From the logbook on July 26 2017 written by the XO: 8:49 AM We leave the Starbuck Island Boat Club. Heading off to our first lock of the trip at Troy. 9:30 AM First Lock– Nobody died, So far, so good.
All my fears just melted away after that first lock. It’s like riding a bike, it comes back pretty quick, and it’s not really all that difficult. You call the Lockmaster on channel 13 and ask what side he wants you on. There are red and green traffic lights so if the big doors are open and the light is green, you slowly enter the lock, maneuver the boat towards the side, and grab the ropes hanging down. The XO would be outside the cabin near the midship cleat and would “talk me in” on our intercom headsets. She’d grab a rope and put it around the cleat in such a way that it would slip through as we rise. When she had control I would leave the helm and catch another rope from the aft deck to keep the stern from swinging out. At that time, our plan for Salty was to tie it across the swim platform, but somewhere between locks one and two, Salty filled with water from being towed sideways, even at headway speed, so the new plan was to tie him on the hip before we enter the lock, that’s how we did it for the next 140.
We got really good at going through locks. Man, we had it down. We would go into lock-mode and use a system that worked every time without fail. No boat follies. We just did it so many times it became second nature, like we were reading each others mind. But the first few days on the Erie Canal, every lock was like a new experience with all the anxious moments that come with it. A stressful learning curve where the stakes seemed higher, the danger more prominent. Cold, steel walls wait to take fingers and limbs from the unwary mariner. By the time we reached Canajoharie, NY, our second port-of-call, we had gone through 15 locks. More than we have in the past 20 years. After docking, I remember feeling so spent, and so overloaded, like my mind turned to mush. “You okay?” the XO asked. “It’s just so much,” I answered. “I think I need to wind down a bit.” She handed me a cold beer and my guitar
There are no tides or currents to worry about, but the water seems somewhat dirty. You wouldn’t want to swim in it. There are no marinas with slips because the Erie Canal isn’t wide enough. Instead, they have walls that you tie up to. Many are free, and the ones that aren’t, don’t cost much at all.
From the logbook on July 31 2017. Written by the XO 9:30 AM. Left Illion. Weather is clear and fall-like. Headed to Rome. All fueled up and watered. 11:50 AM. Rick is scolded by a bargeman for speeding! He waked the canal work barge. 2:09 PM. Docked at Bellamy Harbor Park, Rome, NY. GOT PIZZA DELIVERED! We measured 15’5″ from the top of the bimini to the water fully fueled and watered.
Yes, I got scolded for waking a working barge. In my defense, dear reader, I was only going about 7 MPH, but the Erie is still and narrow enough that the wake reverberates off the sides. Since then, I slow way down when passing guys on boats while they are working. And it paid off! I got friendly waves instead of one finger salutes.
“Look inside yourself. See what you’ve done. See where you are. See where you are going. Is it what you want? Is it what you need? Is it what you expected? Answer truthfully and there is much hope for your future, whatever that may be.”
I have so much time to reflect on my life. Buckets full of time. I’m shocked at how easy this is to get used to. When we leave port, I point Ginger Lee in the right direction and turn the helm over to the XO for the next several hours. The woman can hold a course like autopilot. No, better than autopilot. After I wash the breakfast dishes and make the bed, there’s not a heck of a lot to do, so I sit in the passenger seat and watch the world go by. Oh sure, we talk, but not constantly– there’s no fear of silence in our relationship– there’s a lot of time for inner rumination.
The engines hum and breathe beneath us. Like riding a horse, you can feel their heat, power, and rhythm. It becomes meditation. The XO mentioned this phenomena, so I know she feels it too. Not only is this something that I didn’t expect, it’s something nobody else talks about. Perhaps they don’t find it as pleasing as I do. Somebody once wrote that he thought parts of The Great Loop were boring. I don’t think I could feel that way if I made this trip a thousand times. It’s not the circumstances that creates the joy. It’s you.
