Thursday, September 10, 2015

Gloucester to Isles of Shoals

We are under way off the coast of Maine, en route to Portland. Today's passage is a little over seven hours, affording me time to catch up on the blog. We are offline, a bit over three miles off the coast in a fairly remote area (if that term is not redundant for Maine itself).

Tuesday morning we weighed anchor in Boston Harbor in time to make it past the south end of the Logan runways and around the corner to the east of the airport and out of the small boat channel, so we could watch Air Force One land.

Old North Church (one if by land ...) over the Paul Revere monument on our last night in Boston.

We hovered in the deep area outside the airport's security zone but west of the Governors Island Flats; it's a fairly large basin so we could just drift. They were late, but eventually we got to see uhh, wait, what's that?

Air Force One arrives at Logan.

I'm not on the Secret Service distribution list, and so I missed the memo that Obama would be traveling on the smaller Boeing C-32 executive transport, rather than the customary Boeing VC-25 that most of us associate with Air Force One. The later is derived from the civilian 747 and is unmistakable; the C-32, while painted in the same "United States of America" livery, is derived from the much smaller 757.

Two identical aircraft landed, but we were too far away to get a good photo (we saw them fine through our binoculars). Even the bigger VC-25s always travel in pairs (so a backup aircraft is always at the ready); I would guess here that the first plane down was Air Force One and the second was the backup, with some of the press corps aboard. But we were not sure this wasn't just an advance party, with the VC-25 to follow, until we saw commercial flights resume after about a half-hour hiatus (presidential travel is a nightmare for everyone else - if you had a flight in or out of Logan Tuesday morning you were probably delayed).

Shortly after the planes landed, the USCG closed Boston Harbor. Ferries, tour boats, pleasure craft, tugboats -- everything stopped, until the presidential motorcade had cleared the tunnel under the harbor that carries traffic from the airport. We were already past the closure and unaffected, but there was a certain amount of grumbling on the marine radio.

Once we realized that no 747 was coming out of the sky, and that we had already seen the President land, we continued on our way, arriving in the port of Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the afternoon. Our cruise, though, was not without some drama of its own.

I had to hand steer out of our viewing location, around a tight corner and into the very busy Small Boat Channel, a shortcut between two shoals used by many fast ferries and other vessels arriving and departing the harbor. Just as we made our turn into the channel, we heard a call on the radio about a boat on fire off one of the nearby Harbor Islands.

Now, we've heard many distress calls over the past couple of years, including fires, and generally you are lucky if even a single police, fire, or Coast Guard boat is deployed in response. But on this day, every Boston Police, State Police, Boston Fire, MassPort Fire, and Department of Environmental Protection boat in Boston Harbor was already manned, on the water, and just wrapping up with the whole Presidential arrival fiasco. In short order we were passed in the channel by two police boats, a fireboat, and a USCG small boat, all on full plane with sirens blaring.

The fireboat, at least, stood a chance of helping, with giant "rocket launchers" -- high-volume water canons -- mounted on deck. Everyone else was, IMO, just using the opportunity to go really, really fast and play with the siren. In the end, it was all for naught, as the culprit turned out to be black diesel exhaust from a boat having some minor engine trouble.

After exiting the Small Boat Channel we turned north, hand steering through a sea of sailboats taking advantage of the last of the warm weather on a holiday week. After we cleared the last of them, I engaged the autopilot to settle in for the three hour or so cruise to Gloucester.

The autopilot dutifully worked for a few minutes and then started blaring an alarm. A quick check of the display said it had lost rudder control, and things did not sound right, either. I quickly took manual control of the helm, and we did what all techno-geeks do when computers screw up -- we power-cycled it. That did not clear the problem; we'd get a rudder control error within a few seconds of engaging the unit, and it never made the sounds we've come to expect.

I immediately checked behind the helm console to make certain we had not blown a hydraulic line, which would mean even manual steering would fail imminently and we'd need to heave to and drop anchor. This was unlikely -- a failed hydraulic line would have led to loss of manual steering much earlier, but it had to be checked.

Once I was confident our manual steering hydraulics were intact, I turned the helm over to Louise, stripped out of my street clothes, and squeezed through the cabinet behind the helm console to dig into the guts of the autopilot pump. Non-followup steering commands to the autopilot sounded to me like they were operating the hydraulic solenoids, but the pump was not running, more likely an electro-mechanical problem than a failure of the electronic module.

