Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cape Cod Canal cruise

This morning found us anchored in Onset Bay, near the community of Onset in the town of Wareham, Massachusetts (map). We really did not need to make the stop, as we arrived early enough, and with plenty of flood tide remaining, to complete the entire Cape Cod Canal and on to Plymouth bay. We had heard, though, that it was a pretty stop and had a good pizza joint.

Onset Harbor from our deck. That's the canal rail bridge to the right. These marinas are a ways from town; the town dock was not visible from deck, obscured by Wickets Island.

We had timed our departure from Wood's Hole right at the tail end of the ebb, to have a push through the hole and then a favorable flood current all the way up Buzzards Bay. That put us in Hog Island Channel, officially part of the canal, just approaching maximum current. As we turned into the regulated channel I called Canal Control to check for heavy westbound traffic and give them a heads-up, even though, being less than 65' overall, we are not required to report.

As we arrived at the entrance from the canal to Onset Bay channel, we had three knots of current with us. To make the tricky turn, I ended up turning the boat 90° a good hundred feet or so before the turn, letting the current carry us sideways until I had the inlet lined up on the nose. A quick burst of throttle shot us out of the canal and the current, and it was a more or less normal cruise from there to the bay.

At dinner time we splashed the tender and rode the half mile or so to the free town dinghy dock. We walked up the hill to Marc Anthony's and enjoyed a classic meal of pizza with a pitcher of beer. Afterwards we wandered around the small town before returning to the boat. This is clearly a vacation town, but with a very different vibe than Newport or Martha's Vineyard, a bit more down-to-Earth.

The Massachusetts Maritime Academy, along the canal in the town of Buzzards Bay.

This morning we relaxed at home, waiting on another favorable tide to finish our journey through the Cape Cod Canal. The currents in the canal are fierce, up to four knots or so in the middle of the man-made portion, and getting the timing wrong can be a costly mistake. We weighed anchor at 1:30 and had so much of a push that we struggled to keep to the canal's speed limit. Once again we contacted Canal Control before entering the regulated channel.

Approaching the railroad bridge with its decorative tower caps. You don't want to see this down with three knots behind you.

Trails line both sides of the canal and we saw quite a number of people out on a beautiful day taking advantage of them. There was even a busload of tourists at the visitor center in Sandwich, which we had visited when we were here in Odyssey. I had to steer by hand through much of the canal, with over three knots behind us at one point and plenty of eddies and riffles to cross, so I did not get as many photos as I would have liked. I did, at least, capture the three bridges we passed under; we made certain the railroad bridge was fully raised before we even entered the canal.

The Bourne Bridge. No relation to Robert Ludlum.

The Sagamore Bridge. We went over both of these in Odyssey.

As I type, we are under way across Cape Cod Bay, dodging lobster pot floats. One consequence of the late timing of the tide right now is that we could not make Boston Harbor in a single day, so tonight I expect to be anchored in Plymouth Bay someplace. That would be the very same Plymouth of Rock and Plantation fame, where the pilgrims landed, but we have no plans to go ashore. Tomorrow we will make Boston Harbor, with a short detour outside the three-mile limit to discharge our tanks.

This piece of art faces the canal, depicting an earlier version of the canal.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Eleven years on the run

We are under way across Buzzards Bay, heading towards the Cape Cod Canal from Wood's Hole. Although I had planned for just an overnight stop, we ended up spending a lovely two nights anchored in the Great Harbor of Wood's Hole, Massachusetts (map).

Nobska Point Light, approaching Wood's Hole.

I found it odd, when planning our stop, that there were no anchorages listed anywhere in Wood's Hole, despite the enormous size of the well-protected harbor. Upon arrival, we soon found out why, as the entire basin is filled with moorings. We found a spot on the very edge of the mooring field, and anchored on a short 4:1 scope in 40'-50' of water. Still, it was a great spot.

Just a few of the many Wood's Hole "houseboats" moored in the harbor, with $15M houses in the background.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner on deck, with a view of the harbor and its funky floating summer cottages, interspersed with myriad sailboats and the occasional powerboat. Three of the mooring balls are for transients, run by the yacht club, and these were our closest neighbors. On our other side was moored the storied R/V Knorr, which carried the team and equipment that discovered Titanic, among many other scientific achievements. Knorr is being decommissioned after a long career, replaced by the R/V Neil Armstrong.

R/V Knorr, owned by the US Navy and operated by WHOI, at the WHOI docks.

In the morning we dropped the tender and headed ashore to explore the small town. The dinghy dock is in the even more protected Eel Pond, which has enough depth for Vector but is also filled to the brim with moorings (these, at least, I expected). The bascule bridge at the entrance is just four to five feet above the water, so even in the dinghy we had to duck.

The entire town has the look and feel of a college campus. Between the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), the Marine Biological Laboratory, and NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center, virtually the entire village revolves around science and visiting and resident scientists. As such, it's a real community, with a community center and other town services for actual residents, a refreshing change from our recent spate of stops in places where the principal industry is tourism and high-end vacation homes.

