October 18, 2008
We spent Tuesday (Oct 14th) night back at Vineyard Haven but just anchored outside the breakwater and did not go ashore. Instead we set off early on Wednesday and with a good breeze assisting us, crossed Vineyard Sound, wove through the Elizabeth Islands at Quicks Hole, crossed Buzzards Bay, and then swung around Gooseberry Neck and Sakonnet Point to enter Narragansett Bay. The skies had started clouding over on Monday and by Wednesday the wind had come around from the north so that temperatures had dropped to more autumnal conditions. We didn’t have to deal with any of the rain showers that had been forecast but the weather was definitely less settled than our mini-summer on Martha’s Vineyard.
Calling ahead to book a marina slip in Newport, RI, considered by many to be the yachting capital of the Northeast, we discovered that several marinas were already closed for the season or had reduced staffing levels. On the other hand, there was plenty of room, off-season rates, and no waiting for the laundry at the very nice Newport Yachting Center where we ended up. With just a few more weeks before the floating docks were to be pulled out for the winter, a few tourist spots around town were closed but mostly we discovered the advantages of being the late-comers to the popular yachting town.
Newport has a very interesting mixture of historical features. Rounding into Narragansett Bay, one immediately notices the many, huge mansions that line the coast. Some of these "summer cottages" are open to the public and many can be viewed from the elegant Bellevue Avenue that runs southward along the ridge passing through town. Randall and I biked/jogged along there one morning, stopping to read many of the informative interpretive signs but failed to carry a camera to capture the opulence of these late 19th – early 20th century "cottages". The richest families in the US (e.g., Astors and Vanderbilts) competed to have the most impressive summer homes including the Vanderbilts’ Marble House which cost $11 million to build around 1890 (they divorced a few years later). Although the costs of these mansions became untenable for most owners in the 1930s-40s, some were maintained as schools and the Preservation Society of Newport saved and restored others. Although such flagrant extravagance of conspicuous consumption seems a bit shocking in today’s economic turmoil but there still appears to be much affluence in this region.
Martha is a keen tennis fan, so on Thursday afternoon we visited the International Tennis Hall of Fame which is located in an elegant facility that was built as an elite club for the fashionable summer residents of Newport’s Golden Age. With fastidiously maintained and used grass tennis courts, the center was the 1881 site of the tournament that evolved into the US Open Tennis Championship. I learned a lot about the history of tennis and was reminded of many of the tennis icons of my youth.
Our walks about town not only featured the many reminders of Newport’s glory days but also showed that many older buildings from the late 1700s had been maintained throughout the narrow streets. There are so many interesting historical markers that one could wander for days reading them all and studying the many architectural styles that they describe. And all of this, of course, provides a fascinating backdrop to the current popularity of the town for visitors by land and sea. There was not a continuous waterfront walk as we had enjoyed in Halifax and Boston but there is public access to many of the wharves and the choices for shopping and restaurants are almost overwhelming. We had anticipated being a bit intimidated by the boating congestion and, quite-frankly, snobbishness of the more affluent yachtspeople that we had assumed were associated with this town. But we were very pleasantly surprised and although not anxious to return during the height of the summer season crowds, we felt that this much-heralded yachting Mecca was well worth a visit. Yes, there were many huge power- and sail-boats in the harbor but our marina companions were friendly and modest just like the other yachting folk we have seen everywhere else on our trip.
After waiting for an hour for a car to be returned, we picked up Martha’s rental car late on Friday morning. The staff were in for an uncomfortable afternoon with 15 reservations but no cars as none had been delivered as expected from the airport, so we were lucky to get one. After a quick grocery shopping trip, we waved Martha goodbye as she set off for Boston to catch a flight back to San Jose, CA, early the next day. We stayed another night in the marina to do laundry, get sorted out, and plan our next course as we aimed for New York City. Before our departure, I participated briefly in the Newport marathon on Saturday morning. I was going in the wrong direction and met the race by coincidence just after its start but it was the closest I have been to running in a marathon!
October 13, 2008
Having been made so welcome on Martha’s Vineyard it was hard to leave but we wanted to see Woods Hole and Nantucket before heading west to Newport, RI. On Sunday morning (Oct 12th), the whole of Annie’s clan came to see our boat in Vineyard Haven and waved goodbye as we set off for Woods Hole with Doria and Dwight. The wind was light so our sailing was on a rather haphazard route but we arrived in time for the 1 pm opening of the telescopic pedestrian bridge that separated the main harbor from the tiny but well protected, Eel Pond. The road bridge was being replaced but it is still a very narrow channel into the Pond which is well-filled with moored boats. The lack of wind was a positive advantage here as Randall carefully maneuvered us into our marina slip. Eel Pond is surrounded by buildings of three marine research institutions, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Marine Biological Laboratory, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Even outside the busy summer season, the small town has the feel of a university campus as it is so dominated by the research laboratories. Doria had worked in some of these labs and so could give us a very interesting tour of the town. We also looked around her parents’ lovely summer house which had belonged to her grand-parents and where she had spent many of her childhood summers. Like Annie, she positively glowed with fondness for the area.
The following day, we left Doria and Dwight to return to Boston and Florida while we cruised out to learn about the whaling history of Nantucket Island…or so we thought. Nantucket Island is east of Martha’s Vineyard and south of the eastern edge of Cape Cod, with the main town of Nantucket on its northern shore. By 1700, European and native islanders had already begin pursuing whales in long boats from the shore and this industry expanded in the 19th Century to create vast wealth that is reflected in many of the large and elegant houses. But the whaling industry collapsed at the end of the 19th century as the recovery of petroleum products became more efficient. This decline was not a moment too soon for some species of whale. And although Nantucket may have lost its major industry, the wealth of the island has been maintained by the inflow of money from the mainland via affluent summer residents, yachtsmen, and tourists.
This much we had learned from our cruising guide but our mission to add more details to this history was thwarted. We arrived at the Nantucket Whaling Museum at 4 pm allowing us an hour before their usual closing time, only to find that they had closed an hour early for a special event. Even more irritating was that this Monday (Columbus Day a federal holiday) was the last day of summer hours and the museum would not be open again until Thursday…too late to be any use to us.