While I was in there poking at the thermal circuit breaker and the pump relay with a voltmeter, the whole mess started working again. I have no idea what the original problem was, and I'm pretty sure my poking did not cure it, so I can only guess the self-resetting thermal breaker had tripped, and taking the cover off the box let enough heat out for it to reset. We're keeping a watchful eye on it now, since we don't know why it tripped in the first place.

The autopilot took us all the way to Gloucester with no further issues, and we did not have to hand steer the whole way. That would have been a great port, however, to repair it if needed, as there are lots of working boats there along with the concomitant chandleries and marine repair businesses.

Approaching Gloucester.

The USS Fort McHenry, LSD-43, had been anchored in Gloucester Harbor for the holiday, I think just on a regular port visit, or possibly in town for the Schooner Fest over the weekend. We had to give it a wide berth; they'd been making Naval Security Zone announcements on the radio all weekend. As we passed, a tour boat was pulling up to their landing craft dock at the stern (looking a lot like a giant swim step), presumably chartered to ferry crew ashore for leave and visitors and vendors aboard. Clearly not the pride of the fleet, LSD-43 made me feel a bit better about Vector's rust issues.

"Warship 43," as they call themselves on the radio, with their "tender" coming up behind.

We dropped the hook in 20'-30' of water just outside of the city mooring field at the inner harbor (map). From there it would be an easy tender ride to the town dock for dinner, and to Three Lanterns Marine Supplies where our new snubber was waiting. It was quite tight in the anchorage, and after setting the hook we shortened up to a 4:1 scope, which kept us less than a boat length from the sailboat behind us.

Vector in Gloucester Harbor, as seen from the town dock, after most other boats had left.

That proximity proved handy when, shortly after we splashed our tender, the skipper of that boat lost his grip on his own tender's painter. He started stripping down to go swim after it, but we were able to cast off quickly and I wrangled it and towed it back to him before it could do any damage to any other boats in the anchorage. They left the anchorage before we even returned from dinner.

Dinghy rescue operation.

We went ashore and strolled along Main Street, hoping to find a nice dinner. Most of the well-rated places were dark on Monday, and we ended up at Jalapeno's Mexican of all places, which at least had more stars than the handful of touristy waterfront joints open on a Monday. It was acceptable, but we are a long way from Mexico.

The quintessential view of Gloucester, from our deck. Notwithstanding the spill boom around the trawler.

This classic Romsdal trawler yacht lives here. We looked at one of these during our search. Gorton's plant in the background.

In the morning we tendered up the channel to Three Lanterns and picked up the new snubber we had ordered custom-spliced a few days earlier. It was a well-stocked chandlery with decent prices, and we picked up a couple of other items as well. The snubber came in well under their estimate; a major fishing port is a great place for marlin-spike work. Afterwards we tendered back to the town dock and walked to the well-stocked hardware store for a few items before heading back to Vector.

These rocks were submerged when we passed them inbound, hence the sign. Lobster floats in the foreground.

While I had not planned on it, when we got back to the boat we realized the harbor was so calm and protected that this was an ideal place to try to change the snubber, which involves some gymnastics from the tender to access the shackle on the bow eye. It took a really big wrench, some elbow grease, and a liberal application of PB Blaster (along with sorbent "diapers" to keep the latter out of the harbor) to get the pin out of the shackle, but I did manage it after 15 minutes or so of prodding.

The view from above as I affix the new snubber.

The old snubber, replaced just in the nick of time. It's nearly worn through where it contacts the chain.

I shackled one end of the new snubber to the bow eye and we lashed the other end on deck, reasoning that the recalcitrant shackle on the chain-hook end could be coaxed out under way in the workshop, with help from the vise. We finished weighing anchor and steamed back out of the harbor, bound for New Hampshire.

Passing Eastern Point Light, at the SE entrance to Gloucester Harbor.

We opted to go around the eastern side of Cape Ann, which is stunningly beautiful, rather than take the tricky canal and Anisquam River route, which saves three miles but would have had enough current against us for the first half as to nearly negate that. The outside route brought us close aboard Thatcher Island, with its famous twin lighthouses that date back to British colonial times.

The Twin Lights, as seen from the NE after we passed them.

