Based on our experience in every single sailing vacation we’ve had, I’m giving up on making destination plans as long as we’re on a schedule. We have yet to actually go where we were planning or hoping, and this vacation was no exception.
Initially this was going to be the year we made it to Martha’s. But then we needed to have measurements taken for our new sails, and scheduling dictated that it was going to occur one week into our 11 day trip. Scratch Martha’s off of the list.
How about Narragansett instead? That would have been lovely, but the week was filled with repeated small craft advisories and we would have had to come back with the wind on the nose and 6 foot seas. Forget it.
Fine. We’ll go to Long Island. Nope. See the above small craft advisories with wind on the nose and choppy seas.
Wednesday morning NOAA was calling for 8-10 knots as we prepared to head from Stonington to Shelter Island. Since the wind was going to howl on Thursday, the plan was to pick up a mooring at Shelter Island and spend the day in Greenport, then continue our journey on Friday. Not so much.
We were enjoying a nice sail through Fishers Island Sound with approximately 10 knots of wind, but when we were out of the shelter of Fishers Island the 8-10 knots turned into a steady 18-20. What the?? I suspect 18-20 is a lot more comfortable in other areas, but on Long Island Sound the water turns into a bit of a washing machine. Combine that with having to sail close-hauled, and this was not going to be our idea of a good time. In fact, it was looking like a repeat of last year’s slog from Block Island to Three Mile Harbor.
Due to vacation availability and our schedules, June 24th through July 2nd marked our first vacation in eleven months – we were WAY overdue! The plan was to head to Block Island on Saturday morning and then spend the rest of the week in Narragansett, but we have learned in the past that vacation plans are written in sand. This one proved to be no different.
We started improvising right away on Saturday when we woke up to pouring rain. Because we had spent the previous weekend at the SSCA Gam in Essex, we still had several things to take care of before we could leave: put in our reefing lines, insert cotter pins and tape the turnbuckles, top off our water tanks, fix the wind instrument, buy a dinghy at Defender, etc. Wait a minute! Buy a dinghy at Defender? Yes, after thinking about it for several months we had reluctantly come to the conclusion that we needed to sell our beloved Pegu-teeny and buy a – gasp! – inflatable.
Tuesday, July 12th (yes, I’m behind on my blog posts) we set sail for Newport. The winds were supposed to start off light and then fill in, so we ghosted along the coast of Fishers Island under the jib alone, and headed out through Watch Hill Passage.
The promised winds arrived, but unfortunately they were right up our bum so we were crawling along at 3 1/2 knots. Upon turning into the wind to raise the mainsail so we could switch to wing and wing, we realized just how good the wind was so we made a command decision to bang a right and head to Block Island instead. Sure it was the middle of the summer, but it was Tuesday. How crowded could it be?
As we drove down to Shenny on Friday, July 8th we were psyched. We were finally taking Pegu Club on vacation for 11 days! Traditionally we take vacation after Labor Day when school is back in session and everything is much quieter. Work changes meant that wouldn’t be possible this year, however, so a vacation in July was going to be something new for us.
The initial plan was to sail Pegu Club to Martha’s Vineyard, but since I really don’t like going to crowded places we decided Martha’s in July wasn’t such a great idea. We decided instead that we would go wherever the wind blew us. The hope was to get a lot of sailing in so we could continue to get comfortable with Pegu Club. The only firm plans we had were for the first weekend, when we were going to Stonington with two other couples from Shenny.
Friday saw us tossing off the mooring line at 7:00 a.m. It was chilly but sunny, and the forecast called for light winds out of the southwest until 9:00 a.m. or so when they would begin to steadily build, along with the seas. Having learned what “building seas” meant during our first trip to Block, our goal was to be in the Great Salt Pond before it started blowing over 20.
What followed was a lovely sail – our best one yet to Block. 19 NM, 5 hours. We motored for a few hours, and then, true to the forecast’s word, we were able to to turn off the outboard and sail the entire rest of the way. And I mean the entire way. We were feeling great: sunny, 59 degrees on the water, 12-15 knots of wind, a beam reach the entire way.