From the log book on July 21, 2017. Written by the XO. 6:32 AM Weighed anchor. Headed for Kingston, Forecast is NW winds 7, sunny and hot later, but this morning is cool and dry. 12:12 Arrived at Rondout Yacht Basin. No follies. Very helpful dock boys (Nash and Keith). (Kingston NY.) First time paying for a pumpout. ($5)
Boats can be somewhat unpredictable in the way they move in the water. Other more experienced captains might disagree with that statement, but it seems to me that the wind always comes up when you are docking. Stray currents, wakes from passing vessels, misbehaving engines, anything can and will happen right when you don’t want it to, causing inelegant and sometimes embarrassing moments. On Ginger Lee, we call this Boat Follies. Boat follies are to be avoided at all cost. Still, they happen. Unless the conditions are very still, you may have only one shot at tossing a line to a guy on the dock, and if he misses it, which they often do, it could get ugly. What if a guy tosses you a line and you miss it? What if your anchor doesn’t set? So many things can go wrong. All boaters know this. It’s the reason why complete strangers will help you. It’s the reason I will walk to the other end of a marina to help someone dock if there’s no one else around. I just can’t sit back and do nothing. What if it was me? Boat karma is real.
Kingston, New York was a city of firsts. It was the first time we paid for a pump-out. It was our first trip (on the loop) to Walmart. When the taxi didn’t show up at Walmart to take us back to the marina, we took our first Uber ever, and on the loop, it was our first visit to a museum, and the first time we had to use our air conditioner.
From the logbook on July 23 2017. Written by the XO. 10:37AM. VERY smooth exit from the Rondout Yacht Basin slip D2 with the entire breakfast crowd watching. Back to frugality. Destination Catskill. Weather is clear. 79 degrees WNW wind 3 mph. 1:33PM. After narrowly escaping the wake wings of Dr. No, we anchored opposite Catskill in 12 feet of water at Rogers Island north of Greendale.
In the busy restaurant over looking our slip, all eyes were upon us as I backed out, stopped, and spun 180 degrees on axis in an area not much bigger than the boat itself, then slowly threaded my way through the crowded marina. Sorry guys, no boat follies today. I knocked on wood, and waved goodbye to the Rondout Yacht Basin, a very friendly place. Three hours later we were anchored in the lee of Rogers Island.
In the log book, my wife’s Dr. No entry refers to a certain style of boat. Large, low profile, dark and sinister, rude, massive wake, and doesn’t care. We later changed this name to Doctor Doom. Here are some other Gingerisms: (1) Weenie Wangers: Men’s shorts (not underwear) that are made out of very light material. Extremely comfortable but definitely not to be worn in public. (2) Sneaker Boat: Any boat with “modern” swoopy lines where the bow curves downward towards the water, like you could slide off it. Looks like a fancy high-tech sneaker. (3) Sea Wake: It’s just funnier than saying Sea Ray. Another name for number 2. (4) Lobstah Yacht: The opposite of numbers 2 and 3. Boatbuilders have copied the design and lines of traditional northeast style fishing and lobstering boats, and equipped them with fancy interiors for the lucrative pleasure craft industry. (5) Pink Drink: Black Seal dark rum, orange juice, grenadine, and seltza water. The XO likes them. (6) Cute Ice: The small and tubular ice from our ice maker. So named by a fellow looper during docktails. Rick: “What’ll ya have Hon?” XO: “A pink drink with cute ice.” (7) Bum Boat: Any vessel at anchor that obviously hasn’t moved in a long time, and has people living on it. Usually found in warmer climates. Like a sailboat with no sails, heavy green slime on the waterline, and a dinghy hanging off it. (7) Monkey Bird: Not sure what kind of bird this is. They live in the South and sound like monkeys. (8) Clown line: Towel clips are wicked handy on a boat. We have a bunch of them that look like clown fish. I bolted a couple to the bow of the dinghy to hold the lines attached to the port and starboard rear cleats. When we need to put Salty on the hip, like when we go through a lock, we can grab the tow line and pull Salty along either side of the boat to the midship cleat. That controls the front, but to keep the rear from swinging out, we pick up the Clown Line with a boat hook and secure it. (9) The Net of the Fisher: Marine band radio is a great source of entertainment, we always have it on 16 as all boaters should while underway. One day we heard a call to the Coast Guard from a guy with a heavy French accent. The Coasties asked him how many souls were on board, if anyone was injured, and what was the nature of his distress. He answered: four adults, everyone is just fine, and his sailboat had stopped moving because it was caught in the net of the fisher. Then he asked when they will come to free him. The Coasties replied that they will not come to untangle his sailboat and hailed Towboat US for him. So now every time we see that familiar pole with a flag on it, signifying there’s a net underneath, we break out our finest French accent. (10) Ball of the Crabber: Well, you get it. Crab traps are marked with a white ball.