Instead we found a pub for a pre-dinner drink and the following morning walked around the town admiring the buildings. A few of the streets have their original cobblestones and brick sidewalks. With the autumnal street trees and handsome houses the overall effect was very picturesque, especially as the place wass not packed with tourists. In fact, the whole area, especially in many of the affluent residential areas, has been so well maintained in the New England, whaling-era style of wood-shingle-sided houses with white and grey trim, that there is a slightly theme-park-like perfection about it. If we had stayed longer, it would have been worth riding our bicycles around more of the island to see if this atmosphere is island-wide or just around the main town. It had some similarity to Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard but otherwise our experiences of the two islands were quite different. We looked forward to going ashore at Martha’s Vineyard again…
October 11, 2008
After a peaceful night in Quissett, we awoke on Thursday morning to the sound of wind in the shrouds and, as forecast, we nosed out of the secluded harbor into windy and rainy weather with a nasty chop in Buzzards Bay. But we wanted to get to Martha’s Vineyard so we motored and bounced into the wind to get to Woods Hole, carefully navigated through the swirling currents of the inlet, and then popped out into Vineyard Sound. Woods Hole is named for the narrow passage between Cape Cod and the Elizabeth Islands (which separate Buzzards Bay from Vineyard Sound) and currents roar and whirl in and out with the flooding and ebbing tides. Underpowered boats can get caught in the narrowest part and be driven towards the shallows or rocks that are scattered throughout the inlet. We motored against a couple of knots of current which slowed us down a bit but in some respects this can be safer than hurtling through with a strong following current that quickly can sweep you off course since the currents do not necessarily follow the deep channels. Added to the general excitement, there are ferries ploughing in and out of Woods Hole so they must be watched carefully as well. However, given the unpleasant weather, we didn’t have to worry about any other recreational boats which simplified matters considerably.
We were too busy watching for ferries and channel markers to pay too much attention to the famous buildings of the marine research institutes in Woods Hole but we expected to return under better conditions. Once in Vineyard Sound it looked too rough to go to the moorings that the parents of our friends had near Menemsha (up-wind on the west side of the island) so we headed across the Sound to Vineyard Haven. After calling around to find a dock or mooring that was not closed for the season, we left the boat on a town mooring. During the couple of hours that we looked around town and got the boat prepared, the clouds started to dissipate. Chuck picked us up and took us to his wonderful house where he and Martha made to feel most welcome. Their daughter Annie and her husband Jack, our friends from Florida, arrived later that day along with their friend from New York, Valerie, while Martha was entertaining us to a beautiful walk to the beach in glorious sunshine with their two black labs, Lily and Chadwick.
On Friday, after another beach walk under wonderful clear skies, we went to meet some other friends of Annie and Jack’s who were arriving in Oaks Bluff on the ferry from Woods Hole. On the way, we drove through the majestic Edgartown with its many grand, whaling-era houses. With some time to kill in Oaks Bluff we hoped to have a chance to ride on the oldest operating platform carousel in America (from 1876) the Flying Horses, but disappointingly it was closed. We had more luck, however, with one of the other interesting features of Oaks Bluff, the "gingerbread cottage" surrounding the wood-and-wrought-iron Methodist Tabernacle that seats 3,000. In the 19th century, Methodists from all over the country assembled for camp meetings that were initially held in tents. Gradually, tiny wooden houses replaced the tents, each with intricately decorated front porches. In 1879, the main meeting tent at the center of the village was replaced by the open-sided Tabernacle and now the cottages have been restored and provide a unique village of small summer cottages.
Annie was anxious to meet the ferry on time but Randall and I assumed that we did not know the new arrivals since their names had not been mentioned. It was only as we watched the stream of disembarking passengers to see if Annie had spotted her guests that I suddenly recognized our very good friends from Gainesville, Doria and Dwight! It was a complete, brilliantly planned, and wonderful surprise. It was so clever of Annie and Jack to keep us innocently in the dark and so amazing that Doria and Dwight had only decided that week to make the trip to Massachusetts to join us. With such perfect weather and fabulous hosts, it was the most splendid weekend we could ever have imagined on Martha’s Vineyard.
We spent the rest of Friday and Saturday touring around the island, picking up all sorts of goodies to eat, walking all over the beautiful beaches and wooded land around Chuck and Martha’s amazing property, and listening to music from Dwight, a marvelous musician who came prepared to entertain with his guitar. We were thoroughly spoiled and amazed by the wonderful company and sun-drenched scenery. It was so fun to see Annie’s complete love of the area and her enthusiasm to share it with us, which was particularly manifest in her almost non-stop ability to provide narration for our five hour hike on Saturday. The only mutiny against further exploration came in the evening when returning in the van from a sunset visit to the multi-colored clay cliffs of Aquinnah (a.k.a. Gay Head on the southwest corner of the island), her suggestion for trekking down to a south-shore beach was met with a weary silence. The alternative suggestion to return to the house for lobster and fish dinner easily won the majority vote.
October 08, 2008
Randall’s sister, Martha, had flown into Boston from California on Saturday (Oct 4th) and wisely chose to spend the night in a hotel. On Sunday morning, in the 10 minutes between the time she called us to say that she was coming to the boat marina and arriving, in a flurry of last-minute tidying I managed to trigger a spasm in one of my back muscles. Thus, when she stepped on board with Randall, I was lying on my back with my legs elevated in a rather alarming fashion. Luckily, with an hour’s rest and some aspirin I was walking again, albeit rather slower than usual and we set off to follow the Freedom Trail. This 2.5 mile trail is marked by a red brick (or painted) line leading through the Boston streets from the Boston Common to Bunker Hill. With a National Park Service brochure in hand, it is a self-guided tour of 16 colonial, Revolutionary, and federal sites in downtown Boston and Charleston related to the events at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. It is an excellent way to see some significant places and get some exercise. The traffic was relatively calm on a Sunday morning but we found ourselves in a constant stream of other tourists quietly imagining the drama of the late 1700s. It appeared to be about an equal mix of Americans marveling at the landmarks of the history lessons of their youth and foreigners to whom some stories were familiar (such as Paul Revere’s ride after seeing the lanterns at Old North Church warning of the approach of the British Troops) but who could also learn much from the trail about the progress of the Revolution. Starting part of the way into the trail, the sites we visited that afternoon included the 1713 Old State House and site of the 1770 Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s House, Old North Church, Bunker Hill Monument (site of the Revolution’s first major battle and actually on Breed’s Hill), and the USS Constitution (the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world).