I started thinking about how some of my co-workers had told me that they used to sail into the Great Salt Pond. Filled with confidence, I suggested to Jeff that we give it a go. We figured that it was early on a Friday so the channel wasn’t going to be crowded, the winds were perfect – why not? So we did. We did turn on the outboard before we entered the channel, keeping it in neutral, just in case things got out of hand, but we didn’t put it in forward until we turned into the wind to drop the sails. It was awesome! I felt very salty, and I proudly told the Harbormaster that we had sailed into the Pond when she showed up a few minutes later to collect our mooring fee. I’m sure she was thinking, “Newb” the whole time, but I didn’t care. I was PSYCHED. Continue reading “Back on the Block, part 2”→
Jeff was able to get Thursday and Friday of Memorial Day weekend off from work, and with a sunny forecast we decided to head to Block Island. I think three seasons in a row means that we can officially call it our “annual trip” to Block. Despite sailing there the two previous seasons, we had yet to travel non-stop from Groton. Both times we had stopped in Stonington, so this was going to be a first. Not our longest trip – that was Newport to Stonington last fall – but a first nevertheless.
The plan was to get to the marina Thursday morning so we could leave by 11:00 a.m., giving us plenty of time to arrive before dark. Jeff rowed us out to our mooring (the dinghy outboard is still being uncooperative), and we started to get settled in. I was in the cabin unpacking when I heard Jeff say, “There’s a raccoon in the lazarette.” Jeff is prone to saying random silly things, so initially I thought he was joking. “No. I’m serious. There’s a raccoon in the lazarette.” Well this was a new one. Continue reading “Memorial Day Weekend – Back on the Block, Part 1”→
Newport has such a rich sailing heritage, and we were excited to be taking Pegu Club there to be a small part of it. We had hoped to sail from Bristol, but while it was gorgeous on Monday there wasn’t a speck of wind. We thought about waiting for one more day so that we could actually sail there, but the wind forecast for later in the week was looking a little sketchy so we decided it would be better to get 13 nautical miles closer to home.
With the outboard humming along (thank goodness we had the professionals take care of it at the beginning of the season), we set off for Newport. We could hear on the radio that there was some Naval activity going on, so as we got closer we kept our eyes open to see what kind of boat t.v. we might have. We saw this big guy docked at the Navy base:
Based on the VHF broadcasts, it sounded like a navy vessel would be going under the Newport bridge. I joked that it would be just our luck for us to be going under it at the same time, especially given that it was only our second time under a bridge. Well, the joke was on us. We ended up slowing waaaayyy down so as to give this bad guy plenty of space as he went under the bridge:
It probably wasn’t necessary, but we weren’t sure how close we could get. The last thing we wanted was to get hailed on the radio and told to move away.
Eventually it was our turn:
As we were crossing we had two tugboats pulling a John Cleese on us (from the Monty Python and the Holy Grail endless running scene where Cleese is storming the castle). We always call it that when a boat is chasing us down, and we make the sound effects – yes, we’re nerds. Anyway, I could see there were two tugboats steaming along in our direction, but they didn’t pass us until we were just through. I’m not sure if they did that on purpose, but I’m glad they did because they throw off a decent wake.
Newport harbor has a very large number of moorings that don’t seem to be numerically organized in any way, so after we received our mooring assignment on the VHF we (unsurprisingly) had trouble finding it. Fortunately the launch tender came by so I hailed him on the radio and he led us to our ball before speeding off again.
This was the first time during our vacation that we were picking up a mooring with very little wind, but I didn’t really think about that fact until after Jeff picked up the stick. Pegu Club weighs 6,000 pounds and carries some substantial momentum. Unfortunately, that momentum was propelling her right towards the 47 foot sailboat in front of us. Oops. Typically it wouldn’t be an issue because the boats all point in the same direction, but when the wind is very light they can be a bit helter-skelter. The mooring ball that this boat was on was actually next to us, but the boat had chosen to swing towards our bow at just that moment, and at 47 feet it took up a lot of space. Jeff made good use of the boat hook and fended us off (first time we’ve had to do that!), so no harm no foul. Fortunately the owners of the other boat weren’t there to watch. Lesson learned: ALWAYS think about how much wind there is when we’re getting ready to pick up a mooring, and adjust accordingly.
Although Newport’s harbor is quite large, we were pleased to see that we were moored pretty close to the Maritime Center. This is a fantastic facility that opened in 2012. It offers transient boaters restrooms, showers, laundry, wifi, plenty of outlets for charging, ice, water, and free dingy dockage. It’s open from Memorial Day through Columbus Day from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and it really is a wonderful resource. We used it several times during our stay and give it two thumbs up.
The next morning when we woke up, Jeff went out to the cockpit and immediately whispered for me to come up. Near the boat was a gigantic school of (we found out later) bluefish. The water was filled with them, and their fins were sticking up in the air like tiny sharks. We had never seen anything like it, and I was able to catch some of it on our iPad:
I also made a short video of the fish swimming by the boat. Jeff was wishing that he had a net. We’ll definitely have fishing equipment when we go cruising. Free dinner, you know.
