Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Safe arrival

I'm a bit too fried to post a proper blog entry, but I wanted to let eeryone following along on our latest voyage know that we are safely anchored in the upper Delaware Bay, just south of the Hope Creek nuclear plant (map). We chose this spot for some protection from the winds, which will be escalating all night out of the north.

Conditions in the ocean deteriorated progressively after my last blog post off Atlantic City, and we had a rough night. It was hard to gauge the wave height in the dark but I would estimate we were in seas of eight feet or so, made worse by driving into scattered thunderstorms that brought high winds and rough seas on top of the large swell.

We ended up taking mini-watches of an hour or two, alternating with sleep periods on the pilothouse or salon settees. The cat, who has clearly gotten her sea legs, more or less slept through the whole thing in her basket, never even tossing her cookies.

The boat was well secured for sea, but these were the roughest conditions we've seen thus far, and you always learn about a thing or two that needs better restraint. At one point the canister that holds the coffee sweetener leapt from its shelf to the galley floor with a mighty crash, and a few other odds and ends slid around or fell from perches.

It was still pretty dark when we made the Cape May inlet, with just enough light to see the jetties beyond their marker lights. With a small craft advisory in place and NOAA warnings for dangerous rip currents, we tried to reach the USCG station to get some local knowledge, but apparently they were not up yet, and the watchstanders at Sector Delaware Bay, which is located in Philly, were not going to roust them to answer our questions. That amused us, since we'd been rousted more than once off Station Cape May by morning bugle calls and chanting recruits.

The inlet proved to be no trouble at all; the rip did push us (north, it turns out, which was one of the questions I wanted to ask), but the opening between the jetties is so wide that it was not a problem. Halfway down the jetties we were in nearly flat calm, a very welcome relief after the previous six hours of slamming over waves.

We'd been keeping an eye on the forecast updates, and particularly the latest track models for Hurricane Joaquin, and we decided to pass through Cape May without stopping, getting instead as far up the bay as tide would permit while the going was good. We passed the anchorage and USCG station right at dawn, and found ourselves in an conga line of cruising sailboats all trying to make tracks from Cape May at once; we passed them all in the canal.

Delaware Bay turned out to be nearly flat, even though the last forecast I saw said 2'-4'. Excellent conditions for making good time, especially with the tide behind us at the very start of the flood. We had originally plotted a stop further south than this one, but making nearly eight knots upriver we came all the way here. We're all alone and thus free to spool out as much chain as we'd like, and we feel very secure on this hook even with gale force winds incoming.

After securing the boat, we staggered around like zombies and fell in and out of bed a couple of times, but things are now returning to some semblance of normal. We should be in good shape to continue upriver tomorrow and into the C&D Canal, weather permitting. Absolutely every boat in the mid-Atlantic region is scrambling to find hurricane moorings, so tomorrow's plan is still fluid, but we will be far enough inland by Joaquin's landfall that I am not particularly worried about it. Seven years of storm chasing have taught us not to ascribe more certainty to track models than the modelers do themselves.

At 314 nautical miles in some 50 hours, this was not our longest passage. That honor belongs to our three-day outside run from Palm Beach to Beaufort, NC back in June. But in many ways this one was more challenging, and we're a bit more wrung out. I'm glad it's behind us, but I am equally glad we grabbed the window when we had it -- it's now closed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A half-step ahead of the weather

I am typing under way in the North Atlantic, a dozen miles or so off the New Jersey coast. Typing is about the most I can do right now, as we're bouncing around in five to eight foot seas. Even moving from one end of the boat to the other is a labored affair.

Last night's sunset over Connecticut, from Rhode Island Sound.

I really should have posted an update yesterday, while we had good connectivity off the coast of Long Island, as I had suggested I would in my last post. But the day got away from me, and now I have no connectivity at all, so this will get uploaded this evening when we are close enough to shore to get a signal.

We had a wonderful night anchored just north of the canal entrance Sunday night (map). It was a bit rolly there when we dropped the hook, but by the time night fell it was flat calm. It was also a bit warmer than it has been, and we had a nice dinner on the aft deck, with a view of the state park beach and its denizens, no doubt wondering what we were doing there.

Super moon eclipse, as seen by my Samsung.

We were also blessed with clear skies for a spectacular view of the "super moon" lunar eclipse. I no longer have a camera capable of capturing these sorts of images (nor do I think I could hold it steady enough on a moving boat even if I did), so you get a cheesy, out-of-focus phone snap-shot instead, but by now I'm sure your feeds have been flooded with much nicer eclipse photographs anyway.

As luck would have it, the Regent Cruises' Seven Seas Navigator was just exiting the canal during the eclipse. My phone can't do justice to these kinds of photos, either, from a moving boat, but you get the idea.

Seven Seas Navigator departing the canal for Boston.

Our departure time to have favorable current through the canal was 10:30am, which let us have a relaxed morning and gave us plenty of time to delve into the latest forecasts. The offshore weather for our planned route had actually improved a bit for Monday, but more importantly, it had deteriorated dramatically for later in the week. A big nor'easter is brewing, followed up by whatever will remain of Tropical Storm Joaquin. We decided to make a run for it -- now or never. We'd check the forecast once more before passing Montauk Point, our last bail-out to the inside route.

We had a smooth trip through the canal, whizzing through at ten knots, and had a good push down Buzzards Bay as well. We were on the other side of the bay from our northbound track, so we even got some new scenery. Everything was calm and flat, even to the point where Louise went downstairs to sew, right up until we passed the lee of Cuttyhunk and Marthas Vineyard. The swell continued picking up all the way to Block Island, giving us some pause about continuing.

Even with the swell, I was able to grill a couple of burgers for dinner, a nice change from our usual under-way fare that we reasoned we could not pull off later in the voyage.  Somehow we neglected to factor the occasional eight-footer into the process of actually eating dinner, though, and mid-meal a rogue wave sent Louise's beer toppling into her food and all over the pilothouse table, including her cell phone. We salvaged the phone and the table but not the last of her burger. We have a new rule now (over and above the only-one-light-beer-at-dinner-under-way rule) that beverages must be secured in Octopuses when dining under way.

