Thursday, August 6, 2020

Adios, Isaias

We are under way in the Gulf of Maine, after a lovely stay in Portsmouth, NH, only slightly interrupted by a tropical storm. We had a nice visit with my cousins, who were kind enough to receive our new batteries and other items for us, and I mostly finished the installation and cut-over of our new lithium battery system. I will have an entire post dedicated to this latter subject out soon.

Saturday we arrived at the mouth of the Piscataqua at an inopportune time in the tide cycle, and we had to battle our way upriver against a knot or two of current. It is particularly fierce around Fort Point, where the river makes a sharp turn. The ebb current, though, did make it possible to tie port-side-to at the face dock at the Portsmouth Yacht Club to offload a scooter. We also filled the water tank so we could get a couple weeks' worth of laundry done.

It was a slow spigot, and we were at the dock for over an hour and a half. As soon as the tank was full, we shoved off and headed for our assigned mooring in the river (map). That had us picking up the ball at exactly max current, not the easiest of tasks. Complicating matters, the pennant (or pendant -- I've never gotten a definitive answer on which is the preferred term) was very short, barely enough to reach Vector's forward hawse-holes.

Portsmouth's "on street" dining areas are protected by these water-filled temporary barriers. If you draw eyebrows on them and a vertical line for a nose, they look like faces; someone made a mask for this one, inspiring Louise to pose in hers.

Picking up a mooring on Vector involves coming alongside the ball and bringing the pennant up to above deck level at one of the large freeing areas forward of the Portuguese. The bulwarks at the bow are just too high -- some ten feet or so above the waterline -- to reach a pennant eye. So we normally loop our line through the pennant eye at the freeing area, then walk it forward to the bow as the boat drifts back.

In the strong, turbulent current, I just could not keep the boat directly alongside the ball long enough for Louise to get the eye to where she could loop it. In the process of trying, we lost one of our expensive collapsible boat poles overboard (once the hook is in the eye, it's almost impossible to release, and you can't hold the force of the whole boat hanging onto a pole). They float, but the current was so swift the pole was too far downriver to retrieve before anyone could get it.

Ultimately we conceded defeat, and had the yacht club dockhands come out in the launch, take our line, loop it through the pennant, and throw it back to us. We settled in, enjoyed our cocktail hour on deck, and decided to eat aboard rather than try to find patio dining in a tourist town on a Saturday night.

Vector at Prescott Park, in the calm before the storm. Someone erased the river, and Maine.

With my various parts at the local Amazon counter, and the batteries already sitting at my cousins' house, Sunday I tore into the battery project, doing the carpentry work to fit the new batteries under the saloon settee. It was dirty work in a cramped compartment, and took me a good part of the day, in part owing to some unanticipated structure right where the batteries needed to go. The oscillating tool got a good workout right along with me.

We had planned to take the launch ashore for dinner and to pick up my parts, but by dinner time I was feeling crummy and the weather was uncooperative, so we ended up never leaving the boat. Instead I headed ashore stag first thing Monday morning to ride to the Amazon counter, in a local Rite-Aid store. I also walked to the Hannaford grocery right next door and picked up a backpack full of fresh provisions.

Parts in hand, I spent the rest of Monday running and terminating battery cables, installing other parts, and generally getting as close to ready as I could for the actual arrival of the batteries. Even on a Monday evening, the restaurants downtown were so booked up for outside dining that the best we could do was a 7pm reservation at the Old Ferry Landing. That meant splashing the tender, as we'd arrive back at the club after the launch service ended at 8pm.

The tide here runs ten feet, with current to match. Several buildings around town have these "tide clocks" on them. This one was more or less correct when I passed, but I've no idea if it even moves.

This is a fried-seafood-and-sandwich joint that would never be our first choice in Portsmouth, but our dining now revolves around the availability of outside tables, and they had one. The food was fine, and we enjoyed people-watching and strolling around the downtown waterfront area. I was surprised at just how many tourists were in town on a Monday. We made note of which restaurants now have previously-unavailable outside dining, due to takeover of on-street parking spaces.

We decked the tender as soon as we returned to Vector, in anticipation of the arrival of Tropical Storm Isaias, which was being forecast as a direct hit throughout much of the day. That forecast gave us second thoughts about our initial plan to spend the storm on the beefy PYC mooring. Not because we thought it would be unsafe, but, rather, because we experienced some uncomfortable motion when wind was opposed to current overnight, and we figured to be absolutely miserable aboard when the winds ratcheted up to TS force.

Rather than secure everything against that kind of motion and resign ourselves to perhaps eight hours of misery, I booked the T-head at the downtown Prescott Park dock (map), where we had stayed on our last visit. I was a bit surprised it was still available. Tuesday we dropped our mooring just as the flood began and headed upriver a couple of miles to the dock. We left the scooter at PYC.