After starting off the morning with great boat t.v., we spent the rest of the day poking around Newport, going to Stop & Shop and the liquor store, doing laundry, etc. We wanted to go to the Museum of Yachting which was supposed to be located on Fort Adams. However, after taking the dink across the harbor to go check it out, we discovered it was no longer there and there was no indication of where it had relocated.
Instead, we dinked back across the harbor and went to IYRS – the International Yacht Restoration School. IYRS offers programs in Boatbuilding and Restoration; Marine Systems; and Composites Technology. The students in their boatbuilding and restoration program learn all about wooden boatbuilding through hands-on instruction, and visitors can watch them at work. It was pretty cool to see. The Coronet, a 131 foot wooden schooner from the 1880’s, is also being restored on the IYRS campus, and the public is free to watch that process. We really enjoyed going to IYRS. It was something “off the beaten path” in Newport that we hadn’t done before, and we would definitely go again.
The next day we were planning on doing the Cliff Walk and checking out a mansion that we hadn’t seen before, but after we finished eating dinner a quick check of the weather revealed that we should head back to Stonington instead. We had 33 nm ahead of us (our longest trip ever), and with a conservative estimate of 3nm per hour and 13 hours of sunlight at best, we needed to go when we had the best winds so we could motorsail if needed to make it in before dark. Wednesday looked decent, but Thursday’s winds were going to be too light and Friday was going to be right on the nose. Waiting until Saturday was going to be cutting it kind of close, schedule-wise, so we reluctantly got ready to leave a day early.
On Wednesday we were up before the sun and sat in the cockpit ready to go as soon as it was light enough to see something – 6:20 a.m.. We had a nice northeast wind early and sailed with the outboard at low throttle. Between that and the current, we flew down to Pt. Judith at over 4 knots.
Rounding the bend the winds died as expected (the north wind always dies around here), so we kept the sails up but basically motored for the next hour and a half. We saw a giant cruise ship heading into Newport and dodged a few trawlers here and there. The wind picked up from the WSW earlier than expected, and we had made good progress by then so we decided to turn off the outboard for a while and sail. Aaah. Two hours of bliss. Unfortunately the wind shifted a bit so that we weren’t able to keep our heading without eventually having to tack. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it was earlier in the season (longer days), but we decided to play it safe and go as the crow flies. The outboard was fired up again for the rest of the trip. We arrived at Dodsons in Stonington at 3:50 p.m. much more quickly than we had thought. We were tired but satisfied with another milestone completed.
We spent the remainder of our vacation simply chilling out on the boat – two nights in Stonington, a short sail to Fishers Island for an overnight (which was going to be two nights until Sunday’s forecast showed rain), and then back to Pine Island Marina. We had fun chatting about our trip with the friends we’ve made at the marina – they had noticed that Pegu Club was gone for two weeks – and eventually made our way back to our land home.
Overall, the trip was fabulous. We learned a few things and pushed our boundaries a bit. Nothing broke and we didn’t run aground. Jeff was a trouper for spending two weeks on a 24 foot boat – not easy when you’re 6’4″ – and but I do think that this trip has led us to realize that the next boat truly needs a minimum of 6’3″ HR, preferably more, especially given that we’re going to live on it. It’s a good thing we have a while to research – and save up!
The wind forecast for Thursday promised to start out easy and then build steadily into the low 20’s through the day, with accompanying building seas, so we woke up bright and early to try to get a jump on things before it got too frisky.
We motored out of the Great Salt Pond and then kept motoring for about an hour until the wind started building enough to sail. And they certainly built! Pegu Club was flying down the waves at over 5 knots (her max hull speed is approx. 5.7). I could see the waves were increasing, and we had a few that were definitely 6 feet – our highest ever. I’ll admit it, at that point I was a bit scared. We had never been in waves like that and while they weren’t supposed to get higher, I was worried they would. There was a moment where I thought about suggesting that we turn around and high-tail it back to Block. But then Jeff noticed something off our stern – DOLPHINS!!