Absolutely everything else in the boat is dogged down for passage, from the tender and scooters on deck to the drawers in the galley and the doors on the fridge. As if to underscore both the need for this as well as the fact that we made the trip across Cape Cod Bay just in the nick of time, another trawler just a day behind us got beat up on the same route slamming into seas and had a few things, move around, a fact which they documented in a post on social media.

The aftermath of heavy seas on a 49 Grand Banks, just a day behind on our same route.

Another check of the weather as we crossed from Block Island to Montauk confirmed what we already decided: we'd have a safe if not entirely comfortable passage if we pressed on, but we'd be pinned down by the storms for at least a week and probably longer if we did not go whole-hog and make the full passage to Cape May in one go.

While it is a straight line from Montauk Point to Cape May with no intervening obstacles, that line would take us far enough out that we'd be in much bigger waves. We opted to inflect the route slightly towards New York Harbor, making a single turn south of Fire Island. This added just five miles (out of our total of 271 for this trip) to our route, for a marked improvement in comfort. It also meant bailing out would be easier if needed, and as a bonus, we had cellular coverage for much more of the trip.

Unfortunately, we passed all of eastern Long Island in the dark, so I have no photos and I could only make out a couple of well-lit resorts and the Montauk Light. The full moon made for easy horizon scanning without ever leaving the comfort of the pilothouse.

Louise took the 0200-0600 watch, and whereas I had seen no other traffic, she had to steer around some fishing vessels. I came up at 0600 but Louise opted to remain on the bridge for another hour. No sooner had she retired to the stateroom to sack out, than I was sounding the general alarm on the ship's horn and altering course to intercept what looked to me like it could be a life raft or else a very small boat a long way from anyplace.

Is that a boat, sinking?

I had to divert about a quarter mile, and we got right up close to it. I tried to stop alongside, but as soon as our speed dropped below a few knots we could not even stand on deck in these seas -- the stabilizers are ineffective without forward way. Instead we circled it slowly until we were sure it was not a vessel or part of a vessel in distress. Our best guess is that it is a windsurfing or kiteboarding rig that came loose from someplace. Louise snapped these photos while I conned the boat.

Still not sure what this is, but it's synthetic canvas with inflatable gussets.

We resumed course and immediately contacted the Coast Guard, who took a detailed report and asked us to send them the photos. Louise had just enough of a signal there to email them s-l-o-w-l-y. We never heard any sécurité calls so presumably they deemed it not enough of a hazard to navigation.

So far the rest of the trip has been mostly uneventful, if a bit bouncy-jouncy. Vector is handling it without complaint, except for her port stabilizer fin, which is now squeaking exactly like one of those creaking doors in a haunted house. I think it is the fin's way of telling us we are overdue to service the bearings and change the seals, a task which will require the boat to be hauled out of the water.

Even though we just discharged our waste a few days ago, as we left Maine, we decided to do so again today as it is our last opportunity outside the three-mile limit for the foreseeable future. When we engaged the pump, it made an awful sound, then popped its breaker. I suspect it has eaten its own impeller. I have a spare pump, but this is an unpleasant task. Oh well, better to find out when the tank is 15% full than when it's 90% full, and at least this project can wait until November -- we'll be using pumpout stations until then, anyway.

Update: We are now back in cell coverage; I'm alone on watch, and I can see the lights of Atlantic City in the distance. Things are a bit calmer now that we are close to shore. We had a nice dinner with nary a drop of beer spilled, thanks to the cupholders we ought to have been using all along.

We should be arriving in front of the Cape May Coast Guard station just before dawn. While we may be dog-tired and decide we have no choice but to stop there and call it a day, there is a good chance we will press on through the canal and as far up Delaware Bay as tide will allow. Cape May is a terrible storm anchorage, and this system coming in could very well pin us down there if we wait even one night. We'll be much more comfortable if we can get further inland before the brunt of it hits us.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Change of plans

We are under way today in the North Atlantic, bound for Cape Cod Bay and the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. We had intended to be headed, instead, for Provincetown today, but mother nature had other ideas and we had to change plans, in a mad scramble to make our planned arrival date to Washington.

Dinner time under way: Sunset Friday evening over a glassy North Atlantic.

We very much enjoyed spending Wednesday evening with John and Gayle aboard their boat, Sirens Call, in Burnt Coat Harbor. John designed and built Sirens Call himself; like Vector it has a steel hull and aluminum superstructure. It's a great boat, and we spent part of the evening comparing notes. We left with gifts of cooked crab and pounds of fresh local apples.

Sirens Call, moored in Burnt Coat Harbor. Sharp looking boat.

Thursday morning we departed on a favorable tide and proceeded west through Toothacher Bay and Jericho Bay, where the lobster floats are the densest we've encountered, and along a channel called "Merchant Row" among the myriad islands between Deer Isle and Isle Au Haut. We then turned south through Isle Au Haut bay and past the shipping lanes to Matinicus Island, well south of the bay and the southernmost populated island Down East.

We had considered perhaps stopping at Isle Au Haut itself instead, but we opted to get a bit further south just to get a head start on the very long passage south to Gloucester, and have a bit more relaxing morning on Friday. We settled for enjoying the beauty of Isle Au Haut from the water as we passed fairly close by to the north and then west.

Matinicus Harbor is incredibly small and there is no room to anchor among the lobster boats. One of the locals has set out several guest moorings for visiting boats; attached to the float is a small bottle into which is put the $25 fee, and in which can be found a sheet of information about the island. We picked the mooring with the most room (map) and ended up just swinging past the next mooring float by a couple of feet. It was fairly calm in the harbor when we arrived.

The moorings are tied to pot floats. The Gatorade bottle is where you pay the fee.