Another one for our many UU friends: South Church.

Most of the morning was given over to running through our windstorm checklist. The storm was going to ace us out of walking someplace nice for dinner, one of the main attractions of this dock, and so we instead walked over to the Gas Light Company for a late lunch of wood-fired pizza di parking-space. While we were eating, my cousin Lori called to say she wanted to drive up from Chester with our packages, rather than wait on plans for the whole family to gather for dinner Wednesday. I was happy to have the batteries in hand while we could easily load them at the dock, and continue the project with shore power available.

This is a Honda Ruckus; as 49cc scooters go, they are rather uncommon ...

Isaias ended up being a non-event. Our anemometer just barely registered tropical-storm force winds for one brief moment. We got some rain, and hours of wind in the mostly 20-30 range. We've had worse thunderstorms come out of nowhere. Still, we were glad to be at the dock rather than bouncing around on a mooring ball. I spent most of the storm making bus bars and installing batteries, and now we have another notch on our named tropical storm belt (six, and counting).

... owing to their rugged industrial look that is anything but "Vespa."

Yesterday morning I finished up the battery installation and cutover, glad to have been able to do this final item while still on shore power. In the afternoon I had a nice stroll around town, replenished the beer supply, and walked in to a nice Italian joint downtown to make a dinner reservation for five of us later in the evening.

With such a tiny share of the scooter market we seldom see these ...

We dropped lines at high slack and headed right back to the same mooring ball at PYC. They were happy to have the ball free while we were at the dock, as they got a last-minute request from another boater seeking a secure mooring for the storm. Arriving at slack, we had little trouble picking up the ball this time, although Louise did grab it at the boarding gate, even further aft than usual, owing to its very short length.

... except in Portsmouth, where by law, there is one on literally every street corner.

We splashed the tender, headed ashore, and rode the scooter right back downtown in the evening, meeting my cousins at Massimo's Ristorante, where once again we dined in a parking space. We enjoyed catching up, and celebrating an important birthday milestone: my cousin Joe turned 16 yesterday, and soon will be driving. It was great seeing everyone, and we'll try to swing back by on our way south later in the season.

I got chastised for parking like this one, and was told instead to park on the sidewalk (really).

With nothing else calling us to stay in Portsmouth, and especially with nothing in walking distance of the yacht club, we decided to continue north this morning. We dropped the mooring at the tail end of the ebb, so we could again come port-side-to at the face dock to load the scooter back aboard. By 9:30 we were back underway, leaving the Piscataqua on the last of the ebb.

Did I mention there are a lot of Rucki in Portsmouth? Here we see a family of three.

We passed Kennebunkport a short while ago (probably a nice stop, but at $7 per foot, we're not dying to find out) and we have our sights set on an anchorage behind Fletcher Neck. We're in Maine now, and as a welcoming gift, I have been dodging lobster floats all day. Our reward, soon enough, will be inexpensive lobster rolls.

As near as we can tell, there is a Honda dealer in town pushing these things. I took all these pics in the span of just a few city blocks. We saw dozens more walking around town.

Update: We are anchored in Woods Island Harbor, near the community of Saco, Maine (map). I had to knock off writing a good half hour out because the lobster floats got thick and I had to thread the needle between rocky islands to get here. We should have a comfortable night, and in the morning we will continue north.

As I was on the bridge getting ready to pull away from the dock I notice even the dockhand has one. I missed my chance to ask him why they are so popular here.

A note about the blog: Blogger has changed its editing interface. I have resisted moving to the new system because there are many, many complaints about the inability to control formatting as in the past. But starting this month, I have no choice. This is my first post with the new system, and I hope it will display as intended for most of you. I may have to make some adjustments as we move forward. Please let us know in the comments if the formatting is weird or the links do not work.

Saturday, August 1, 2020


We are underway across Bigelow Bight in the Atlantic Ocean, with Ipswich Bay behind us. We had a lovely five-night stay in Gloucester Massachusetts, and today we have near-perfect conditions for the 30-mile run to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Vector in Gloucester Harbor.

We had managed to snag the perfect spot in the anchorage, which, with 35' depths at the top of the 10' tide swing, can fit at most three boats.  One boat was already anchored, and a boat which we overtook on our way into the harbor arrived right behind us and had to settle for a much tighter spot.

We had planned to spend only two or three full days in town, but my cousins in New Hampshire are busy this weekend, taking my aunt and uncle on holiday for their 50th. Considering there is basically no place to anchor in Portsmouth, and we'd be paying either for a mooring or a dock the whole time, we decided instead not to arrive until today.

City Hall. The clocks, one on each side, can be seen anywhere in the harbor, and are correct.

We briefly considered leaving Gloucester yesterday or even sooner, and perhaps picking up a mooring at Gosport Harbor in the Isles of Shoals. But that's a dicey proposition -- you have to leave the mooring if a club member wants it -- and everything there is shuttered due to the pandemic, with no landing ashore allowed.

