It was a Summer of droughts, both rain and Sun. Here on the South Coast of Massachusetts, where beaches and boats abound, the lack of rain is generally tolerated if it’s warm and sunny. But Ol’ Sol was being a lazy bones, hiding under cloudy blankets untill late morning, sometimes longer, if he decided to show his face at all. It seemed that Mother Nature was hard pressed to string together two sunny mornings in a row. And on the water, the weather gods weren’t listening to the marine forecasts. They were doin’ whatever the heck they pleased, whipping up all kinds of winds and waves. You never knew what the conditions would be like untill you were in them. I’ve experienced this twice before while boating. The first time was many moons ago in my bachelor days. One nice sunny day, I was leaving Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard for the short run across Nantucket Sound to East Bay, Osterville and got caught in eight foot seas. Occasionally, a mountainous wave would crash over the bow, sending my girlfriend into involuntary screaming fits. In a Hollywood movie, it would be one of those scenes where the handsome leading man would slap the supporting actress sharply across the face and say, “Get a grip woman!” She would immediately calm down and say, “Thanks. I needed that,” and everything would be fine. But in the real world, you just can’t do that without repercussions involving lawyers and new apartments. “Honey, you are screaming very loudly into my ear. Please stop,” seemed to work just fine.
Another time, a few years ago, I was leaving Woods Hole for my home port in Swifts Neck, Wareham. The predicted two to three footers turned into angry five to seven footers. That was one hell of a white knuckled ride across Buzzards Bay. Those bad boys were coming straight at me until I passed Bird Island and slipped into the protection of Sippican Neck. Again, it was a gorgeous, sunny day with light winds.
This Summer, after spending a few wonderful days hanging off a rented mooring in Westport Point, we woke early, ate breakfast and pointed our bow towards Point Judith. I thought we’d stay there awhile before continuing East through Long Island Sound to Watch Hill and eventually as far as the Connecticut River. Our plans were washed away when the marine forecast changed abruptly. It was hard to believe that on such a nice morning, small craft warnings were being issued. To make matters worse, for the next several days, four to seven foot seas were predicted for Rhode Island Sound, Block Island Sound, and Long Island Sound. Pretty much everywhere we had planned to be.
By the time we passed Sakonnet Point and picked up the Narragansett Bay racon buoy on our radar, we were in four foot swells every seven seconds, fairly comfortable because they were coming at us at a decent angle for our heading. But the weather was getting worse. The sky turned three shades of gray and fired warning rain drops across our bow.
“I’d better secure the hatches,” I said and headed downstairs, somehow managing to keep my balance as I quickly locked down all three hatches.
“Honey, the plant!” Susan said from the helm.
“I’m on it.”
From the aft-deck table, I grabbed our young spider plant. The poor thing is always toppling over. Makes a mess every time. I swear I heard it say “Thank you Rick” when I gently placed it in the small, round bathroom sink and gave it a drink from the tap.
“The rug will get soaked,” Susan said, referring our the new aft deck carpet.
I rolled that sucker up and tossed it on the couch just as the rain started coming down in earnest. When I closed the sliding glass door, the sound level dropped so dramatically it felt like we driving the boat from our living room.
“Wow! Check it out Hon,” I said. We were right in the middle of a sailboat race! Several large racing sloops zoomed up out of the mist. Professional crews were toiling away in their colorful team uniforms, all working together, running all over the flat decks, desperately trying to outmaneuver their opponents. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be on one of those beautiful vessels. Wind and spray stinging your face, hands sore from hauling lines, your whole body cold, achy, and soaking wet. The razor sharp bow rising house-high and crashing hard into the trough. Torrents of sea water washing over the deck. Yet you still perform your duty, bravely, unerringly, no matter the weather. Teammates totally depending on each other through the maelstrom.
“Any more coffee?” Susan asked, pulling me out of my daydream.
“Ya, sure, let me fix you a cup,” I said.
In my advanced age, I was happy to be here in our sturdy old boat, warm and dry in the comfortable salon, but I could certainly understand the appeal of what those young men were doing out there.
“What do ya think?” Susan asked. I could see she was fighting the helm with every roller that went under us. “GPS says we’ll reach Point Judith by Noon. Two hours from now.”
