wind all but died and I was forced to continue motor sailing to make my course and schedule. I set my course directly across, put out my fishing rig, and settled in for the crossing. At least there would be fleets of fishing boats to capture my attention as I skidded across the bay. I was munching on some salted almonds when I looked towards Boston Harbor to see what I could see. I saw a big ship that appeared to be at anchor there and then...holy crap! A huge whale came up out of the water and blew just off my starboard beam! All hands on deck!...slow the boat and turn, where's the freaking camera! Between maneuvering the boat and trying to keep my camera ready, I was unable to obtain a really good picture of this whale. As soon as I would come off the camera to reposition, he would come out of the water in all his mass. It looked to be a big fin whale and quite sizable compared to other whales I've seen on this trip. I soon gave up trying to capture National Geographic quality pictures and continued on my way towards Sandwich.
The wind had all but died at only 4kts from the South. I motored on and soon I spotted some really big fish chasing bait on the surface right off my port beam. I slowed the boat to make my lure more enticing but like the rest of this voyage there would be no fish for Cap'n Monty today. The trip continued with smooth steaming, and then it looked as if I might get some more excitement after all. A squalls were forming over Cape Cod and it looked as if I would sail right into another one. I got all dressed up, but my date turned out to be a let down. Only 17kt leading winds and little rain. The squalls petered out as soon as they got over the water. Had they remained over land for a few more hours, I might have had a good'n (for those of you not from the South, that means "a really good one").
I pulled into Sandwich Marina and nothing has changed here. Troy is still the Harbor Master and as helpful as ever. I got into the same slip I had before and docking was a mere do-over. One thing has changed though: the temperature! I can already feel it getting warmer as I head south. A shower, some fish and shrimp on the grill, and all is well.
s/v Song Of The South
Berthed at Sandwich Marina in Cape Cod, MA
08/19/2011, Annisquam, MA
So I woke up at 0500 and weighed anchor to get underway by 0530. As I made my way out Portland's Inlet, I noticed that the waves were fairly steep and square. This typically occurs in inlets where the tide is ebbing against the waves coming in from seaward. While transiting the inlet, I saw my anchor come up out of the water for the second time today, although at the time it was attached to my bow! A tug with an oil barge in tow passed me out of Portland. Once I made the turn southward around Cape Elizabeth, the seas didn't seem very steep as I was quartering them somewhat. While I got some respite from the seas, there was no respite from the wind being directly on my nose. As such, I was forced to motor sail so that I could make my course and keep the transit time to a minimum.
During the trip, I spotted some tuna chasing bait at the surface and I deployed a fishing rod in case I might hook one. Needless to say there were no fish caught on this day. The sea conditions ended up being rather pleasant, although the trip was fairly long and well offshore. I kept about 12 miles off shore during the trip, and about mid way I elected to divert to Annisquam, MA and transit behind Cape Ann in lieu of passing to seaward. Although the sea had lain down somewhat, I wasn't going to make Salem before dark and Annisquam looked like a good alternative. I would still make Sandwich on Saturday from Annisquam, just as I would have from Salem.
As I approached Cape Ann, and before I could even see it, I noticed the beginnings of some thunderheads forming to the west. As I pondered on this development, a weather advisory came in over the Sirius weather service and advised me of severe thunderstorms moving across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. I pulled up the Doppler RADAR and there was definitely some thunder squalls developing that might affect me. As a precaution, I throttled up the engine to shave off some transit time. I wanted to make Annisquam so that I could be in range of Sandwich, although I could have sought shelter in York River, Portsmouth/Kittery, or Newburyport. As I approached Annisquam, the thunderstorms began to exhibit some clear and present proximity. This is not unusual in sailing, although these thunderstorms were reported to be associated with 70mph winds, 1.5in hail, and tornadoes. I was still 3-4hrs out and needless to say I squeezed all the power I could get out of that Yanmar engine without overheating it.