There is nothing in Matinicus save for lobstermen and their boats. No stores or restaurants, although one resident runs a small bakery, and no tourism. Supplies come to the island on a ferry that arrives a couple of times a month. We had the crabs we got from Gayle for dinner, and homemade applesauce that Louise made from the batch of apples. I had hoped to go ashore in the morning to walk around a bit and perhaps get something from the baker for breakfast, but the winds clocked around overnight, and there was too much swell in the harbor to even splash the tender. We never left the boat.

A working harbor. That's Wheaton Island on the left, Matinicus on the right.

Unfortunately, we were also very much offline there. Our new MiFi struggled mightily and would occasionally get enough of a signal to get text emails (but not send them), and we were able to scrape a weather forecast together with patience. I had anticipated this, and we had sent our overnight float plan to our emergency contacts before leaving Burnt Coat, where we at least had more reliable low-speed coverage (not enough for web browsing, but enough for email to work).

The forecast for our overnight passage was good, and we left Matinicus on the last of the outgoing tide Friday afternoon. While seas were perhaps four feet early on, it was a gentle, rolling swell of very long period. Even that flattened out over the course of our passage; it was never flat calm but the surface was glassy with very little wind.

We also had considerable favorable current through most of the trip, which proved to be something of a problem. I had planned an arrival time of around 8am, which by itself required a very low cruising speed in order to still leave the harbor in good conditions. But over the first half of the trip the arrival time kept moving up, putting us in jeopardy of arriving at Gloucester Harbor in the dark. I kept throttling back until we were eventually running at just 1350 rpm, giving us our best fuel mileage ever.

I spent the first two or three hours of the trip dodging lobster floats, but they became considerably thinner after fifteen miles or so. Even 30 miles offshore, you're never far from one; Louise had to dodge a group of them, fortunately sporting radar reflectors, in the middle of the night. We bid a very fond farewell to Maine, but we bid good riddance to its lobster floats.

The passage was otherwise calm and uneventful. We passed a number of ferries, cruise ships, and tugs, all at a great distance, but never saw another pleasure boat. We modified our normal watch schedule to put me back at the helm for the transit between Thatcher Island and the shoals just east of it, marking our arrival at Cape Ann.

Despite best efforts, it was indeed still dark as we approached the twin lights. Now back in denser lobster float territory, we had a few close encounters, with last-second dodges, before there was enough daylight to see them well. We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise just before rounding the corner into Gloucester Harbor.

Sunrise from just off Cape Ann.

This return visit to Gloucester was occasioned by a desire to fuel up before heading south. At just $1.90 per gallon, this is the best fuel price on the east coast at the moment, and we came into port with just 265 gallons (exclusive of reserves) in the tanks, down from our full complement of around 900 gallons. The fuel barge here is open from 7-12 on Saturdays.

We pulled up just a little before 7am and they took us right in.  It took a little over half an hour to take on 740 gallons of diesel. By 8am we were anchored in our old spot in the harbor (map) and fell into bed for a post-passage nap.

In Gloucester, our MiFi had 4G coverage and was lightning fast, more so even than the couple of WiFi networks in town, and I hoped to catch up there on my backlog of emails as well as blog posts. Instead, after getting a couple of projects belted out, I ended up spending the whole afternoon and evening re-calculating routes after we pulled the latest weather forecasts.

Our plan from Gloucester had been to cross the bay to Provincetown, spend a full day (two nights) there, and then circle around the east side of the cape down to Nantucket. I have not been there since I was a little kid and was looking forward to a return visit. There we'd spend another day or so, waiting on good weather for a two-night outside passage to Cape May and the Delaware Bay.

The wave forecast for the coming week, however, has been steadily deteriorating. By yesterday afternoon it had become clear that if we went to Nantucket at all, we'd miss any kind of window to make the crossing in good conditions, and we decided to proceed with all haste via the most direct route, which involves transiting back through the Cape Cod Canal and through Buzzards Bay into Rhode Island Sound.

When we went to bed last night, after some tasty burgers at the nearby Cape Ann Brewery, the plan was to anchor today at the east end of the canal, and tomorrow proceed through the canal and then directly out to sea on the two-day passage to Cape May. By this morning, though, the forecast had deteriorated even further, and it is possible that the window for a long outside passage has slammed shut.

We will reevaluate tomorrow afternoon as we approach Block Island. There is a small chance we can still make the run, staying a bit closer inshore for better seas and more bail-out options. If we can't, our fall-back is to continue on the more protected route via Long Island Sound, New York Harbor, and Raritan Bay. That will get us a bit further along over the course of three days or so.

That said, we will still be pinned down there until conditions off the New Jersey coast improve. At this writing, they look progressively worse after today and for at least the next week. If we can get even a one-day break, we'll grab it and make an overnight run for Cape May, even though on a coastal transit we'd prefer to run only in daylight and make a stop or two somewhere mid-state.

The forecast has been very fluid; there is clearly something spinning up here in the North Atlantic, but the models don't all agree. I have my fingers crossed that by tomorrow afternoon we will find just enough of a window to make a run for it, but I am not taking any bets.

In the meantime, I got some work done around the boat. Now that we are going so long between marina stays, laundry has become something of an issue. Water is the biggest problem; our older-style household washer uses 30-50 gallons per load. We've been able to deal with that by running the water maker as much as possible and then finding docks where we can take on some water as needed.

The other problem is power. The washer/dryer, a stacked affair with a single electrical cord, is a 240-volt item. That means the generator needs to be running to wash or dry, even though most clothes washers are just 120 volts and would easily run from our inverter. We end up running the generator about two hours each day when anchored, but not contiguously; if we run it for the nearly three hours to get a single load completed, we'd still end up running it an hour again later in the day.

The dryer is the real culprit here, and one way we deal with this is to hang the laundry on a pair of lines I installed in the engine room after we stop for the day. The engine room gets up past 100 under way, and if we hang everything right after we stop, it's all dry by the time the engine room has cooled down to ambient.

