Saturday, October 7, 2017

East Greenwich, RI to Portsmouth, VA

Sunday 1st – Tuesday 3rd October 2017

The ARC 1500 rally doesn’t leave Portsmouth, VA until the first week in November, but for various reasons it suited us better to move the boat down to Portsmouth in early October and leave her on the dock. That way we could pick the best weather window and also free up time to make some family visits without the pressure of having to move Cotinga south.

Rod, Brian and Sandy joined me for this trip. Rod (Gloria’s brother) and Brian (a friend from Concord Acton squash club) will also be making the passage to Tortola. Sandy is a friend of Brian’s and joined the crew at the last minute to give us some extra support for this leg. I think we worked really well as a team!

As I sit at home a couple of days after the trip, some of the details have already become a little foggy! I know for certain that we left East Greenwich at just after 10 am on Sunday 1st and dropped anchor off Hospital Point, Portsmouth at just before 10pm on Tuesday evening. We covered about 390 nautical miles in 60 hours, at an average speed of 6.5 knots. The weather was beautiful with cloudless skies for the first two days and then a few fine weather, fluffy clouds on the final day. We sailed as much as we could, but with light winds mostly from the north or north-east (downwind) we ended up motoring or motor-sailing for 38 out of the 60 hours.

During the days we ran an informal watch system, but at night (6pm – 7.30am) we ran a system based on a cycle of 90-minute watches, where each person would come on watch for 90 minutes, then spend the next persons watch relaxing in the cockpit, but supporting the new watch leader, then the following 3 hours down below sleeping. This seems to work pretty well and although tired, we all managed to get some sleep at night, augmented by naps during the day.

Having sent out the link for the AIS tracker website we were a little disappointed to hear that the system lost us shortly after we passed Montauk on Sunday night. We now realize that our class B system is VHF radio based (rather than the much more expensive class A satellite systems) and relies on being reasonably close to shore monitoring stations or other vessels that may relay positions. The lesson here is that if we drop off the system we probably haven’t sunk, but more likely that we are out of range of a monitoring station! From our point of view on the boat the AIS worked brilliantly and we were able to see and be seen by other vessels and we initiated, and responded to, a number of radio calls that helped clarify navigational issues.

I do want to mention “the one that got away”. On Monday we were dragging a cedar plug behind the boat on a ~100ft long piece of line when we hooked a Dolphin fish Mahi Mahi). We hauled in the line and landed the fish on the side deck … where it squirmed, spat out the hook and flipped over the side! This was a great disappointment. Despite not getting fresh fish, we did eat well (no surprise there!). Rod’ s wife Sue cooked us  a terrific lasagna that we ate on Sunday night. On Monday we had chicken and white bean casserole and on Tuesday, afteor r we arrived, we had Shepherds pie. For breakfast we ate bagels eggs on English muffins and some fruit. For lunches we had a variety of sandwiches. In truth we brought way more food than we needed and ended up bring a fair amount home again!

Everything on the boat seemed to work well. There were no breakages  or mechanical issues. The seas weren’t always that smooth, with short choppy waves on Monday morning and then swells from the east on Tuesday, but everyone seemed to feel fine. I personally put on a scopolamine patch on Sunday afternoon whilst still inside Narragansett Bay and that seemed to help me a great deal. I was able to function well on deck and inside the boat without feeling sick and was able to cook, send/receive satellite phone messages and even take a shower whilst under way! All of this helped me build confidence ahead of the big passage, where it could get a lot rougher.

