Sunday, August 16, 2015

Bumper boats

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

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

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

The bakery boat departs Vector for his next customer.

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

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

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

One of the downtown hotels at the old harbor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for all of the great information you share.

    If you happen to be back in the Mystic area, there is an anchorage just past the Seaport and there is a dinghy dock at the north end of the Seaport. Most likely starting next week, other than weekend traffic, things should start to get much quieter as kids head back to school.

  2. Very entertaining post - thanks Sean.


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