For that strategy to work, we have to run the washer under way, which, heretofore, has meant running the generator when it's not needed for anything else (the main engine easily provides us with all the electricity we need). So any way we sliced it, we've had to burn a couple of extra gallons of diesel each time just to do a load of laundry. That still compares favorably to coin laundry prices or marina power, but it seems like a waste.

Yesterday's project involved splitting the washer power from the dryer supply when under way, so now we can do a load of wash (but not run the dryer) from the inverter using nearly free power from the main engine. I was able to do this without modifying the washer/dryer by using a 30-amp DPDT power relay to supply 120vac inverter power to one side of the receptacle, only when 240-volt power is unavailable.

I also picked up a 50' coax cable at the hardware store and ran the DirecTV output up to the helm station so I can watch some TV in between horizon scans while I'm on watch, and still sit where I can see and hear all the instruments. I'll get to see how practical that is on our next overnight passage.

We should have good, if sporadic, connectivity from here all the way to Long Island. When we make a decision on the route, I will try to post again here before heading offshore.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Forty four and twenty one north

We are under way across the Gulf of Maine, with the Cranberry Islands and Mount Desert Island (MDI) receding behind us. We had a great stay in Somesville Harbor (map) at the head of Somes Sound, the furthest north we've been so far in the boat. Somesville will remain our furthest north for the foreseeable future, edging out Troy, NY, the furthest north we made it last season.

Mount Desert Island with its hills in the background, with Great Cranberry Island in the foreground, from the Gulf.

We had a very pleasant and scenic cruise Monday from our cozy digs across from the Wooden Boat School. We continued along the last little stretch of Eggemoggin Reach and then proceeded east through the Pond Island Passage, along the north end of the island of that name, into the Eastern Passage and Blue Hill Bay. Passing Bass Harbor on MDI to port, we rounded Bass Harbor Head and its lighthouse through the short dredged channel across the Bass Harbor bar.

The lighthouse on Bass Harbor Head as we passed. Bass Harbor is around the corner to the right.

Turning north into the Western Way, we passed Great Cranberry Island to starboard and then Southwest Harbor, MDI to port before entering Somes Sound, a five-mile long fjord that nearly bisects MDI. At the very head of the sound is a natural, protected harbor that was the site of the first settlement on MDI, founded by Abraham Somes in 1761.

A sign I passed on my way to the post office.

As with so many harbors in Maine, it was full of mooring balls, but we found a spot to anchor just outside the mooring field. A group of residents maintains a dinghy dock for the mooring field and allows cruising dinghys to tie up for a small donation. Somes Sound, and Somesville Harbor, has been one of the most beautifully scenic spots we've seen in Maine, surrounded, as it is, by the wooded mountains of Acadia National Park.

Vector at anchor in Somesville Harbor. The mountain in the background is in the park.

We had hoped to tender ashore to a local lobster restaurant just outside the harbor for dinner, but they are closed for the season. Instead we enjoyed a nice meal on our deck, enjoying the last gasp of summer weather.

Yesterday morning we splashed the tender and I went ashore to get an eBay sale into the mail. As long as I had to hoof the half mile from the dock to the tiny burg of Mount Desert, I also went into the lone store in town, a gas station with a mini-mart, for some fresh milk.

The view from our deck. This large sailboat flying a UK flag was with us in Eggemoggin Reach, too.

In the afternoon we both headed ashore and flagged down the free Island Explorer shuttle bus for a ride over to Bar Harbor. We wandered around town for an hour or so, including stumbling upon a quilt shop, and checking out the waterfront for a possible future visit by boat. Then we had an early dinner at McKay's Pub before a provisioning excursion to the local Hannaford supermarket.

With backpacks stuffed to the gills, we still had a half hour to kill before the last Island Explorer of the day left, so we decided to have an after-dinner drink at the closest bar. That turned out to be a beer joint, and we felt a bit sheepish ordering girly drinks in front of a row of two dozen taps.

It was a great visit to Bar Harbor, and the Island Explorer was a handy way to do it while staying anchored in a more protected and scenic location. We did not opt to go into the park, having spent a day there on the scooters on our last visit here. Unfortunately, we're still just a bit early for fall colors, with only a hint of color in a handful of spots around the island.

Bear Island Light in the Eastern Passage.

This morning we left on the outgoing tide. Rather than continue south past Southwest Harbor again on our way out, we decided to have one final fling here by turning east around Northeast Harbor and into the Eastern Way, taking us between the eastern side of MDI and the Cranberry Islands, before rounding Little Cranberry and Baker Islands to head southwest through the Gulf of Maine, where we now have about 3-4' swells, fortunately with a very long period. Even out here, I am having to steer around lobster floats every so often.

Update: We are now anchored in Burnt Coat Harbor on Swans Island (map). Fellow steel trawler owners who spend the season here had contacted me and suggested it as a stop; we're looking forward to cocktails with them shortly. Tomorrow we'll head to our last stop here, Isle Au Haut, which hosts another large chunk of Acadia National Park. It is looking like our weather window for the first southbound open water leg will have us leaving Friday afternoon for the overnight run to Gloucester.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Not from around heah

We are finally cruising down east. The scenery is stunning here, but cellular signals are nonexistent, and I find myself once again typing into a text file to upload later.

Sunset over the lobster boats of Tenants Harbor.

Notwithstanding my prediction that we might spend a second night in Tenants Harbor, since we did not need to be in Rockland until Friday afternoon, we nevertheless departed Thursday morning. It was lovely in the harbor, and we had a good WiFi signal there, but we had a crew member aboard who was under the weather.

Angel, feeling a bit unwell.

Angel has been feeling crummy lately; she's been crying a lot, and going through water like crazy. We already knew she has some renal issues, with really only one working kidney, and the increased water intake had us concerned. Realizing that Rockland would be our best chance to find a vet, we made some calls Thursday morning and made her an appointment for Friday morning at the Rockland Animal Hospital.