We were living in the moment. That’s what it’s like on Ginger Lee. One waterway at a time, one day at a time. I knew where we were going and it frightened me a little bit. It’s the locks. There’s like 40 of them. I’ve been through the Griddly Locks in Boston a bunch of times, but that’s it. Fear of the unknown. We’d just got used to the ways of Old Man Hudson, but after only two more ports–Castleton on Hudson, and Troy–we enter The Erie Canal, where we gotta forget about the familiar and learn the ways of this new-to-us westward waterway. I had no idea what it would be like. All I knew is that it’s long, non tidal, full of locks, and ends at Lake Erie.
Truthfully, cruising the Great Loop with my wife is what I wanted. She inspired me to take this leap and I jumped at the chance to share it with her. Do I need this? Absolutely not, but the older I get, the more I realize how special it is to find something that you love to do, and be able to do it. Some things take more effort, well, just looping took a tremendous amount of effort, both in money and time. That was unexpected. I guess I didn’t think that part would take so long. For years we scrimped and saved and tortured our souls, blah, blah, blah… Ya know what? After all is said and done, we did the one thing that really mattered: we made the decision to go. Once that was done, our hearts did the rest. Maybe there is hope for our future, whatever that may be.
Almost all Loopers want to see New York City, and who can blame them. Pictures of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty will be prominently displayed in their scrapbooks and on Facebook. It’s a big deal, a highlight of the whole trip, but most Loopers don’t live in the northeast. The XO and I, however, do. We don’t want to see New York City yet again. Not if we don’t have to. Been there a million times. The XO lived there for almost twenty years. So after transiting the Hell Gate, we decided to take a pass on the NYC experience, and headed north up the Harlem River. We met the Hudson River three nautical miles north of all the hubbub. For those of similar thinking, the Harlem River is a very cool alternative. Scenic in a different and unique way. The transit is free of charge, but beware, there are many bridges crossing this waterway, all of them are potentially capable of opening, but they are old and some may have mechanical issues. So if you need more than 24 feet of air draft, the New York City Department of Transportation will not guarantee that they can open any of the bridges for you.
The Hudson River is tidal, and it’s flowing against us. We’re wasting fuel and slowing down a little too much, so we stop in Yonkers at their free municipal dock to wait two hours for the fair current. While there we discovered two things: (1) we need to build a fender board. This will help us protect our boat from smashing against any dock with rough edges like this one. (2) The Yonkers Municipal Dock is padlocked! Yup, you can’t leave the dock to spend money at all the nearby bistros and stores unless you can squirm on your back under a one foot tear in the chain link gate. I’m just thankful that I still have the agility to do so. We used a towel so we wouldn’t get our clothes dirty. In the cruising guide, I read a review from a couple who called everybody they could to get the dock unlocked. The police, the DPW, the Mayors office, and nobody could come up with a key. Jeez! They just wanted to eat at the restaurant which is right there on the other side of the locked gate!
From the Logbook on July 7th 2017 written by the XO. 10:56 AM Stopped at the Yonkers Municipal Dock to wait for the tide. 1:02 PM Took off from the dock just ahead of the flood (tide). 1:20 PM First hail on AIS by Buchannon 12, an 89 foot tug. “Hey Ginger Lee, is that you on my bow?” “Nope” I see a little Sea Ray looking thing scooting by the tow about a mile behind us.