Thoroughly exercised (especially after climbing and descending the 294 steps in the Bunker Hill obelisk) we saved the first part of the trail for the next day. Unfortunately, only Randall and I were able to complete the trail because on Sunday evening, as Martha was stepping off the boat in the marina, the stool slipped and she took a nasty fall onto the dock. Thankful that she didn’t fall in the water between the boat and dock, we helped her back onboard and iced down a nasty bruise. Luckily nothing was permanently damaged but she sensibly took it easy on Monday while Randall and I finished the Trail (including the burial site of patriots such as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere) and had a very successful grocery shopping expedition including finding a better step-stool. The Iranian taxi driver who delivered us and our bags of groceries back to the boat, was very excited by our adventures and not only enjoyed a look around the boat but was ready to park his taxi and come to Florida with us!
We really enjoyed Boston and would rank it as one of our favorite cities in the US and well worth another visit. We spent Monday night on a mooring just outside the Boston Waterboat Marina to enjoy the view of the city and to simplify an early departure on Tuesday. In beautiful weather we sailed to Plymouth where we stayed on a mooring at the Plymouth Yacht Club again. We were a bit disappointed not to see any sign of marine mammals on this, or the next, day but we were closer to shore than we had been on our previous passage and that might not have been such a good habitat for whales.
We were lucky to get a mooring at the Plymouth Yacht Club because they were closing for the season 10 days later, a theme that was likely to follow us down the east coast. Martha had also visited Plymouth before, so we went ashore briefly just to wander along the waterfront and enjoy a good seafood dinner. Wednesday was another glorious day with glassy seas so we motored to, and through, the Cape Cod Canal. Having consulted our cruising guide to determine the best currents to assist us through the canal, we arrived a bit early but started on through anyway. As the current grew stronger against us, rather than with us, we scoured the whole text of the guide more thoroughly to find that there was an error in their instructions (evident from contradictions in their full comments) and we had unfortunately followed the erroneous information. Luckily, our early arrival meant that we completed the transit before the current became a problem but it was a good reminder to double check our sources of tide and current information.
Once out of the channel in the shallow Buzzards Bay we had a lovely sail down the southwestern shore of Cape Cod to Quissett Harbor, just short of the entrance to the Woods Hole cut between Cape Cod and the Elizabeth Islands. In the small but deep and charming harbor, we were directed to a very protected mooring surrounded by steep, wooded shores and attractive houses. It was so calm that Randall donned his apron and baked a joint birthday cake for Martha and me (both September birthdays). I went for a run and then met Martha and Randall at a lovely nature preserve on the north side of the harbor entrance called The Knob. It was a very peaceful evening.
October 04, 2008
Despite a strong downstream current, we left our Portsmouth Yacht Club mooring early on Tuesday morning (Sept 30th) without incident. It did not appear that climbing the fence to get around the locked gate between us an our boat had aroused any particular suspicions from the locals…for which we were thankful. As the river spat us out to sea, we soon had the sails up and aimed southeast to round Cape Ann, a well marked island/headland on the northern side of bay in which Boston is located. Our route took us within good views of the Isles of Shoals, a series of islands about 15 miles off-shore on the New Hampshire/Maine border. Mostly privately owned but with limited public access, these islands are popular weekend destinations from Portsmouth. One of them has a large religious compound in a conspicuous, former hotel while others are no longer permanently inhabited. On our way north, we had passed a good distance to seaward of the Isles at night and been impressed by the multitude of navigation lights warning of the numerous reefs and shallows around them.
Rounding Cape Ann, we could look back at Gloucester an important harbor for fishing and whaling for three centuries. The town became more widely known after publication of the book and blockbuster film "The Perfect Storm" about the loss of the local fishing boat, the Andrea Gail, during a massive noreaster storm. Like the Isles of Shoals, we decided to leave a visit there for another time, opting to get to Boston in anticipation of the passing of a cold front that promised to bring cold, clear weather after a day or so of strong winds.
Although Randall and I have each visited Boston before and flown in and out of the waterside Logan Airport, the complicated mosaic of islands in the outer harbor had not really registered with either of us. Many of the islands are managed as State Parks or part of the Harbor Islands National Park and are popular destinations for hiking and water-related recreational activities during the summer. However, we didn’t have much competition for space mid-week at the beginning of October and we spent three nights either on a mooring or anchored on the west side of Peddocks Island (about 7 miles from downtown Boston) with only one neighbor for the first night. Of course, this may have been related to the fact that the winds (and choppy waves) changed from being southeasterly, and from which were initially protected, to westerly. We were fully exposed to the latter but we decided to stay there because the wind generator was humming nicely and the bouncing didn’t really affect our chores. Wednesday was cloudy and had steady 20 knot winds, with 30 knot gusts, and although the winds did not yield much on Thursday, at least the skies cleared and made for good drying conditions which were much needed in the boat as we started cleaning-up in anticipation of Martha’s visit.
It is not that we live like total slobs when we do not have visitors but their arrival is a good incentive for the kind of extensive scrub-down that involves the temporary relocation of seemingly every item on the boat. This was especially important after such an extended period of internal dampness that had permeated all areas of the boat without much opportunity for fresh air and drying. The V-berth in the bow is used for storage when we do not have guests. Thus, it does not get much attention until it is time to redistribute the stuff and freshen-up the walls, shelves, and bed.
