May 09, 2009
Crosswinds is my first boat, a 28’ Albin Cumulus that I had just purchased. I had spent months searching the internet and driving from NY to Maine looking at every single Albin Cumulus for sale. The sale was complete by the first of May, and I was waiting for a week of good weather to sail her home to the World’s Fair Marina in Queens, New York.
Perhaps the pertinent background detail is that I had never before sailed more than about 5 miles. I was planning on having a more experienced friend help me out, but it turned out that none of the experienced sailors that I knew could get the time off work for the journey. So I called my friend Grant, who had never been on a sailboat before in his life. On the plus side, Grant has some experience with powerboats, and given a coat hangar and some duct tape, he can fix anything.
So Grant and I woke up to rain early Saturday morning. The plan was to load up the boat and depart for Rockport, MA around noon-ish. The drizzle was abating as we left our friend’s house with our rental car full of provisions and supplies we had purchased the night before. Crosswinds was on a mooring, so we motored over to a slip to load our tons of crap on board. The rain let up as we got all the stuff aboard, and sure enough it was a little before noon when we cast off for Rockport.
The day looked like it was going to turn out nice, maybe 60, with a nice breeze from the southeast, calm seas, and good visibility under a gray overcast. The first order of business was quick sailing lesson for Grant, so we tacked and jibed and hove-to and reefed and practiced man overboard recovery. In no time Grant was impatient to get headed toward Rockport, so we turned southeast to start our first leg of the journey.
As I mentioned, the wind was from the southeast, so we had to beat into the wind, which by now had picked up to maybe 15-20 knots. The seas were about 3 feet or so, I’d guess. Nothing for an experience sailor, but given my dearth of experience and Grant’s complete lack of experience, I was feeling a bit anxious. Still we tacked and tracked our ever slow progress on the GPS. Crosswinds is a bit tender, or so the previous owner had told me, and soon we had the rail buried as we sailed close hauled into the wind. Luckily the seas weren’t breaking over the bow, but we had a decent amount of pitching to go with the heeling.
About two hours into the voyage, Grant went below to rustle up some ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch (remember, we’re heeling over 30-35 degrees the whole time.) He come back into the cockpit, and I take one bite of my sandwich and know that this isn’t going to work. Grant has his sandwich finished before he notices that I only took one bite, but he happily finishes mine too. He takes over the helm, and I head down below to get some water. The minute my head is in the cabin, I know I’m gonna blow chunks. I rush back up to fresh air and stand on the ladder braced in the companionway facing the lee… and I have to say, to this day, I’m still impressed with both the force and volume that came out. So now I’m seasick, in winds that aren’t as fun as I would like, making excruciatingly slow progress toward a destination that I really want to make before nightfall (of course I had never sailed at night before.)
Luckily, Grant had no seasickness at all, and he was able to laugh at my projectile vomiting, and we entered the Rockport Harbor just as the sun was setting. The harbor master had told me over the phone to tie up on the floating dock near the head of the pier. The dock was anchored out about 75 feet from the pier, and she had left a skiff for us to row over in.
Just as we closed up the boat and got into the skiff, the skies opened up and started pouring rain. Big drops; cold, drenching rain. Grant and I were soaked to the bone by the time we rowed the 75 feet to the pier and walked the block to a pizza place for dinner. I couldn’t eat, maybe a few bites of lettuce, but I was awful glad to be on firm ground for a bit. By this time I could laugh at myself—The intrepid captain.
On the plus side, our navigation was flawless (ok, almost, we had to look a little for the harbor entrance in Rockport), and I though we did a pretty good job at the boat handling. All and all, not too bad of a first day, all things considered.
That night the wind started to howl, but were dry and warm and firmly tied up to the dock.
May 10, 2009
Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, dawned with the wind howling out of the southeast. Considering that discretion is the better part of valor, I decided to hunker down for the day and wait for the winds to settle down to more novice-appropriate levels.
Sometime in the night, another sailboat had entered the harbor and was tied up at the end of the dock. I asked the crew where they were from (City Island, New York) and where they were headed (Portsmouth, NH.) Being braver, or more hardy, or more experienced that we were, they motored out of the harbor into the 35 knot winds and following seas headed for Portsmouth. In a few hours they were back. I think they said something about ripped sails, but they weren’t really too talkative or friendly.
Grant and I went to the hardware store and spent the day working on a few odds and ends on the boat—replacing the fuel filter, replacing the alternator and water pump belts, fixing some interior fittings, taking off all the netting on the lifelines, and so on.
We also explored Rockport, which is a charming, albeit touristy, New England fishing village. I couldn’t eat anything all day.