AIS is a wonderful thing. It allows any boat, which is so equipped, to “see” each other. Yup, from up to 24 miles away, boats can identify each other by name, type, length, beam, draft, hailing port, and sometimes destination. It also tells us their speed and if they are coming towards us or going away from us. Up until this point nobody has ever hailed us before, so we had no idea if our AIS unit was transmitting correctly. A tug boat called us on the radio by name to ask if we were cutting across his bow, a dangerous thing to do. It’s pretty cool to know we are “seen.” We were able to call the tug captain–by name as well–and say it was not us.
On this day, at about one o’clock in the afternoon, the Hudson River became a kindly old man. His fair current cradled us and gently guided us along all the way to Nyack, New York. “Come with Grampaw. I’ll show you the way. Not too fast though. You wouldn’t want to miss anything.“ Old Man Hudson is a wide waterway, wide enough for all vessels large and small to coexist peacefully. At least it seemed that way. Has the world suddenly changed? I don’t think so. It’s me. I am changing. Every day, every minute, every second, I am becoming the person I need to be to survive in this environment. This is the challenge: to be willing to let things change me without betraying my self identity, or any of my traits that I am pleased with. Don’t wanna mess with the good stuff. But sometimes we look for one thing, and end up finding another, and our feelings change, and the story of our lives change as well. It’s all part of life. We all have to write our own story. Might as well make it a good one.
From the log book on July 18th 2017. Written by the XO.
12:30 PM To Stoney Point 2:37 PM At Stoney Point. I miscalculated the tide/current. It was a little slow. I will do better next time.
On a hot and humid summer day we tucked Ginger Lee behind Stoney Point and dropped anchor. I could stay here forever.
From the log book on July 19th 2017. Written by the XO.
10:37 AM After a quick (hasty?) decision to move up to Iona Island, we pulled the anchor, only to have the winch stop pulling. We headed downstream a bit to the Panco fuel dock. filled, then came back to stoney point. 11:50 AM Dropped the little Danforth to let Rick fix the winch.
After a nice night anchored in Stony Point, we thought we’d move a few miles north to Iona Island, a scenic bird sanctuary just below the Bear Mountain bridge, While raising the anchor, our windlass broke just after the anchor pulled free of the bottom, so the XO pulled Mr. Mantus the rest of the way up by hand. Then we decided two things: (1) As long as we’re floating free we might as well visit the nearby fuel dock. (2) After we fill our tanks we should return to the Stony Point anchorage, drop our spare anchor rig, and diagnose the windlass problem.
I’ve taken that old windlass apart more than a few times, the design is fairly simple. The biggest problem was the heat. Working on that thing midday in the summer sun was brutal. I was broiling out there. I had to do it in ten minute shifts. I eventually found the broken part, called The Good Automatic Windlass Company in New Jersey, and ordered a new one. As luck would have it, a good friend lives very near here, and with his permission, I had the new part Fedexed to his house. The next day we toured a historic Revolutionary War fort on Stony Point, then the XO rode her bike to pick up the new windlass part.
From the log book on July 20th 2017. Written by the XO. 3:40 PM The winch is fixed. Leaving Stony Point anchorage. About 5:00 PM Anchored. Very narrow band of just-right-water. It went from 100′ to 3′ in a blink. Now in about 15′-17′ northside of Iona Island, south of the Bear Mountain Bridge. Blair Buscareno visited.
It’s not often we hit bottom. It’s my fault. I was at the helm circling very slowly around the north side of Iona Island looking for a place to drop Mr. Mantus. The sweet spot is anywhere from seven to twenty feet deep. Okay. So I have one eye on the depth sounder which is reading an incredible 165 feet. I proceeded slowly: 134 feet, 105 feet, then suddenly 3 feet. “What!” I quickly pulled both engines into neutral. Then the depth sounder did this: – – – which is what it looks like when there is either over 200 feet of water under the transducer, or none. Ginger Lee stopped moving. Crap! I put it in reverse and goosed it. Much mud swirled and roiled and we were soon floating once again. As the log book stated, we found the sweet spot 15 to 17 feet deep and dropped anchor. We were out of danger, but I was feeling a bit dumb and inadequate, and as usual, I pushed those feelings back hard as I could, deep into the recesses of my brain, like I was afraid of my own thoughts. Why? So I can be hard on the outside, and gooey on the inside? I really need to work on that. I need to believe in what I feel, and own it. It’s harder than it sounds. There is nothing safe about putting your heart on the line. It’s the scariest thing you can do.