Friday morning was gloriously sunny and although still windy, we had decided to go to a marina downtown for a few nights to complete our cleaning with the benefit of unlimited freshwater and external power that would allow us to run a small heater. With the passing of the cold front, the heater became doubly beneficial, not only for drying things out but also taking the bite out of the morning chill. When we pulled up the anchor we discovered an unexpected memento of our visit to Peddocks Island and an explanation of why we had dragged a few feet. There was a good-sized rock jammed between the prongs of the anchor and it refused to be tipped out. So we motored into Boston Harbor with our anchor and its companion rock hanging off the bow and it was the topic of one of the first comments as we were welcomed into the Boston Waterboat Marina. This beautifully kept marina is on Long Wharf, one wharf north of the well known New England Aquarium and in the heart of the downtown waterfront. The helpful marina crew were very resourceful and quickly produced a long crow-bar with which Randall was able to pry the rock free of the anchor. Luckily, the water was deep enough to allow the rock to be dropped in with a resounding splash without having to worry about it creating a hazard. It would have been really awkward to have had to land the rock onshore.
That evening we wandered randomly around enjoying the sights of Boston, fascinated by all the historical markers but trying not to spoil the walking tour that we planned to do with Martha. Neither of us had actually walked around downtown Boston before and it was busy with tourists despite the cold winds funneling between the high-rise buildings. By chance we ended up in the Italian district and had a delicious meal there in celebration of our fifth wedding anniversary.
During our wanderings we learned that the weekend was going to include a celebration of the official opening of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a series of parks and green-spaces parallel to the waterfront, so there were booths and event-stages being set-up. The Greenway was built on the land made available by Boston’s famous "Big-Dig", the huge project that put an elevated and congested interstate highway underground. Running vastly over original time and budget estimates, it supposedly ended up costing in the order of $22 billion. Litigation is in progress regarding some sub-standard construction which resulted numerous leaks and the death of a passenger when a piece of the tunnel ceiling fell on her car. The tunnels may have had problems but the parts of the Greenway that we saw looked excellent.
Saturday was again cold and sunny but we spent most of it cleaning the boat. In the late afternoon we visited the outside market which we had noticed the previous evening. Held on Friday and Saturdays, the prices were remarkably good for all fruit and vegetables and were dropping as we shopped. Nobody wanted to be left with tons of produce, especially as some of it appeared to be past its best. This was no farmer’s market, the produce came from all over the world and was clearly not organic! The place was packed with people representing numerous ethnic backgrounds and it was a very memorable and fun experience. There was no doubt that you could stock up with a week’s worth of produce for very little money. We had to take care not to buy more than our limited storage capacity could handle but we returned to the marina excited at our good fortune in getting so much food at such bargain prices.
September 29, 2008
We left Portland early on Thursday (Sept 25th) and motored through glassy seas to Portsmouth, NH. New Hampshire only has 17 miles of coastline so it is easy to miss by boat but this also means that its largest port there is very important to the state, sitting as it does on the once-vital inland transportation route of the Piscataqua River. After cruising towards downtown to look at the harbor layout, we returned to the Portsmouth Yacht Club and took one of their huge moorings on the south side of the river. That night, we learned why the mooring floats were so large. When the outgoing tide and river rush past at about 7 knots it is the only way that the floats do not get dragged underwater. With the addition of 15 knot winds from almost the opposite direction, there were standing waves with white caps all around our stationary boat which is a rather odd sensation. If one looked only at the surrounding moored boats and not the shore, it looked as though we part of a close-knit flotilla cruising along at a fair speed.
As forecast, Friday was wet all day with continued northeasterly winds so we stayed on board and battled with the heads. I will spare you the details and the colorful language that punctuated the varying levels of success of the operations but suffice to say the work is still ongoing. For those not experienced with working in boats, the main problem is that the clever way that so much of the plumbing, electrics, etc, are packed away out-of-sight means that messing with it usually involves small and difficult-to-reach spaces that often have to be approached from awkward positions (see photo of Randall lying on his back working over his head in a locker with a small opening).
Saturday was still grey and drizzle resumed later in the afternoon but we did manage to escape from the boat for a few hours in the middle of the day. We used the Yacht Club’s launch to take us to shore and then rode our bikes to a marine store to get a needed part for the plumbing operation. By this time is was clear that the unsettled weather was likely to get worse as the now -hurricane Kyle was predicted to cause some 30 – 40 knots gusts along the coast on Sunday afternoon before making landfall along the Bay of Fundy or Nova Scotia. So we decided to stay on the mooring and wait it out, anticipating that at least the wind would allow us to generate power enough to watch some TV/DVDs.
Never let us be accused of complaining that it was not stormy enough for us, indeed we are grateful that the small-diameter storm went east of us and left most of the coastline in relative peace. But Sunday was windless with drizzle and intermittent fog and in the evening we broke down and ran the engine for a couple of hours to generate power since the solar and wind generators were not producing much and we used a fair bit to light-up our plumbing operations. Obviously, this river mooring was the place where we could have put a generator based on tidal/current to good use.
On Monday morning, there was a rush of lobster and fishing boats heading out to sea after the wet weekend but we decided to wait another day to let the seas calm down a bit. In fact, the skies brightened up considerably and by late morning we hoisted the bikes into our dinghy and rowed the short distance to shore. As we explained to the dock staff, we did this in case we returned from town after they stopped their launch service and left at 4 pm. Between us, we failed to consider a couple of implications of this situation that appeared somewhat significant later on…
We rode into the center of Portsmouth and admired the many buildings and streets that illustrate the history of the town. Founded in 1623 as the town of Strawberry Banke, the name of Portsmouth was later adopted when the international importance of the port became apparent. A naval shipyard was established in 1800, creating further similarities to its namesake in Britain. Near the waterfront, the Strawberry Banke Museum has 30 buildings from the last four centuries, some in their original positions, others moved there from elsewhere in the town. We viewed this museum from the outside but although it is highly recommended, we decided to save this for another trip. Instead, we signed-up for a twilight walking tour of the town and while we waited for that, headed to a micro-brewery. On the TV behind the bar we watched the news that the first version of the US government’s bailout plan for the financial markets had failed to pass the House of Representatives and in response the Stock Market had seen its largest drop in value ever recorded in a single day. As we contemplated the unfortunate coincidence of our retirement with all this financial instability (our income and pensions being dependent on investments) we noted that if this was the beginning of a Stock Market crash, we would be able to remember exactly where we were (The Portsmouth Brewery) when first heard the news.