We had fantastic sunrises and sunsets, but perhaps the most interesting part of the trip was the last 20 miles as we made our way from the Chesapeake Bay entrance up to Portsmouth, passing an astonishing amount of naval ships and facilities. All of this was done in the dark, with fairly tight channels, many other vessels and lights of all sorts everywhere. This took a lot of concentration from all of us over a couple of hours. At one point I was absolutely convinced the US navy had sent a drone to check us out, but after a few minutes it became clear it was just a South West Airline jet coming in really slowly over our heads for a landing in Norfolk. Perhaps it is just as well that we arrived at the anchorage shortly thereafter. We dropped hook just before 10pm, drank a cold beer and ate the wonderful Shepherds pie, before essentially collapsing. We woke at 7.30am on Wednesday morning, and after a quick breakfast, motored the last quarter mile to the Ocean Yacht marina in Portsmouth, where we filled up with diesel and docked the boat.

We spent Wednesday doing odd jobs and relaxing. In the evening we went over to the Bier Garden and ate some fine German food with excellent beer, finishing up the day with “dark and Stormy” cocktails (rum and ginger beer) on the boat. On Thursday we took a taxi to the local Avis shop, rented a car and drove home. We dropped Brian in Philadelphia to visit family, and Rod, Sandy and myself made it back up to Rhode Island and Massachusetts by early evening (about 12 hours). The drive was not the highlight of the trip and when we return to the boat at the end of the month we are seriously considering flying!


Mike



 Sunset Day 1


Sunset Day 1


Sunset Day 2


Sunrise Day 3


Sunrise Day 3


Sunrise Day 3

Approaching Chesapeake Bay Bridge


Choppy Seas morning Day 3


Choppy Seas morning Day 3


Brian, Sandy, Rod


Brian and Sandy


Brian


 Brian


Brian


Sandy


Sandy


Sandy


 Rod



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The intervening Years 2015-2017

Placeholder to retain sequence - to be completed soon!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The “grounding”

The “grounding”

It was July 31st, 2015 that we lasted posted on our blog. Why haven’t we been posting and what have we been up to? Over the next two or three blogs we’ll try and bring you up to date.

For three magical days in the beginning of August 2015 I joined my family in Malcesine, on the shores of Lake Garda, for the wedding of my niece Suzanne and her husband Mark. It was a fabulous time, but over too quickly, and Gloria and I were soon back up at Sebasco Harbor to continue our busy charter schedule. By August 13th we had completed 49 trips on Cotinga and I had captained a further ~75 tours on the Ruth, Sebasco resort’s wooden power boat. As you can imagine it was a fairly hectic schedule and we would be fortunate had we called it a day at that point. However, on August 14th we took out our 50th trip of the season and hit a rock. It was gusty afternoon and we had 6 guests aboard, including our two close friends Lynn and Lee. We had been sailing for an hour or so when we headed in to Small Point harbor, where there is a ledge in the middle of the Bay that is marked by a can. It appeared on our chart (paper and electronic) to have a minimum depth of 11 feet and we have a draft of a little less than 6 feet. We were short-tacking our way up the bay into the wind and reached a point where we needed to either turn again to avoid the ledge completely or bear-off to deeper water. Unfortunately, I made the decision to bear-off to where I thought the water was deeper (17 feet) and “bang”, the keel hit a rock at about 6 knots and stopped the boat in it’s tracks. It was a horrific experience, I think everyone was deeply shocked. We started the motor, took down the sails and headed back to the resort.

Initial inspection revealed that we had some water seeping into the bilge and there was some evidence of damage to panels inside the boat. Without knowing the extent of the damage we decided to cancel the final ten days of our chartering season and took Cotinga around the bay to Great Island Boat Yard (GIBY) to haul out and do assess the situation. Once on dry land we could see a melon-sized ding to the lower forward edge of keel, but also compression damage to fiberglass / wood panels inside the boat, caused by the momentum being forced upwards on impact. We decided to leave the boat on land at GIBY, complete a full evaluation with the help of marine surveyors and make necessary repairs over the winter. We were fortunate to end up at Great Island Boatyard. They did a terrific job, in conjunction with Gene Barnes (our surveyor) and Steven Charette (insurance surveyor), to identify and repair the damage. This involved amongst other things, removing the engine and main fuel tank to access the keel bolts and lower part of the hull, partially dropping and re-bedding the keel ballast, repairing some cracks in panels / tabbing and also in the deck where a post had been driven upwards by the impact. However, by the spring of 2016 Cotinga was back to her former glory.