From the log book on Tuesday July 11. Written by the XO. 2:19 PM Anchored behind Cockenoe Island in 12.5′ of water. 8:45 PM Wind shifted to the north then died, and then we were in 3′ of water. Hmm. Not good. Moved out to 11′-12′. Slack tide and wind. Save us Mr. Mantus!
Cockenoe Island is a small, uninhabited island just south of Norwalk, Connecticut. It’s a beautiful and quiet anchorage that gets good reviews from all of the cruising guides. The expression goes “every rose has its thorns”, and this tiny island has a big one: The deadly Cockenoe Reef. Longer than the Island itself, it juts out from the easternmost point. Not only is it completely underwater at high tide, it is completely and utterly unmarked. This makes no sense to me. Somebody please put a pole or something on the end of it. Nothing fancy. Just a plain stick would do fine. How ’bout an old float or somethin’? Jeez, the tide was up and we had no idea exactly where it was, and we were looking for it! Really hard! I can’t think of any other major hazard to navigation that is not marked. Sure, it’s right there on the charts. You can get GPS coordinates to it, which I did, but even the best GPS receivers can be off as much as two or three meters.
Long story short: we dropped Mr. Mantus (our anchor), spent the afternoon exploring the Island, swimming, barbequing, and what have you, and at quarter to nine at night, we suddenly realized we were less than five feet from the aforementioned deadly reef. As the XO states in the log: Hmm. Not good. There’s an understatement for ya. The tide emptied quickly and roared loudly over the rocky reef. Our depth sounder read 3′, and it was getting dark. We barely made it out of there in time and re-anchored safely a hundred yards away in 12 feet of water. The danger was there all along. I should have been more alert, but sometimes I manage to fool myself into thinking everything is all right. This is one of my flaws, I know, but none of us can easily run away from who we are, least of all me. The best I can do is be aware, and stay ready for the consequences of my actions.
Cockenoe Island is one of those rare places that makes me smile inside, like I am one with the universe. I could feel its aura all around. We stayed there two wonderful days and the only other boat that came anywhere near us was an unoccupied catamaran that zoomed past and hit the reef pretty hard. It was a runaway from a nearby marina. I looked up the name written across the sail, called them, and they said they would send someone to collect it.
From the log book on Thursday July 13 2017 8:07 AM Pulled up anchor. Forecast is SW 5-10 becoming NW late. Seas I ft or less. Slight chance of afternoon storms. 8:10 The eye splice on the anchor line was weirdly twisted. We put a second line on and pulled it on deck and pushed it into place.* 8:18 Underway to Greenwich. * May need tighter whipping. 11:11 On guest mooring # 5 at Indian Point Yacht Club Greenwich, Connecticut.
This yacht club is so fancy that the launch drivers wear suits and ties. It’s so fancy that the ice is free and was delivered to our boat with a big red bow tied on the bag. So fancy that all the ladies on the dock wore white dresses and big hats. Needless to say, I was wicked intimidated. I felt like I had to shower and shave just to go in and use their shower. I know. I was probably being ridiculous, those yacht club members are most likely very nice people, but I would look so out-of-place in my cut-offs and flip flops. I actually never left the boat. But the XO did. She took the dinghy to pick up my little sister Elaine, which is why we’re here.
It was one of those terribly hot and humid afternoons. Even with all the windows open and all the fans going it was impossible to cool off. That soon changed. The next day we woke to the sound of rain drumming on our hatches. It was cold, raw, and the most uncomfortable swell kept hitting Ginger Lee the wrong way like a bad roller coaster. It was nearly impossible to do anything except leave. So leave we did.
From the log book on Friday July 14 2017. Written by the XO. 9:30 AM Dropped mooring. Spattered rain and overcast. Unfavorable but manageable swell. 12:22 PM On a mooring at the Bayside Marina in Queens, New York.