How many towns have a "shellfish constable"?

Since we had a good spot, and nice weather, and a half dozen or more decent outdoor dining venues in walking distance, we opted to just stay in "Glosta" for the duration. We did do some walking around town and dining out, but mostly stayed on the boat, where I got a few projects done. There is a very nice hardware store right next to the dinghy dock.

For our many UU readers: the oldest UU church in the country.

We did have a bit of excitement when a line of thunderstorms passed through Thursday evening, cancelling our dinner plans ashore. It was short-lived and we barely got wet, but the unoccupied sailboat next to us, which had been there since our arrival, dragged anchor a couple of boatlengths, nearly into the mooring field.

The other excitement that transpired on the radio was a fishing vessel assisting a pleasure boat in the outer harbor taking on water. We recognized the name as one of the Wicked Tuna cast,, a name which the Coast Guard had to ask them to repeat three times. All was well in the end, but we could see none of it from where we were.

Another view of Vector in the harbor, from Solomon Jacobs Park.

While I did get a few other minor projects done around the boat, including tightening up the lacing on the new soft top, and wiring the satellite compass to the autopilot, most of my time went down the sinkhole of the lithium battery project. Even so-called "drop-in" replacement batteries never just "drop in," and I spent hours engineering the installation.

Principally I needed to line up all the ancillary parts I would need, so I could get them ordered while we have a good address in Portsmouth. That included 30' of 2/0 Diesel Locomotive cable to run to the new battery compartment in the saloon, lugs to terminate the cables, copper bar to interconnect the batteries, shrink tubing, a circuit breaker, and a small 12-volt lithium-compatible charger to "top up" each battery individually before installation, as recommended by the manufacturer, since we did not have a single 12v charger on the boat.

Sunset over Gloucester from our deck.

The batteries arrived yesterday at my cousins' house, and not a moment too soon, as our six Lifelines have fallen off the cliff. I charge them up before I go to bed, and six hours later, after running only the fridge, the anchor light, a few instruments, and a small fan, they are nearly at cut-out. The charger then runs only about a half hour before it's basically done. I would estimate the batteries are now down to about a third of their original capacity.

At under two years old and in excellent physical condition, these batteries can likely be recovered, to perhaps 90% or maybe even more of their capacity. But that needs to be done one battery at a time, with a charger with the proper settings (or better yet, a pulse desulfator) in a well-ventilated area. Ideally, using cheap utility power, or perhaps even solar. All of that is beyond our abilities on the boat, so I will hope to sell them to someone who wants to try.

The iconic "Man at the Wheel" memorial to fallen fishermen, snapped as we waited for the Blynman Bridge.

We enjoyed outside dining, in some cases in newly-created space in what formerly was on-street parking, at Oliver's Harbor, Topside Grille, Franklin Cafe Cape Ann, and Jalapeno's. I wrote here last time we ate at Jalapeno's that Gloucester is a long way from Mexico, and that is still true. I grilled a nice steak on deck the evening of the storm.

With just the right combination of tide and current, this morning we took a new route, through the Blynman Canal with its lift bridge and into the Anisquam River, coming out in Ipswich Bay and cutting off three miles or so to go around Cape Ann. On a gorgeous Saturday the harbor, canal, and river were jam-packed with boats.

This popular day anchorage and beach at the mouth of the Anisquam was packed with unmasked partiers rafted together. Massachusetts is already surging.

As I finish typing, Isles of Shoals is off our starboard bow, and we are just an hour from the mouth of the Piscataqua. We have a reservation for a mooring on a 5,000+ pound block at the Portsmouth Yacht Club. We'll be riding out Isaias on that mooring when he arrives, so our fingers are crossed that the club maintains the tackle in good order.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Pilgrims' Progress

We are underway in the Atlantic Ocean, bound for the bustling seaport of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The forecast was for two footers today, but so far it has been calmer than that. We are on a rhumb line from Plymouth Light, and Massachusetts Bay will be off to port all day. We are skipping Boston and its environs on this pass. It's 100° today, a good day to be underway with the pilothouse A/C running.

Shortly after I last posted here, we tendered back through the hurricane barrier into New Bedford harbor and landed at the town dinghy dock, behind the lightship Nantucket. We walked a few blocks along cobblestone streets into the historic old town in search of safe-looking outside dining, which we found at the Moby Dick Brewing Company on Water Street.

Vector at anchor in Plymouth Harbor.

The name is a nod to the city's extensive whaling history, which is memorialized all over town, but especially in the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park, which comprises the old downtown, wherein we found dinner. After finishing our decent meal with house-brewed ale, we strolled the district a little, passing the Whaling Museum on our way back to the waterfront.

