Sunday, September 6, 2015

Bahston hahbah

We are anchored in Boston Harbor, in 30'-40' of water at the Bird Island Anchorage (map). We've had a wonderful ten days here, with several serendipitous social opportunities that had us extend our planned week-long stay by a few days. That's the view, above, from our deck last night.

Sunset over Plymouth.

We had a very pleasant night last Wednesday anchored off Saquish Neck in Plymouth Bay (map). We had dinner on the aft deck with Plymouth Light as a backdrop. Other than a couple of inconsiderate sportfishers blasting by on full plane, it was a comfortable anchorage. The tide swing on this side of the cape is much greater than what we left behind on the other side, and with about a ten foot range, we need to leave an extra 50' or so of swing room in our anchorages.

Plymouth Light, as seen from our anchorage ...

... and as seen on our way around the point in the morning.

It was only about a half mile detour to take us out past the three-mile limit, and we took care of business southeast of Scituate, in the Atlantic. Even from there we could see the imposing Minots Ledge Lighthouse in the distance, marking the shoal we had to round on the Boston approach.

Approaching Minots Ledge Light, with Boston in the distance. Those breakers on the "ledge" or shoal are the reason the light is here.

A much closer view as we rounded it. The keepers had to somehow get onto this little ladder and climb to the door.

Approaching Boston from almost any direction involves navigating through a series of underwater rock ledges, awash rocks, and the Boston Harbor Islands, most of which are part of the National Park of that name. There are two deepwater ship channels, but the route we chose was significantly shorter when coming from the south.

New England has no shortage of lighthouses. This is Boston Light in the distance.

The Coast Pilot said we'd pass treatment tanks shaped like eggs. Sure enough.

Hard to see, but the Harbor Islands are between us and Boston here.

After rounding Fort Independence on Sullivan's Castle Island (now really a peninsula) we could see the whole harbor, including our intended anchorage. I was a bit miffed to see a vessel more or less where I thought we wanted to drop, but as we got closer we realized he was actually much closer to the ship channel, and even a bit over the boundary line of the designated anchorage. As we approached, we realized with some amusement that it was Zeepaard, with whom we've been playing leapfrog since Huntington Bay on Long Island.

Passing Fort Independence. Earlier we passed Fort Warren on Georges Island, but I could not get a good photo.

It seems these days that we can't anchor without threading our way through a sailing school, and this time was no exception. They had put their windward mark buoy right where we planned to anchor; we dropped just a dozen or so yards away from it, paying out 250' of chain and ending up a hundred yards away. The sailing school guys came and moved it not long afterward.

They moved toward the channel after we arrived...

We planted ourselves at the very western end of the anchorage, which is as close to downtown as possible, and also as far from the Logan runways as you can get while still being in the anchorage. As a bonus, the 10-mph, no-wake, harbor speed limit starts just west of the runways at the Hyatt Hotel, so for the most part the fast ferries and most other boats were at a reasonable speed before they passed us. Our chosen spot puts us just abreast of and perhaps 300' from the historic lightship Nantucket.

The view from our deck in the other direction from the city skyline. The lightship was dark for our whole stay other than last night, when they had a huge party aboard for the fireworks and illuminated their flashing forward mast "light."

We had a fairly late arrival, owing to timing the tidal current, and so we ate again on the aft deck, with the lights of the city coming on throughout the evening. While we had some reservations about anchoring here before we arrived (it's deep and exposed to traffic), this magical view cemented our decision. It helped that Zeepaard was nearby, giving us some "out with the big boys" cachet.

Our old friend Zeepaard -- we're in good company.

Zeepard's choice of spot proved imprudent; not long after we arrived a giant LNG tanker came into port, surrounded by police and USCG boats enforcing the 500-yard explosive security zone around the ship. The police had words with Zeepard, and later still we saw the pilot boat come over and have words with them as well. They ended up weighing anchor and moving  east of us, well inside the anchorage boundary.

LNG tanker with escorts, dwarfing Zeepaard.

We did not even splash the tender until well into Friday afternoon, and we headed ashore for dinner in the North End, Boston's "little Italy." Not knowing any better, we tied up at one of the marinas, who charged us $10 for the privilege. Once we had our feet planted, we figured out where all the secret free dinghy docks are situated, and we never returned there. At least the $10 vig came with their WiFi password.