They say there are only two types of sailors, those that have run aground and those that have yet to run aground.  Nonetheless, I felt really bad for having caused this accident. The fact that the rock wasn’t clearly marked on our charts is not an adequate excuse, I ignored the navigational buoy and exercised poor judgement, over-interpreting the information we had available.  Since then, we have been determined to try and re-build our confidence and not join that third group of sailors, those that prop up the bar and never leave the dock!

When we reflect on working at Sebasco Harbor we think about all the wonderful people we met, both the staff at the resort and our customers. It was a fantastic experience, hectic at times, but very rewarding at the personal level. Running a charter sailing business was also surprisingly stressful, constantly having to worry about the weather, the comfort and safety of guests and avoiding rocks, not to mention the 3 million lobster pots on the coast of Maine. It’s not exactly relaxing sailing! When we experienced the “grounding”, as it is referred to in nautical terms, it also made us realize how much capital we were putting at risk in running the business, and so we decided that we might be better to limit our future sailing to pleasure and try and earn some income in other ways.

In the next blogs we’ll fill you in on what we’ve been up to the past couple of years in terms of work and sailing 


Mike 


Electronic chart - Small Point harbor


Paper chart - Small Point harbor


August 2015 - The "ding" in our keel

Friday, July 31, 2015

Whirlwind Week July 27-31st, 2015

Tonight (Friday) is a blue moon—a second full moon in one month.

It’s hard to say if the week really was hectic or if it was the prospect of the vacation/break that made it seem so frantic.

Monday began with fog that gradually lifted.  Mike took out a Pirate Cruise on the Ruth.  Then we brought the Cotinga into the dock. We had a family party of six for the three-hour lunch trip.  They arrived with their dog.  I have to confess to being a bit surprised by this.  As we may have discussed earlier, six people in the cockpit often seems at tad crowded.  As they were all one group, we relented and let them bring the dog.  There was no wind so we motored up to Ridley Cove and anchored for lunch.  While we were serving lunch some wind sprang up from the south.  So we set off through a narrow channel into Quahog Bay, putting up the sails and motor-sailing south. We turned to the east to return toward Sebasco when the fog rolled back over us.  It seemed that some fog was still present out over the open water and the southerly breeze carried it into our sailing area.  We returned to Sebasco without incident.
Later that evening, Mike had a sunset cruise on the Ruth.  I was getting dinner ready and realized that it was nearly 8 pm and I didn’t see the Ruth approaching the dock.  Then I spotted the launch going out rapidly toward the navigation buoys that mark the entrance to Sebasco Harbor.  In short order I saw the Ruth appear and tie up to the dock.  Strangely though, I spotted Mike coming toward Cotinga in the dinghy without having moved the Ruth off the dock.  Once he got on board, he explained that the engine of the Ruth had been making some loud squealing noises during the trip.  These sounds were loud enough to prompt Mike to look into the engine compartment (with the passengers on board).  Nothing appeared amiss to the casual inspection.  However just as they were approaching the red marker off Sebasco, the engine cut out leaving the boat drifting toward a lobster pot marker.  A radio call to Ellin had prompted her to bring the launch out in case they needed assistance.  By changing the fuel feed to the second tank, Mike was able to re-start the engine and get the boat to the dock.  He left the Ruth tied up to the dock to allow the mechanics to get started on the repair the next morning.