Our twilight tour was the perfect antidote to any anxiety about our financial security, as we were the only participants getting a personal tour with our guide, Jean-Paul. A Belgian who had been in the US for five years, Jean-Paul’s story was almost as interesting as the tales that he skillfully wove about the city. A widower for several years, he had spent the required three years training to be tour guide in Belgium after he retired from being a military officer. An avid online player of back-gammon, he eventually started corresponding with fellow player he knew only as a "woman in America" who turned out to be a recent widow. Now he is married to her, living in Portsmouth, and keeping busy as a tour guide.
We learned much about Portsmouth’s evolution as an early center for fishing (cod on the Grand Banks), forest harvesting (deforesting the whole colony/state remarkably quickly) for ship-building, beer brewing until the Prohibition, a brief period of notoriety as "Sin City" related to the Naval shipyards, and finally a dependence on tourism. There were three city fires in quick succession in the early 1800s that caused the replacement of many of the wooden buildings with brick ones (benefitting from the good, local clay soils) and Jean-Paul had stories to tell about many of them. One of our favorites was about two girls who, during the "Sin City" period, had suffered repeated embarrassment as they walked along one of the most notorious streets on their way to and from school. Many years later, after they inherited a fortune from their brother, they purchased one-at-at-time, all but one house on the dreaded street and had them all torn down. They replaced them with a park that was donated to the city on condition that alcohol was never permitted there and that free cultural events were provided in evenings during the summer. And so, named in recognition of the sisters, Prescott Park is an attractive green-space and formal gardens on the waterfront in Portsmouth with a stage and associated facilities for summer evening shows.
Our ride of a couple of miles back to the Portsmouth Yacht Club in the dark went well but we returned to find all access to the dock where our dinghy was tied-up was gated and locked, a state of affairs that the dock crew had failed to mention when we had discussed returning after-hours. This time there was no one handy to unlock it for us or to provide a code, so I had to scramble over some rocks and up over a railing to get inside the gate. Fortunately, the gate was not padlocked but could be opened from the inside allowing us and our bikes to get on the dock. Once in the dinghy we then realized that we had paddled ashore at a relatively slack time of the tide and that there might be an intimidating 7 knot current sweeping past Tregoning that would be difficult to negotiate rowing an inflatable dinghy. That evening, Fortune may have been in short supply on our financial side of things but apparently we were considered worthy of a good night’s sleep and it smiled on us with regard to the river flow. It was close to low tide and the current was evident but manageable. Randall valiantly rowed as I aimed us well upstream of Tregoning and we were able to catch hold of the stern ladder and tie-up before being swept away in the dark.
September 24, 2008
As we discovered early in our shake-down cruise, one of the side-effects of not going to shore for several days is that garbage starts to accumulate. In Gainesville, we rarely had a lot in our garbage can because so much of what we used was collected for recycling. Nova Scotia had excellent recycling programs with almost all public bins having three sections for trash, paper, and plastics/glass. At houses in Halifax cans and items for composting were also separated out. Our recycling experiences along the rest of the east coast have been less consistent but it has been worth bagging recyclables separately in case the opportunity arises and to reduce the rate at which the garbage can fills. Luckily, as in most of Maine, recycling was encouraged in our next port of call, Portland, ME.
We arrived in Portland, in the early afternoon of Tuesday (Sept 23rd) after an uneventful passage from Boothbay Harbor and treated ourselves to a marina for a couple of nights as we caught up with supplies and some chores (laundry and more work on the dreaded heads – marine toilets). We walked around downtown in the afternoon trying to recognize any of it from our visit there for a professional meeting in 2003. We must have been very busy and attentive at the conference because not much seemed very familiar. Just occasionally one of us would have a vague recollection that a particular street or building seemed familiar. On our return to the marina around 6:30 pm we discovered that the dock-staff had forgotten one tiny detail when they took our $25 deposit for a key to allow us to use the bathroom facilities after their office closed at 6 pm. That was to tell us that there was a locked gate between us and our boat for which we needed a numeric code. This was a bit disconcerting. I was prepared to scale the fence if needed even knowing that there were video cameras all over the place which might have invited a visit from the police but luckily Randall found one person left at the adjacent sailing club who could give us the code.
Early the next morning on returning from a run/bike ride on the waterfront "rails to trails" we spotted a groundhog (a.k.a. woodchuck) by the ramp down to our boat. About the size of a large crouching cat, it was just like the cute, furry creature from the film "Groundhog Day" (one of Randall’s favorite movies ever and our only previous experience with these rodents).
That evening we enjoyed another stroll through downtown Portland and ate at an excellent Thai restaurant for my delayed birthday dinner. Even though we had not finished the work on the heads (of course, it may never be finished), the forecast for the next few days was for rain and some stronger winds so rather than move to a mooring and bob around in the busy harbor of Portland for a few days, we decided to press on south to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
September 23, 2008
It was such a pleasure to see sunny cloudless skies that we decided to delay our departure south for a day and to get a bit of exercise. So Friday morning (Sept 19th) saw us catching one of the excellent, free buses that made a loop around the east side of Mount Desert Island. We stayed onboard for the whole loop to enjoy the tour down to Otter Cove and around Champlain Mountain and then got off at the last stop before returning to Bar Harbor. The bus started out fairly empty but soon filled up, mostly with passengers from the QE2 cruise ship which had joined us in the harbor early that morning. Apparently it was one of the last cruises for this well-known ship that entered service in 1969, as it is due to be decommissioned and turned into a floating hotel in Dubai in November. She doesn’t look particularly big now compared to the modern behemoths but she is still an elegant vessel and the passengers sounded happy with their cruise. We also overheard a conversation with a couple who had been on the smaller cruise ship the "Explorer" which sank last year in the Antarctic. There was much interest from the QE2 passengers in how they were evacuated and stayed warm…history did not relate how these folk had traveled to Mount Desert Island and whether they would ever go on a cruise again.