Shortly after returning to Vector, another vessel came into our anchorage, the 145' OSV/survey vessel Danielle Miller. They dropped the hook close enough that we could hear her generators all night, and her decks were well lit. Other than that, it was a calm and peaceful night.

Flux tied up alone at the dinghy dock, in front of the light ship. Louise very stylish in her mask.

In the morning I pulled the last remaining start battery out, loaded the two batteries and our folding "schlepper" into the dink, and headed back into the harbor and the Gifford Street boat ramp dock. I also brought the e-bike and a backpack along, leaving them locked in the tender while I walked the batteries over to Advanced Auto Parts.

The walk wasn't too bad; I stayed mostly in the street for a less bumpy experience than the sidewalks with the little cart's small wheels. I did have to go up and down a bit of a hill, but overall not too bad. They had my batteries ready and waiting and the exchange was quick. Oddly, one battery bore Advanced's "Autocraft" brand like the ones I brought in and the other, clearly identical battery was a Die-Hard.

Old batteries ready for transport. You can see the e-bike still folded in the tender.

After returning to the dock, I locked the new batteries under the tender seat, unfolded the bike, and set out for the Save-a-Lot store, within which was the Amazon locker. I picked up my packages and then filled our provision list, a challenge at this store. Still, it was right there, and with weather moving in, I did not want to take the time to ride even further to a better store. I was able to fill most of the list, and at least the prices are good.

I should mention here that, after posting about the need for new batteries and our plans to divert to New Bedford to be able to get them in walking distance, a number of folks reached out with offers to drive me to the store for batteries at one port or another.  And, while we were in Newport, friends who live in the area offered to come pick us up and feed us a home-cooked meal; I'm quite certain they would have swung me by the auto parts store, too.

This old street would have been miserable on the cart's little wheels, except someone paved me a cart path.

While the offers are greatly appreciated, and oh, how we would love to sit down to a nice meal with good friends in their own back yard. we're not yet ready to get into an automobile. We're trying not to spend much time in enclosed spaces of any sort, including public restrooms, stores, or even the short trip from the front door to the back patio at many restaurants. Enclosed vehicles of any stripe are not in our near future. That goes for planes, trains, buses, enclosed launches, and even the automobiles of our own relatives.

I hadn't really thought about it until this came up, but reflecting upon it, the last time were were in a car was exactly five months ago, back in February, when we took a Lyft back to Vector from the Enterprise car rental in Fort Lauderdale. The rental car had carried us to Orlando and back for a visit with family, and then we used it to load up on provisions for what we thought would be three months in the Bahamas.

Harpoon launcher outside the Whaling Museum.

We are very fortunate to have our pair of motor scooters on deck. That allowed us to do a lot of errands and provisioning in Jacksonville after we returned from the Bahamas without having to use transit, ride sharing, or even a rental car. When the end came for our cat, we had to find a vet to which we could walk from the dock.

At some point we may find ourselves with no choice, particularly if either of us needs medical care. But for now, we're minimizing risk by staying out of vehicles. That goes both ways: we've been in three states in the last two weeks, and in tourist-laden spots in each. We don't want to be unwitting carriers and expose our family or friends any more than we want to be exposed ourselves.

At the boat ramp lot I encountered new-driver training for the local school system, which I gather is planning to open.

I made it back to Vector in time to beat the incoming weather, and we stowed the provisions and e-bike and decked the tender as quickly as we could. I was a little sad to be leaving New Bedford so hastily, as there is a lot of history there and we would have enjoyed another night or two. Not enough, mind you, to pay $45 a night for a mooring ball, though, and things would soon become uncomfortable outside the barrier.

What we needed for a comfortable night was protection from the south, and so after weighing anchor we proceeded around the corner to the east, hoping to get behind West Island for the night. Studying the chart, it seemed like the bottom might be too rocky there for good holding, and so we instead continued another few miles to a familiar anchorage at Mattapoisett, Massachusetts (map). We checked in with the harbormaster, dropped our hook in the designated spot just as last time, and had a comfortable night. We did not go ashore.

Not sure if this was a bad sign.

Friday morning we got an early start, to have a favorable tide through Buzzards Bay, the Canal, and into Cape Cod Bay. At under 65', we are not required to get clearance from Canal Control, but we called then anyway at the Hog Island buoys to get a traffic check. We had two knots on our stern at the entrance, and closer to three mid-canal, making it a challenge to keep below the 8.5kt canal speed limit.

That speed limit did not seem to faze a number of pleasure craft, including a large downeast that passed us on full plane with a large wake. Before he got out of site he was pulled over by the Canal patrol boat, who clearly lectured him for quite a while. They let him go just as we reached them, and he immediately cut across our bow. He got his comeuppance when he launched violently off a wave in a rough section where strong wind against the three-knot current had the canal churned into steep four-footers. We had to dog everything down.