As I approached the entrance to the Annisquam River, it was clear that I would have to encounter this storm just as I entered the river. I conjured up all kinds of visions of me trying to dock or grab a mooring by myself in the high winds of a squall. I secured all below decks, sealed up the Song, and donned my foul weather gear in preparation for this thunderstorm. It did not really intimidate me to encounter such a storm at sea, but it worried me greatly to do so while trying to make a shoal strewn river entrance and landing. As it turned out, the storm veered to port and merely grazed me as I approached. I encountered up to 30kt winds, some rain, and some lightening. The lightening worried me the most. Once, there was a cloud to cloud lightening strike that make my instruments click as it flashed - that was a close one. To make matters worse, I could not secure a mooring with the AYC, the EPYC, or Lobster Cover Market Marina. They were either fully reserved or would not answer phone or radio. This worried me more than the storm because I had no where else to go without extending the trip by many hours, in a narrow & shallow canal, in the dark, and with thunderstorms about. Finally, Kathy at AYC felt sorry for me and managed to "squeeze me in" somehow. I was very grateful to have a secure place to shelter and it was a great load off my mind at the time. My hat goes off to the AYC for giving me shelter and treating me so well when I arrived. I will stop there again someday when I return to New England.
I entered the Annisquam River without trouble and in no time I approached an AYC (Annisquam Yacht Club) mooring in only 7kts of wind and some current. I picked up my mooring without issue and all was well with the world. The AYC launch came to get me and took me to their beautiful club house. I got a tour of the facility before returning to the boat to collect my things. I returned ashore for a shower, a drink, and a wonderful dinner courtesy of the AYC restaurant. It amazed me to no end at how bleak things looked a few hours before and how the situation morphed into such a wonderful ending. My biggest regret was not having Amy and the boys here as well, for they would have really liked this place. The picture for this post was the view from my dinner table. Landing at AYC was truly the calm after the storm.
s/v Song Of The South
Moored at AYC in Annisquam, MA
08/18/2011, Portland, ME
The anchorage here at Portland worked out pretty well, especially since I have friends at a local marina where I can safely tie up our dinghy to go ashore. It was not nearly as rolly as Camden or Rockland, even with all the commercial traffic. The holding ground was good, the mud not too sticky, and the wave action was perfect for sleeping. This being a layover day, I got a lot done with regard to my broken windlass, blog updates, and other such activities. However, as the morning developed, the weather was so fair that I experienced an overwhelming urge to press on. The urge struck me to the point where I readied the dinghy to get underway and warmed up the engine. I ended up standing down and sticking to my previous decision as I really wanted to spend some time with Tim and Kathy because I may not see them again for some time. I cannot explain where the indecisiveness hailed from, as I am usually one to plan my work and work my plan. Perhaps it stemmed from a desire to get this boat home and reunite with my family, as I am here and they are there at home.
I put the remainder of the day to good use finalizing my plan to get home. I confirmed my crew for the off shore passages and secured plane tickets for them. I also confirmed all the legs of the journey and made sure that all the dates lined up OK with crew availability and a return home no later than Labor Day weekend. Here's the rough sail plan I ended up with...
Portland, ME - Annisquam, MA Solo passage. Moor for one night. Use Annisquam River/Blynem Canal to access direct route through Gloucster to Cape Cod.
Annisquam, MA - Sandwich, MA Solo passage. Layover in Sandwich to avoid really nasty weather predicted for Sunday.
Sandwich, MA - Newport, RI Solo passage. Layover in Newport to meet crew flying into Providence, RI airport late on 8/25. Windlass part to ship in here.
Newport, RI - Block Island, RI Crewed passage. Transit to Block Island for jump off shore to NJ. Change engine oil & final provision for off shore.
Block Island, RI - Cape May, NJ Overnight passage. This leg may be extended direct to Norfolk or Beaufort if the weather serves.
Cape May, NJ - Norfolk, VA Overnight passage. We may elect to run outside Cape Hatteras and come into Beaufort if the weather permits. Can you say Mahi Mahi?
Option 1 - Inside passage if weather window is not good
Norfolk, VA - Alligator River
Alligator River - Minnesott Beach, NC
Note: there are major fires in the Dismal Swamp so passage on the DSC and C&D canals is iffy. The locks on the DSC are currently closed.
Option 2 - Outside passage if weather window is good
Norfolk, VA - Beaufort, NC
Beaufort, NC - Minnesott Beach, NC
Of course, this is all subject to change mostly due to weather or boat issues.