Vector at anchor in Great Harbor, as seen from WHOI.

Wood's Hole does have a small tourist district, since this is the other terminus of the ferry system to Martha's Vineyard. We've watched the same ferries coming and going here that we saw at the other end, although they were a bit further from us here. This morning, the ferries were accompanied by an armed Coast Guard escort, with the 50-caliber guns both mounted and manned. I'm not sure what that was about, but if I had to guess I would say the Secret Service and the military have been offloading all the gear they brought to the island for the President's vacation; he departed the island on Marine One Sunday afternoon.

After walking all around town, including the ferry terminal, we spent some time in the visitor exhibit center for WHOI before heading back to the tender. Even though we had more or less seen the whole town, it was so refreshing to be here that we decided to spend a second night. That would give us a chance to sample a local restaurant, and also see the Woods Hole Science Aquarium this morning, as it is closed on Sunday and Monday.

In celebration of our 11th anniversary of full-time nomadic living, we had a nice dinner overlooking the ferries at Quicks Hole Tavern. The place was packed, so we ate at the bar, where a clearly local crowd chatted us up. We ended up making the acquaintance of one of the local scientists, but this was his off-season gig; his day job is one of the endowed chairs of Neuroscience at Harvard. We talked boating.

This morning we tendered back in to town for the 11am opening of the aquarium (part of NOAA's fisheries office) which was small but interesting. After returning to Vector we immediately hoisted the tender and made ready to depart, so we could have a favorable tide both through "Wood's Hole" (the hole, or pass through the islands, rather than the eponymous town) and up Buzzards Bay. This afternoon we should be anchored in Onset Bay, near the town of that name, to position ourselves for a canal transit tomorrow afternoon.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Vacationing with the Obamas

We are anchored in the harbor at Vineyard Haven, in the town of Tisbury on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts (map).  As luck would have it, President Obama and his family are vacationing on the island right now as well, but other than Vector being overflown by a VH3-D Sea King in presidential white-top livery yesterday afternoon, we have not been impacted by his visit. The same can not be said for patrons of the annual Ag Fair yesterday morning, where an impromptu visit apparently brought everything to a standstill.

Sakonnet Light, which we passed close aboard. The rocks look ominous, but the water gets very deep just a few feet away.

Thursday we had a pleasant cruise from Fall River, down the Sakonnet, rounding Sakonnet light and heading due east across Rhode Island Sound and Buzzards Bay to Cuttyhunk Island, the outermost of the Elizabeth Islands. The Sakonnet was quite lovely, and we were surprised by how few boats we saw, a stark contrast to the other side of Aquidneck Island.

We dropped the hook in Cuttyhunk's outer harbor (map), a couple hundred feet from a bell buoy that chimed for us all night. We had a nice dinner aboard, with the starkly beautiful Nashawena Island, just east of Cuttyhunk, as a backdrop. Shortly after we arrived, the enormous three-masted schooner Arabella anchored a short distance away.

Louise pointing out Vector in the harbor from the top of the hill. That's Nashawena in the background.

Friday morning we splashed the dinghy and tendered in to the docks in the inner harbor, known as Cuttyhunk Pond. Both the channel and the pond are deep enough for Vector but there is no room to anchor, with the pond completely full of moorings. We strolled around the island, admiring the well-kept, typical southeast New England architecture, and taking in the breathtaking views from the top of the modest hill mid-island.

We stopped at the small general store for fresh milk on our way back to the tender; there are no other stores on the island, and the lone "restaurant" is a pizza shack with a few picnic tables in the driveway. We enjoyed our walk through this quaint village that few people ever see.

We just happened to stop the chain with one of the freshly-painted marks right at the gypsy. This one is 100'.

We weighed anchor shortly after noon for the three hour cruise to Martha's Vineyard. Access to Vineyard Sound directly from Cuttyhunk is via a narrow, shallow channel with a tricky current, inadvisable without local knowledge. Instead, we steamed east-northeast past the north shore of Nashawena and cut across at Quicks Hole, where we found three knots of current behind us in the hole (the local parlance for a cut through the archipelago) and I had to steer by hand to keep her steady.

While less pronounced than coming through the hole, we also had between one and two knots of favorable current all the way up Vineyard Sound until the final turn around the north end of Martha's Vineyard. We made great time, with the hook set mid-afternoon before the harbor filled up for the weekend. We got a nice spot close to the breakwater; an hour later and we would have been twice as far from town.

This is a busy harbor, with a constant parade of ferry boats coming and going. The car ferries are operated by an outfit known as The Steamship Authority, though it has no steamships. The community dinghy dock is adjacent to the ferry slips in the inner harbor, where a number of moorings are also available.

A pair of ferries cross paths just north of us. These two behemoths are not even the largest ferries that call here.

