Introducing Whiskers and the Shake-down Sail
06 July 2022 | Off the coast of Massachusetts
It's five in the morning and I awaken to the clanging of the halyards against the mast and the gentle groans of Whiskers as she lies at anchor. Jay is sleeping beside me in the open air of the cockpit. Last night, we spent our very first night on our 22' Marshall catboat, Whiskers.
The sun peaks over the treetops on Naushon Island, one of the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts. The birds are chirping their morning songs. Some fly in quiet solitude overhead in search of their breakfast. Others walk along the beach just on the edge of the surf. A flock of Canada Geese fly in formation, intent on their latest journey. The sky becomes a clear blue and the wind hasn't shown up yet. The sea shows signs of waking with subtle movements across the surface. It is here, in this moment of utter peace, all feels right with the world. It feels as it should be - no bickering, no war, no famine - just the beautiful sights and sounds of nature. This is one of my favorite things about cruising.
Yesterday afternoon, however, was a different story. I was frustrated and oh so, so tired, and frankly, a bit irritated that things weren't going as smoothly as we would have liked. But I digress. Let me back up and start at the beginning.
It all started during Covid, the year we couldn't travel. The season we didn't cruise. It had been almost two years since we had sailed Cadenza and Jay was missing her and the lifestyle she affords us. Enter our friends here on Martha's Vineyard, Jim and Kim O'Connor, and their 22' Marshall catboat, Glimmer.
Catboats are very popular in this area and there is a community of sailors who love to gather together and share their passion. Here on Martha's Vineyard, Jay has owned an 18' Herreshoff catboat for over 30 years and we have loved sailing Skipjack. But the Marshall 22' has its own charm and the O'Connors were happy to show us Glimmer's unique qualities.
"I can't believe how much bigger it is than Skipjack," I told Jay when we sailed with Jim and Kim. It's only four feet longer and one foot wider but has a wheel instead of a tiller. This leaves a lot more open space in the cockpit. It has a small galley with a two-burner alcohol stove and a plumbed sink. There is an ice box under the seat in the cockpit. It has a head with a privacy curtain. There are two bunks inside, one that turns into a double. It even has a dodger for some shade. We joined them for a race out of Vineyard Haven and we were sold. In the spring of 2021, we were on a hunt for a Marshall 22'.
Jay found one in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Surely, she couldn't be as in good shape as the photos boasted. She was. The owner had taken immaculate care of her and, again, we were sold.
It was November 2021 and we were finally going back to Mexico and our beloved Cadenza. Our "new" 1984 Marshall - not yet named Whiskers - sat in New Jersey until the following spring when we had her trailered up to Marshall Marine in South Dartmouth. It seemed like the logical place to have her commissioned as this is where they make them. Meanwhile, we sold Skipjack sight unseen and for our asking price. Jay had many inquiries and several offers. We finally met the new owners, Rick and Brenda Reardon, and are so happy she has gone to a good home.
In May of 2022, we finally got the chance to spend some time on Whiskers while she sat on the hard in the boatyard. Although she was in great shape, there were still chores to attend to. Jay investigated the boat thoroughly and sat down with Geoff Marshall to discuss what needed to be done prior to putting her in the water.
Our compass was sent out to be fixed. Jay was struggling with the pump in the sink when Geoff stepped in and took it into the shop and fixed it. Jay bought and installed a new radio, painted non-skid on the engine cover in the cockpit, re-wired the electrical panel, registered her and put on the new numbers on her bow. And so much more. We spent about six weeks going back and forth on the ferry from MV to Padanaram (in south Dartmouth) getting to know her and prepping her for our first voyage, 38 nautical miles.
Wednesday, June 28th - Marshall Marine is about an hour's drive from Woods Hole where we usually take the ferry. Since we couldn't bring our car (obviously, because we were sailing her home) we chose to take the Fast Ferry from MV directly to New Bedford. New Bedford is only five miles from Padanaram where the boat was finally in the water at the dock. We arrived around noon and walked to our hotel with two small bags and a backpack. We had lunch and then took an Uber to have one last look before we took off the following morning.
This was the first time we saw the boat fully commissioned with rigging, mast and boom, the dodger in place, etc. Jay and I did some last-minute chores like fixing the anchor to the bow sprit and marking the 150 ft. anchor rode so we would know how much we put out when anchoring. He tested the engine, the radio and checked the fluids. Jay is extremely conscientious when taking out the boat. It is what keeps us safe. We took another Uber back to the hotel, walked across the street for dinner and toasted to the following journey the next day.