We shot out of the canal by lunch time, and with conditions on the bay a bit uncomfortable for anchoring in our customary spot off the beach, we continued to the next protected spot, the twin harbors of Plymouth and Duxbury. At a tide of +9' and rising, we cut a few corners on the entrance and whizzed into Plymouth Harbor, where we dropped the hook in the only available anchorage, well outside the breakwater on the eastern edge of the harbor (map).

A rock.

Plymouth is a giant tourist trap, and the enormous harbor with hundreds of moorings makes it a popular weekend and day-trip destination for go-fast boats from all over the state. Anchored outside of the no-wake zone, we knew it would be a somewhat bouncy weekend. But we prefer not to move on weekends if we can avoid it, because traffic is horrible and finding a spot to anchor in New England can be impossible. Well-anchored in a good spot, we decided to just hunker down for the weekend.

The worst wakes were from the giant high-speed whale watching boats, perhaps a half dozen times a day. We were far enough from the channel that the really little boats hardly bothered us. And it was dead calm at night in the protected harbor. We had a mostly comfortable and pleasant three nights. We managed to get ashore for walks daily, and we went out for dinner twice, with good people-watching.

Mini-protest on my way into town.

The local museums are closed, but the rock is, well a rock, and there is lots of history here, even if it has been co-opted by the tourism industry. On Saturday I came across a mini-protest, with BLM supporters on the Coles Hill side of water street, and Trump supporters across the street in front of the rock, each group trying to garner support from passing cars. Coles Hill is also the site of the annual Thanksgiving "day of mourning," near the statue of Massasoit.

The Mayflower II, incidentally, is not in town; we tied our dinghy up right near her berth. She left Mystic Seaport on the 20th after a three-year refurbishment there, but she went to New London for crew training and sea trials before she returns to Plymouth. I'm sorry we did not cross paths on the water (we were in Newport when she left Mystic), as it would have been nice to see her under way.

This plaque near Massasoit speaks for itself.

Update: we are anchored in a familiar spot in Gloucester harbor (map), and in a few days we should be in Portsmouth, where we will visit my cousins, the same ones we saw in Orlando. We'll be practicing social distancing, and we're still working on picking venues to meet up that do not involve conveyances. This will be the first family either of us has seen since the pandemic began.

I've ordered new batteries sent to their house for them to bring to us. Unlike our last set, weighing in at half a ton, the new batteries are Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) and will come in at under 100 pounds for the four of them, so I had few qualms about asking them to cart them for us.

A view from Coles Hill over the rock and its colonnade out to the harbor. Vector is a tiny dot above the colonnade. Protest in the foreground; the Trump support is pretty thin.

At some point in the future I will do a complete write-up on the LiFePO4 project, which is very much a work in progress and is being driven by our AGM Lifelines being prematurely at end-of-life. But for the curious, we went with the Lion Energy UT1300 items, because we can fit all four of them in an existing compartment under our settee. I got a good deal using a discount code, and you can do the same by ordering from this affiliate link, which will get you 15% off list direct from the manufacturer.

I'm still working on ordering all the pieces and parts needed for the project, including a bunch of 2/0 battery cable, terminal ends, switches, and the like. With any luck I should have everything I need by the time the batteries arrive in a week or so. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

New England at last

We are under way eastbound in Buzzards Bay, headed for New Bedford, Massachusetts, with Rhode Island behind us. We have a short window; seas today are a rolling two feet or so, but they deteriorate starting tomorrow.

Friday night after I finished posting here, I was finally able to get a glimpse of Comet Neowise, the light pollution of Connecticut notwithstanding. It was barely visible with the naked eye, and quite clear in my binoculars. I'm glad I saw it, because it's been cloudy every day since.

We woke Saturday morning to dense fog in our little cove. From the radio traffic it was clear the fog extended all the way across the sound to the Connecticut harbors, and around the corner through Plum Gut and into Orient and Peconic Bay. Fortunately, the uncomfortable swell that had been with us well into the evening had settled as night fell, and by morning we were comfortable, so we could wait for the fog to lift.

Passing the (modern) tall ship Oliver Hazard Perry and Fort Adams on our way out of Newport this morning.

It was 11am before we had enough visibility to get under way, about a quarter mile, with the forecast saying it should have lifted by 10 or so. Not long after leaving the cove and into the main part of the sound, it dropped again to less than 1/8 mile, and then even less. We engaged the automated fog horn, adjusted the radar, and kept a sharp lookout all the way to the gut.

Things finally started to clear a bit as we approached Orient Point Light, just in the nick of time for me to do a pas de deux with the enormous superyacht Excellence, who appeared out of the fog on my port side. We had seen her well out on AIS (and heard her even louder foghorn) and made arrangements by radio, but still she passed astern of us by less than a boat length (hers, not ours). Once we could see her, I recognized her from several photos recently posted online.