We had a relaxing dinner on the aft deck Friday, and were treated to a fireworks display in the evening, across the spit in Oak Bluffs, the annual benefit for the fire department there. Afterwards we got to watch the conga line of cars across the causeway trying to get from Oak Bluffs to elsewhere on-island.

I spent some time Friday afternoon looking into island tours. It's a big island, and with no easy way to offload the scooters, I wanted to find some alternative means to see more than just Vineyard Haven. That proved to be a bit of a challenge; there are no regularly scheduled tour buses or trolleys. Instead, tours are offered by local transportation companies in vans, at $80 per hour with choices of one, two, and four hour tours. Not bad if you can scrape together six or seven people, but a bit steep for just two. Scooters are also rented on the island, at $100 for the day, or we could have rented a car for about $80.

What I learned in the process is that the island has an extensive transit system, with a dozen bus lines covering the whole island. Eight dollars buys an all-day, all-lines pass, and we opted to pony up just $16, rather than ten times that much, to spend a couple of hours getting around the island. There are six towns on the island, and we opted to see three of them on a combination of three bus lines in a big loop. We also made a short excursion on a fourth line to the quilt shop a couple of miles from here, but it turned out that this trip was within the park-and-ride free fare zone.

The buses were quite comfortable and the drivers were happy to answer our questions. On our first ride we learned that Vineyard Haven is "dry," meaning there are no bars or package sales, although you can get a drink with dinner at a handful of restaurants. That would help explain why the next stop, Oak Bluffs, is a much busier place. There is a harbor there, too, but it is tiny, with no "outside" anchorage, and one must take a mooring ball. Moreover, when it gets busy, the harbormaster assigns more than one boat to a ball, and rafting is mandatory. Not our style.

The best I could do to capture Oak Bluffs Harbor. If you look closely you can see boats rafted up on the moorings.

We disembarked the bus at Oak Bluffs to walk around town. We opted to skip the country's oldest carousel, which is hidden away inside an arcade building. There is a large ferry landing here, too, and the fast ferries from Manhattan land here. On this, one of the busiest weekends of the year, the town was packed. We boarded another bus for the ride to Edgartown.

In Edgartown we again strolled the town, with its characteristic architecture harking back to the days when whaling crews called it home. As with all of Martha's Vineyard, the town is filled with shops hawking merchandise to tourists, in this case very upscale merchandise -- this is a spendy place to vacation. You might think you'd need to be President or something. Speaking of which, across the channel from Edgartown is Chappaquiddick Island, whose name is synonymous with an incident that likely kept Ted Kennedy out of the White House. We opted not to board the minuscule ferry for a visit.

The Edgartown Harbor from the observation deck atop the town pier. Chappaquiddick is on the left and Martha's Vineyard is on the right; the two islands are currently connected by a sand bar (center) that comes and goes over the decades.

From Edgartown we hopped on another bus for a quick 20-minute loop down to South Beach, one of the many picturesque sandy beaches on the island. This one was once home to fixed artillery emplacements, some ruins of which can be seen from the bus. We did not even get off, electing to simply enjoy the view from the bus and return to the Edgartown terminal. From there, the cross-island bus brought us back to Vineyard Haven.

That was plenty of touring. With another hour or so we could have taken another two buses and stopped in the other towns as well, but this is the height of tourist season and we had reached our bag limit. Seriously, after seeing the identical stores and restaurants in three places, three more seemed more of a chore than an adventure.

After returning to Vineyard Haven I put some fuel in the dinghy, then we walked over to the Copper Wok for dinner -- it's been a long time since we had Chinese food, and we've pretty much overdosed on quaint seafood houses now. We also knew it was one of the places in town where we could get a beer.

This morning we went back ashore for breakfast at the Art Cliff Diner, a Martha's Vineyard institution. We had a half hour wait on a Sunday morning, but the food was worth it. A provisioning stop at the Stop & Shop supermarket rounded out our visit, and we decked the tender when we returned. In a few minutes we will get under way for Wood's Hole.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Alive with pleasure

We ended up spending three nights in Newport, Rhode Island, anchored between Goat Island and the eastern approach to the Claiborne Pell Bridge (map). We squeezed in between two enormous sailboats, including a sailing cat that was 76' long and 30' wide; I estimated the mast height at close to 90'. We were quite comfortable, and it was much easier than hunting for a spot in the harbor south of the Goat Island connector.

Sunset over Jamestown and Rose Island from our deck.

I had figured on a fairly short stay in Newport. We had stopped in Odyssey in 2009, and on that visit we unloaded the scooters and did the Ocean Loop Drive, passing many of the stately mansions, Fort Adams, Brenton Point, the downtown wharf areas and most of the other must-see spots in town. On this visit we wanted to have a more relaxing time on the waterfront and maybe enjoy a meal or two.

Approaching Newport. Pell bridge, with Rose Island at center. Newport harbor is to far right. I don't know whose house that is on an island by itself to the left.