Whitehead Island Light, at the entrance to the Muscle Ridge Channel.

That meant we'd need to be settled in Rockland Thursday evening, and so we left Tenants Harbor on a favorable tide for the relatively short cruise. The most direct route transits the Muscle Ridge Channel and Owls Head Bay; the former is marked on our charts as being heavily populated by lobster floats. We actually found the floats here to be not as dense as some other places, and I only had to hand steer occasionally.

Owls Head Light, at the turn to Rockland Harbor.

After entering the harbor we made a quick check of the "special" anchorage closest to the docks, which was, as we expected, chock full of mooring balls. Instead we dropped the hook in the northwest corner of Anchorage "A" (map), which was surprisingly devoid of boats, moorings, or even, for the most part, lobster floats. We had the entirety of this enormous anchorage to ourselves, for the price of another minute in the tender. We were just close enough to pick up a marginal WiFi signal from shore.

Vector looking a bit lonely in Rockland Harbor Anchorage A. Owls Head is at right; Vinalhaven in the distance.

We had a lovely dinner at a nice Italian place, Rustica, in the quaint downtown. We had cruised through this downtown on the scooters when we stopped here in Odyssey a few years ago, but it seems more vibrant today, with lots of nice restaurants along a four or five block stretch. We enjoyed walking through the downtown and then back along the waterfront.

Friday morning we loaded Angel into her carrier for her first-ever dinghy ride. Suffice it to say she was not happy, yowling for the first part of the trip. By the time we got into a taxi for the short ride to the vet, she was completely subdued and made no complaint at all about the car. The vet turned out to be just a half mile from the Elks lodge at which we had stayed when we were here in Odyssey, and I recognized it as we drove past.

After some poking and prodding and a set of blood work, the diagnosis was some sort of urinary tract infection, which, all things considered, was really the best outcome. She is now back on prescription kidney diet, and the vet gave her a shot of antibiotics that obviates the need for us to cram pills down her throat for a week. She already seems to be feeling better.

Around 3:30 we hopped back in the tender, and I dropped Louise at a boatyard north of town that happens to be next to a quilt shop, while I zipped down to the boat ramp south of town and tied up for the mile hike to the UPS Customer Center, which opens at 4pm. It's a two mile drive, but by walking along the railroad tracks and cutting across a pair of industrial parking lots the walk is much shorter.

The visit to UPS was to pick up our new Verizon Jetpack MiFi, which we had our mail service in Florida send up via second-day. The Jetpack was doing us no good in our mail box, and we're already paying for the service; we had it sent there so we could get our order placed right away and not miss out on what we thought might be a limited-time deal.

The MiFi is lightning fast and we are very happy with it. It comes with unlimited 4G data on the Verizon network with no contract, so we can stop obsessing over how much of our monthly 2GB Verizon allotment we use whenever we can't find a WiFi or Sprint signal. Of course, here at our very next stop there are no signals of any kind, and the MiFi sits forlornly on the helm console, unable to communicate.

The weather while we were in Rockland was gorgeous; sunny and warm, and we even had cocktails on the deck at Archer's overlooking the harbor Friday evening before walking to a nice dinner at Eclipse downtown. We woke Saturday morning to equally pleasant weather, and could see quite a number of weekenders heading out for the day.

Fog rolling in as we motor out of Rockland Harbor.

As luck would have it, just as we were weighing anchor to head over to Vinalhaven Island, the fog moved in. We steamed out of the harbor and right into it, switching on the foghorn not long after clearing the Rockland Breakwater Light. By the time we were crossing the ship route in the middle of the bay, I could barely see the lobster floats in time to miss them, and our track looked like a drunkard was driving.

Still clear enough to see the Rockland Breakwater Light on our way out.

Using the radar I was able to line up the various buoys and towers marking the entrance to the Fox Isles Thorofare, separating Vinalhaven from North Haven islands, and avoid the inevitable lobster boats who keep working through any conditions. We figured to make the first turn, into the relative shelter of the western isles, and drop the hook to wait it out if need be.

The small town of North Haven, clear and almost sunny.

I could see the North Haven - Rockland ferry coming toward us on the AIS, and I called him on the radio to ask about conditions behind him. He informed us that it was clear in the thorofare closer to North Haven, and only got thick closer to where we were. With less than a mile to the end of the fog, good returns on radar, and fewer lobster pots in the channel, we decided to proceed. Just then, a sailboat came zipping at us out of the fog doing nine knots or so; he missed us by a boat length. I barely saw him on radar, and he was going way too fast for the conditions, coming, as he did, out of the clear and into the fog. We had slowed to five knots, not enough way to dodge quickly. We wondered if he had wet himself when our fog horn went off.

Goose Rocks Light, in the Fox Isles Thorofare.

It cleared up beautifully as we approached the small community of North Haven on the eponymous island. I had chosen this route for the scenery, and with the fog out of the way we were not disappointed. We continued southeast past the Goose Rocks Light, around Calderwood Neck at the northeastern corner of Vinalhaven Island, and into Seal Bay, where I started working on this post yesterday morning (map).

Sunset over Seal Bay.

I can imagine this bay is chock full of cruising boats in the height of the summer, but we had our little section all to ourselves, with just another couple of boats in the distance in other parts of the bay. It is exquisitely beautiful, with the classic rocky shoreline and majestic trees of down east Maine. A couple of small houses could be found set a bit back from the water, and a lone lobster boat rode quietly on a mooring.

Looking east from our anchorage. The rocks at left  and the cut to the right are submerged at high tide -- accurate charts are a must here.

We could easily spend a week in this one bay, but with no Internet access and a tight schedule we spent just the one night. We did not see any seals during our stay, but found several sunning themselves on the rocks just as we were motoring out of the bay; just a bit too far to get a good photograph, but we saw them well through binoculars.

Five seals on these rocks.