After trip planning was done, I picked up a few things in town that I needed, had a few beers at Ri Ras Pub, and went back to s/v Carina to hookup with Tim and Kathy. After they got off work, I took them across the harbor in the Dixie to check out a problem on a friend's boat and then we went out to dinner. They took me to the Grill House and the food was absolutely superb. We had a great parting dinner and a good time was had by all. After dinner, it was time to hit the rack because tomorrow would certainly come early. I'm glad I stayed to see Tim & Kathy in Portland, as the business was indeed important.
s/v Song Of The South
At anchor in Portland, ME
08/17/2011, Rockland, ME
As predicted that alarm clock went off about 5 minutes after my head hit the pillow, or so it seemed. I jumped up and began the process of getting underway. Clothes on, coffee on, woof a quick bite, secure below decks, check the oil, warm up the engine, and cast off the lines. The departure from the dock went well and soon I was slipping through the slick waters of the harbor in the dark. I slipped by the Coast Guard boats, through the mooring field, and into the harbor fairway. It was cool, but the starry sky promised to turn blue later in the morning. I throttled the Song up and began the journey to Portland.
As I passed the light house at Owls head, it was easy to see in the dark where the point got it's name. It was still dark, but the moonlight reflected off the glossy wavelets and the breeze blew in that familiar salty and sea-weedy smell. Just as I rounded Owls head I could began to sense the ocean swell and I knew that if I could see far enough, I could see England that way. Upon making my turn into the Muscle Ridge Archipelago, I managed to turn and witness the first flash of orange as the sun crested the horizon over my stern. The photo in this blog update shows the sun rising over Fisherman's Island.
Navigating the "lobstah pots" in Muscle Ridge was easy compared to my last passage there, as many of the pots have been moved to deeper waters now. I snaked between the rocks and shoals of Fisherman's Passage as the blazing orange sun came into full view. Orange sun, blue sky, khaki rocks, green islands, and clear water - I'm really gonna miss this place. Soon I emerged from Muscle Ridge and into open water. The breeze blew plenty fresh and I hoisted all plain sail. I easily made 7kts on my course and it was on now.
The sailing was sweet for a few hours, then the wind slackened and I was forced to motor-sail in order to keep on schedule. I got good news, in that Tim & Kathy of s/v Carina did not depart Portland and I would get to see them there tonight. Tim invited me to join him in a sail race this evening, which I will do if time permits. I sailed on and I just found myself off Damariscove Island. I can use the present tense because you are now getting this real time! I engineered a method to put my PC under the dodger while I sit behind it. I can now con the boat and update my blog underway - how kewl! It took all my restraint not to pull in and drop the hook at Damariscove, because we definitely left money on the table there. We stayed there for a night, but we never went ashore. We missed some really cool hiking, scenery, and berry picking there. I guess we'll have to catch that next time.
I have been texting and emailing with Tim to determine where I will stay in Portland tonight. I don't want to go back to DiMillo's because they are expensive and hard to get into. My current plan is to anchor east of Portland's harbor entrance and to dinghy where I need to go. Tim said I could land my dinghy at his boat in DiMillo's since his is not there. I guess that means more rowing for the Captain. No worries, at least I can work off this extra gut I've acquired during this recent voyage.
I sailed into Portland about 1630. I was too late to get in on the race, but that was okay because I was totally beat. Waking up at 0400 and sailing all day took it out of me. After I anchored east of the port, the windlass broke and I had to repair it. I managed to jury rig it and will need to obtain a replacement part for it when I can. I then put the 15hp motor on the dinghy after looking at the distance I would have to row against the current. After that I took a shower aboard and I felt a lot better. I cleaned up, grabbed a few cold beers, and boarded the Dixie to find Tim and Kathy. They were just finishing the race and I met them at the Centerboard Yacht Club. I ferried their crew to shore with the Dixie and we had dinner and beer at the club as if I was on the crew. Rod Collins from s/v Cupecoy was there too and it was great to see them all again. After dinner I crossed the harbor in the dark aboard the Dixie and ended up sitting here now, updating today's blog.
It was an active day and I was able to knock out 60 miles from the 900 or so that I have to travel. Tomorrow I plan to lay over in Portland as the forecast calls for 20kt winds right on the nose. I don't mind the windy weather, but it really sucks when you have to go directly into it. Friday's forecast is somewhat better and that will give me chance to see Tim and Kathy one more time before I depart. I won't likely see them again for at least two years, as we don't currently have plans to return here next year. One thing I know for sure is that we will definitely return as soon as we can.
s/v Song Of The South
At anchor in Portland, ME