After rounding Thatcher Island, it was a straight line to our next stop, Gosport Harbor in the Isles of Shoals. We had hoped to anchor there, and I did have the chain hook attached to the new snubber on arrival, but it was clear after a quick circuit of the harbor that we'd need to pick up a mooring ball or else drive around the islands to a different anchorage.

Passing Isles of Shoals Light, on White Island.

The harbor is deep, some 80' in the middle, with steep sides of solid rock. All of the area in 40' of water or less is chock-full of moorings, many private and some belonging to yacht clubs along the New Hampshire and Maine coast. Even if we thought we could get a bite on the rocky bottom (unlikely), there was simply no place to veer out enough scope without swinging into another boat or mooring. Making matters worse, only a small handful of moorings in the harbor were beefy enough and had enough swinging room for Vector, and most of those were already occupied when we arrived.

Approaching Star Island.

Fortunately, we arrived near high tide and could motor around the edges of the harbor in relative safety, checking out our options. Reluctantly, we settled for a mooring that was plenty big enough but very close to shore (map); my chart said we were in water that was from zero to 18' deep, and Pythagoras and I spent twenty minutes with the depth sounder and the range finder trying to figure out if we could swing into someplace where the rudder or keel would contact rock at low tide.

Ultimately we decided it was acceptable, barely, for the anticipated conditions, and we set the depth alarm to 14', which I figured to give us at least eight feet below the rudder for any reasonable guess at the slope of the basin. As luck would have it, we swung to that end of the circle at low tide around 3am, and the depth sounder woke us up. I headed to the swim step with a 12' boat pole and could not find the bottom, so we judged it to be a non-issue and went back to bed.

The rocky shore of Smuttynose Island is a bit close for comfort here...

I will make a parenthetical note here that we disdain moorings, much preferring to anchor using our own well-understood ground tackle. Seldom are they big enough for our 55' length, and almost never are they made for 110,000-pound boats with some 20-odd feet of windage above the waterline. In all the time we've been cruising, we've only ever "picked up a ball" twice, and those were places where we could ask in advance about how they were attached and rated. Here there was no one to ask.

All was well over night, and we could easily have moved on yesterday morning and that would have been the end of it, except that I wanted to go ashore on Star Island, and we could not do that and still make Portland in one day. The forecast said a system would move in during the evening with steady winds of 20 knots and gusts to 25 or so, and we were not at all comfortable staying on this mooring in those conditions. For one, we'd heard that the moorings here sometimes drag, and for another, if it parted we were so close to the lee shore that we could not possibly react in time to avoid ending up on the rocks.

Fortunately, by the time we were finishing our coffee, the harbor was clearing out, and we decided to move over to another mooring that was still large enough for us, but considerably further from the lee shore (map). It looked to have a lobster float nearby that we would just clear on our swing, and we judged that acceptable.

It was only after we were safely moored that I went back to check on the lobster float and realized it was a pennant float for another mooring ball; it was near high tide and the ball itself was five feet under water. While it's conceivable someone installed a mooring with too little tether, it's more likely this mooring was originally set in shallower water and got dragged here by another boat. It came all the way to the surface at low tide, and we were relieved to find we still cleared it by a half dozen feet or so.

This ball was so close that Scalar bumped it if we trailed her. It was submerged when we arrived, with only the green float on the surface. Or as Ed Norton said, "Hello, ball."

Putting that in perspective, a Krogen 48 (more or less the same size as Vector) came in later in the day and picked up a ball on the other side of the harbor; we had judged those balls to be too small for us (not enough swing room). He kept banging into the (fortunately vacant) ball next to him, about midships on his starboard side, throughout the afternoon. There were still at least two larger balls closer to us, so I'm unclear why they stopped where they did.

Krogen 48 Whaleback, alongside a ball they kept bonking into.

After we were well secured on our new mooring, we splashed the tender and headed ashore to Star Island. This island once held the town of Gosport, long since subsumed by the municipality of Rye, New Hampshire on the mainland. Now it is a conference and retreat facility, owned and operated by a consortium of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the United Church of Christ. We are members of the UUA and had never even heard of it until we arrived.

Louise on the porch, with the harbor and Vector behind.