I remember thinking at the time how nice it was going to be to dock right near the wharves and just stroll off the boat into downtown, but this was before I ever lifted a cruising guide. Thus I had no concept of just how expensive docks are in this part of the world; nothing in Newport is less than $4.50 per foot, plus power, and many docks are more than that -- the one closest to the shops and restaurants is $5.50 per foot. That's $250-$300 per night to dock Vector, and for that stately sum no one makes our bed or changes the towels.

Ironically, we paid nothing at all to be here in the bus, parking for the night behind the Walmart a mile from downtown, where we truly could have walked had we chosen to do so. The good news here is that Newport is a cruiser-friendly town and free dinghy tie-ups abound, including one on the aforementioned $5.50/ft wharf with a six-hour limit, and the municipal dock good for all day. This latter dock is just a block from the transit center.

The Castle Hill Inn, formerly the estate of Alexander Agassiz, with perhaps two weddings in progress.

Arriving, as we did, just before sundown on Sunday, we did not even splash the tender until Monday. Still, we got to see quite a bit, as the approach from the sea provides a very different perspective on Newport's many mansions, and a weekend arrival meant we cruised right through the wedding photographs of perhaps a half dozen newlywed couples.

Castle Hill Light, still a working navigation aid. You can see a bride posing to the left.

Monday afternoon we went ashore, tendering under the Goat Island connector, past the Newport Harbor Light and the hideous 60's-era Hyatt hotel on the island, and landing at Bowen's Wharf. We strolled the town a bit, had a beer at an open-air cafe overlooking Thames Street watching the hordes of tourists go by, and had a nice dinner at The Moorings restaurant overlooking one of the marinas.

The historic Newport Harbor Light, looking like a piece of decor for the ugly Hyatt behind it.

At the end of the day I had figured to be done, but the tide tables called for a very early departure Tuesday, or else an arrival past dinner time, and we decided it was easier all around to just stay put another day, and maybe run some errands, in the town with a cigarette named after it.

Tuesday, then, we tendered back ashore to the municipal dock, backpacks in hand, and boarded a city bus for the trip out to the very same Walmart we had stayed at six years ago. One of the things we miss the most about life on the bus was extremely easy access to provisions, and on the boat we've adjusted our price expectations up considerably. When we can get to a big-box store, we load up, and this time we came back with enough nuts, drink mix, razors, tissues, and other sundry items to fill both packs and another large bag. As usual, we were the only out-of-towners on the bus.

While we were out, the wind had picked up, whipping the seas into a frenzy, and we had quite the challenge disembarking the tender and getting all the provisions aboard without sending any to a watery demise. By dinner time, though, things had calmed down a bit, and we braved another damp tender ride. This time we landed at the much closer Elm Street pier for a pleasant walk through the historic district to the Perro Salado Mexican restaurant, in a house dating to the 17th century.

The ride back from dinner was in nearly flat calm conditions, and we decked the tender in anticipation of an early departure this morning with the tide. Since we arrived in Newport from the south, via the Narragansett Bay East Passage, we opted to leave to the north, keeping Conanicut and Prudence islands to port, and Aquidneck, officially "Rhode Island" (the state itself is technically the "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations") to starboard.

Hog Island Shoal Light.

We set a course for Fall River, Massachusetts, on the Taunton River, across Mount Hope Bay. We'd been through Fall River on Odyssey, and I had no particular reason to return in the boat, but it was a sensible interim stop to time the tide change to head south into the Sakonnet River, which will take us back to Rhode Island Sound. I had figured to anchor either in Battleship Cove, near the USS Massachusetts, or else on Borden Flat, west of the lighthouse. Perhaps we would tender in for dinner, or to visit the historic warships.

Naval War College.

It was a very picturesque cruise, passing Rose Island with its lighthouse, the Naval War College in Newport just after crossing under the Pell bridge, and historic Jamestown on Conanicut Island. We had plenty of lighthouses, several bridges, more homes preserved from centuries past, and even a glimpse of Providence in the distance.

Mount Hope Bridge, with powerplant cooling towers in the background.

About halfway through, it occurred to me that we were not going as fast as we should be, given a favorable current. We've been noticing more and more growth on the hull, which had been fairly clean when I last worked on it in June in the Bahamas. But two months in the more nutrient-rich brackish waters of the Chesapeake, New York, and New England has taken its toll, and we've been saying for a couple of weeks now that we need to find a diver to clean the bottom.

That's a service that one typically finds at a marina. As we were heading inland toward Fall River it dawned on us that we'll probably not see a marina for less than $3 per foot anywhere in our cruising plans for the next month or two, other than right here, in Fall River. Thus we are now docked at the $2.50/ft Borden Light Marina, across the channel from the eponymous lighthouse (map).

Borden Flat Light.

Once this realization dawned, I called ahead to the marina and asked if they had any divers to recommend who could come out this afternoon. They called one for us and told us he could be available late this afternoon and had quoted a price that, while higher than what we've paid thus far, seemed fair to us for this part of the country. Once we had the commitment for the diver, we booked a slip.