Luckily for the resort, Tuesday is an “all Cotinga” day.  That allowed the chaps from the “repairatorium” to sort out the engine problems. Meanwhile, we had all three Cotinga trips booked.  The lunch trip was to be a party of four—the Knuckles (who had been out before) and their friends from Florida.  However, once again, the fog rolled in as the southerly breeze got started.  So the lunch trip was cancelled.  In the afternoon we took out Parker (who is working on the dock over the summer) and his girlfriend.  At short notice Cherie (from the gift shop) showed up and came out with us.  The sky was quite threatening with dark clouds heralding a thunderstorm.  We had a brief shower followed by diminishing winds but we didn’t let that stop us.  Fortunately the storm moved off to the west and we were able to go out for a nice sunset sail with two parties—a couple and family with three-year old twins.  I kept thinking that if the couple were expecting a quiet, romantic sail, they might have been disappointed. 

Wednesday was a busy day for the Ruth. The schedule called for two trips, morning and early afternoon but a private sunset cruise had been added to the schedule.  The Cotinga afternoon sail had been moved to earlier (3:30 to 5:30) in the afternoon to allow Mike time to fit in this extra trip, starting at 6:30.  The change over time was short but do-able if everything went smoothly and to time.  However, it seemed that no one notified our sailing clients off the schedule change. The front desk was able to contact them and arrange for them to meet us on the dock at 4 pm.  Mother nature wasn’t done messing with us though.  Just as they arrived a squall hit with torrential rain and we agreed to postpone until 4:30.  We would be able to take them out for an hour and a half sail.  Just then Ellin came up to say that the dock was moving strangely possibly because one of the lines hold it may have loosened up.  She asked us to get Cotinga off the dock so that we weren’t putting more stress on the dock.  Out to the mooring we went in the downpour.  At 4:30 the squall was clearly over, Mike went to the dock on the launch to talk to our clients.  Ellin brought them all back on the launch.  We went sailing with a gentle breeze and lovely clearing skies.

Thursday morning found the repair crew back on the dock, this time trying to fix the broken bracket holding the ramp to the dock.  (If you recall this had been broken earlier in the summer when a large cruise boat had docked as part of a wedding event).  This welding was accomplished in time for the Ruth trip at 10:30.  Cotinga had a four-hour afternoon sail with six people.  One party was a family of four from San Francisco.  They were having a vacation/college tour trip (for the daughter) around New England.  The father, Todd, had suffered a stroke several years earlier and had some difficulty getting aboard the boat.  The other pair was a couple from Virginia Beach.  They had been on a business trip to Boston and decided to head up to Maine to avoid the heat wave.  Bill had worked for General Dynamics and had visited the Bath Iron Works many times, without getting time to explore the area.  So he and his wife Ruthie had decide to come to Sebasco for a few days.  The forecast called for 10 knots of breeze from the Southeast.  We decided to head for Jewel Island in Casco Bay.  Once we got to the outer islands, the winds seemed quite light and the swell was considerable.  Diana, the daughter of the family confessed to being very prone to seasickness.  This, combined with the slow speed we were making, suggested that we head to the tip of Bailey Island and then head northward along Bailey and Orr’s Islands and then back east to Sebasco.  The wind continued to build with significant gusts as we sailed along.  One strong gust caused Diana to shriek as the boat heeled over.  Rather than reef (a process that creates a certain amount of commotion in the cockpit), we chose to ease the sails and carry on.  We were back off Sebasco a tad on the early side and decided to take an excursion into West Point.  Sadly, that was directly into the wind and we chickened out of trying to tack our way there.  We motor-sailed to the entrance to West Point and then through the heavily potted area and back to Sebasco.  By the time we got to the dock the wind was really strong from the south.  That combined with a powerboat at the north end of the dock, made for a nerve-wracking landing.  However, Mike managed it well.  Our clients dis-embarked with onto the tossing dock with some difficulty.  The trip out to the mooring was also made more difficult by the gusty wind.  By the time we had the boat squared away, the wind was easing. 

We had a lovely meal in the Pilot House restaurant to celebrate our anniversary (a few days early).  After returning to the boat, no one had any ambition to start packing.  This morning it was packing, clearing the fridge and buttoning up the boat for our mini-break.  Mike and I drove to the airport in Boston for his flight to Italy. He is going to his niece’s wedding on the shores of Lake Garda.  I’m going to have a few days catching up with myself at home.