May 11, 2009
Today’s journey was 54 nm from Rockport to Plymouth. I was a little nervous about crossing the shipping lanes into Boston. Visions of armadas of super-sized container ships barreling down on my little boat filled my head. I was also a little nervous about being 25 miles from land, which we would be in the middle of our leg.
Grant and I were up at dawn—5:00 AM. We hurried to get ready, cast off, and motored out of the harbor into the beautiful brightening morning. The Rockport harbor is small, and the entrance is narrow and bordered with solid looking rocks. We were just past the rocks when the chug-a-lug of our single cylinder Yanmar suddenly silenced to deafening quiet. The breeze was a gentle 7 or 8 knots out of the east, and I leapt to raise the main. Grant’s instincts were to head for the engine compartment, but I got him to help me raise the main and we were under sail in no time. I figured the only thing to do was to continue sailing. If worse came to worse, we could sail down to the harbor entrance at Plymouth and call for a tow in.
So, we rained the genoa, and sure enough, there’s a small tear just about 2 feet above the tack. So, here we are, two newbies with a dead engine and a torn sail at 5:20 AM. However, fortune was on our side, and we had sail thread and a needle on board courtesy of the previous owner (lesson learned, don’t leave home without it, or maybe some sail tape.)
I quickly got out my sailing basics textbook and looked up sail repair. In about 20 minutes the sail was sewn up with a rather crude looking cross stitch, and we could focus on the dead engine.
Once more, fortune was on our side because Grant used to be a diesel mechanic. That was a long time ago, in his youth, but he still could figure out Yanmar. Soon enough I was on the helm, sailing on a pleasant beam reach towards Plymouth as Grant started messing with the engine.
Turns out that we had let air in the fuel system when we changed the fuel filter. I guess we didn’t now about bleeding the fuel lines. Well, Grant was figuring all that out down below, with the low pressure and high pressure bleed ports and diesel fuel pumping all over the place. He was having me crank the engine while he figured out how to bleed the system. So I’m cranking and cranking and cranking and wondering how long the batteries are going to last. What I don’t know is that Grant is sort of figuring out the system by trial and error. So he has me crank and crank, and the batteries sound weaker and weaker and I’m getting more and more nervous. Finally, the engine sputters and chugs into life. We both breath sighs of relief and the engine quits again. Back to the cranking and bleeding, and when it finally seems like the batteries are on their last crank, the engine coughs and sputters into life. This time it keeps running.
Grant does his best to clean up the diesel fuel and wash up, and we keep the engine running to charge the batteries. Much to our chagrin, we don’t figure out that we can put the engine in gear and motorsail until about 20 minutes later. Now with both the engine and the wonderful breeze across our beam, we are making almost 8 knots of ground speed. We motorsail for another hour or so to charge up the batteries.
The sun is shining, Boston is glistening in the distance off our starboard beam, the seas are a gentle swell behind our port quarter, and my feared armadas of threatening container ships fail to appear. We see a few fishing boats and some sort of large anchored something that we have to alter course a few degrees to avoid. Grant says that he prefers this kind of sailing to the beating of the first day.
Before we know it, we’re at the entrance to Plymouth harbor and are taking the sails down and starting the engine (fires up right away). I take the helm and we motor in to Brewer’s Yacht Yard. I guess it is beginner’s luck, combined with gentle conditions, but I guide us into the slip like a pro. Two minutes after we ties up, a guy in a 45 foot trawler almost wipes out the dock as he tries to come in along side us. Lots of yelling and cursing. Makes me look really good.
It’s only 3:30PM, so Grant and I headed off to see Plymouth Rock and explore the town. Later we have dinner at the restaurant at the marina and settled in for the night feeling pretty good about how the day turned out.
May 12, 2009
Tuesday morning was time to set off for our next leg. I wasn’t sure how far we would get, but I wanted to leave after 8:00 AM to arrive at the Cape Cod Canal as the current was turning west.
Grant and I had an early breakfast, practiced backing into the fuel dock (with a quick theory-to-practice lesson on prop walk) and started out on another beautiful morning. Unfortunately, it was a rather calm beautiful morning. Once out of the Plymouth channel, we raised the sails, but there really wasn’t any wind to speak of.
I had read all of the regulations about transiting the Cape Cod Canal and had studied the current tables, but I wasn’t sure how my slow boat would mix with larger and faster traffic transiting the canal. Soon enough a huge barge being pushed by a tug passed by us, and the whole thing was a non event.
Now the more imminent concern was the darkening skies and cumulonimbus clouds building to the west of us. They looked pretty threatening to me, and that was confirmed by a look at the weather radar using Grant’s iPhone. technology sure is great. I figured the cells would move to the north of us, but I have always been an optimist.