Saturday we reconnected with our friends Chris and Erin from the beautiful Selene 47 Auriga. We had met them in Georgetown, Bahamas and promised we'd stop by if they were at their on-land digs in Boston. They were gracious enough to allow us to have "a few" packages sent to their condo. A "few" turned out to be six, and we were both aghast when we saw the enormous pile in their hallway. Cruisers, fortunately, understand the value of a UPS-reachable address.

Everything fit in two small backpacks and a bag after we got it all out of the boxes and packaging, which we carted straight away to the recycling bin. We had a nice lunch with them at the Sail Loft right on the wharf. Lots of catching up, and we agreed to meet later in the week for dinner. Somewhere in all of this, Louise learned that Erin had a stack of quilt blocks she inherited from her great grandmother, and a great quilting adventure ensued that I am sure Louise will be writing about shortly.

On our way to dinner Friday night, we had to thread our way through a mooring field to reach the marina, and we spotted therein a boat we recognized, Tide Hiker. This was one of the first boats we had looked at when we were searching (and it was for sale), and we met the current owners, Bob and Diedre, at Trawler Fest in Baltimore a couple of years ago. Their tender was away so we could not say hello, but we connected via email and they invited us aboard for breakfast Sunday. It was an unexpected rendezvous, and we really enjoyed catching up with them.

Among the many things that arrived for us in the mail was the new motor for the failing engine room fan, as well as the new 24-volt spare alternator to replace the old 12-volt one we've been keeping as a pseudo-spare (it's not useful for charging the 24-volt batteries, but it would at least tension the belts, which also turn the coolant pump). I basically set to work replacing the fan motor as soon as we got it back to the boat.

That project took longer than expected (getting the recalcitrant fan blade off the old motor was a challenge), but all is working now. Once I had them swapped I disassembled the old motor to find the Permawick bearing lubricant fully dried out. I wetted it with some light machine oil, and that motor seems to be working fine again, so we have a spare, even if it's only good for another couple hundred hours or so.

As long as I was in project mode, I also swapped the two Furuno radar/plotter displays, since I discovered by accident that the cheap-o one I bought for the flybridge actually had an ARPA board in it, making it actually much more useful (and expensive) than the original unit installed in the pilothouse. The ARPA only works if it is installed in the display directly attached to the radar antenna, necessitating the swap.

The physical part of that was easier than I expected, but getting the "new" unit running the radar took some fiddling, and then I could not get the ARPA to work. Buried in a quick-start guide I found a note that ARPA requires a special heading input (AD10 rather than NMEA, for you marine electronics geeks), and I had to spend some time rerouting sensor signals to supply the correct heading info to the display.

Once I had that sorted out the ARPA came up, and I have to say it is quite nice. I'm looking forward to using it under way, but I first need to recalibrate the antenna, something we could not really do at anchor here. The settings are "good enough" to make the radar usable, but I can't count on it for precise range or bearing until the calibration is complete.

Projects, quilting, route planning, and what-not had us on the boat most days into the afternoon, and we'd go ashore late in the day to wander around and have dinner. We ate out most nights, sampling three different Italian places in the North End (Fiore, Locale, and Genarro's), a couple of trendy Mexican places (Papagayo and Rosa Mexicana), our first-ever genuine hot-pot place in Chinatown (Shabu-zen), and a couple of yuppie joints in the financial district just because they were near the free dock at Atlantic Wharf (Trade and Nebo).

This latter dock was also convenient to the main post office, which we needed more than once, and the renovated South Station rail complex. It was also the closet dock to Chinatown, where, in addition to the aforementioned dinner, we got a couples massage that, at least in my case, was sorely needed. Across the channel from the free dock was the Tea Party Museum and Ships, and we got to watch the tea being thrown overboard by gleeful tourists under the direction of docents in tri-corner hats, the ever-present uniform of cheesy tourist attractions here.

Speaking of cheesy tourist attractions, we have a fondness for city "trolley" tours, and I found a Groupon for one of the local companies that got us both aboard for $35, and we had a nice hour-long tour. The trolley-shaped bus had a half dozen "hop on, hop off" stops, but we simply remained aboard. We would have gotten off at the Charlestown Navy Yard to see the USS Constitution, but it is mostly closed while it is in drydock for repairs, with only the upper deck open to visitors.