We’re not even on the official Great Loop route yet. It doesn’t go through New England. We have spent 10 days just getting there and now we are two hours away from the actual route. The Bayside Marina in Queens is where Loopers go to stage their trip through the notorious HELL GATE! (Insert oohs, aahs, hisses, and boos, here.) Yeah, it’s as terrible as it sounds, or potentially so. “Why Rick?” you ask. It’s because this is where the East River and the Harlem river meet and constrict. The 7 to 10 knot current would easily overpower a slow boat like Ginger Lee, and just to make things interesting, there’s a huge rock in the middle of it. The trick is to go through Hell Gate at slack tide. We figure (and when I say we, I mean my much smarter wife) that will occur at 9:00 in the morning, and we should leave this marina by 7:30 AM.
This is my review of the Bayside Marina: It is rustic and bare boned, yet has the only 24/7 launch service I’ve ever seen. There are plenty of moorings available, and the staff is friendly. They have food! Burgers, dogs, chips, sandwiches, ice cream, and darn good french fries. Not exactly gourmet dining, but when you’re hungry, this stuff is impossible to resist. They have one shower stall with no door, no shelves, no bench and it is right next to the emergency exit that staff members come and go through. I was surprised the XO showered there. She reported in her usual understated tone: “It was clean, the water hot.”
From the Log book on Saturday July 15 2017. Written by the XO. 6:35 AM To the Bayside Marina dock for water. 7:31 Off the dock 8:58 Hit the Hell Gate. Smooth.
“Smooth?” That’s it? Just “smooth.” Not even an exclamation point! I was sweatin’ bullets over this thing. Everyone does. It’s all they talk about up here. I be like: “Oh you bad huh? Big bad Hell Gate. Well who’s your daddy now sucka?!” I was worried, sure, but the XO’s timing was perfect. It’s not an easy thing to pull off. Tides are predictable, but not the wind, current, and other organic factors. She successfully predicted within two minutes that if we left the Bayside Marina at 7:30 AM, and travelled at our usual speed, we would hit the Hell Gate at dead slack tide which was 9:00AM. Damn! That’s good.
Well that’s it. We’re officially on The Great Loop route. 6,000 miles to go until we’re back here at Hell Gate next Summer. They call it “crossing your wake” or “closing the loop.” At this point–the beginning– I remember it just seemed like too much to think of as a whole thing, as one big entity. It’s so much to encompass, to absorb. We’re talking well over 300 ports. Each one with their own memories, good and bad. Each with different foods, people, accents, dangers and unpredictable moments. Toss in the fact that we are married and susceptible to all the stuff that couples face in their personal lives together, and you’ve got quite a trip goin on many different levels. The journey is not just outside, it is inside us as well. Everyone has fears, and like the good Baby Boomer that I am, I try so hard to keep mine contained.
We haven’t slipped into any kind of normal routine yet. It’s like we’re still in vacation mode, still using the same provisions we originally put on the boat and they’re getting low. We need to go food shopping soon, another problem we haven’t been challenged with yet. We’ll figure it all out as we go because we have to. I know where we are going today, but not so much beyond that. Each day, I am living in the moment. Believe me, it’s a good way to be. Once this trip has ended, will I ever be that way again? You never know, and I am ever the optimist.
