13 September 2010

Home Stretch: 10 - 13 Sep - Long Island Sound Is ... Long

I reluctantly slipped the lines at Mystic Seaport Museum Friday morning, 10 September, and caught the ebb down the Mystic River to Long Island Sound. Nina elected to savor the Seaport for a few more days but we wanted to make miles west and enjoyed a fair tide through western Fishers Island Sound (chart right) in bright sunshine and perfect visibility. An unwelcome chop at the mouth of the Thames River reminded me that the journey was not over yet and the wind, predicted to be 5 to 10 NW, held steady at about 15 NW and then began to creep upward.

I'd intended to make the Thimble Islands this day but by 1230, still some 14 NM short of the goal and with the wind gusting NW at 25, I'd had enough. I altered course to the NW aiming for Duck Island Roads (chart at left). In this wind the anchorage near the right-angled jetties would not be safe (if it ever is), but I hoped to find shelter under the lee of the mainland in the northwest part of the small bay just east of Kelsey Point. I dropped the anchor at 1245 (in N41-16-077/W72-29-219) as the clear and gusty NW wind continued at about 25 knots. The holding was excellent but a roll was making its way around the Kelsey Breakwater and the anchorage, although snug under the circumstances, was not comfortable.

About 2 hours later it seemed the wind had gone off a bit so I decided to try once again for the Thimbles and flat water. This time I was beaten back before even making it around the breakwater. However I was able to find smoother water about 0.9 NM from my original spot in N41-15-468/W72-30-114 (the reason I've included coordinates is to demonstrate the effects that even a slight change in position can have on comfort). Here the anchorage was an order of magnitude better and I decided to spend the rest of the day right where I was. The wind by this time had convinced many other boats to call it a day and the bay was almost getting crowded. For reasons I never did discover, several boats anchored in the "vee" created by the Duck Island Roads breakwaters despite the fact that they were facing into a strong NW breeze with the breakwaters forming a dangerous lee shore close behind. This made no sense to me and still doesn't but as they say, "different ships, different long splices."

We got underway at 0550 the next morning, Saturday the 11th of September. The dawn broke cool and clear with NW winds at 8 to 10 knots and smooth seas. The goal this time was Cockenoe Harbor in the Norwalk Islands off the Connecticut south shore (photo right). I'd anchored there in 1996 in a friend's Cal 2-46 and I recalled a fairly comfortable spot with a great view, plenty of privacy, but a mildly tricky entrance into the harbor among rocks and shoals. The ride itself was somewhat bumpy across the entrance to New Haven Harbor but it settled down off Bridgeport and since it was Saturday the local "fleet" was tuning up for the races. The contrast of sailors playing in the sun and the fact that this was the 9th anniversary of Nine/Eleven was not lost on me. We anchored in Cockenoe Harbor just before 1400 and despite the SE breeze that stayed with us during the night and the mild roll it generated, the anchorage was satisfactory. I didn't say "comfortable," but "satisfactory" will do in a pinch.

The next day, Sunday, was a big one when it came to making miles. The SE breeze of the previous evening had filled in during the night and by dawn we were staring into 20 to 25 SE in the anchorage with fairly large rollers making across the Long Island Sound. We hauled anchor at 0635 and made our way out into the Sound, soon settling on a course of 250 M for the Throggs Neck (photo left). This put the breeze on the port quarter and with 1.5 to 2 knots of fair tide, the 110% Genoa set, and the diesel just kicking over, we were moving well. I'd planned to stop at Port Washington until I noticed that the current at Hell Gate went favorable at 1330. My calculations indicated we would reach the Throggs Neck at 1200 or so, and that meant that if we kept going we would make the Gate just about when the tide went favorable. That's exactly what happened.

A mile or so past the Throggs Neck Bridge I noticed a smart looking large cutter coming up on us and doing so in a determined fashion. As she approached I recognized the yacht Brendan's Isle (photo right) owned by Mike and Kay Arms (, old friends from the Sassafras River on Chesapeake Bay. I hadn't seen Mike in many years and thought it rather a nice surprise that we were both transiting the East River at the same time. Mike and Kay were returning from a summer of cruising the Maine coast. What made the coincidence noteworthy was that Mike is a well known author who has written extensively about the areas I had been exploring all summer, particularly Newfoundland. We were able to catch up a bit on comings and goings of mutual old friends until he continued on out of sight down the East River.

