Last week I drove home from Portland. It took us three months to sail to Portland, Maine, yet a mere eight hours for Jim, from Madcap, and I to drive home. I reconnected with my children, heard all their news and satisfied my motherly instincts by cooking large quantities of meat and taking them out for dinners. To satisfy my “what I miss most” list, I ran the water in the taps until it was hot, stood in the shower and double shampooed and rinsed my hair at leisure; an unheard of luxury on most sailboats. I used a new towel for every shower and a second towel for my hair. I have to say that I luxuriated in unlimited water for three days and I wasted a fair bit of it I confess. It’s an eye opener to discover what creature comforts you miss most while cruising. Besides the kids, the thing I miss most is long hot baths and I think I got my fill of both this past week. So I’m pleased to say, the home fires are well in hand, all the “best before” dates checked out and I’m back where I belong with Blair on Strathspey.
Back on Strathspey, Blair worked pretty well non-stop while I was gone. He replaced the 12-volt accessory outlet on our bow which had corroded after less than a month in salt water. He cleaned the boat from stem to stern attacking that ever-persistent mildew using a mildew-fighting spray in all the corners of the boat. As well as installing a new reading lamp on the port side and grommets on our new lee cloths, he did a bunch of other little jobs that make a difference in how easy it is to live on Strathspey. The best thing of all, Blair composed a bagpipe tune for me: a Strathspey.
He brought along this cool little recording device that allows him to write musical scores and play them back through speakers. It’s so intricate though, that he can’t play it on the bagpipes yet, but by my birthday in November, he says he will have it down pat. He made a good number of friends in the Sunset Marina in Portland and was well taken care of this week with rides into town by his slipmate Scott Whichard and he enjoyed an excellent evening out at Tom and Sandi Dunhamâ€™s home on Cape Elizabeth. Tom and Sandi are a cruising couple we met in Pulpit Harbor, where they often sail their 1966 Hinkley Pilot 35.
We were happy to move on from Portland though, as this was a busy harbour with constant traffic from lobster boats, the high-speed catamaran from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and cruise ships booked for fall foliage tours. The halyards banging on the masts all night sounded like a marimba band and the constant boat traffic had Strathspey rocking and rolling from side to side; a musical analogy for sure but not one that made for a good night’s sleep.
Heading south from Portland, we saw fewer and fewer seals which north of here were almost as common as seagulls. The water temperature rose to 17 degrees, the lobster pots thinned out in a big way and the sun shone which made for some great cruising days from Portland on. Our first stop past Portland was Rockport, a tight little harbour full of moorings. We tied up to a floating dock next to a fishing shack that apparently is the subject of so many paintings that most artists know it as Motif 1. We celebrated Beth’s birthday with some good food, fine wine and a big chocolate cake (complete with candles but no money!).
After Rockport, we cruised past Gloucester (where the boats in â€œThe Perfect Stormâ€ left from), Salem (of witchhunt fame) and Marblehead (home of the biennial Marblehead to Halifax sailing race). Heading towards Boston we had a moderate tail wind and wallowing seas. It made for a long passage as we could see the Boston skyline for hours and hours while heading across Massachusetts Bay. Water traffic has their choice of quite a few passages into the city and we took Presidentâ€™s Road, the north channel. We hugged the red buoys all the way in and were the proverbial country bumpkins with mouths open, assailed from all directions by non-stop high-speed catamaran ferries, a 180-foot barge towed by a tug, water taxis heading every which way and above our heads, jumbo jets hanging low as they slid in to land at Logan airport in the middle of the city.
We spent two nights in Boston on a mooring ball at the Boston Harbour Sailing Club; a central location but one that bounced us around a fair bit during morning and evening rush hours on the harbour. Once the commuter traffic calmed down, it was a great place to make our plans to see Boston. As soon as we arrived though, we spent some time troubleshooting the interface box between our navigation system and our laptop computer. This interface box allows us to run the AIS software that locates the big ships in fog, send SSB position reports, and, most importantly, it also provides a backup system for plotting our routes. After spending a good two hours working on this, we determined it was toast and ordered a new one. Gladly leaving that frustration behind, Blair and I went ashore, lunched in Chinatown, walked on Boston Common, spent hours in the New England Aquarium and sat in the sun in Quincy market with a beer and â€˜people watchedâ€™. We used the launch services of the club to get back and forth to shore but one night rather than rushing back for the last ride home of the day at sunset, we spent the evening ashore. When we finally got back to the club dock, we borrowed one of their little wooden rowboats and Blair rowed us back out to Strathspey. The harbour was calm and beautiful for our evening row in the moonlight and reminded me of our family cottage in Orillia which is where I am sure Iâ€™d last been in a rowboat.