Approaching Fall River. Marina is on the right; battleship beyond the bridge.

When we had figured to anchor, it did not matter that we would arrive ahead of slack, but docking the boat is a different story. With a half hour to kill before slack, we continued upriver past the marina, under the bridge and up to Battleship Cove on a mini harbor tour before returning to the marina to dock. It was a tight slip, just inches away from an Albin 43, but we slid in bow-first without drama.

USS Massachusetts.

And so today turned into something of a work day. As long as we had the bow over a dock, we spooled out the first hundred feet of anchor chain and I re-painted the 50' and 100' marks, which were so badly faded that Louise was sometimes missing them go by. I also hit the anchor hammer-lock with a coat of cold galvanizing spray and touched up the anchor itself in a few places.

Vector has developed a "mustache" -- a brownish stain on the lower sections of the bow, corresponding to the water pattern of the "bow wave," an artifact of the tannin-laced waters of the Chesapeake and the ICW. As long as we had good access to the bow from the low floating docks, I attacked the mustache with a long-handled scrub brush and undiluted lemon juice. While not gone entirely, it is much less noticeable now.

I also did some maintenance on the anchor roller, easily reached while standing on the dock, and worked on a problem with the flybridge chart plotter. Additionally, I added some drain holes to our portable boarding steps, which had become somewhat waterlogged. I did, however, manage to find some time for a dip in the marina's pool.

The diver started at 4:30 and did not wrap up until past 6:30, by which time we were ready for dinner. We wandered over to the joint right in the marina, the Tipsy Seagull, seeing as we had gotten a couple of free drink coupons from the marina when we checked in. Considering it was a Wednesday, the place was hopping, with a decent one-man live music act playing our kind of music (and, mind you, this was a younger crowd). It was bar food, but the burgers were good and the draft beer cold. Thus it is that we've been here a full day and have not left the marina.

Louise enjoying dinner and drinks at the Tipsy Seagull.

Tide dictates that we shove off right at 11am tomorrow. If I get really ambitious, I might march over to the battleship and spend an hour before we leave. I have no desire to see Lizzie Borden's house (now a bed and breakfast). The shoals here and the lighthouse that guards them are named for the elder Bordens, not the infamous daughter.

Sunset from the docks.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Bumper boats

We are under way on Block Island and Rhode Island sounds, en route to Newport. At the moment we are between Block Island and Point Judith, having left the Great Salt Pond anchorage around 3:15 this afternoon.

We had a nice two-night stay at Block Island. It was a bit noisy at times, but that was made up for by the free entertainment. Honestly, I was not expecting to blog from Block Island again, but it was such a zoo that I can't resist.

We started our day yesterday morning with breakfast delivered right to our boat, by, I kid you not, The Bakery Boat. This boat roams the harbor in the morning selling fresh baked goods and warm breakfast sandwiches. In the afternoon they sell snacks and lighter fare, and later they sell fresh seafood including shrimp cocktail. We only sampled the breakfast offerings.

The bakery boat departs Vector for his next customer.

Boats had continued to arrive in the harbor Friday night even after I posted here, and Saturday morning, though a handful of boats left, the harbor became even more crowded. We watched the chaos of boats trying to find moorings and jockeying for anchor spots over coffee on our deck.

After a frustrating morning of trying to catch up on email on an incredibly slow connection, I decided to go ashore, scope out dinner options, and walk the mile across the island to the old harbor and downtown New Shoreham.

I very much enjoyed my stroll through town, even though it is clearly a giant tourist trap. The old-fashioned hotels are quaint, and outdoor dining options overlooking the water abound. There is a price to be paid; everything on the island costs 50%-100% more than on the mainland. I would love to have stayed on this more vibrant side of the island, but one look at the old harbor confirmed what I knew from the chart: there's really not room for Vector there.

One of the downtown hotels at the old harbor.

No sooner had I started on my way back to the new harbor side, with a planned stop at the grocery store in the middle, than my phone lit up with a barrage of text messages from Louise about boats dragging across the anchorage. Now, mind you, this is in light winds of 10-12 knots, gusting to 18. Seriously? Do folks really know that little about how to anchor?

The harbormaster and his team seem to just expect this to happen every weekend, and between the harbormaster's launch, the Marine Patrol boat, and the local TowBoatUS concessionaire, they managed to snatch up each dragging boat before it did any damage, hauling up their anchors and moving them to emergency mooring balls set aside for just this purpose. When these skippers came looking for their boats later, they would find they'd been moved, with a city invoice for $45 for the mooring plus any towing fees.

I missed most of the action; by the time I got back to Vector with a handful of groceries and some beer, the harbormaster had already carted away most of the wayward boats. I did get to see just a single capture while we enjoyed a beer on the aft deck. The deckhand on the harbormaster's boat had to haul this guy's anchor and all-chain rode up by hand. This crew did not learn their boat was moved until after midnight, when I saw the launch service ($4 per person per ride) wandering around our part of the anchorage, and I called him on the radio to let him know some boats dragged and were moved.