Soon we too were passing through Hell Gate and down the East River. As we ran between the Battery and Governor's Island, a combination of haze, light rain, and fog obscured the Statue of Liberty and made for a dicey crossing of the Upper Bay amid ferry and commercial traffic, but by 1500 we'd anchored safely behind the Statue just west of Liberty Island. As darkness fell visibility improved and we were treated to a magnificent view of the Statue and Lower Manhattan. The anchorage itself was surprisingly flat and quiet, and we enjoyed a peaceful Sunday evening rest in preparation for an early start down the New Jersey Coast.

By 0430 Monday morning we were underway down harbor toward the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (photo right). The night was clear, visibility was excellent, and we enjoyed a huge fair tide down bay. Yet paradoxically there was just too much to see. The AIS was showing well over 100 targets of all shapes and sizes, and the direct path to the Narrows was filled with anchored commercial vessels, moving ferry boats, tugs with and without barges, and difficult-to-see aids to navigation. The radar also showed so many targets that it was difficult if not impossible to process all the information. Once clear of the Liberty Island entrance channel I immediately turned left and headed for the Brooklyn shore and the relative safety of Buttermilk Channel. I continued down harbor on the Brooklyn side and there encountered "only" four commercial vessels until finally passing under the Verrazano Bridge into the Lower Bay. From there it was only a matter of following the buoys and waiting for the relative security of the sunrise and the visibility that would come with it. My advice to all is that if possible, do not pass through the main channel in New York Harbor in darkness, regardless of your experience level or equipment.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully. We enjoyed a fair tide all the way down the New Jersey coast and entered Manasquan Inlet at 1100, passed through a turbulent Point Pleasant Canal with a fair tide shortly thereafter, and tied up in our old boat yard at 1400. The Newfoundland adventure had exceeded my expectations, but I was not at all unhappy to finally step ashore.

08 September 2010

Mystical Coincidence: 06 - 08 Sep - Close Encounters of the Seafaring Kind

Arion and Kerry Deare finally got underway Monday morning, 06 September, from New Bedford after the remnants of Hurricane Earl were well to the east. We started early and decided to take advantage of conditions and aim for Stonington CT, some 58 NM west and the same number of miles closer to home. The ride was uneventful as we motored along, passing successively the Sakonnet River, Newport RI, and Point Judith Harbor of Refuge. Then suddenly ahead I spied a familiar shape on the horizon, a vessel unlikely to be mistaken for any other. It was the scow schooner Nina (photo left) out of Baltimore sailing west just off the Rhode Island shore, with Captain Dayton and First Mate Ingrid on board. Nina was designed by Joel White and built in 1985 in Brooklin ME, but her chronological age is no measure of how well she reflects ageless seafaring traditions. She is sailed using methods and procedures that would pass muster aboard any 19th century coastal vessel.

I have known both Ingrid and Dayton (photo right) for several years and Nina has spent a considerable amount of time in the same New Jersey boatyard where Kerry Deare winters, so the coincidence of unexpectedly encountering her at sea is noteworthy. At the same time the encounter serves to remind me that coincidences like this become commonplace after one has spent a bit of time afloat. There is no need to embroider sea stories: reality does the work for you. The Nina was bound for Mystic CT, just west of Stonington, and we agreed to stay in contact to determine how we might rendezvous and catch up on doings.

Arion and Kerry Deare passed a quiet night together in Stonington, if indeed the harbor at Stonington is ever really quiet. There are at least 2 reasons Stonington never rests. First, it's a major yachting center and yachts of all sizes and pedigrees are constantly coming and going. Second, the harbor itself is at the mercy of the prevailing southwest winds and the motion never ceases, especially when the wind pipes up each afternoon. So next morning when Susan and Kirk decided to continue west to meet commitments at home, I decided to join up with Nina at nearby Mystic Seaport to catch up on old times and also to enjoy a quiet harbor setting.

Nina and Mystic Seaport Museum make a perfect couple. The Seaport is dedicated to preserving and honoring the seafaring traditions of the nineteenth century, and Nina herself perfectly exemplifies these traditions. While I was making arrangements for our visit I only half-jokingly suggested to Donna, Mystic's Assistant Dockmaster, that the Seaport should be paying Nina to visit rather than the other way around. As it turned out, we did indeed get a pretty sweet deal, but more about that later (Ingrid and Dayton checking in at the Mystic Seaport Dockmaster's Office, photo right).

