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.


  1. Hi Sean -- I'm very interested in your battery decision. I can look up what you are purchasing but the affiliate link doesn't seem to be working. I'll be curious what charging settings I would need to change. I would love to own batteries I can actually pick up.

    1. Good catch on the link, John -- Blogger messed with it when I save it. It's fixed now.

      The details of the battery decision and project are forthcoming; it's going to take some effort to write it up. Long story short: LiFePO4 batteries can be cycled to 80-100% DoD and still give you ~2000-3000 cycles, so you only need about half as many amp-hours as you do with lead-acid, and they are lighter per amp-hour. Downside is that that are crazy expensive and they are very demanding...

      In the "old days" you had to install a sophisticated Battery Management System to make sure all the cells stayed in balance, they were never overcharged or over-discharged, and never charged below or above certain temperatures. Nowadays, there are "drop-in replacement" LiFePO4 batteries that have the BMS built right in. There are still some gotchas, which I will go into in my full post.

      The drop-ins can be charged with most existing inverter/chargers or marine chargers on AGM settings, and will work even better if Lithium or custom settings are available.

      There are also limitations on wiring them together in series, parallel, or especially series-parallel (our configuration) that vary by manufacturer.

      Stay tuned for the full write-up; if you need more info before then, we can talk by phone.

  2. Lobsta' season there now. Fill up on the 2 pounders while they are fresh. Yum!


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