We shot through Plum Gut with three knots behind us and steered for Montauk, thankfully in decent visibility. The fog delay in our departure meant we'd be arriving at the inlet at dead low tide, and we briefly contemplated anchoring instead in the cove to the west called Fort Pond Bay, a popular day anchorage adjacent to a highly rated lobster restaurant with a dock. Ultimately we decided to make Montauk Harbor and drop a lunch hook, if need be, to wait on tide to get into the lake.

The 260' yacht Excellence emerges from the fog. Standing joke on the Internet is that she was built upside-down (zoom in on the bow).

The Coast Guard had been making announcements all morning about a hazardous debris field off Montauk entrance, consisting of a couple dozen crates and a sheen. We never saw it, though, and had an uneventful cruise all the way into the harbor, passing a giant line of RVs camped on the beach for the weekend. We found a pocket of depth off-channel at the very sound end of the harbor and dropped the hook, just a few hundred feet from Gurney's Resort (map). That was good enough for overnight, and we no longer had to worry about picking our way through the shallow channel into the lake.

Our friends on the South Fork, whom we had hoped to see at least briefly while in town, had other commitments in the evening, and we ended up booking a table at Showfish restaurant at the nearby resort for just the two of us, on a nice outside patio. Consistent with Montauk and East Hampton in general, this was the most expensive meal, bar none, that we have had since returning to the US. Other than the price, it was unremarkable, but we were glad for the opportunity to get off the boat.

After dinner we took a short stroll around the grounds. We had to dodge a groundskeepers golf cart as the young man was distracted by a powder blue Lamborghini backing out of the parking lot; this is the essence of the Hamptons. Vector with her rust stains, the only boat anchored in the harbor, did not really fit in with the array of mult-million-dollar yachts and million-dollar runabouts filling the harbor. Most of the riff-raff was anchored in the lake, ironically abreast of the tony Lake Club.

Vector, from our table on the patio at Showfish.

We were glad to have seen it, and it's nice to be familiar with the closest protected harbor to Montauk Point, whose sometimes extreme conditions are belied by the pair of USCG Motor Lifeboats stationed here. But one night was plenty, and with a short window of good seas, we weighed anchor first thing Sunday morning to cross to Rhode Island. We had to dance around a large sailing cat that had come in after dark and dropped their hook right next to us.

Our plan had been to head to the Great Salt Pond anchorage on Block Island. This anchorage is sort of party central on the weekends, at least in normal times, but we had hopes that it might be a bit quieter after Sunday night, and it's a fun place to just sit on deck and watch the shenanigans. But the forecast had deteriorated for the coming week, and if we stopped at Block Island, it looked like we would be there for three nights, which is a bit much. Instead, we set a course for Narraganset Bay and Newport.

Fog had been moving in as we weighed anchor, but we had good visibility leaving the harbor. That soon changed, and just a mile or two out, I again had to switch on the fog horn. We ran the horn for the next three hours straight. Despite visibility of less than 1,000', we did not hear a single other fog signal, and of the myriad small boats that came zipping out of the fog bank right at us, only perhaps one in 50 had its navigation lights on.

Sunset over Gurney's Resort, Montauk. Lighthouse is fake; restaurant is at left. Lots of spendy boats, including the 86 Nordhavn Divemaster, flying a rainbow-striped US flag mimetic.

The direct route from Montauk to Newport intersects the direct route from Block Island to Fisher Island Sound, the return path to all destinations along the Connecticut coast. As we approached that intersection, the conga line of weekenders returning from Block Island started coming fast and furious. We could see maybe 5% of them on AIS, and perhaps three quarters of them on radar, but the rest just appeared out of nowhere. No lights, no fog horns, and for many, no radar, but zipping along on full plane in near zero visibility. Our Kahlenbergs might well have been the only thing keeping us safe.

Visibility finally improved just as we rounded Point Judith into Narraganset Bay. Good thing, because on a Sunday afternoon, the bay was chock-a-block with sailboats out for a day cruise. In open water, we have to avoid sailboats under sail alone, there is no negotiation. And in a crowded sailing area on a slow boat, that can be a challenge. I hand steered the rest of the way to the harbor.

Newport harbor is always crowded during the season, and with most of the available water peppered in mooring balls, there are not a lot of places to anchor. Nevertheless we found a clear spot, and dropped the hook just off Lime Rock and the Ida Lewis Yacht Club (map). Our previous spot, north of Goat Island, would not have been suitable in the coming southerlies.

Newport harbor from our anchorage. The wide angle does not do justice to how close together the boats are.

This was a great spot for three nights, well protected and an easy dinghy ride to town. I was surprised by the amount of tourism, with only perhaps two thirds of tourists masked walking through town. Masks seemed to mostly be enforced in restaurants and shops, and all the staff were wearing them. While indoor dining is open here, we still only felt safe on well-spaced patios, and we enjoyed sidewalk dining at the Surf Club, eating on the patio at The Landing on Bowen's Wharf, and eating in a bank parking lot (really) adjacent to old standby Perro Salado. In honor of National Ice Cream Day we bought cones on the wharf Monday.