Vector's anchor never moved an inch, despite being on only a 4:1 scope, and the whole episode left us shaking our heads. Perhaps this accounts for the popularity of mooring balls here, whereas we had been wondering who would pay $45 per night when anchoring is free. With our anchor well set (and AIS tracking on my phone), we headed ashore for dinner.

When I had scoped out the harborside dining options earlier in the day, I found most places took no reservations and had fairly long waits for tables. That's consistent with the harbor being crowded and also the plethora of No Vacancy signs I saw all over town. We opted to tender in to Champlin's Resort and Marina, where the restaurant accepted reservations.

I was expecting the restaurant to be The Harborview, according to the resort's web site, with American/seafood fare, but we arrived to find it is now La Cucina and carries an Italian menu. The hostess acknowledged the web site is out of date. The reservations proved unnecessary, as the place was not full, perhaps because no one can find it on any restaurant site or app. That newfangled Internet thingy is hard, apparently.

Dinner was tasty enough, if overpriced, even by island standards. From our table on the deck, we could see the resort's rental boat fleet, ironically including a handful of actual bumper-boats (like these), in keeping with today's title and theme. After dinner we decided to walk through the marina, to see how the other half lives. We were blown away by what we found.

We expected the marina to be full, given how full everything else on the island is. What we did not expect was to find boats in the marina rafted five across and three deep, with power cords running every which way. You walk across your neighbors' swim platforms to get to the dock, and docking is strictly a first-in, last-out affair. I could not get a photo that could remotely capture the sardine-can nature of this arrangement.

"We're a rafting marina."  Yes. Yes, you are.

The docks were festively decorated for Halloween, and when we stopped at the dockmaster's office we learned it's the annual Halloween party; we noticed a number of boaters in costume. The Christmas party is held on Labor Day weekend; when your whole season lasts three months, you pack a year's worth of holidays into that amount of time. We also learned that it costs $5.30 per foot for the privilege of being packed in like sardines and having your neighbors traipse across your boat. All we could think about was how one bad electrical connection would send the entire mess up in flames in a matter of minutes, with no boat able to escape.

Another view across the marina, with the moorings and anchorage in the background.

Boats continued to arrive in the anchorage after we returned from dinner and well into the night; I had to lecture someone who chose to drop too close to us but they did not move. We came within a boat length of them in the middle of the night when the wind changed. A different boat swung within 30' of us; he had so much rode out that he continued right on around and smacked into another sailboat, who had to wake him up. I'm glad I was awake and watching when the wind shifted.

This satellite view from July '08 gives a sense of the layout. Champlins marina is the "w" at lower left and you can see how many boats are packed in if you zoom it. Our spot is at the top center of this photo.

In part that's because a rafted pair of boats, one power and one sail, just 50 yards or so from us, were playing loud music and singing well into the wee hours. Louise vowed to go over there with the canned air horn at 7am and wake them from their hangovers as payback, but oddly they were up before us. At 1:30 I finally hit them with the spotlight (shouting had fallen on deaf ears, so to speak) and they eventually got the message and turned it down.

Before all that, however, just a bit after midnight, I heard a motor yacht trying to reach the harbormaster. A late-arriving sailboat, attempting to anchor, had snagged a different sailboat's rode, pulling it into the power boat's propellers. All three boats were hopelessly tangled and bumping into each other. The harbormaster was already gone for the day, but the on-site Towboat guy went over to help, and I sat on deck with my binoculars watching the shenanigans for a half hour or so.

I finally got to bed before 2am, after assuring myself that the overly-close boats were not going to swing into us and the loud-music jerks were behaving themselves. It was past 8 by the time I staggered upstairs this morning. We managed to flag down the breakfast boat just as he went by.

This morning's entertainment was two-fold. First and foremost, the aforementioned two rafted boats, who made such a racket all night, had decided in their infinite wisdom to deploy one anchor from each boat. I'm not even sure how they managed that, considering the sailboat was already anchored when we arrived, and the motor yacht pulled in well after dark and rafted up to them. Any sailor worth his salt knows that when you raft to another boat, one and only one boat in the raft-up sets their anchor; the raft then swings on the hook as a unit.

These boneheads didn't follow that recommendation, and also apparently did not realize that the entire anchorage swung around 360° last night. We watched with glee as the motor yacht tried to weigh anchor this morning, only to find themselves twisted up with the sailboat. So the sailboat decided also to weigh anchor, but that alone did not extricate themselves from the situation. They next tried to motor away, but they ended up dragging the motor yacht with them, plowing the bottom with their plow-style anchor all the while.

After several minutes of this the two anchors finally fell free, but when the sailboat finished weighing they brought up a tangle of line from the bottom, which they no doubt snagged while driving along with their anchor dangling. It could not have happened to a nicer group of boaters, and Louise got her karmic schadenfreude even though she could not deprive them of any sleep. The crews of both vessels looked decidedly hung-over.