Shortly after arriving we changed into our Tourist First Class garb and explored the Seaport (photo left). There is much to see and learn at the Seaport's 19 acre site and we didn't intend to waste time. I was particularly struck by the expansion of Mystic's facilities and exhibits since my last visit about 25 years ago. The number of classic vessels maintained by the Seaport has increased dramatically (a New England sharpie, photo upper right), and an entire 19th century maritime village now exists (photo lower left)where one can investigate the commercial and technical activities that kept the various maritime business enterprises running. There is also a wide array of exhibits designed specifically for children that permits interactive learning experiences. Facilities for visiting yachts are much more elaborate and include improved dockage, showers and restrooms, a Visiting Yachtsmen's Lounge, etc. The photo at lower right shows Nina at rest at the Seaport.

The Seaport staff conducts daily demonstrations that explain in detail procedures and techniques that kept commercial vessels of the period running. We participated in hauling yards aloft (photo left), barrel making (cooperage), knot tying, and so on. There are complete facilities for all types of ship building and repair (photo right), and during our visit we toured the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan to observe her undergoing a complete refit, a procedure that will take many years to complete.

Ingrid is herself a talented musician and we were able to meet and hear many of the Seaport's own musicians perform period music. Sailors of the period had little free time, but when they did get to relax they made the most of it playing music, practicing the sailors' arts (net making, photo lower left), and keeping up communications with their families back home.

It is safe to say that the music and demonstrations were well enjoyed by all present, including Ingrid (photo right) and the many visitors who enjoyed the daily Dog Watch music sessions held on the main deck of the Charles W. Morgan (photo below).

Too soon was the visit over, but not before the staff did us the very large favor of allowing us to stay 3 nights while charging only for one, and that at the members rate. The staff could not have been more pleasant, and I suspect that a part of their largess was due to the presence of Nina and her crew, who provided as much inspiration to them as they did to us. And for those doubters out there who think Hollywood is only a fantasy, there really is a "Mystic Pizza."

04 September 2010

At New Bedford: 01 - 04 Sep - Hurricane Warnings

New Bedford is itself an almost perfect natural harbor. It is large, deep, and well protected with easy access and a convenient central location. Since the 1960's when the massive hurricane gate system was added, it has become known as one of the most secure major harbors on the US East Coast. Among mariners it is axiomatic that New Bedford is the safest location in the area to seek refuge during bad weather. For these reasons and others, I made a special effort to arrive at New Bedford Harbor with time to spare in order to guarantee a secure berth.

The harbor (right photo) consists of New Bedford on the west bank of the Acushnet River, and Fairhaven on the east. Most commercial fishing activity is centered on the New Bedford waterfront, and the fishing fleet is definitely one to reckon with (photo below left). New Bedford may have the largest concentration of active fishing vessels in the world. Even if that is not the case, it seems so to a casual observer. There is an endless array of wharves and piers crowded with rugged and fierce looking fishing vessels of all shapes and sizes, mostly massive. Fairhaven on the opposite side of the Acushnet River also has its share of commercial vessels in addition to several large marine repair and service operations. Sprinkled among these commercial facilities are many businesses designed to serve recreational vessels, the heaviest concentration being on and around Pope's Island in the middle of the harbor. It's safe to say that if a vessel operator cannot get the job done here, it simply cannot be done.

While underway from Shelburne to New Bedford, I'd contacted friends Susan and Kirk ("Captain Kirk" at left) who have been cruising their yacht Arion along the US Northeast Coast this summer. I was both surprised and pleased to learn that they were then in nearby Cuttyhunk Harbor and they agreed to rendezvous with Kerry Deare in New Bedford and wait out the weather behind the secure hurricane gates. The plan was that Arion would secure to a mooring, Kerry Deare would secure at the Fairhaven Shipyard, and after preparing the boats for nasty weather we ourselves would spend Friday evening (03 September) safely tucked away in a hotel room ashore in New Bedford. This also meant we would have time to enjoy the sights, tastes, and sounds of New Bedford, the "Whaling City."