Yesterday's cruise brought us north through Eastern Penobscot Bay, where we pounded into three-footers most of the day, past an array of lovely islands and remote fishing communities, and around the northwestern corner of Deer Isles, marked by the Pumpkin Island Lighthouse, into Eggemoggin Reach.

Eagle Island Light, as we slammed our way north.

Once in the Reach seas calmed down almost completely, with winds out of the north, and we had a beautiful ride under the graceful Deer Isles Bridge and past the Torrey Islands to where we are now, at anchor north of Babson Island near the Wooden Boat School (map). We once again have no cell signal, but there is a usable WiFi network here.

Pumpkin Island Lighthouse at the entrance to Eggemoggin Reach.

Our time down east is nearing the end. We have a firm date to be in Washington, DC mid-October, and we are now checking forecasts daily to see when we will have our first window for an ocean passage. We have six outside hops ahead of us, one of which will span three days, and the windows are becoming fewer, shorter, and farther between as the season draws on.

Deer Isles Bridge, over Eggemoggin Reach. Deer Isle is on the right, mainland on the left.

From here we proceed to our final scheduled stop, in the middle of Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. We plan to be there two nights, but I don't know if I will have enough signal there to post. After that we have one or two optional stops on our way to Mantinicus Island, our jumping-off point for the overnight run back to Gloucester for fuel.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bath time

I am typing under way, across the Muscongus Bay and just east of Pemaquid Point. Other than having to dodge the occasional lobster float, I have a couple of hours of open water ahead of me to catch up on the blog. In an hour we should reach Eastern Egg Rock and the start of the Old Hump Channel, a series of passages through the north-south ledges in the bay.

Mark Island Monument, on our way out to sea. It's already getting choppy.

We had a nice cruise to Bath from our cozy anchorage off Harpswell Neck. We did, however, bash into head seas on our way out into the north Atlantic, then had them on our beam for an hour or so until we reached the shelter of the Kennebec River.

Seguin Island, with its historic lighthouse, just south of the Kennebec River entrance.

Pond Island Light, in the mouth of the Kennebec. At high tide we were able to cut inside of Pond Island, leaving this to starboard.

We had a nice push all the way upriver to Bath. The river itself is quite scenic, and is still served by an array of century-old lighthouses, albeit miniature ones, in addition to some modern buoys and daybeacons.

The old Lifesaving Station, just inside the mouth of the Kennebec.

Fort Popham, defending the river.

Just downriver from Bath and the pair of bridges that connect it to Woolwich is the Maine Maritime Museum, which we opted to skip but which offers transient moorings for visitors for $35. We spotted a sharp looking Kadey Krogen on one of the moorings, the only other large cruising boat we'd seen on the whole river. We later learned it was our friends Bill and Lisa on Changing Course, whom we first met in Stuart and later encountered in the Bahamas. Bill noticed us going by and contacted me later; it was great catching up, and perhaps we'll see them again further south.

One of several miniature lighthouses along the river.

And another.

Next up, just before the bridges, is the enormous Bath Iron Works shipyard, part of defense contractor General Dynamics. They build the new Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers here, and USS Zumwalt, DDG-1000, was berthed on the river as we passed, with two more under construction behind her. The ever-present armed patrol boat eyed us as we went by, just outside of the security zone.

USS Zumwalt at Bath Iron Works dock. Lots of rust for a two-year-old; I think the Navy is still figuring out how to dock a ship with so much tumblehome. Yes, I saw it on radar.

The railroad bridge was already open when we arrived; we had called them on the phone after turning upriver just to be sure. The bridge tender goes home at 4:30 and leaves the bridge in the closed position. We cleared both bridges and arrived at the Bath town docks (map) nearly at slack water. We had called ahead to Sergeant Gould of the Bath Police Department, who is the harbormaster, for permission to spend the night (the dock, which is free, is normally posted no overnight docking).

We are quite used to docking unassisted, and, in fact, we generally prefer it that way. But as we approached the dock, we found ourselves scratching our heads -- there were no cleats. Instead, the dock was lined with a low horizontal rail made of 2x4s, stood off by about 2". We've seen this arrangement before, on dinghy docks, and it works well for small boats, where you just loop your line through and back to your own cleat. Looping a line through such an arrangement from the deck of Vector, however, presented a challenge.

Vector at the town dock in Bath. Note the weird, cleat-less mooring arrangement. We made the dock squeal against the dolphins all night.

I hovered a few feet off the dock as Louise fetched boat poles and started devising a strategy. Whenever we dock, we attract an audience, and this time was no exception. A kind bystander with his young daughter in tow came down to the dock and helped us secure the lines before we got the chance to try our luck. Next time, we'll be ready for such an arrangement.

After we tied up we walked through the nice riverside park, past the Ironworks entrance and the old train station (now a visitor center), and to the post office, so we could get a couple of packages mailed off. We came back along the historic main street, ending up at the local IGA grocery store for provisions, as much as we could carry between us with two backpacks. Fortunately, it's a short walk of just a couple hundred yards to the dock from this well stocked store, making Bath one of the most convenient grocery stops we've seen on the water.

We walked back into town in the evening for dinner at the highly rated Irish pub in town, where we found the food quite good and we were the only non-locals. A return visit to the grocery store rounded out the day, where the amused clerk noticed we were picking up a third 12-pack of beer (we could only carry two on the earlier trip). Not the cheapest beer we've seen, but the short walk from the store made us want to stock up.

In the morning we wandered back into town for a scrumptious breakfast at another highly rated establishment, the Starlight Cafe. Tucked out of the way underneath a century-old building, it would be easy to miss, but we were again the only non-locals. Open six days a week for breakfast and lunch, it was one of the highlights of the stop.

After breakfast we ambled through Reny's department store, in another historic storefront. They had a little bit of everything, from hardware to clothing to sporting goods, and it reminded us a bit of the place where we had spent the night in Odyssey on our first visit to Maine (even though that was just across the line, in New Hampshire). Louise then made haste for the Mariner's Compass quilt shop, while I strolled a bit more of the town and headed back to Vector to prepare for departure. It was a great stop, and there was even a water spigot on the dock so we could wrap up the last of our laundry backlog.

