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.

1 comment:

  1. The logistics of shuttling dead batteries, new batteries, recycling, trash and groceries must be mind-boggling sometimes..... I am grateful for curbside pickup!


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