  

Friday, July 24, 2015

Simrad turns up Trumps

Simrad turns up Trumps …   Friday 24 June

The early part of this week was really foggy and we struggled through this entire period with no radar. On Monday we delayed the start of our lunch trip for an hour and then set out motoring in pretty dense fog to Totnam Cove, about two miles away. We dropped the anchor and after a pleasant lunch the fog finally lifted and our guest were rewarded with a nice sail in the afternoon. Tuesday morning was essentially the same, except we departed on time. With two further trips in the afternoon we didn’t have the flexibility to delay, but again the fog mostly cleared and we had a good sail. The afternoon was special because our good friend Sheila came up from Massachusetts to visit. She joined us for both the afternoon sail and the sunset cruise. The afternoon was a lively sail with a good breeze from the SW and we were able to round the southern entrance of Cape Small harbor before encountering fog. However, in the evening the fog banks were visible to the south and for the first time, we headed north up the New Meadows river for our “sunset” cruise, in the hope of avoiding being totally socked in. We usually don’t take this route because it’s where the “Ruth” trips go and we want to avoid duplication. Also it’s heavily potted and often straight into the wind to return southwards. On this trip we sailed a little, but the wind soon died so we had an atmospheric motor-sail in the mist! Once we had put Cotinga back on her mooring, Gloria and I joined Sheila for dinner in the resorts Ledges Pub, which we really enjoyed.

Wednesday morning dawned with much excitement. The wind had shifted to the NW and the weather could not have been more beautiful. We enjoyed coffee on shore with Sheila and then I took out a trip on the Ruth. Gloria and Sheila explored the area around the resort making the most of the fabulous weather, then we all ate sandwiched on the dock. Another Ruth trip in the afternoon was followed by the arrival of Gloria’s brother Rod and his wife Sue. They had come to Maine to complete the sale of the parent’s house and stopped by to visit. I was particularly excited because they had brought with them a large present, namely our repaired radar. At the end of the last blog I mentioned that we were tracking the return of our radar from Simrad. On Tuesday morning I was horrified to realize that the parcel was being delivered to our home address rather than up to Sebasco Harbor and that it was too late to re-route it. I was planning  to drive home and pick it up on Tuesday night, returning the following morning, when we heard that Rod and Sue were coming up. They stopped by our house in Sudbury and picked up the parcel from outside the garage doors and brought it up with them, saving me 6 hours of driving. Thanks Rod and Sue! Anyway we had a lovely time sitting on the boat, chatting and catching up. We lit the gas grill and cooked chicken and steak tips, which we ate with pasta, roasted garlic and basil tomato sauce, and salad. Rod and Sue departed all too soon and headed back to Rhode Island, whilst Gloria and I started to re-install the radar. My irritation that Simrad had failed to read my cover letter and sent the unit to our home address soon moderated and then disappeared altogether as I realized that what they had sent us was not the repaired equipment but a brand new radar unit, and that they had done this free of charge under warranty. Given that we installed the original system just over 3 years ago. Thanks Simrad! It only took us about 30 minutes to drop the radar pole and bolt on the new dome. Everything now seems to work perfectly.


Thursday was also a busy day with a Ruth trip in the morning, a 4-hour sailing trip in the afternoon and an additional sunset sail in the evening. All went well and in the afternoon we actually sailed out of Casco Bay and over to Seguin Island.  We have just a week to go until I take off for my niece / god-daughter wedding in Italy. When we made our plans originally we envisaged that Gloria would continue to run the “Sail Cotinga” business with Rod’s help whilst I was away. Gloria has now decided that she too will take  a break and head home for a few days of well deserved R&R.


Matt .... dock-master at SHR


Matt .... dock-master at SHR


Nina ... works on the front-desk, down at the dock fishing


Nina ... works on the front-desk, down at the dock fishing

 

Cotinga on the dock, looking South


The fog shows up the cobwebs on the dock