The railroad bridge was closed in the morning, so I called the tender first thing to make sure we'd get through around 11. Louise got back from her shopping just a little bit before then, and we called the bridge as we were letting go lines. They had the bridge lifted by the time we arrived, and we turned left after clearing the bridge into the Sasanoa River, leaving the Kennebec behind.

The Sasanoa is really a tidal channel, and there is a tricky section which is very narrow known as Upper Hell Gate. We had timed our departure to arrive there at slack current, and we did pretty well, arriving just after slack with just a bit of current against us, ideal for handling such a tricky spot. Unfortunately, this meant that we faced increasing current as we continued south, and we were right on schedule to have a whopping three knots on our nose by the time we reached Lower Hell Gate.

Rather than burn a bunch of extra fuel to get through this, we ended up dropping the hook in Hockomock Bay (map) for two hours, to arrive at Lower Hell Gate and The Boilers (another tricky section) at slack water. That put the current behind us afterward, and we ended up having to station keep for ten minutes at the Southport Island swing bridge.

Vector anchored in Boothbay Harbor.

It was a lovely cruise, even if the driving was challenging, and we are back to pleasant temperatures after a couple of cold and gray days. We arrived in Boothbay Harbor on a magnificent afternoon. Even with the two-hour stop, we arrived in plenty of time to hunt around for a good spot to anchor, and we definitely needed the time. The harbor is a sea of mooring balls, peppered with lobster floats, and even though a majority of the balls were empty now that the season is over, we had to try three times to set the anchor with enough swing room. We ended up just outside the inner harbor, west of McFarland Island (map).

Cocktails at Fisherman's Wharf, with the inner harbor in the background.

It took us nearly an hour to get anchored, between hunting, setting, and resetting, which made for a bit of a long day. We splashed the tender, thinking to just go ashore for a draft beer someplace, but while we sat at the bar at the Fisherman's Wharf Inn sipping our local drafts, we decided to just treat ourselves to something nice, and we ended up walking to the very nice Italian joint down the street, Ports of Italy. This place proved to be insanely popular, even past the season, and we were lucky to snag the penultimate table; right after we were seated a half-hour wait list formed. This being Maine, we both had seafood dishes and they would have been worth a wait.

Our view from dinner, the church across the harbor.

This morning we got a bit more exploring in while I tendered over to a marina for gasoline. The dinghy was nearly out, and I was not sure when next we'll see a fuel pump. On the way to the marina, we passed a moored float with nothing but a propane BBQ on it. Floats on moorings are common here, often with stacks of idle lobster pots or other commercial fishing gear on them, but this was a first for us. We also spotted a trawler (the real kind) called Ocean Venture, which caught our attention because the company that built Vector was called Ocean Venturers.


The other Ocean Venture.

Today's cruise was spectacular, but exhausting. It's over now, and we are anchored among the lobster boats in Tenants Harbor (map). Not long after I started typing, I had to give up because the lobster floats became so thick that I had to hand steer for much of the trip. At least I got started, and prepared the majority of the photos.

Marshall Point Light, at Port Clyde, after we'd come through the Old Hump Channel.

This is a lovely spot, and we may even spend a second night here. I had planned to continue north through Penobscot Bay tomorrow to some remote anchorage, but instead we need to be in Rockland, a large community north of here, at 4pm on Friday. That's when the UPS service center there opens, and we're having a MiFi device shipped there from our mail receiving service. Internet access is getting more and more difficult here, where my unlimited Sprint service is nearly useless, and Louise's paltry Verizon data bucket is insufficient even for uploading photos. We're already paying for service on the MiFi, which was doing us no good sitting in our mailbox in Florida.

South Island, approaching Tenants Harbor. The former light station is now a private house.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Headed Down East

We are anchored in Ash Point Cove, in the fork of Harpswell Neck (map). We are finally cruising the part of Maine we came here to see. I expect it will become more beautiful from here, as we move further "down east," until it is time for us to turn around and head south. That time is coming soon -- it's getting cold here.

Cape Elizabeth lighthouse, after making our turn.

The rest of our cruise into Portland Thursday was also quite lovely. Approaching Cape Elizabeth and navigating Casco Bay to the Portland Harbor entrance, between Portland Head and Cushing Island, involves avoiding any number of rocky shoals. While there are numerous modern navigational aids, including buoys and daybeacons, some of which mark specific hazards, with a good chart it's easy to come in using only the centuries-old lighthouses for guidance.

Portland Head Light. I just caught the flash in this shot.

Ram Island Light, well across the channel.

In fairly quick succession we rounded Cape Elizabeth Light, then steered directly for Portland Head Light, abreast of the Ram Island Ledge Light off of Cushing Island. From Portland Head it is another straight course to Spring Point Light, marking the entrance to the harbor. A pair of imposing forts guard the entrance, Fort Preble at Spring Point, and Fort Gorges across the channel on Hog Island.

Fort Preble, at Spring Point.

Spring Point Light, in our wake.

The other side of Portland's defenses, Fort Gorges on Hog Island.

We dropped the hook off Fort Allen Park, part of the Eastern Promenade, between two mooring fields (map). The prominent feature in the park is the mast of the WWII heavy cruiser USS Portland, the only part of the ship saved from the scrapyard. While this was actually the aftermast, as can be seen in this photo, and thus would not have shown any lights, today it shines red and green navigation lights from its yardarms after dusk, making it look as if a giant ship is bearing down on us. It called to mind an old joke about a radio conversation between a warship and a lighthouse (and yes, it was a joke, and not a true story as some on the Internet seem to believe).

The after mast of USS Portland, and some expensive Victorians.

We had a comfortable seven-hour cruise, but by the time we were anchored, the predicted winds were starting to come in, and there was a good chop in the anchorage overnight. We were quite comfortable -- it takes bigger swells to get our 110,000 pounds moving -- but we could see some boats around us bobbing like corks. We enjoyed a nice dinner aboard, indoors this time.