Vector, as seen from the harbor cruise. Bunker Hill Monument is to the left, and the masts of the USS Constitution are barely visible at right.

The trolley tickets included a 45-minute harbor tour, which you might think is a busman's holiday for us, but we got a kick out of it anyway. We made a complete circle around Vector as the narrator discussed the Nantucket lightship before heading over to the Navy Yard, where we had another opportunity to disembark (we did not). We thoroughly enjoyed being cheesy tourists for a day.

The masts and deck of the USS Constitution are visible in dry dock, center. Bunker Hill Monument and the USS Cassin Young to the left.

We refrained from most of the other touristy adventures, mostly because this is not our first rodeo here. I've walked the Freedom Trail more than once (and Louise's feet are not up to that task), we've both spent time in the Back Bay, visited the Top of the Hub, walked Boston Common, and all the usual suspects. Instead we spent most of the ten days living like locals, yet coming home each evening to a million-dollar view that few locals get. We did walk through Faneuil Hall Marketplace, since it's right by the wharves -- a good reminder that a mall is a mall no matter how old and historic it might be.

Our evening view; the city lights come on at twilight.

Chris and Erin made us a wonderful dinner one night, home-made spanakopita, and we spent a pleasant evening in their nice waterfront condo. And one night we went to our local club affiliate, the Boston College Club, a short walk from Atlantic Wharf. The club has a nice view toward Cambridge across the Charles, although it is starting to be blocked by high-rise construction.

Sunset over Cambridge and the Charles, as seen from our club. We'd love to anchor here. The Longfellow Bridge is behind the tower at right.

We had considered anchoring in the Charles, as it would be quite a bit calmer than where we are, yet still close to many things. That would involve timing a transit of the Charlestown Bridge close to low tide, uplocking through the Charles River Dam, passing through the old lock (permanently open) next to the Museum of Science and under the adjacent drawbridge. Unfortunately, we'd be limited to the fairly small basin between the museum and the historic Longfellow Bridge, which is under renovation. We normally could just squeak under this bridge with our antennas lowered, but the renovation falsework is too low for us to pass. There's lots more room and a nicer view on the other side of the bridge, as shown above.

The Charlestown bridge, foreground, and the slightly higher modern cable-stay bridge behind it, as see from our harbor cruise. We'd clear these near low tide; the locks are just beyond.

We've had plenty of entertainment right here on the water, as the summer boating season here draws to a close. Giant ships pass through the harbor and the heart of the city, sometimes having to sound the five-blast "danger" signal to send clueless sailboaters scurrying from the channel. We've seen more than one close encounter. These are all cargo vessels or barges -- the cruise terminal is a bit downriver and they do not come this far. Much of the "big" traffic here consists of the numerous tour boats and passenger ferries, many of which pass us close aboard, as do the myriad water taxis on their way to and from Logan airport.

The cruise ships don't pass us, but we can see them arriving and departing their berth just downriver. This one is Norwegian Cruise Lines.

The airport itself is a stone's throw from here, just beyond the Hyatt hotel which sports a faux-lighthouse revolving beacon on its top floor. We are mostly out of the traffic pattern here and the noise has been almost nonexistent, except for a few hours on a single day when weather had them using a different runway and a different direction for takeoffs. Even then it was tolerable, and it's been fun watching some of the bigger jets come in to land over the water. One day there was some kind of declared emergency, and the police boats went racing over to the end of the runway, sirens blaring, to keep boats out of the danger zone. The plane landed without incident.

Some of the tour boats pass us a bit close. Everyone on this boat waved to us as we sipped our wine.

While plenty of boats have passed us here, we've had little company in this enormous anchorage. Zeepaard, who spent only two more nights here, was the only other pleasure vessel to anchor here since we arrived (not counting the fireworks, which I will get to in a minute). We've had three tug-and-barge combos drop their hooks here at various times, mostly for just a day or night, and as I type, a large USCG cutter is anchored at the other end, near the airport. This even though the Coast Guard Station is just a mile upriver from here -- Air Force One is landing at Logan tomorrow morning and I think this is part of the prep.

Yesterday was a busy day socially, with some dear old friends coming over to visit in the morning for a couple of hours. I negotiated to pick them up at the usually inaccessible sailing school dock closest to us, and to borrow a child-size life jacket for their young daughter. The last time we saw these folks was six years ago, when we came through here in the bus. It was great catching up with them.