We had a fabulous, almost deserted walk from the National Park Service Nature Center at Sieur de Monts to the top of Dorr Mountain and then down and up again to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the islands at 1530 ft. The narrow valley between the two peaks is steep with stair-like climbs down and up the granite rocks. It was not an insignificant amount of exercise and we planned to return via another route to catch a bus on the west side of the peaks. The views were fantastic of Tregoning and the QE2 in the harbor and of the numerous islands all around. We had been up Cadillac twice before, by foot in July 2003 and by car with Shev and Martha on the morning of our wedding in October 2003 but Dorr Mountain was a new summit for us.
The top of Cadillac Mountain was teeming with people, most of whom had driven up and, like most of them, we could not resist stopping at the gift shop. It was as we left there that Randall made the gut-wrenching discovery that his wallet was missing. I still had mine so we were not stranded but the thought of having to replace all those ID and credit cards so far away from Florida was sickening. He remembered last using it when we paid for our Park Pass just before getting on the bus and had uncharacteristically put it in his unzipped pants pocket rather than his back-pack. We returned to the gift shop and filed a National Park Service "lost property" report. We also called the bus company, hoping that it had fallen out on the bus but with no joy. So with a wary eye on the times of the last buses (this being a part of the season with a reduced schedule) and Randall’s potentially tender knees, he set off towards the bus route and Bar Harbor via the Cadillac Ridge path (buses do not drive to the top) and I retraced our steps.
I scampered back along the well marked trails with my eyes glued to the ground and optimistic that the wallet would be at our lunch spot, on a large granite slab overlooking Bar Harbor, slightly off the trail. I reasoned that it might be easier to not notice something missing from one’s pocket after getting up, although we usually inspect our stopping places before leaving. Although I found the place and searched it thoroughly, I was not successful and I started to resign myself to the idea that it had either fallen out of sight between two rocks on some steep ascent or descent or had been found by some other hiker and may, or may not, be handed in somewhere. Having called him with the bad news and found he was still on his walk down, I also discovered that my phone battery was low so had to turn it off. Thus, it was not until 30 minutes or so later, when I turned it on again that I found he had left a message saying that the bus company had called and the driver, cleaning his bus, had found the missing wallet.
What a massive relief! It was with a much happier frame of mind that I got back to the bus stop just before the last bus of the day made its first pass at 5:15 pm. It seemed warmer to ride the bus on its loop than to wait in the cold for its return at 6:05 pm so I repeated the morning’s tour, arriving back in Bar Harbor at 6:15 pm, just 10 minutes after Randall. He had retrieved the wallet (with all its contents) from the Police Station and we celebrated our good fortune, and warmed up, with a meal out. Thank goodness for honest people! We are now more enamored with Mount Desert Island than ever…
Saturday arrived with a bit of a conflict of emotions as we wanted to progress south but the first really significant Gator football game of the season (versus Tennessee) was on TV that afternoon and we did not have TV coverage or fast enough internet access to watch it on the boat in Bar Harbor. So by way of a compromise we sailed around to Northeast Harbor (on the south side of the island and near our previous stop-over of Southwest Harbor) knowing that there was a sports bar there. The sailing was good, we got a mooring there easily, and having missed only the first quarter, we watched the Gators win 30-6. It was the last day of the season in the Tan Turtle where we snacked our way through the game and it was a little odd hearing everyone there talk about their winter plans…most of which included going to work in Florida.
Sunday dawned with little wind and a bit of cloud but we headed southwest between the islands. At one point we heard a Coast Guard request on the VHF for mariners to look out for and, if needed, assist a catamaran that was taking on water and we realized that it was just a couple of miles from us. We told the Coast Guard of our position and they said that someone else was on their way to assist but we could also go if we were willing. Knowing that you always hope that someone will help you in a similar circumstance, we diverted to where the boat had last been reported…noting that there were a fair number of lobster and sailing boats in the general area. Just as we got to the island where the boat had been last reported the Coast Guard broadcast a cancellation for the request (suggesting that the boat had recovered, received aid, or got to a port). Having motored into the light wind to get to the location described we then sailed downwind to our original point and, with an increased breeze, Randall then skillfully sailed us through Fox Thoroghfare, a 7-mile, narrow but beautiful channel between the islands of North Haven and (to our ears slightly oddly named) Vinalhaven. We spent the night on a mooring in Rockland, a harbor that features a lighthouse and large building at the end of a long breakwater. Since the breakwater is almost submerged the buildings appear from a distance to be isolated in the middle of the bay.
From Rockland we sailed to Boothbay Harbor, on another beautiful day along the spectacular, island-studded Maine coastline. For anyone who likes lighthouses, and many people do, a cruise along Maine’s coast is a must. There are interesting and spectacular structures on almost every headland and island and we were particularly impressed with the ones that had narrow walk-ways between the lighthouse and shore. Having not seen much sign of fall colors from our grand vistas on Mount Desert Island, we now started to see some color changes where there were deciduous trees dotted among the conifers that tower over the pink and white granite shoreline. Night temperatures had been in the 40-50F range and frosts were being reported inland. Water temperatures hovered around 56F, a significant factor in subsequent events.
As noted before, the floats from lobster pots are everywhere along this coastline and even straight runs across a bay become a slalom-track as one weaves to avoid them. Everyone (including lobster-fishers that we talked to) has stories of snagging floats and line on their propellers and we had so far avoided such a fate. But sailing across one bay we heard the ominous sound of an unseen float scraping along the side of the hull and then did not see it pop out from behind. Sure enough, and slightly unexpectedly given the protected position of our propeller and shape of our rudder, a float was caught and the line down to an unseen pot was being towed behind the boat. At least we were sailing not motoring, so I tried to dislodge the float or line with the (new) boat-hook while hanging on to the swim ladder off the stern. But it was hard to push the buoyant pole straight down and I was not successful. However, luckily for us as we tried to stop the boat by turning it into the wind, the float eventually broke off and the pot line disappeared. It was not so lucky for the pot owner or any doomed lobsters in the now unmarked pot. We briefly tested the motor to see if the propeller was all right and then sailed on. However, when we motored into Boothbay Harbor, Randall wondered if there was a new shudder at the wheel, raising concerns that some rope was wound around the propeller shaft after all.