I spent the bulk of my time trying to bring resolution to our battery problems. At least one day, we ran the gen for seven straight hours while I charged and equalized the house batteries, really to no avail. They're just done, prematurely, and I spent numerous hours researching LiFePO4 alternatives to replace them. On top of that, our starting batteries have given up the ghost after nearly six years (a good run); I removed one of the pair, which was completely bad, but the remaining one is not enough to start the main engine on its own.

While the house battery issue will have to simmer until we have a good shipping address, at the expense of increased generator run time, the starting batteries just need an Advanced Auto Parts store. There's one in Newport, but no good way to get there without getting on a city bus, which is off the table for the time being. And thus it is that we are headed to New Bedford, where I can cart them on our hand truck the three quarters of a mile from the dinghy dock. We also ordered a few items to the Amazon locker in town.

Bella Vita. Again. There is no escaping her.

We had one night where we caught another glimpse of the comet, this time over the Claiborne Pell suspension bridge. And while I can't capture it on my phone, the harbor lights are delightful at night. At least ten sailing yachts in the harbor are tall enough to require a red light on top, per FAA rules. Harbor tour boats passed us close aboard several times daily, and we even took our own little harbor tour in the dinghy, where we discovered that Bella Vita, who has been shadowing us all over the country, is here too. Every day we were also surrounded by a fleet of Optis helmed by pint-sized sailors from the nearby yacht club sailing school.

Update: We are anchored in the "outer harbor" of New Bedford, in federal anchorage A (map). We went all the way to the inner harbor, through the open Tainter gates in the 60's-era hurricane barrier, only to find that anchoring is no longer permitted anywhere in the harbor. We did not want to pay for a mooring, and it's calm enough out here, at least for tonight, to anchor. Later we'll tender the mile or so back to town to check things out and maybe find some dinner.

Approaching the New Bedford Hurricane Barrier.

In the morning I will be schlepping the two old start batteries over to Advanced Auto, where the two replacements are already waiting with my name on them. And in a separate trip, I will take the e-Bike to the Amazon locker and the grocery store to reprovision. Seas are supposed to pick up after tomorrow, so we may end up moving to the next bay east for better protection.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Long Island is aptly named

We are under way eastbound in Long Island Sound. We're running along a part of the north shore of Long Island that is devoid of bays, coves, or harbors, and we have our sights set on the next usable anchorage, in a little cove off Truman Beach, in Southold.

One World Trade Center as seen through the fins of The Oculus

Tuesday we went ashore for breakfast outside at our favored bagel joint. Having checked the tide tables to determine that Wednesday was perfect for departure, we paid for just one more night at the anchorage. After breakfast I returned ashore with the fully charged e-bike to do some more exploring.

USS Intrepid museum. We could see her superstructure from our anchorage.

I rode all the way down to the Battery on the very nice riverside bike trail that runs the length of the island. I diverted a block east to the World Trade Center, where I found the 9/11 memorial fountains completely fenced off. The Oculus was eerily silent and empty; as a mall it is closed, but it is open for transit riders, where it serves as a giant interchange. On a weekday in the financial district, with no tourism, it hosted but a small handful of riders. It was open for entry, but I am avoiding unnecessary indoor spaces.

The entire district was empty. Wall Street was a ghost town, the Charging Bull standing as a monument to American hubris. I miss Fearless Girl standing in defiance on Bowling Green. I continued into Battery Park, around Castle Clinton, and worked my way back north through Battery Park City. I was struck by how empty the harbor was.

9/11 Memorial fountain as seen from The Oculus. 1WTC at right.

The restaurants along the waterfront were all open for patio dining and were doing a brisk business for a weekday afternoon. The marina, not so much: it was empty. I am not sure if they have closed their transient dockage, or simply have no takers. I continued north on the bikeway to midtown, where I again made a brief detour a couple of blocks east to the new Hudson Yards development. It all looks quite nice, and I look forward to going in, should it ever again be safe to do so.

Looking down into The Oculus. Normally this floor would be packed with people.

My battery thankfully lasted all the way back to the dock, after a ride of perhaps 12 miles. The bike is nominally rated for 15. I was back on board, bike in hand, well before cocktail hour. We returned ashore in the evening for one last meal, at ho-hum Italian place Salumeria Rosi, and to restock some fresh provisions at the Fairway market before returning to the boat.

Wednesday morning we decked the tender, and at an appropriate time in the tidal cycle, we weighed anchor and cruised over to the dock to take on water. The weird nature of hydraulic currents around Manhattan meant that, in order to have a fair tide all the way around the island and out into Long Island Sound, we were docking at near max current, bow headed upriver. That aced us out of also pumping out, which is on the port side. It took over an hour to fill the water tank, during which time we also offloaded the trash and recycling.