Sailboat unintentionally "towing" the motor yacht with its anchor chain. The guy on the bow was ineffective.

The second bit of entertainment was just watching the conga line of boats parading out of the harbor. We had already decided not to leave until 3pm, to take advantage of a favorable tide all the way to Newport. So we just relaxed and watched the show -- hundreds of boats leaving the harbor. It went on for hours. More boats also came in, and the rental moorings were again sold out before we left.

One small section of the endless conga line for the exit.

With an estimated 7pm arrival tonight, a late departure, and very filling bagels for breakfast, we decided to have a late lunch at 2pm as our last big meal of the day, and we tendered over to the city dock and had lunch at The Oar. Even with the harbor emptying out, they once again had an hour's wait to be seated, but we breezed right in and sat at the bar instead. Louise had sushi, of all things, and I had a club.

Our view from the bar at The Oar. The deck would have been nicer but we couldn't wait an hour.

We should be anchored somewhere around Newport well before sunset, and we'll have a light snack aboard. I'll get this post uploaded after we are settled. Tomorrow we will tender in and see what the town has to offer.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Into the mystic

By the time you read this, we will be anchored in the Great Salt Pond on Block Island, Rhose Island (map). As I begin typing, however, we are under way across Block Island Sound, having left Connecticut behind us a short while ago. We had intended to stay another day or so, but it was not to be.

Vector alone in Anchorage A. That's the Electric Boat division of General Dynamics in the background, building and repairing nuclear submarines. If you zoom in, one can be seen in the water and one in the shed.

This morning found us anchored in New London Harbor Anchorage A, near the municipal piers and across the river from Electric Boat (map). Given that this is the height of boating season, I am somewhat surprised that we had this enormous anchorage all to ourselves, and even the municipal docks were devoid of pleasure craft.

Approaching the Thames, with the lighthouse to the left.

The remainder of our crossing of Long Island Sound yesterday was uneventful, and we enjoyed the approach and short cruise up the Thames. About halfway across the sound we noticed the US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle anchored in the sound, but we did not pass close enough to get a good photo. The Eagle is a three-masted training barque that was seized as a war prize from the Third Reich, and has been training generations of coast guard officers ever since.

The New London waterfront from our deck. A tall ship is at left and the Fisher Island ferry to the right; we ate at a joint somewhere in the middle.

Shortly after we had the hook down we splashed the tender for the short ride to the nice new floating docks at the city pier, where we met up with Eric for a nice evening. We strolled the waterfront down to the Hot Rod Cafe for drafts and dinner on the deck overlooking the river. The view consisted principally of Electric Boat and Vector.

Eric snapped this pic of us at dinner, with Vector and Electric Boat in the background.

After dinner we strolled around town some more, taking in many of the sights of downtown New London, before heading back to the dock. It was a great evening with our friend, and we enjoyed the town, but we then felt like we had mostly seen it and did not feel the need to return.

What I was more interested in seeing was across the river in Groton, just south of the submarine base. There one can find the Submarine Force Library and Museum, where the first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN 571) can be toured. The museum and submarine are free and open to the public.

Approaching USS Nautilus and the sub museum.

That's great, but there's no reasonable way to get there. While the New London city pier is extremely convenient to the Amtrak station, making this a great place for jumping off to New York or Boston, there does not seem to be any kind of comprehensive local transit system. The only way to cross the river is on the Interstate highway bridge, and the only way to get to the museum seems to be to drive there. The Navy frowns on rafting your dinghy to the submarine.

A closer view of Nautilus. The boarding ladder was tempting, but the signs say Navy Property and No Trespassing.

With no transit options and Uber estimating $30 round trip -- more than I wanted to pay to see a submarine -- we decided to skip it. Instead this morning we decided to deck the tender and just do a sightseeing cruise up the river past the Nautilus and the submarine base, turning around when the Harvard and Yale boathouses came into sight. We'd then continue all the way back downriver into the Sound.

Passing Fort Trumbull on our way downriver.

Shortly after we returned to the boat from dinner last night, I got a phone call from our friend Brad, who, along with his wife Lorraine, cruises aboard their Nordhavn 55, appropriately named Adventure. He had noticed we were in New London and reminded me that this area is really their home town, so he wanted to pass along some pointers and offer any information we might need. I had forgotten completely that they have a house here; we think of them as being from Cape Coral, Florida, where we met them at their home dock in January.

Brad suggested that the submarine museum was a good stop, but confirmed that I'd need a ride there. He also suggested that we cruise up the Mystic River to the town of that name, and stop at the Mystic Seaport museum. That sounded great to us -- I haven't been to Mystic Seaport since I was a kid -- and that's the course I set before weighing anchor for our sightseeing cruise up the Thames.

A tiny tug boat heading downriver to assist Eagle.