We were out of the canal into Buzzard’s Bay when it became pretty obvious that the building storms were going to have a direct impact on us. We donned our foul weather gear and inflatable life jackets and hunkered down for the ride. There still wasn’t much wind and we had yet to raise the sails after transiting the canal. Sure enough, the rain started and the visibility decreased. The seas didn’t get too choppy, so we were doing pretty well, and we never got below about a mile or so visibility. Once more, luck was on our side and the storms never developed any convective activity, but the rain was pretty heavy. A few hours later we were through the line of storms and the sun broke out.
Still not much wind, but we raised the sails and figured that we could make Newport by nightfall. We rounded Easton Point and headed up the East Passage just as the sun was settling into the horizon. Newport Harbor was filled with all sorts of boats and ships, including a huge cruise ship.
That night we had a slip at the Newport Hotel and Marina at the affordable pre-season price of $1 per foot. I expected the marina to have all sorts of open slips since the dockmaster had told me to tie up in any spot I could find. Turns out that the marina was more crowded and tight than I had expected, and I was a little challenged maneuvering in the tight quarters, but we finally found an empty slip. My beginner’s luck at docking had expired, and I had too much speed going into the slip. Our leg ended with a sickening bang, but luckily no damage. A sailor from an old wooden boat flying a French flag came up and asked if we needed any help, but of course we didn’t need any more help by then. I got the impression that the French guy had sailed his little boat across the ocean by himself. Talk about a different league.
Grant and I went to the Black Pearl (all of 75 yards away) for a great dinner, at that was the end of another successful day.
May 13, 2009
I wanted to get as early a start as possible, so we woke up again at dawn and shoved off. Once more the brightening sky framed our departure out of Newport harbor, and we set off for the Long Island Sound. Again the winds were almost calm, but we hoisted the sails and turned west around Point Judith. The seas were smooth as a mill pond until we entered the Race, where we got some little waves, riplets really. There was a little breeze from the south, but not really much, so we continued to motorsail.
Gradually the wind increased a little and we were making a good 6 knots across the ground. Here comes the embarrassing part—once again the engine quits, but this time it becomes obvious that we have run out of fuel. I had been told that the engine would burn about 1/4 gallon per hour, and I thought we had a 9 gallon tank plus a 5 gallon can. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very disciplined in keeping track of the fuel burn or even how long we had been motoring. Turns out that the burn is more like 1/2 gallon an hour, and the tank holds 7.6 gallons. Plus I had stupidly already emptied the 5 gallon can into the tank. So much for better judgement.
However, once more fortune was shining on us, and the breeze picked up so we sailed along with on a pleasant beam reach making a steady 5 knots. I called TowBoatUS, hoping they could rendezvous with us to deliver some fuel. Turns out that they said they don’t so that, and the closest TowBoat facility was in Norwalk. A quick calculation showed us approaching the Norwalk harbor in about 5 hours, at about 9:00 PM. I set up a rendezvous point with the TowBoat and told them that I would call an hour out.
By this time Grant was pretty much over the experience. He doesn’t do too well sitting still, and the boat was way too slow for him. I felt like the biggest idiot on earth, and Grant was blaming himself also. But, the wind was still blowing, we were still sailing, and it looked like it would work out to make Norwalk by 9:00. Luckily for Grant, his phone rings, and it is his office asking him if he can cut short his vacation and come back to work. He’s practically doing back flips of elation as he tells his office yes.
Unfortunately the wind starts to die down, and it becomes clear that we’re not going to make it to Norwalk under our own power—er, sail. We are eventually becalmed just past Bridgeport, luckily out of the way of the ferries running between Bridgeport and Port Jefferson. I called TowBoat and they headed out from Norwalk to find us.
TowBoat showed up about 9:00 PM and tossed us a line. The TowBoat skipper hauled us at a breathtaking, or rather, nerve-wracking speed through all of the Norwalk Islands into Norwalk Cove Marina. I never would have attempted this approach on my own, but all I had to do was steer behind the TowBoat and pray that the skipper knew the area and had a good chart plotter (and of course he did on both accounts.) He snugged us right up to the fuel dock at 10:00 PM. Still feeling like a first class idiot, I tipped him $50 and sighed a sigh of relief to be once again safely tied up to the dock.
May 14, 2009
My embarrassment hadn’t subsided much over the night, and I still pretty much felt like the biggest loser on earth when I woke up Thursday morning. We were still on the fuel dock, and the marina hadn’t opened yet, but nasty looking, scuddy clouds ladened the skies, and the weather forecast was for some nasty stuff to move in with rain and strong winds.