Thursday, 02 September, was filled with storm preparations and general maintenance on both yachts. Meanwhile the harbor was quickly filling with vessels of all types and sizes, and we were pleased to see among them the State of Delaware tall ship Kalmar Nyckel ( She was nestled safely among the fishing fleet in a secure berth. Since my wife Sonia is a "Blue Hen" (i.e., University of Delaware graduate), I paid special attention to this vessel.

By the time we'd finished hurricane preparations late in the afternoon our appetites required immediate attention. The solution was Antonio's, a Portuguese restaurant in New Bedford that had the nod from everyone we asked. Both the service and the food lived up to expectations. We all spent one final night afloat and by Friday afternoon we'd moved ashore to a nearby hotel and were ready to explore New Bedford (at left, Susan and Kirk in "Tourist Mode"). The obvious first stop was the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the city's most popular attraction (right photo).

In our view the museum is a gem, particularly in light of its relatively small size. Architecturally and aesthetically, the designers just seemed to "get it right." There is something for everyone here, including a model of the famous Concordia yawl (photo left), a design well known to sailors and built nearby. The main hall of the museum (right photo) features several rare whale skeletons and an industrial style that somehow seemed perfect. By the way, if your taste runs to whale skeletons, this just might be the place (below).

By the next morning, Saturday, Hurricane Earl had passed through without major impact (we are pleased to note). I was struck once again by the apparent disappointment of several commentators who opined that the hurricane was "not all it could have been." I do not at all understand what these morons are talking about. Would they perhaps be satisfied with a few dozen yachts strewn along the beach, or maybe 17 senior citizens stranded and drowned on Nantucket? In any event while Kirk attended to details aboard Arion, Susan and I continued to collect Tourist Points in New Bedford. This we accomplished with a self-guided walking tour that lasted over 5 hours, beginning with a visit dockside to the Kalmar Nyckel (photo right).

Prior to the storm's passing the crew had secured all gear, sails, and equipment. Now that it was time to get back underway, those preparations had to be reversed, and on a vessel like this with miles of lines and cordage, this is no small task. All hands were put to work to get the job done (left photo). Susan did her part from the sidelines (photo upper right) by encouraging the crew to work harder and faster. She might have made a pretty good whaling captain in the day, and apparently others thought so also because in short order she and I were interviewed by a local radio reporter seeking our opinions on how things should be handled properly aboard ship (photo lower right). Of course we provided definitive answers to all his questions on whaling ship management, local restaurants, global warming, world hunger, tying a flying bowline knot, and a range of other vital issues.

Then it was off to the New Bedford visitors centers for an injection of Tourist Info. There are 2 centers in town. Located on the waterfront, the New Bedford Visitors Centers provides information on water-related activities, tours, the waterfront itself, the commercial fishing activities that dominate the immediate area, and so on. When we visited we spoke with Rihjui, a friendly and helpful park official from Ghana (photo left), who loaded us up with useful information. Thusly armed we proceed into the restored part of New Bedford and immediately encountered two women dressed in period costume (right photo) who immediately brought us up to date on the latest New Bedford gossip. Latest that is, if you consider the year 1836 recent. These two remained strictly in character despite my attempts to break the spell. And a magic spell it was for both Susan and me.

We continued our walking tour into the restored sections of New Bedford, enjoying some of the more stately buildings as we went along. Our goal was the collection of stately residences centered on New Bedford's County Street, the location that many of the town's whaling and business elite had chosen for their elaborate homes. The jewel of this collection, the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum, is discussed separately below. What struck both Susan and me about this collection of homes was the sheer number of fully restored masterpieces available to view. Even though we spent nearly 2 full hours walking on, in and around County Street, we barely scraped the surface. There is much available online about these buildings so I will post only a few selected photos. The choices are not easy.


The Rotch-Jones-Duff House (photos left, right, and below) is the only County Street mansion open to the public. Susan had decided well in advance that it was a must-see item and she was quite correct. The mansion was built in 1834 for the whaling merchant William Rotch, Jr. It is in Greek Revival style and is often described as the best example of the "brave houses and flowery gardens" described by Herman Melville in Moby-Dick. The museum chronicles 150 years in the economic and social evolution of the city as reflected in the residencies of 3 succeeding families, the Rotch, Jones, and Duff families. Photography is forbidden inside the building, so we can show only a few views of the gardens and the exterior of the building. When Susan and I discussed the tour afterwards, we both agreed that it was a "Triumph of Modern Nautical Tourism." We hope you agree.