“Let’s speed up.” I suggested.
“The less time we spend in this the better,” she agreed, obviously not happy about fighting the wheel for another couple of hours.
Bringing the old Lehman diesels up to 1600 RPM only increased our speed by three or four knots. Jeez! We were only doing ten! But it was enough to make a huge difference. The GPS now said we would reach Point Judith within the hour.
“This is sooooo much better!” Susan said.
We entered the well protected Point Judith Harbor of Refuge, wound our way several miles north into the Upper Pond, and took a slip at the Stone Cove Marina located as far as north as the water will take you. Two bucks a foot including electric is as good as it gets in New England!
Soon cloudy skies gave way to sunshine and by early afternoon it was beautiful. A July heat wave was settling into its fourth day. Who cares if we can’t head West down the Long Island Sound. I figured we’d stay here a couple of days, then cruise into the well protected Narragansett bay where there are plenty of places to explore. Some new, some old and familiar. It’s all good. Right? We’re on vacation going wherever we damn well please. No schedules, no time constraints, and I got plenty of cold beer.
Susan called an old friend who owns an art supply store in downtown Wakefield and made arrangements to meet her and her two children for ice cream. After several days on board the boat, we were both anxious to take the mile and a half walk. We wobbled on through the quaint tree-lined neighborhoods. My legs were still attempting to compensate for the movement of the ocean but I managed to stay mostly on course, only falling off the curb once!
Susan’s friend Andrea, sitting behind the cash register, perked up and greeted us warmly when we walked in. Her store looked pretty darn good. It was brightly lit, well-organized and had lot’s of interesting stuff on the shelves. My bohemian side was pleased. At one time in my life I fancied myself an artist, and after seeing all the art supplies laid out before me, I realized that I still do, or at least still want to. In a perfect world, I would have ample time for all my creative interests. “So many interests, so little time,” should be tattooed across my back.
Andrea gathered her two kids, locked the door and took us on a walking tour of picturesque Wakefield village. The whole time her gregarious and irrepressible son, Bill Jr., entertained us with his antics, tantrums, and joie de vivre of a normal, healthy, 7 year boy. Andrea’s 9-year-old daughter was much more reserved by comparison. I remembered when I had children in my house, and how much energy it took to raise them. Yes, they were sometimes exhausting, but one of the many rewards is their endearing curiosity. When we showed them our boat, the kids were all over it, opening every hatch and cabinet, checking out every nook. For some reason they were fascinated by our assortment of boat hooks.
“Are there any more rooms?” young Bill asked.
“Sure. There’s the fly bridge, up that ladder. Check it out, and take these.” I handed each child a pair of binoculars. It was like I was handing them banana splits topped with Halloween candy.
“WOW! These are really good!” Bill gushed to his sister as he looked through them. “Focus like this,” I showed him how and he picked it up right away. They slung them over their little necks and excitedly climbed up the ladder. Kids LOVE ladders! I could hear them oohing and ahhing up there as I sat at the salon table with my cold Budweiser.
Andrea graciously offered to drive Susan to the supermarket for some much-needed provisions. When they all left, I bathed in the glorious silence, thankful that my child rearing days are behind me.
The next morning, Stone Cove Marina was so calm and quiet that we paid for another nights stay, but as soon as we got back from the office, a singer with an electric guitar and a PA system started performing on the coffeehouse deck that overlooked the marina. It was loud enough to be annoying and it wasn’t the kind of music my wife and I enjoy. After discovering there was an “Open Mic” affair going on all day until 8:00 at night, we immediately got our money back and vacated the slip.
About a mile away, near Gardiner’s Island, we found a nice anchorage that was well attended by local boaters. I even recognized some of the boats from the marina we just left. We spent a pleasant afternoon people watching, listening to the Red Sox on the radio, and drinking adult beverages until the early evening, when all the boats faded away with the sun, and left us alone with the stars. The sound of crickets and frogs on Gardiner’s Island was our musical entertainment.
In the waning light, a gaggle of sailboats snuck past us and anchored a respectable distance away. We took turns guessing which would turn on their anchor light next. I felt so far away from the working world, actually proud of the fact that I didn’t even know what day it was, didn’t even know the time. Who cares? We had no place pressing to be. We ate when we were hungry, slept when we were tired, and woke up when we felt like it.