I was SO excited – I immediately forgot about how nervous I was – and started squealing “Dolphins!!”. There was a pod of eight or nine of them, and they were surfing along in the waves. Of course I had to get the camera, so I jumped up and handed the tiller to Jeff so I could hurry down below, Jeff hollering “Be careful!” behind me. The waves were making things just a bit rocky, but I had hand-holds so it was fine. Coming back into the cockpit though, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to simply stand there and take a few shots. We were rocking way too much for that. So I held up the camera in the approximate area of where they were, didn’t even look through the viewfinder, and took one shot. It wasn’t until later that I was able to see if I had taken a picture of anything besides the sky or water:
The dolphins surfed with Pegu Club for a few minutes before heading off, but in the meantime I had forgotten all about how nervous I was. Jeff said later that this portion of the sail, with the waves and the wind, was his favorite part of the trip. We’ve both come a long way since last year!
After we reached Point Judith we had to turn towards Jamestown, which unfortunately put the wind right behind us. We decided to drop the main to avoid any accidental jibes, kept the jib up, and turned on the outboard so that we could get there as soon as we could in an attempt to outrun the increasingly windy conditions. It was a windy, choppy slog to Jamestown with whitecaps all around, but soon we were able to radio Dutch Harbor Boat Yard to get our mooring assignment. As we approached it was REALLY windy (turns out it was in the low 20’s) and I radioed for specific directions to our mooring ball. The nice girl on the radio said, “I can’t really hear you because of all of the wind, but I think you’re looking for directions” and proceeded to give us excellent details as to how to find the mooring. We had never tried to catch a mooring in these kinds of winds, and in a strange harbor no less, but Jeff caught it on our first try. Yes! We flung off our lifejackets, high-fived each other, and opened up a well-earned beer and cider.
Dutch Harbor Boat Yard is on the west side of Jamestown, on Conanicut Island across from Newport. Approximately 1 mile wide, Jamestown is VERY cute with many restaurants and a good grocery store where we could stock up. After recovering and eating some lunch, we walked to the other side of the island to scope things out and get a ferry schedule, for the next day we were going to take the ferry to the Newport boat show.
Friday was yet another beautiful day, and we made the most of it at the boat show I wanted to pick up a spring/fall sailing jacket, Jeff was looking for some tech long-sleeve shirts, and we both thought it would be fun to wander onto the new, big boats that we would never have a hope in hell of owning (nor would we want to). I confirmed that I don’t like motor boats nor catamarans.
Some of the boats were mind-boggling. There was the the 60+ foot Oyster with the electrical panel that looked like it belonged on the space shuttle (I said to Jeff there was no way you could “do it yourself” for that one, and he pointed out that anyone who could afford a $3,700,000 boat wasn’t going to be the do-it-yourself type). We also saw an Island Packet that had the chart plotter positioned so that when you sat down behind the wheel, all you saw was the chart plotter screen. Why would you do that? Don’t you want to see where you’re actually going vs. staring at a screen? What was particularly surprising was that several of these six and seven figure boats had that unmistakable smell of “boat” from the head. It made me all the more convinced that our composting toilet (which is still AWESOME!) is the way to go.
When we were waiting for the ferry to return to Jamestown, I started chatting with a gentleman next to me who had also been to the boat show. He asked if we saw our next boat, and although he was initially skeptical when I said no, I went on to explain that we really prefer the older boats with their lines, layouts, etc. I must have passed the “test” because he began telling me about his boat – a 12 meter Hinckley from the 1930’s up in Maine. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be. He tried to convince me that we really should look for a 40 foot boat so that Jeff can have more headroom, pointing out that there wasn’t much difference in cost between a 35 footer and a 40 footer. Easy to say when you own a 12 meter Hinckley circa 1930! Anyway, he was very nice, and it was a a pleasant way to spend the wait.
After we returned we took advantage of the laundry facilities at the marina and also charged some electronics. While we were waiting for the clothes to get out of the dryer we tried out the tacos at “The Shack”. It’s literally a shack at the marina, and I had read that they were amazing. There is supposed to be a wonderful restaurant in Newport called Tallulah on Thames and this is an outpost of that. It has tacos and a few other things, literally in a shack. They. Were. Amazing. We were wishing we could stay another day just so we could have tacos again the next night. However, Bristol awaited and with that was going to come the opportunity to meet a few other Bristol owners.
Saturday arrived with strong winds again, right on the nose. We would have taken our time and tacked our way up the Bay, but our meet-up awaited. We crossed under the Jamestown Bridge (our first time going under a bridge) without incident, although we did keep the outboard on given the wind direction and the choppy waters.