We left Boston early the next day amidst all the commuter traffic and hugged the green buoys out through the uninhabited harbour islands. The wind was fickle that day so we had a combination of sailing, motor-sailing and then just plain motoring across Massachusetts Bay towards the Cape Cod Canal. The water temperature had risen to 19 degrees and most of the day we saw lots of fish life right at the surface taking advantage of the late summer warmth of the water. What weâ€™d initially take for floating kelp would eventually show a small fin or two and as we got closer, we could see small sharks; either blue or nurse sharks. They were about two feet long and lazily swimming around on the surface. Further on, off the coast of Plymouth, we diverted course to check out a huge fin flapping from side to side and moving slower than molasses. It was an ocean sunfish about five feet long and easily four feet wide, so almost circular. It just floated on the surface and made no effort to get away from us so we snapped some good photos. Our fish book tells us that these guys can grow up to 13 feet long, have no scales and are covered with thick mucus. Needless to say, they are not fished for food.
The lobster buoys have thinned out now and we noticed in the Boston area, interestingly enough, the lobster buoy floats looked decidedly down at heel; rather than the usual colourful bullet-shaped floats, we were seeing Javex and Tide bottles covered with thick green slime. Did these ones belong to amateurs; do the professionals consider Boston perhaps too busy an area and not want to lose their expensive floats? Either way, the floats were placed at the edge of all the passages and happily once we were out sailing in wide open Massachusetts Bay, we saw very few of them.
Prior to transiting the Cape Cod Canal, we spent the night in the East Basin of the canal at the Sandwich Marina. The 10-mile canal is operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers and this marina is owned by the Corps as well. In order to time our passage properly, this was the harbour of choice. We didnâ€™t anchor here because the marinaâ€™s concrete floating docks and pilings filled the harbour and most of those docks were filled with commercial fishing boats. The Corps maintains 24 slips for transient boaters so we had no problem getting a spot for the night (we had more of a problem with the $2/foot cost although the harbour master maintained that it was the cheapest dockage in the Cape Cod/Marthaâ€™s Vineyard area). So, at that point, we were back to studying tide and current tables again, something we hadnâ€™t done since northern Maine.
The Cape Cod Canal has a flow of up to 6 knots which changes direction every six hours. The ebb flow is to the west and that’s the one we had to catch to help us move easily through to the other side of Cape Cod. Blair and I drove over this canal during a trip to Cape Cod for our 30th anniversary in April 2006; the anniversary where the seeds of this trip were actually planted. In fact, our anniversary gift to each other that year was a yellow quarantine flag (the traditional flag boaters hoist up their halyard upon reaching The Bahamas to signify that they wish to clear customs). This canal has been around for awhile. It was completed in 1916 and is the widest canal in the world at 540 feet.
We left the Sandwich Marina at 7:30 am and blasted through the canal in short order with a 3.5 knot current helping us along.
Even at that hour, the shores were busy with joggers, cyclists and fishermen enjoying the hot September morning (it climbed to the mid-80â€™s that day). The canal itself was teaming with blue herons and gulls and what we think were either young Bluefin Tunas or Atlantic Bonitos stirring up the waters, feeding on smaller fish. It was a fun and fast little jaunt through to Buzzards Bay, a shallow 20-mile long bay with depths of 25-45 feet. It was one of those hazy, hot days that on Lake Ontario we usually get in July. We reveled in the sun and wore our shorts and Tâ€™s for the first time in 2-3 weeks. That kind of weather usually means little wind so we motor-sailed over flat seas all morning.
Just after noon, after we rolled in our genoa, an exhausted little hitchhiker landed on it. A common yellow-shafted flicker hugged the sail with his claws and his strong flat tail feathers; flickers are members of the woodpecker family and use their tails to balance when pecking on trees. Our bird book says flickers are woodland birds but this guy was a good two miles from any woodland. He clung to our sail for over two hours and then as we turned the corner into Newport Harbour I think he must have spotted his woodland and, well rested, flew towards shore.
Newport Harbour is a big sailboat racing center. Last weekend, it was the site of the Newport Boat Show, the fifth largest in North America and the streets and wharves still showed signs of it. Amazingly, in this busy harbour, full of moorings and marinas, we actually found a place to anchor in front of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club in Brenton Cove. The yacht club fires a cannon in the morning and at sundown to warn that itâ€™s time to take care of the boat flags; promptly at 8 am this morning when the cannon fired, I put Strathspeyâ€™s Canadian flag back in its stern flagmount. It was exciting to sail into Newport on our 100th day of cruising and an auspicious place to anchor to boot as Newport was where we signed on the dotted line to buy Strathspey seven years ago. A good decision, a good boat, good times.
Weâ€™ll be sailing on Long Island Sound very shortly and that’s pretty close to Big Apple country where weâ€™re looking forward to meeting some good friends and neighbours from Navan, maybe some milling about on Times Square and a photo-op with the Statue of Liberty.