As usual, the next morning brought us grey skies. But the Sun glowed dimly through a thin layer of clouds, and I remained hopeful that it would find its way out from behind them. Despite the lack of sunlight, it was a good morning. The air was warm and held a musty, wood-like fragrance that reminded me of camping out. Tiny ripples barely disturbed the water we floated so gently on. Our neighbor sail boaters were busily preparing to get underway. I watched them for a while through binoculars until the coffee percolator started rattling, my signal to turn down the heat on the butane stove. “I’ll let Susan sleep another half hour,” I thought to myself. Like the sail boaters, I wanted to get going as well, in order to take advantage of the morning calm.
By the time I climbed out of the galley with a hot cup of coffee, the sailors were slowly leaving, single file. Their hailing ports all the same: Mystic CT. “Must be a sailing club,” I thought. It could be fun I suppose, but I prefer to keep my own schedule. I tossed the last sail boaters in the line a friendly wave and wondered where they were heading.
Just when we were ready to leave, a colorful Monarch butterfly flitted across the windshield as the Sun sprayed holy rays onto the Eastern shore. Five yards off our port bow, a hunting Osprey crashed into the still waters and emerged with huge wriggling fish that was at least half the length of the massive bird. “Could there be any more good omens?” I had my answer when the anchor came up clean as a whistle.
I love cruising through the Point Judith Pond, especially in the morning before everyone wakes up. It possesses a special scenic quality, like a nautical postcard in 3D. Definitely not an area to speed through. We took it all in at a snail’s pace and slowed down even more to let the massive ferry coming out of Galilee go in front of us. Out past the Harbor of Refuge breakwater, conditions couldn’t be more different. The ocean was just starting to kick up. In another hour it would be scary for a boat our size.The plan was to bravely head Southeast into the four footers to keep them from broad-siding us until we can clear the Point Judith Lighthouse and head due North up the Narragansett Bay West Passage, where the waves will push us along from behind, increasing our speed, until we reach the protection of the Beaver tail on the Southern tip of Coninicut Island, a distance of maybe seven miles.
The plan worked! We got a nifty push Northward on our ten ton surfboard. It will be a forty minute ride to Whale Rock, the black and foreboding hunk of land that has the remains of a lighthouse that was washed away, along with its keeper, in the storm of ’38.
We keep it well to starboard, hoping to take advantage of the protection of Boston Neck. The tactic worked and the large swells turned much friendlier.
Raindrops spattered the windshield as we entered Dutch Harbor, the quiet side of Jamestown.
I hailed Dutch Harbor Boatyard on channel 69, they responded immediately, and soon a nearby launch circled the float of our rented mooring. Susan donned her bright yellow raincoat, slipped on her Sperry’s and grabbed a boat hook. “Do I look boaty enough?” she joked and headed out to the bow. Damn! She DID look very nautical. Especially when in one quick motion, she snagged the pick-up line and put the pennant eye over the bitt. “We’re in,” she mouthed through the wet windshield. I killed the engines, shut down the electronics, turned off the starting batteries, and switched on the house batteries.
I have Susan’s customary rum and coke prepared before she snapped the gaff back into its holder. Hey! I know the drill.
I snicked the top on an icy Bud and slipped it into a well-worn yellow coozie that says “Don’t boat and drink.” Very good advice by the way. We always cruise sober until we’re safely hooked up for the night. That first pop always tastes so friggin’ good!
50 dollars a night for a mooring is pricey but certainly not unheard of. Kingman’s in Pocasset charges 50 as well. And Tripp’s in Westport Point charges $47.50. There’s a great anchorage just on the other side of this mooring field, and it’s free of charge, but I’ve decided to disburden myself of the worry of dragging anchor, and support the local economy in the process.
The Sun came out and the temperature quickly shot up to a steamy 88 degrees. People started poking their heads out of their boats, wiping off wet decks and chairs. Dinghies were being deployed, small sailboats were sailing, and children were swimming, laughing and splashing about. It turned into a fine summer day in beautiful Jamestown Rhode Island.
After awhile we went ashore and walked about a mile to the other, busier side of Connanicut Island. On the way was everything a boater could want: grocery, liquor, hardware and marine stores. Also lots of restaurants, sandwich and pizza shops, and pretty much all the things one would expect to see in any bustling resort community, including an awesome museum.