The daytime view from our anchorage. Not bad.

We had only a little time to catch our breath after dropping them off at the aquarium across the harbor and returning the life jacket to the sailing school. We ended up back at Atlantic Wharf to meet up with long-time on-line friend Liz, who lives in the western part of the state and whom we missed on that last pass six years ago because she was out of town. By happenstance she was in Boston for the day and we arranged to have dinner.

The three of us came back to the boat afterward for a quick tour and a cocktail, and she ended up staying for the fireworks, whose very existence I had learned about just a day or so earlier. Apparently a Labor Day Weekend fireworks show has been an on-again, off-again tradition here in Boston Harbor, and this year it returned in the form of "the battle of the barges," with fireworks being launched simultaneously from two barges at opposite ends of the harbor. Vector had the best seats in the house.

This was our view every night when we came home.

We were alone in the anchorage when we tendered ashore at 5:30, but by the time we returned at 7:30 there were a couple dozen boats anchored or hovering all around us. As show time, 9:00, approached, the anchorage got more and more crowded. We were chatting over a glass of wine in the salon when I noticed flashing blue lights close aboard, and I went on deck to see a huge Boston Police patrol boat slowly circling us.

What happened next has me stumped even now. The patrol boat went to each of the other anchored boats in turn and ordered them to weigh anchor. I caught part of the officers' banter, which included "you can't anchor here without permission." Yikes -- hope they're not going to tell us that, because there is no way we are going to comply. I know he saw our anchor (and they'd probably seen us before then, too -- we'd been here over a week), and I know he saw me on deck looking right at him from ten feet away, with no words exchanged. I sat back down in the salon with my glass of wine.

We were never asked to move or weigh anchor, and the upshot of this is all the boats anchored around us, including the two whom I had informed earlier that they were too close, weighed their anchors and moved quite a bit further from us to give themselves seakeeping room. It was as if we had our very own security patrol keeping our anchor circle clear. After the show I went back to the Code of Federal Regulations to see just what "permission" was needed to be here, and the answer is precisely none -- it is an unrestricted federal anchorage.

The fireworks started promptly at 9 and we went out to the foredeck to watch. It was quite a spectacular show, on a clear night and with the city lights as a backdrop. The Pier-6 barge was closer to us and we had a better view of them, but we could also see the ones launched from the Long Wharf area as well. The two barges were clearly synchronized.

Another gratuitous fireworks pic. Beast seats in the house.

The anchorage cleared out shortly after the show was over, and I shuttled Liz back ashore to her car. We had to stop mid-channel to let a giant tanker ship pass; he had been pinned upriver by the fireworks and was clearly trying to hustle out of port. It was a full but very enjoyable day.

This morning Erin and Chris made us breakfast for our final get-together and we had a small exchange of gifts before returning to finish our preparations for departure. We returned ashore in the evening for dinner and a final grocery stop, and counted ourselves lucky to land a table in the North End with no reservation on a holiday weekend -- the town was packed. We're glad we had sampled the wares at Modern Pastry earlier in the week, because any thought of picking up a few tonight was quickly dismissed when we saw the crowds.

This was on all the fancy solar-powered automatic trash compactors around town. Are they trying to tell us something?

We've had a great week and a half here, and I would love to stay a few more days, but we'd like to get some more of the New England coastline in before we have to turn around and head south. Earlier in the week I called ahead to Three Lanterns chandlery in Gloucester and ordered a new snubber -- our original, now two years old, is wearing through -- and that will be our next stop, tomorrow afternoon.

President Obama is scheduled to arrive here tomorrow morning for a Labor Day breakfast. He seems to be dogging us, much like Zeepaard, since we've now crossed paths in New York City, Martha's Vineyard, and here just in the past two months. Making up, perhaps, for keeping us at bay in the Purple Tunnel of Doom at the inauguration. With any luck, we will get to see Air Force One swoop in for a landing just as we are steaming out the channel.


  1. There's a term that came to mind when you spoke of the "patrol boat". It's "Officious Bastard".
    There here and there, and everywhere. Thankfully he chose to pass you by.

  2. Sean - your top photo of the fireworks is just excellent! Thanks again for the are both such gracious hosts. :)

    1. Liz, it was delightful to meet you! Thanks so much for treating us to dinner, too. I hope we'll get a chance to see you again when our paths cross.


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