In addition to spiritual retreats, the center also hosts such diverse workshops as yoga, photography, nature, marine biology, local history, and even "personal retreats" when space is available. Guests mostly stay in what used to be the Grand Hotel, with double-occupancy rooms and communal showers. Three meals a day are served family-style in the dining room; cruisers in the harbor are welcome to purchase a meal from the front desk when space is available. Dinner is $18 and must be booked by 4pm.

Outside of meal times, the dining room hosts a "snack bar" with breakfast and lunch items, and we enjoyed tasty bagel sandwiches as a brunch at 11:30. Bagels are a special treat for us, and they were delicious and quite reasonably priced. We spent some time on the porch and then walked around the historic buildings on the grounds, including the stone chapel which was outfitted for a UU service.

One for our ministerial friends, the chapel. Complete with antique quilt and UU chalice.

After a nice dinner on our aft deck, I was hoping to return to the snack bar when it reopened at 8pm for an ice cream. By then, however, the promised winds had arrived and the harbor was too churned up for the return visit. It was also too windy to hoist the dinghy, so we hip-tied it for the night to keep it from hitting the submarine mooring ball behind us.

Sunset from Gosport Harbor.

Since the dinghy was still in the water this morning, we tendered ashore to Smuttynose Island to have a look around. Today's cover photo is the view of Vector and Star Island from Smuttynose. While Star Island is in New Hampshire, Smuttynose is in Maine, with the state line running through the middle of the harbor (we were moored, it turns out, in Maine). Smuttynose is connected to both its neighbors, Malaga and Cedar islands, by man-made breakwaters, and Cedar is also connected to Star by a breakwater, giving Gosport Harbor its excellent protection. The islands are all private, but Smuttynose is open during daylight hours under a conservancy agreement, and we were met by one of the stewards, who gave us a little tour.

Scalar at Smuttynose. The private Lunging Island is in the background; Malaga Island is on the right.

We weighed anchor after returning to Vector, and headed out of the harbor. We enjoyed our two nights there, with the backdrop of New England out-island history, and the clang of the sea buoy and moan of the foghorn from the nearby Isles of Shoals Light to lull us to sleep.

Hard to see, but all those dots in the water are seals, and a few lounging on Duck Island.

This morning we rounded Appledore Island, close by but not connected to Malaga Island, with its handful of private homes and the Shoals Marine Laboratory. A few miles north we passed Duck Island, which is home at this time of year to thousands of seals. We were too far away to get a good photo.

Boon Island, five miles offshore, with its lighthouse.

So far under way we've passed two enormous pods of dolphins, the Boon Island Lighthouse in the distance to the east, and more lobster floats than I care to recount. I would gladly swear off lobster forever if it meant I would never have to dodge another pot, but sadly it does not work that way. In a short while we should round Cape Elizabeth on our way into Portland harbor, where we will drop the hook someplace protected from tomorrow's weather system.

1 comment:

  1. Discussion of movement of presidential aircraft was verboten in my previous craft, but I suppose my senility has empowered me to give out a secret or two. Two identical aircraft is a ploy that is used, but rarely with the 747's. The one time it is always used is with VM1 (Marine One), as it's departure points are both somewhat predictable, and very close to the public, and more susceptible to ground based weaponry. When there is a more credible threat, then multiple decoys may be used (including limos). There were, I believe, only 2 of the 747's built, and that alone would make the two planes everywhere impossible, as they have to spend a good bit of downtime in maintenance. Back in Clinton's day, the 'sub' plane was a DC-9, and it was quite hard to look regal in that puppy. He used it a good bit, as the 747 can't fly into a lot of smaller runways. One of the best shows is getting a look at the full entourage. For some reason they really seem to 'put on a show' when flying into a small town on a campaign cycle. In Lexington, KY, where I witnessed Bush 1's arrival, I counted 9 aircraft in all. It was a 707 based AF1 (just before the 747's were built), a C141, two C-130's, 2 VM1 helicopters, two Chinook's full of Marines, and a press plane (DC-9). I couldn't begin to count the number of ground vehicles, but it had to be close to 50 in the motorcade, with about half being local law enforcement. As I observed over the years, I found that the size of the entourage tended to shrink inversely to the size of the city. Remarkably, AF-1 for the most part integrates with the rest of the air traffic system pretty much like any other airplane. The extra aircraft very rarely travel side-by-side with it, but they are vewy vewy close.


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