For our dinghy adventure, we went to Dutch Island. There’s a historic lighthouse on the Southern tip that I wanted to explore, but the shoreline was so rocky we couldn’t find spot to land.
I opened up the throttle on the old Honda 9.9 and we zoomed around the island at full speed. Skimming along, wind in our hair, sun on our backs, brought smiles to our faces. We found the Southeastern shore better for landing. We pulled up next to a massive, low, flat, cement and brick structure that may have once been a wharf. I thought it looked military because it was so over-built. A good part of it was still mostly intact, if not weather-beaten by decades of storms.There was a couple sitting on an old cinderblock wall, their feet dangling over the still water, Jet-Ski floating nearby, cooler perched between them. I didn’t want to interrupt their lunch and tried to walk silently by.
“Hello,” the man said.
“Hi. Nice day huh?” I offered. “Do you know what this place was?” I asked.
“Yup. It was a WWII Naval refuelling station, don’t know much more than that,” he admitted.
The interior of the island was so densely overgrown and rocky that it seemed impossible to reach without heavy-duty hiking gear, there were no trails whatsoever. We confined our exploring to the coast which was covered with flat, grey, slate-like rock, the kind that’s excellent for skipping. My arm got sore attempting to beat my world record of 24 skips. “Water’s too ripply,” I muttered to myself. I gave up and headed off to see if Susan had found anything interesting. She had.
The remnants of a large red-brick building fifty feet above us peeked out through the forest. We looked up at all the thorny bramble guarding this castle. It was obvious that there was no way to get to it in shorts and flip-flops, so we left and dinghied across the harbor to the end of Sheffield Cove, not far from where our boat was moored. The cove was so shallow I had to tilt the small outboard motor up to get through it. We pulled the dinghy up on a little patch of sand, scrambled up a low embankment, and walked over the small road that separated Dutch Harbor from Mackerel Cove, and the mouth of Narragansett Bay. I was expecting to see raging ocean, but instead, soft sands, colorful flowers, and gentle waves greeted us. Why was this beautiful place deserted? Why were our footprints the only ones being gently washed away by the waves? If I lived here I would visit this beach every day and never become immune to its appeal.
I hated to leave Dutch Harbor, but after a few days, it was time for a change of scenery.
It was another cloudy morning. We ate breakfast and waited for the fog to clear. A 36 foot Marine Trader moored next to us suddenly swung dangerously close in the slack tide. It’s concerned Captain appeared on the aft-deck. We were so near each other we could have shook hands! But the Jamestown Bridge had just emerged from the mist and our engines were sufficiently warmed. “It’s OK Cap” I said calmly. “We’re leaving.” The concern left the Captains face. “Safe journey”, he said and added a friendly nod as punctuation. Susan slipped the eye loop off the bitt and dropped it into the water, giving Ginger Lee her freedom.
As is my custom when I leave a port, I hailed our hosts on the radio.
“Dutch Harbor Boatyard, this is motor vessel Ginger Lee, over.”
” Go ahead Ginger Lee.”
“We are vacating mooring F-5. Thank you for your kind hospitality. We really enjoyed your beautiful harbor. Hope to return soon. Ginger Lee out.”
“Thank you Ginger Lee, have a safe trip, come back soon. Dutch Harbor out.”
Our next port of call, Apponaug Harbor Marina, is in the Northwestern corner of Greenwich Bay, the body of water that forms the western shore of Warwick Rhode Island. I’ve never been there, never even heard of it. It was just a random choice, chosen because it offered moorings and seemed so low-key compared to the two fancy Brewer Yacht Centers next door to it. The cruising guide actually said the words “Low key, friendly, easy-going.” It sounds like my kinda place! So I called ’em.
“Hi. I’m looking for a mooring for my 32 footer.”
“For how long?”
“Oh, I dunno, couple nights at least.”
“Ya I got some. How’s thirty bucks a night sound?”
“Sounds great, see ya in two hours.”
“Sure thing. Take mooring number 134, South side.”