Before we even had the tender on deck, I heard on the radio that Eagle was coming into port, headed for the very same pier where we had tied up last night. I suspect that if we had been willing to stay through the weekend, that Eagle, too, would be open for tours. With little else calling us, though, we decided to continue preparations to move along, but at least we got to see her come into port and tie up to the dock, with an assist from a pair of small but classic tugs. When the tugs left I snapped today's cover photo of her at the pier.

An even smaller tug, heading home from the assist.

We weighed the anchor just as Eagle was finishing docking. I lowered the SSB antennas and we squeaked under the Amtrak bridge without an opening, heading upriver past the United States Coast Guard Academy and the naval submarine base.

US Coast Guard Academy. Crewing on the Eagle is part of the Academy experience.

I snapped a few shots of the half dozen or so "attack boats" in port, under the watchful eyes of the "Subase Police" -- complete with hot 50-caliber machine gun on the deck. No word on why there is only one "B" in "Subase."

Subase Police, looking bored. That's a live 50-cal machine gun on deck.

This looked to be a crew muster for one of the boats. You can just see the fairwater (aka sail or conning tower) of a boat sticking up in the background, and the tail and rudder of another boat to the left.

This early 688-class boat (from when they still made them with fairwater planes) was next to the crew meeting, and it looks mostly ready-to-go.

We had a nice push with the tide back downriver, and along the shore of Long Island Sound to the Mystic River inlet. Once we turned upriver, though, we had a knot or so against us for the mile and a half run to the one and only spot we could find on the chart to anchor.

Approaching Noank and Mystic Harbor.

I can say without equivocation that Mystic Harbor is the busiest and most crowded pleasure-boat harbor we have ever seen. We passed a dozen or so boats in the narrow, winding channel, and the harbor was full of moorings as far as the eye could see in every direction. Unsurprisingly, the one spot on the chart with enough depth for us had no room in which to anchor before running up against mooring balls.

This picture does not do justice to the sea of moored boats. Only a fraction shown here. We could have anchored in the foreground, but with a half-hour, wet dinghy ride to town.

Most of the moorings were either in water too shallow for us, or were restricted to boats shorter than us. On top of that, they cost $1.50 per foot, and that did not even include launch service. We could have found dockage, perhaps even at the Seaport museum, but that goes for $3.50 per foot, plus utilities, in most of the marinas in Mystic or across the river in Noank. We decided there was nothing in Mystic worth seeing for over $200 per night (or even half that), and so, reluctantly, we turned around and headed back downriver. At least I could rip off Van Morrison for today's post title.

Unfortunately, I had not thought far enough ahead here, and my plotted route only ran as far as Mystic. After reaching the Mystic Harbor junction beacon, I turned left into unplotted territory and had to drive the old-fashioned way, navigating the markers by sight with occasional glances at the plotter until we were out in open water and I could set a heading on the autopilot, at least for a few minutes at a time.

Once back in the Sound, we spent about fifteen minutes noodling on our next anchorage, all the while dodging lobster floats and sailboats out enjoying the weather. It finally occurred to us that we had plenty of daylight left to make Block Island, our next scheduled stop, and the current behind us to boot, and so we set a course out of Long Island Sound via Sugar Reef Passage and into Block Island Sound. Then we had a straight shot of about an hour and a half in deep water all the way to the Salt Pond sea buoy.

One of the reasons we decided to press on directly to Block Island was that we were afraid it might be too crowded to anchor if we arrived tomorrow instead. That reckoning proved correct -- the anchorage was thick with boats already when we arrived after 4pm, and we made a circuit, weaving in and out of anchored boats, looking for a spot where we might fit. We counted ourselves lucky to find one where we could set 4:1 scope in 35' of water, and yet boats have been coming in one after another all evening since.

A small fraction of the boats around us here at Block Island.

Much of the harbor is taken up with mooring balls, and several parts of the harbor, including the mooring fields, have prohibitions on anchoring. We listened in on the harbormaster's channel as the last dozen or so balls were parceled out, first-come, first-served -- the harbor is full. It is vaguely reminiscent of our stay in Georgetown, BS, except even more crowded.

We enjoyed a nice dinner on the aft deck as we watched the comedy of another several dozen boats trying to squeeze in to an already crowded anchorage. Tomorrow's festivities ought to be more of the same, and a forecast for 20-knot winds tomorrow evening should add to the chaos. We're not worried -- the 55-ton steel boat almost always wins, although there is one other boat nearby who has even less to worry about than us.

This retired tug, apparently now a private yacht, is anchored nearby. It gives us perspective on our rust, and our draft (she draws over eight feet).

I expect we'll be here to at least Sunday; now that the weekend has started, we can hardly expect to get in anyplace else along our route, and we want to sit out the wind. If the chaos subsides a little, we'll drop the tender and go at least as far as the beach bar in the harbor, or perhaps even load up the bicycles and ride the other half mile into town, on the other side of the island.

Tonight's sunset over the coast guard station.

Our next stop from here will likely be Newport, so now that we're here we'll probably be in Rhode Island a few days. Connecticut, it seems, was destined for just one.