Things remained fairly rough well into Friday, and we simply stayed put, as planned, and got some things done around the boat. I tackled a long-standing project to route the generator crankcase vent back into the airbox in a home-brew PCV setup, and Louise made progress on some quilts. Sometime mid-day, we heard a familiar voice and boat name on the radio, a sailing catamaran that we had met in the Bahamas. The cruising community is a small world. They were already starting their trek south, and seemed surprised we were going the other way. An indoor helm station makes a world of difference.

Even though we had been prepared to stay hunkered down in the boat for the entire day, the winds had let up considerably by late afternoon, and there was even a hint of sunshine, and so we splashed the tender at dinner time and headed ashore. We ended up eating at a funky pizza-type joint right on the dock called Flatbreads. It was fantastic, but we kept remarking how it was impossible to tell which Portland we were in. If you've been to Portland (either one, apparently), you'll know what I mean.

The view toward Portland from our anchorage. A bit of a choppy ride to dinner.

By the time we finished eating, the sun had come out and it turned into a beautiful evening, so we strolled around the town for a while, and stopped into two equally funky markets to pick up what provisions we could. A stop at the wine and liquor store to replenish the beer supply rounded out our shore leave, and we headed home.

I left the tender in the water, thinking we might go ashore for a light breakfast and walk around some more, since we found the waterfront area so delightful. But when I stepped up into the pilothouse I was greeted by a view of two enormous cruise ships in port. That would not have hampered breakfast (cruise passengers seldom eat ashore; they've already paid for all-you-can-eat meals aboard ship), but it would have made strolling around town miserable.

The same view as above, Saturday morning. Liberty of the Seas and Norwegian Dawn.

We briefly considered staying another day to perhaps enjoy another of the myriad well-rated restaurants in the Old Port district, and stroll in the evening after the cruise ships departed, but nothing ashore called us that loudly, and we wanted to get back to cruising the coast, so we weighed anchor late in the morning.

The narrow-gauge tourist train passes us as we prepare to get under way.

I had called ahead on Friday to the harbormaster at the town of Falmouth, just a few miles north, because my guide said there was a dock there with water available for a short tie-up, and a small market nearby. He allowed that we would be the largest vessel ever to tie up there, but it was fine so long as the wind was not blowing too hard. Winds were light Saturday morning, so we headed to Falmouth at high tide, per his suggestion (there turned out to be plenty of depth at the dock).

In this part of the world, town docks and harbormaster departments are run by the police, and we were greeted at the Town Landing by the assistant harbormaster, a police officer. Handy if they need to jump in the patrol boat to do maritime law enforcement. It was an easy floating dock, but I could see how we could easily damage it in a blow.  The time limit is 20 minutes, but we asked for more time since it takes a while to fill our tank, and I wanted to walk to the store.

Vector at the Falmouth Town Landing.

We started the water fill and the generator so Louise could start the long-overdue laundry, and I walked up a good size hill to the Town Landing Market. This proved to be fairly well stocked, but very expensive, and I picked up only a few necessities. The only thing that looked inexpensive to me there were the lobsters -- fully cooked ones could be had for $7 apiece, they looked to be about a pound.

The Town Landing Market, up the hill from the dock.

We were at the dock for perhaps an hour, and we shoved off with little fanfare and a full water tank. Nice folks there in Falmouth. After getting the boat turned around and threading my way back through the town mooring field, we steered a course across Casco Bay, dodging and weaving among the myriad islands that comprise the bulk of the land area in this part of the state. Many of the islands are served by ferries from Portland; we had docked the dinghy just across from the ferry docks there.

In case you thought I was making fun of how Down Easters talk, it would appear they are aware...

I deliberately set a short route for the day, allowing for the water stop and also for getting my feet wet in a whole new kind of driving. This is our first experience navigating these deep, rocky channels with their significant and sometimes tricky currents, and "going aground" here means hitting a rock, a more dire event than running onto sand or mud, where I can usually just back out with damage to little other than pride and maybe bottom paint.

Driving around the islands and through the cuts proved no problem, but I found myself exhausted from dodging all the lobster pots. I'll be trying to keep to four-hour days from here on out until we are out of lobster-land.

Typical Maine island scenery. My chart says it will be dry under that bridge in the distance at low tide.

Shortly after we made our final turn, around the western fork of Harpswell Neck, as we were motoring to our anchorage here, we were hailed on the radio by someone at the nearby Dolphin Restaurant and Marina. I answered and we ended up chatting with Chris, one of the owners, who recognized Vector from the blog of our friends Steph and Martin aboard Blossom. Turns out that Chris had been aboard Blossom at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show last year.

We had been hemming and hawing about whether to eat aboard or head ashore to the Dolphin for dinner, but the call on the radio gave us a good excuse to give them a try. Chris was manning the bar for the evening, and we chatted with him over a beer while we waited for a table -- the place was packed. The food was tasty and the draft beer all local; we can recommend it as a cruising stop.

I had figured to weigh anchor this morning and continue on to the Kennebec River and then upriver to the city of Bath, which has a free dock for one night. That plan was nixed when Louise discovered a quilt shop just a few blocks from the town dock, but closed on Mondays. I was informed in no uncertain terms that we would be in Bath on Tuesday.

Not wanting to push our luck at the town dock for two nights, we opted to just stay here another day, and head to Bath tomorrow, which will mean we will still be there Tuesday morning and Louise can get her fix. Just as well, because today was a bleak, cold, rainy day -- not the best cruising weather -- and an allergy attack, my first in a long time, sapped all my energy anyway. It ended up being a quiet day at home, although I did get one project done.

Tomorrow we will weigh anchor in time to have a push most of the way up the Kennebec, arriving at Bath close to slack water to make docking simpler. We should be tied alongside by 3ish, assuming there is room at the dock, which will give us plenty of time to explore.