So as soon at is was light enough in the water on Tuesday morning, I donned wetskins (not as warn as a wetsuit but much better than nothing), snorkel and mask, and diving knife and took a bracing dip. After pausing long enough at the bottom of the swim ladder to regain my breath (cold water causes involuntary and hasty gasps), I dived the short distance down to inspect the propeller and rudder. The water was clear and I could quickly see that all was well. In truth, it wasn’t quite as unpleasant as I had anticipated but not something I would recommend without a very good reason. Unless forced to do otherwise, we will continue our hull inspections in the Bahamas!
Motoring in calm, sunny conditions out of Boothbay Harbor (which looked very attractive from the boat but we decided not to go ashore) we saw our first common eider ducks (of the eiderdown comforter fame). The females are a modest brown but the males are a showy black and white with unusual white, upturned tufts on their back. We find that bird identification can be a bit more challenging at this time of year as some species, such as the many black guillemots we saw in Bar Harbor, are changing to their winter plumage. The loons that we see periodically, however, are unmistakable in their shape, colors, and evocative call.
September 18, 2008
It turns out that sometimes patience is rewarded. We waited in Purcells Cove in a damp boat under grey, wet, and, windy skies (the result of some of the residual bands of Hurricane Ike that had been so destructive in the Caribbean and Texas) until Tuesday morning when the forecasts were much more optimistic. The skies were still cloudy but it was time to go anyway. We had said farewell the previous evening to our four gracious, Halifax hosts with cheerful promises that we would catch up with each other during the winter (significantly, after hurricane season) in Florida or the Bahamas. How grateful we are to Ellen, Eric, Vince and Dianne for making our visits to the Halifax area so relaxing and enjoyable.
As we rounded Sambro Head, west of the Halifax approaches, the clouds started to break up and finally we saw the sun. The swells were fairly subdued and the wind was suitable for sailing on and off but we also motored when the wind direction was from dead ahead. Tuesday night arrived after a spectacular sunset and we decided to plow on to Bar Harbor without stopping, a total trip of 250 nm.
At 1 am when Randall took over the helm at the end of my 3 hour watch, I was greeted by a hearty rendition of "Happy Birthday" which made a rousing start to our first birthday at sea. It was beautiful day with sunshine, good sailing winds, small waves, and lots of whale sightings. None of the whales was very close but we saw some tail flukes that suggested that at least some of them were humpbacks. Randall finally remembered to shout "Thar she blows" on a couple of sightings of blows (water spouts) which tickled him considerably. At the beginning of my 10 am watch, I was presented with my birthday gifts (beautifully wrapped in eco-friendly, re-used newspaper) a much needed pair of fleece sweat-pants, wind-proof fleece vest, an illuminated alarm clock, and bottle of Nova Scotian raspberry dessert wine.
We had rounded Cape Sable, the southeastern point of Nova Scotia, at sunrise on Wednesday and had noted that for a short while the water temperature dropped 10F to 45F. However, unlike our previous rounding of this headland, there had been no fog and we had watched the lights along the southeastern coast all night and in the daylight could see the various islands surrounding the point. Currents were in our favor and propelled us like a sling-shot, at one stage passing between two islands at an over-ground rate of more than 10 knots, about twice the actual speed we were motoring through the water. Normally such a boost to our speed would be a fuel-saving blessing but in this case it did not help us because it would take us about 24 hours to cross the mouth of the Bay of Fundy to reach Bar Harbor at an average speed 5 knots. Although arriving near the harbor at daybreak would normally be reasonable, we remembered that there were lobster traps and associated floats throughout the waters approaching Bar Harbor and out as deep as 200 ft and we didn’t want to run over these and risk catching a line on the propeller in the dark. So we slowed down such that we should not arrive in the lobster-pot zone (about 20 nm from the harbor) until daylight.
The other incentive not to arrive too early was that we would have to wait to clear customs/immigration before we could go ashore and there is a fee if the request is made outside reasonable working hours. Rules about arriving in the US have changed over the years and the government websites are not entirely clear on what currently is, or is not, acceptable to bring in to the US in the way of food items. When arriving by plane, this is rarely an issue if one has bought gifts wisely but on a boat normally loaded with food supplies similar to what would be in most kitchens, there are all sorts of things that might not be allowed. So we ate well on this passage, using up all the fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, eggs, dairy products that we had. As it turned out, the only things we had to dispose of were a lemon and a lime. It is rather odd to be cooking meals based on how much one can use up of these types of food in a hurry.
The second night was uneventful until the fog descended during my 4 – 7 am watch. We had seen little other boat traffic during the night but at 6 am a huge signal started to show up on the radar, approaching us from behind. Luckily, we also have an Automatic Identification System (AIS) which identifies boats on our chart-plotter (electronic charts) that are transmitting a signal. All larger ships are supposed to transmit to this system and typically name, length, speed, distance, direction, etc. show up. We do not transmit but we pay an annual fee to allow us to see such data and for our GPS system to estimate things such as closest point of approach on current headings, time to closest point, etc. In this case, the combination of the AIS and radar was essential because it is not always easy to tell with just radar exactly what direction and speed another, close vessel is going. We have a large radar reflector on our mast which means that we should show up clearly on the other vessels’ radar but a 900 ft-long cruise ship traveling at 16 knots isn’t going to be able to avoid a small boat if either deviates unexpectedly from its heading.
As it was, the AIS showed us that on our current courses, the closest the cruise ship would come to us was 1.7 nm and sure enough it passed us at about that distance…which isn’t very far away. It was rather spooky because we could hear its fog horn and watch it pass us on the radar/AIS but never saw anything in the fog, not even a darkened shadow. Given that on the VHF radio we had heard two different cruise ships calling for pilots, it was a salutary lesson of how critical it is to have radar in such areas where fog is frequent. Unfortunately, the radar doesn’t help see the floats for the lobster traps so for a while I was look-out concentrating on the water just ahead of us, while Randall was at the helm and monitored the electronics. Luckily, the fog lifted by the time we got into the areas densely crowded with floats and we then had a relatively smooth passage into Bar Harbor.