I mostly shy away from the fancy marinas like Brewers. I’m sure it’s a lovely place but I prefer the quiet privacy of a mooring. And besides, Ginger Lee develops severe self-esteem issues when she’s docked next to mega yachts. Even when I do take a slip, I always head bow in because I don’t care to have strangers looking into my boat. It’s not an anti social thing, it’s a privacy thing.
We had a great deal of trouble finding mooring number 134, and no one answered the phone or the radio, so we gave up and tied to the pump-out dock. I walked to the office and knocked on the door. No answer. In fact, no one was around anywhere, and only one car occupied the huge parking lot. How odd. There are 800 boats in this place and there wasn’t a soul to be found! Where is an attentive dock boy when ya need one? “Jeez this place IS low-key,” I thought to myself.
I walked back to Ginger Lee and took advantage of the free pump out station. That killed twenty minutes but still no one was around. I grabbed my binoculars and walked to the dock nearest the mooring field to search for number 134. No luck. “That’s not good.” I said to nobody.
While heading back toward the office I was surprised to see someone walking towards me.
“Did you just come in?” he asked
“Ya, well, an hour ago.”
“Hi. I’m Barry, one of the live-aboards here. John, the owner, called and asked me to give you the mooring closest to the dock.”
“Okay Barry. Point it out to me. I’m Rick by the way.” We shook hands and he pointed out the float.
We got settled on our mooring just as the sun broke free of the clouds and once again it was hot, humid and absolutely gorgeous. We put up the white canvas windshield cover to stave off the raging Sun. When I opened all the hatches and windows a glorious cool breeze froze the sweat on my face.
Apponoug cove is small and well protected. About a half mile long. One could easily swim across the widest part. It’s lined with lots of foliage and tall trees with houses and cottages nestled under them. We had a nice unobstructed view out across Greenwich Bay to Patience Island. A half-dozen sails decorated the horizon.
Several small, salty looking skiffs glide by. Each with outboard motors and each had a scruffy looking man stuffed into its tiny pilot house. They were obviously working boats. We later discovered they’re quahog rakers.
Directly to port, a hundred yards away, was the fancy Brewers Greenwich Bay Marina with its huge artificial reef. A thousand large, well-cared-for yachts gleam in the hot sun. Beyond that, the Brewers Yacht Yard Cowessett. And beyond that, we were surprised to see a MBTA commuter rail train free itself from the dense foliage, and speed northward, disappearing behind a small hill.
“I thought we were in Rhode Island,” Susan said.
“That’s definitely the commuter rail from Massachusetts.” I said. Another mystery to crack!
Several white and grey wading birds were fishing the sandy shoal on Cedar Tree Point not twenty yards in front of us. We watched them through binoculars for a half hour. Patiently, stoically, these large birds stood absolutely still on orange stilt-like legs, then suddenly snapped their long necks, thrusting their pointed beaks toward the unfortunate prey swimming at their feet.
“I love it here,” I said, breaking the trance.
“Oh you love everywhere on the boat,” Susan said.
She’s right. I do.
A forty foot sailing catamaran cruised in and started motoring through the mooring field, obviously looking for their assigned float.
“Hello. Have you seen number 140?” the captain asked when he got within earshot.
“Oh ya. It’s right here under my keel,” I said glibly. Just then, as if on cue, Ginger Lee swung right in a breeze and float number 140 popped up amidships. “I’ve been floating over it all morning.”
“That won’t work, too damn close,” the Captain said, stating the obvious.
I advised him to do what I did. Tie up to the pump-out dock until you can get some new information. He thanked me and headed off.
As usual, we did some exploring in our dinghy. First into Apponaug Cove, where we discovered the cheapest ice anywhere in the world. It was at a little bait shop next to the public boat ramp. We stocked up on cubes and blocks, brought them back to the boat, then headed back into Apponaug Cove to have an early dinner at the Crow’s Nest restaurant. At the bar, an elderly gent pulled up a stool next to me. He was trim, white-haired, and dressed in clean, well ironed slacks. His jersey said “U.S Marine Corp.” stitched in neat letters over the pocket.
“What’s good here?” I asked.
“I’ve been coming here twenty years and haven’t had a bad meal yet,” he answered in a friendly, off-handed manner. I liked him right off the bat.