Looking across the harbor at Lady Liberty and Ellis Island from The Battery. Anyone who has been here will be struck by the fact that there is not a single vessel to be seen in the harbor.

Our timing was impeccable, and we zipped down the Hudson, around the Battery, and right back up the East River with anywhere from one to two knots behind us. An old high school chum lives on the Upper East Side in sight of the river; a year or so ago we had agreed to try to connect the next time we came through. Little did we know. In lieu of an actual meetup, he waved to us from shore and took a few photos as we steamed by. I had just enough time to wave before having to turn my complete attention to the helm..

Vector at the dock for water, amid a sea of rusty moorings.

We hit Hell Gate with three knots behind us. The confluence of three hydraulic channels, with an island in the middle to boot, makes for a swirling maelstrom of eddies and countercurrents that roll the boat and can spin it around if not paid attention to. I'm used to it now, and fortunately there was no other traffic and I could follow my preferred line. We had a nice push all the way to the sound, past all the usual landmarks.

The high-zoot North Cove Marina in Battery Park City was empty.

Normally on this leg, we would stop at Port Washington on Manhasset Bay. In addition to a nice anchorage, they have a mooring field which offers two free nights, a launch, a pumpout boat, and two free dinghy docks with access to a nice grocery store and a few restaurants. As with so many of our usual stops, we felt no need in the Covid era, and so we decided to forego the four-mile detour into and back out of the harbor, and availed ourselves of what was left of the tide to get a bit further along.

"The Vessel," an interactive sculpture of staircases and balconies.

That had us dropping the hook in a small cove between Matinecock Point and Peacock Point (map), where we had a nice sunset, and a view of the beachgoers on Pryibil Beach. We had a nice dinner aboard and a very calm, quiet night. I hoped that we might see Comet Neowise once away from the city lights, but it was too cloudy.

Vector steaming up the East River, passing Roosevelt Island. Photo: Flash Sheridan

Yesterday we got an early start, intending to make it a long day and get all the way here. The forecast was for one footers on a long period, perfect conditions. The forecast was also for five knots of wind, but we soon had treble that under way, and  as we angled further and further from the shore. conditions got uncomfortable, with steep two footers on a short period.  We're not in a rush, and so rather than continue to bash through them, we angled back to shore to seek shelter, before the long harborless stretch of shoreline.

I set a course for the last harbor in the eastbound direction, which looked to be easy in and easy out: Mount Sinai Harbor. I knew we'd find it chock-a-block with mooring balls, but figured we'd find a spot to drop the hook -- the harbor is enormous. Turns out I figured wrong; while perhaps a third or more of the moorings were empty, they had still planted a ball in every square meter of harbor that could hold a boat.

One WTC as seen from Brookfield Center in Battery Park City.

Reluctantly, we beat a retreat and backtracked three miles to Port Jefferson Harbor, where I had to squeeze in line between a loaded tow and a car ferry to run the inlet. We pulled off channel just inside the harbor, headed for the eastern shore away from the ferry wakes, and dropped the hook (map). This turned out to be a popular watersports area, and on a sunny day we were circled by all manner of jet skis, wakeboards, Big Mables, and center consoles. By sunset they had all departed, and we had the corner to ourselves for the night, another quiet and peaceful stay. After dinner I got a much needed haircut on the swim step.

Sunset over western Long Island Sound from Peacock Point.

This morning we got another early start, and have had the excellent conditions that we had hoped for yesterday. It's a straight shot down the bay all the way to the little cove just off Truman Beach, where we have anchored in the past. We're hoping for another peaceful night.

Update: We are anchored off Truman Beach (map) in Southold, New York, on the North Fork of Long Island. It was weird passing our friends' vacation home on the bluff just a half hour before arrival; normally we are here in this vicinity to visit them, as we have done most years since moving on the boat. They're stuck in California for the duration, and I detected a bit of envy that we are here in this neighborhood.

Gratuitous shot of a mooring where the eye had worn so thin, they welded a shackle in place to reinforce it. We always trust our own ground tackle more than moorings.

Unfortunately, our hoped-for quiet anchorage, while mostly settled, has had an uncomfortable motion to it from swell wrapping around the point. Louise was so uncomfortable that she took some meds. It's a little better now than it was earlier and through dinner. We'll weigh anchor first thing in the morning.

Normally, when our friends are in town, from here we would go around the corner into Gardiner's Bay and the Peconic River, landing somewhere in the Greenport area. With there being no point to that now, instead we will cut diagonally across to Montauk tomorrow, and make our way into the harbor and Lake Montauk. We have some friends on the South Fork as well, and if the stars align, we may be able to have a socially-distanced reunion of some kind.