As requested, we had contacted the US Customs Office in Maine about 24 hours ahead of our arrival by phone (somehow we had cell-phone coverage just off Cape Sable). They had instructed us to re-call when we were 2 hours away to get directions to a place to tie-up and meet the agents near their customs office in the Nova Scotia CAT ferry terminal. Shortly after doing this, we heard a Coast Guard message on the VHF radio that an exclusion zone had been set up 250 yards around The CAT ferry terminal which seemed a bit odd. After calling the Coast Guard to ask if this was likely to be lifted soon, we were directed to the Harbormaster and he was able to accommodate us at the town dock, a couple of miles away from the ferry terminal. A call to communicate this change in plans to the Customs Office, revealed that they were involved in The CAT "incident" and so our inspection might be delayed "a few minutes". Loosely translated as "a few hours", we waited patiently at the dock flying our yellow quarantine flag (showing no-one is allowed to leave or board until after the customs inspection) watching the chaotic comings and goings of the launches that ferried thousands of cruise-ship passengers back and forth from the two ships anchored just outside the harbor. But it was a beautiful, sunny day and we were happy for a rest so we really weren’t bothered by the wait.
Finally, a very apologetic customs agent arrived (who looked about 14 but was very efficient), explaining that there had been a bomb-threat on The CAT just before its departure, requiring evacuation of all passengers and searches by dogs and all available staff. They had also had to complete customs clearance for one of the cruise ships earlier so it had already been a busy day. Apparently we did not seem to be much of a smuggling risk so he declined our offer to go below and was satisfied with my brief list of Canadian purchases. After 15 minutes we were granted permission to lower our yellow flag and to step ashore.
In the brisk, sunny weather, it was a pleasure to see the town so busy and people obviously enjoying the excellent views of the boats and many tree-covered islands that surround Bar Harbor. After re-stocking with groceries and refilling our propane tanks (which had conveniently emptied just as I finished cooking our last hot meal of the crossing) we moved to a mooring and had a wonderful evening enjoying the sunset and view of Bar Harbor with Cadillac Mountain in the background and being grateful for our easy passage back to the US.
September 15, 2008
After I took an unexpectedly lengthy run (having forgotten the "not to scale" warning on the tourist map) on Thursday morning (with the unforgettable date of September 11th), we headed purposefully for the Lunenburg Farmers’ Market held at the community center just outside the downtown area. Although we did have bakery treats on our mind for breakfast, our real objective was to catch up with friends of ours who run a fresh-cut flower stand selling the products of Everett’s Flower Farm. It didn’t take us long to spot the brightly colored display, featuring dazzling sunflowers and glamorous gladioli, proudly offered by Everett and Jeanette Emino. A member of the Environmental Horticulture Department, Everett had worked for many years at the University of Florida and had been a faithful attendee of our Christmas parties. Although from Massachusetts, he had retired a few years ago to buy property in Simpsons Corner (about 20 miles inland from Lunenburg) on which to establish his dream of a small flower farm. Everett has many family connections in the area so he already knew it well and Jeanette is a native Nova Scotian, who had grown up in Halifax and taught for many years in Truro. We were their first visitors from Gainesville and they made us feel incredibly welcome.
With continuing clear skies and glorious sunshine, it was a beautiful morning to enjoy the lively ambiance of the Farmers’ Market and for Randall and I to wander a bit more around town and the nearby coves. The flowers sold well and by the noon closing time, our hosts were happy to lead us home where we would help gather more flowers for Friday’s market at Mahone Bay (just a few miles east of Lunenburg). Although most of the 100 acre property consists of beautiful forests (and we enjoyed a lovely walk there on Friday afternoon), the front few acres contain a blazing array of flowers and an extensive vegetable garden. Randall and I enjoyed the novelty of helping to cut and prepare flowers of many species but with numerous varieties of sunflowers, gladioli, and zinnia predominating at this time of year. It did not escape our attention that for just two people, the harvesting effort alone would not be insignificant so the Emino’s decision to only attend two to three markets a week seemed entirely sensible. On top of this (and, of course, all the soil preparation, sowing, organic cultivation, etc.) they were gradually improving their late 1800s house and managing the forest, so retirement for them was not an effortless time of rest and relaxation. But there was no masking their happiness and several of their market colleagues commented on what a happy couple the Eminos are.
Friday morning arrived with a light ground frost…a reminder that we needed to head south soon. Luckily the damage to the flowers still in the ground was not too bad but maybe the shoppers knew that the days for local, fresh flowers were limited. That day at the Mahone Bay market, the Eminos had the best sales that they had ever had, with every bunch of sunflowers scooped up. Randall and I like to think that we had some positive influence over this but the beautiful display of flowers, the sunny conditions, and the backdrop of the charming bay probably contributed much more. After an exploration of the small, picturesque town and then helping to dismantle the stall, it was with great satisfaction that we all returned to the flower farm for a more relaxed afternoon.
We learned a lot about flower production and Farmers Markets from the Eminos, and the ethos of local, sustainable (mostly organic) production is clearly well embraced by many in Nova Scotia. There is a huge Farmers Market in Halifax on Saturdays and Randall and I had passed through it the previous week on our way to pick up the rental car. It is crammed into the labyrinthine hallways around the Alexander Keith’s Brewery near the waterfront and is quite a tourist attraction although unless you know exactly what you are after it seems a bit intimidating. Given the distance, early start that would be needed, difficulties of parking and unloading, and greater competition, we could quite understand why the Eminos had decided not to tackle that particular market. In fact, there is a plan to move it to a new facility which is being decried because it would probably lack the unique style of the current rabbit warren, but it would certainly allow the Fire Marshall to sleep better at night.
With some reluctance, we had to drag ourselves away from the warm hospitality at Simpsons Corner early on Saturday morning. We had a pleasant (and thankfully deer- and moose-free) drive back to Halifax, stocked up with perishable groceries, and with great relief returned to find all well with both our dinghy and Tregoning. After returning the car, we did a little shopping in the city then caught the buses back to Purcells Cove. And here we are, catching up on some domestic chores while waiting for a good weather window (probably Tuesday morning) to put to sea and sail south. We will either stop once more in Nova Scotia or, more likely, sail for three days and two nights to get around Cape Sable, cross the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, and get to Bar Harbor, Maine.