I went with the chicken pot pie and a cold Heineken. Susan had the fried scallops and a margarita, and our new friend John had mahi mahi and a root beer. None of us were disappointed.
“You were right John, the food’s great,” I said.
“In about an hour, there will be a line out the door all the way to the street. That’s why I come early,” he said.
We had a nice conversation. I discovered John has a good-sized cabin cruiser he keeps in a slip at the Brewers Marina. A fellow boater! He handed me a business card that had his name, a picture of his boat “Semper Fi” and the motto: “So much water, so little time.” Later that evening, he came by in his dinghy for a visit.
I’ve never been known as a talker, but there are some people who I just hit it off with. John Manney is one of those people. Conversation flowed easily as we putted around the bay in his little R.I.B.
“How old are you Rick?” he asked.
“I’ll be 61 in a few days,” I answered.
“I was older than you when I got my Captains licence. I’m a certified Master,” was his shocking answer. Jeez! With my birthday fast approaching, I’d been bemoaning the fact that I’m old and decrepit. This guy just slapped me right the heck outta that nonsense!
“Way t’go Johnny! How old are ya now?”
“I’m 84,” He said proudly. “Still working too. Oh I would’ve retired long ago, but I like my job too much.”
Guys like John restore my faith in mankind. Why are the people I meet while boating nicer? Maybe it’s me. I’m nicer when I’m boating. Well, I feel nicer anyway. So maybe nice boaters are drawn to each other. I don’t know. What I do know is; the world is a friendlier place when I’m on my boat.
Clean clothes, warm from the dryer is one of the simple pleasures that are magnified on a boat, where even clean clothes soon acquire a dampness and a faint diesel scent. I pulled on my favorite cotton tee shirt and faded cut-off shorts. They felt soft, dry, and smelled nice like fabric softener. Laundry-wise, I’m good for another week
Once again, it was another grey morning, but there was something about this day’s overcast that said “No Sun today, sorry Rick.”
We passed the lighthouse on Warwick Point, and said good-bye to Greenwich Bay. Our wipers never stopped sweeping away not only the rain, but the considerable windy spray kicked up by grey-green choppy seas as we zig-zagged around Providence Point, Bristol Neck, and under the Mount Hope Bridge.
Not until we turned South at Common Fence Point did the battering stop. The current in The Hummocks, where the Sakonett river gets funneled and pinched, was so strong that I bonked our dinghy off a mooring ball. Jeez! It surprised the heck outta me! We just got swept sideways. Susan got a kick out of it though, and kid me about the rest of the day. Hey, I deserved that! I managed to dock at the Standish Boat Yard fuel dock without any follies so I was more or less exonerated. We fueled up and paid for a couple of nights on a mooring.
At 25 bucks a night it was the cheapest moorings anywhere. The place wasn’t pretty but what they lacked in ambiance they more than made up in niceness. When I asked about a grocery store, they gave me directions and the keys to their pick-up truck.
The next day was a total washout. It rained cats and dogs all day long. We had to use our cabin heater to ward off the chill.
I got caught up on my writing, lost miserably in the big Yahtzee tournament, watched Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mathis, and Peoples Court on the TV, and ate the best salad Susan has ever prepared.
By late afternoon the rain stopped and we were literally able to see Tiverton in a different light.
As a glorious, full arching rainbow filled the sky, a large crowd began gathering on nearby Grinnell’s Beach where a monster bon fire was lit. Along the adjacent Stone Bridge waterfront, sailboats, power boats, canoes, kayaks and rowboats, were all lit up and decorated. The happy owners honking horns and whooping it up to the delight of the crowd on shore.
The backdrop was easily the most amazing sunset of the Summer. We stood transfixed on the aft-deck. “What IS this,” I asked. Susan went online and discovered it was an event called “Celebrate Tiverton 2013. To honor its friendly people, storied history, and beautiful surroundings.” And we witnessed it! We saw it all!
Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will cruise home to Wareham, tie Ginger Lee to her mooring on Swifts Neck, dinghy to the beach and walk home to our little house. We have jobs to go to, schedules to keep, commitments to attend to. We will take our watches out of the drawer and strap them on our wrists. We will set our alarm clock and we will definitely know what day it is. But on this night, quite by coincidence, we have this wonderful memory to mark the last night of our Summer boating vacation.