As we approached Bristol we were greeted by Eric, Jeanette, and Chris, two Bristol boat owners that we had met through the Bristol Yahoo Groups. The group is very active and has been a great resource for us. There are early plans to have a Bristol rendezvous in 2016, possibly in Bristol, which would be a lot of fun. Eric and Chris have sailed for many years, and we were in awe of their abilities – quick tacks, sliding right next to each other without colliding, etc. We’re hoping some day we’ll be that good.
Chris keeps his Bristol 26 moored at Bristol Marine which is where we would be spending two nights, and Eric and his fiancé Jeanette keep his Bristol 32 in Barrington which is pretty close. We discovered that Chris bought his Bristol through the same broker that runs Narragansett Sailing (where we took our ASA 101 course a few years ago), and Eric also knows the broker because he is at the same marina where Narragansett Sailing is located. It’s a small sailing world. Anyway, we spent part of the afternoon hanging out in Eric’s cockpit, getting to know each other and talking boats, and then Chris kindly took all of us out to dinner at a yummy Irish pub in Bristol (the 5 of us squeezed into his car was pretty entertaining). We had a great time.
That evening was the first rain we had seen on the whole trip (except for in the middle of the night in Stonington), so Jeff and I played some rousing hands of Go Fish and then hit the sack.
The next day we said our goodbyes to Eric, Jeannette, and Chris as they were going sailing and we planned to explore Bristol. We had a great breakfast at the Sunset Cafe and then spent quite a bit of time at the Herreshoff Marine Museum.
The Herreshoff Manufacturing Company was run by two brothers – John and Nathaniel. John ran the business side despite going blind when he was 14, doing cost calculations in his head. Nathaniel designed the boats and was an amazingly innovative sailboat designer, including designing eight America’s Cup defenders. The museum has over sixty of their boats along with other displays, and it was fascinating.
After getting our fill of the museum we continued to poke around Bristol and then headed back to the boat. We had yet another gorgeous sunset. I can’t believe how many we’ve had on this trip.
First things first – a few pictures from our sail to Block on 9/7.
We went to Block Island last year for our fall cruise and really enjoyed it. Block Island is thirteen miles off the coast of Rhode Island. At just under 10 square miles, it has been named one of the “Last Great Places” by the Nature Conservancy with forty percent of the land set aside for conservation. If you don’t visit during the summer season it’s a peaceful getaway with plenty of hikes, beaches, and shops to poke around in.
Our first morning there we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise:
The weather forecast looked great, so Jeff and I decided to rent bikes and explore around the island. Initially we were going to keep the bikes for two days and use them as our main mode of transportation, but we were ready to turn them in by the end of the day. We are both so used to our bikes that are dialed in perfectly to fit us, that even though the frame size for the rentals were fine, we were still experiencing sore knees, elbows, etc. by the end of the afternoon. Deciding to stick to walking for the rest of our trip was a no-brainer, but it was worth it for the day to easily get to views like this:
Residents claim that Block Island has 365 ponds – one for each day of the year. This one was particularly striking:
We also rode our bikes to Coastguard Beach which is where we took the pictures of the channel leading into the Great Salt Pond in the previous post.
Back on the boat that night we were down below making dinner when I glanced out the window in time to see what is easily one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this trip was going to have several gorgeous sunsets, but this one in particular was amazing. The water was as red as the sky. Honestly, the pictures don’t do it justice.
We had only planned to stay until Wednesday, but late Monday afternoon the winds started howling at a steady 16+ mph with gusts in the mid-20’s, night and day, and they weren’t forecast to stop until late Wednesday afternoon. Heavy waves and a small craft warning were going to accompany the winds, so we decided to extend our visit until Thursday. We had a lovely time relaxing, going to the Farmer’s Market, browsing in the shops, charging our electronics in the library, and watching plenty of boat t.v..
This boat was our favorite, however:
I have to admit that the howling wind started to get on my nerves by the second night. Fortunately our sleeping position from the mega-bed kept the rocking feeling to a minimum, but the wind was just so darn loud. It was the first time we’ve been on the boat overnight in those conditions (typically we would have just stayed home), but I reminded myself that if I want to live on a boat upon retiring then there will be plenty of nights like this, so I needed to get a bit more zen about it. Mission accomplished.
As predicted, by late Wednesday afternoon the winds started to calm down. Although they were going to pick up again Thursday afternoon, we had a small window of opportunity to head over to Narragansett Bay on Thursday morning so we decided to grab it. We spent our last evening watching “High Noon” with Gary Cooper on our “media center” (iPad and Bose portable speaker), and went to sleep excited about continuing on our journey the next day.