Grant wanted to make it to Stamford, all of 8 miles away, because we have a friend with a boat there that he hadn’t seen in some time.
The marina guy shows up at 8:00 AM, and we fill up (7.6 gallons in the tank, plus the 5 gallon can.) I’m inclined to wait out the weather, but maybe, if we get going, we can motor over to Stamford before the worst of it hits.
The marina guy is all chatty, offering all sorts of advice. Of course, I’m not going to admit that we were tugged in last night. He asks me if we went all the way west to the channel entrance to get in, and, stupid me says “No, we came in through the islands.” I could immediately tell that he thought we were the luckiest and stupidest idiots he had run into in a long time. I let it ride, and we quickly bled the fuel system (pros at that now) and cast off.
Both of us were wearing the inflatable life vests and had tethers to clip in, and we motored out the channel with a gusty, strong (for me) wind from the north east, which is about square off our port beam.
I’m on the tiller watching the channel marker ahead of me as Grant is bringing in the fenders, a little bit nervous and thinking of my old motto “Discretion is the better part of valor.” Suddenly a loud, annoying buzzing sounds and I’m wondering, “WTF is that??” The boat softly runs aground and swings to the starboard, with the stern into the wind. I jam it into reverse and full throttle as Grant rushes back to the cockpit, yelling something at me. We monetarily get free, then as I try to turn us around we run aground again. By now, Grant is pretty much fed up with my seamanship and literally tears the tiller out of my hands and shoves me aside while he maneuvers the boat free. We’re back in the channel in about 2 minutes, and I have learned a valuable lesson about wind drift and eyeing both the marker in front of me and in back of me to make sure we are indeed going in a straight line.
So Grant gives up the tiller again, and I’m now suffering from the ignominy of running out of gas and running aground in less than 24 hours. But, there’s no time for wallowing in self pity, so we forge ahead. As we exit the channel, there are nasty looking rocks off our starboard side, rough 4 or 5 foot waves breaking over the bow from port side, and gusty 25 knot winds across the port beam. The frigid waves are crashing over the bow and soaking us. Thank God the cockpit drains work well. Our little engine is putt-putting along, occasionally with a change in sound, which it always does, but I’m getting convinced that it is going to quite again. Now, I’m really questioning my judgement. I’m not sure I could sail in these conditions, and if the engine quits we’re going to be bashed against the rocks. Hopefully we’d be able to climb up on a rock and not die of hypothermia before we get rescued.
I’m pretty much convinced that our inflatable life jackets are going to blow as the waves drench us with frightening force, but we’re making slow and steady progress. I had no idea how much the boat would wallow in the seas, and the fierce looking skies start spitting heavy, harsh rain drops to add to the spray and breaking waves. Once again, we are fortunate enough to be able to see the markers and our GPS is a lifesaver.
After an eternity (terror slows time), we reach the entrance to Stamford harbor. Once inside the breakwater I sigh a huge sigh of relief, and our friend guides us into a slip at his marina. I’m discovering that my favorite part of sailing is securing the docking lines to big, sturdy cleats on a substantial looking dock.
After a breakfast with some edited stories (I don’t mention running out of gas, but I do tell about running aground), I drive Grant to his house in Hartford so he can go to work the next day. He’s mostly silent on the drive, and I’m guessing that he’s questioning his judgement about even being friends with me. I’m pretty sure that he is inwardly ecstatic about being done with the adventure.
I drive back to my apartment in New York, and enjoy a long, hot shower and sleeping in my own bed that night. The 25 mile sail from Stamford to Queens should be a cinch when the weather passes.
May 15, 2009
Friday morning dawns bright and clear with just a light breeze. I call my friend Chris and ask if he wants to sail with me for the last leg from Stamford to Queens.
We manage to get to Stamford, buy some sandwiches and drinks, and get to the marina by noon. In no time we are motoring out of the channel and hoisting the sails as we set course toward City Island and the western end of the Long Island Sound.
Chris is an experienced sailor — racing, crossings to Bermuda, been sailing since he was a kid. Today, however, we didn’t need a whole lot of experience. The winds were light, but we motor-sailed some and leisurely-sailed some, enjoying the views of Greenwich and Rye. We passed by City Island, where I had learned to sail, on a gentle run and soon were gliding under the Throgs Neck and Whitestone bridges into the East river.
We ogled at the planes landing at La Guardia, and we dropped the sails to motor into the channel in Flushing Bay around 5 PM. It was a beautiful sail on a beautiful day with a fine friend.
We tied up in my slip at World’s Fair Marina, and my foolhardy, thrilling, and enlightening adventure came to a close.