Thursday, June 29th - After breakfast, Jay and I packed up what little we brought and called an Uber. This time we asked the driver to stop at a small country market that we love and is located about a mile from the boatyard. This was to be the extent of our provisioning for the next two days.
We picked up ice, a pre-made salad, two pork chops (fresh from the butcher), eggs, a sourdough round, and some raspberries. And, of course, some wine.
"We can't sell wine until 9 am," the clerk said. I looked at my watch. It was 8:20. Hmmm...now what? We were on a time crunch because we had to time our exit with both the tide and the bridge opening at 10 am. "I'll go back with you, help with some chores, and at 8:40 I will walk back and pick up the wine," I told Jay. "You can finish getting the boat ready and I'll get back to the boat by 9:20 and we'll leave." Wine crisis avoided.
The Padanaram Harbor on the Apponagansett River has been voted the most beautiful in the US. It is a quaint setting with New England houses dotting the shore and dozens of sailboats wafting on their moorings.
We arrived at the bridge a few minutes before ten. Jay radioed the bridge tender and we waited in line as he opened the bridge. It is a swing-span bridge. It doesn't rise but moves left to right allowing for passage north and south on either side. A new experience for both Jay and me.
Next obstacle was going through a mooring field filled with boats while dodging two different children's sailing races. Once through, we were out in beautiful Buzzards Bay. We had never sailed this area and there were rocks and currents to be considered. Jay decided it would be better to put up the sail after we went through Quick's Hole. Three hours later, it was time to raise the sail.
Jay and I have both sailed many different kinds of boats, but neither of us had sailed Whiskers so this was a totally new experience and not without its challenges. Whiskers has one very large sail, gaff rigged. We were used to sailing a catboat with a tiller which gave us leverage while holding both the sail and the tiller. Whiskers has a wheel and it took me some time to get used to holding it steady while holding the sheet. Once we got going, she sailed smoothly across the water.
Lowering the sail had its own challenges. Again, because it is so massive. Plus, Geoff Marshall had rigged a snazzy way of battening it down with shock cords. Only we had never used them before so that was a new learning curve too. It was around 3:30 in the afternoon when we headed into Tarpaulin Cove on Naushon Island. Now for anchoring.
We had set up the anchor on the bow sprit and talked through how we were going to anchor. There were only a couple of boats in the cove leaving us plenty of room. No worries there. Jay was at the bow, positioning himself to lower the anchor. Ten minutes later, I'm still driving around and the anchor isn't off the boat. I couldn't see exactly what was happening - or not happening - so I put the boat in neutral and went forward to see if I could help.
We could see the problem. The anchor kept catching on the bow sprit but we couldn't quite reach it to fix it. The bow sprit was way too narrow for either of us to "walk the plank" safely. Meanwhile, Whiskers was drifting back way too close to the rocks and shore. I went back to the helm and continued to drive around while Jay fought with the anchor. To no avail.
We still hadn't anchored an hour later. It was 4:30. "Jay, we have to make a decision. If we have to go home, we should leave now." We were still about 19 nm from Katama Bay and I was exhausted and cranky. He was exhausted and cranky too but came up with a solution.
"I'm going to use the spare anchor. Hopefully it will hold," Jay told me. The spare is a 15 lb. Danforth. He attached 120 ft. of rode, no chain, and threw it in. Finally, we were holding. It was time for a beer and a recap of what went wrong and what went right.
Needless to say, Jay didn't sleep well that night for worrying if we were drifting. Me, I only woke up twice and we were exactly where we should be.
The sail home the next day was amazing. We were flying through the sea at 6.6 knots with only nine knots of wind. Woohoo! But wait. There was one more challenge when we got to Katama Bay; picking up the mooring line.
"I've got it," I yelled out to Jay. He came up to help me. The mooring had been in for a month and was filled with slimy mud. Yuck. I attached it to the cleat on the starboard side. However, I only had one side of the mooring line and we had to pull up the other end (think of it as a bridle) and attach it to the port side. We were able to grab it with the boat hook but we couldn't get it around the bow sprit. We were both so very tired and the wind and current kept pushing the boat around making it harder to hold on to the line. Finally, a nice man from another boat saw us struggling and came over to help. Whew. Time for a beer and a recap of what went right and what went wrong.
We have some learning and fixing to do but then, that's what having a boat is all about. We got home safe and enjoyed some great sailing. And best of all, we were able to get Whiskers back in time for the Edgartown catboat rendezvous, parade and race July 16.
Lookout boys! There's a new cat in town!