From the logbook on July 10 2017 written by the XO: 8:13 AM calm, still. Dropped the mooring in North Cove. Off to New Haven on the fair current. Forecast is SW 5-10, Seas 1′ or less 1:38 PM Hooked a guest mooring at the Pequonock Yacht Club New Haven (after about 45 minutes at the fuel dock). Mileage to date: 154 Average speed: 7.1 MPH Moving time: 21 hours 41 minutes Filled up 78.8 gallons @ $2.9
Monday morning in Essex, Connecticut. We’re close enough to Interstate 95 to hear the din of the traffic. Thousands of people are going to work. Not us. That’s easy to get used to. Ridiculously so. Especially for a man who’s been working since he was 15. Full time cruising has its perks. No work is one of them. Only 154 miles into a 6,000 mile trip, our new life has just started, and already there were disruptive events. Sure, life is good while floating calmly in a sweet little cove on a nice warm day, but foul your prop, sink your dinghy, run into a submerged tree, and you realize the potential for disaster is quite high. Higher than your typical work day commute. “Shake it off Rick. If you spend too much time thinking about the future, the present will slip through your fingers.“
We had reserved a mooring at the Pequonock Yacht Club situated in New Haven, Connecticut. Our trip there was blissfully uneventful, with just enough of our fellow boaters around to give us something to look at and talk about. Another beautiful day on the water. Very ho-hum. I like that. The XO and I are not strangers to cruising, we do it as often as we can afford to, usually weekends and vacations from work. Since The Great Loop is nothing but a series of short day trips, we settle into our usual cruising routine. First, we decide how far we wish to travel that day, usually 30 or forty miles is plenty. Then we look at our charts and see what’s around in that range. Next, we consult our cruising guides and get several possible choices. I write them down in order of best to worst, and start dialing. Generally, in a list of, say, several phone numbers, I would expect a few to not answer, or ask me to leave a message. One or two will pick up the phone, and usually, only one will call me back. Every once in a while we’ll get lucky and our first choice will answer the phone, book us in, and we’ll be done with it. Sometimes, nobody responds and we have to modify our plans. Maybe we have to travel a bit further to find accommodations. You’ve got to be flexible. It’s all about the cruising guides, they tell you everything, all the marinas and their phone numbers, coordinates, reviews, if they have fuel, laundry, bar, if there is a market nearby, or an anchorage. There are many free places to dock as well, and we want to take advantage of those as often as possible. Our go-to cruising guide is called Active Captain. It’s free, and it’s online. We also use published paper ones that cover specific regions. Once we pull into port, or drop anchor for the night, the first thing we do is plan our next move, make a reservation, and plot our course.
Once in New Haven, we went directly to the Pequonock Yacht Club fuel dock and tied up. Nobody was around so I walked inside the building. Again, no one home. I went up a flight of stairs and found a guy behind the bar. “What’ll it be?” he said. “Got any diesel?” I answered. “Fuel dock’s closed on Mondays.” “Bummer,” I said. “Now we’ll have to dock again tomorrow.” “Oh. You’re at the fuel dock.” “Yup. I reserved a mooring for the night, thought I’d stop and fuel up first.” “I can sell you fuel. Let me get the key and I’ll meet you at the dock,” he said with a big smile. “First let me show you the mooring.” I followed him over to the window. He pointed to a big orange float. “You can use that one or the one next to it,” he said. I love this guy. Sometimes all you need is a little cooperation. After getting settled on the mooring, we took the dinghy back and had dinner and drinks at the bar.
From the logbook on Tuesday, July 11 2017. Written by the XO: 8:07 AM Dropped the mooring at Pequonnock Y.C. Forecast is SW 5-10, seas 1 ft. Possible storms or showers. Overcast after heavy rains all night. Brightening. 8:31 @R15 (nav. aid) Castor overheats to 250* after the alarm sounded. Returned to mooring. *Buried the needle. 9:43 V-belt on Castor replaced. Rick is hot and greasy. Castor temp looks much better. Getting set again. 9:50 Under way (part 2).
The log book pretty much says it all. A little after eight in the morning when we were leaving New Haven, our starboard engine, which we named Castor, overheated. We were able to return to the mooring where I discovered a broken V-belt and changed it. Was it my fault? I worried about that. You be the judge. That belt had been on that engine since we bought the boat ten years ago, and who knows how long before that, but I always visually inspect everything every time I visit the engine room, which is fairly often. I like poking around in there, checking fluid levels, hoses, batteries, changing filters, and, most importantly, belt tension. In a former life, I used to be a professional car mechanic. I kinda know what I’m doing, well, enough to have several spares on hand. Hey, I’m not stupid, I’m lucky. Wicked lucky. Not winning-Mega-Millions-lucky, but I always seem to find the fortunate side of any situation and come out alright, sometimes even better than before. I don’t know why this is so. Karma? God? That deal I made with Satan? I dunno. Maybe I’m just good at figuring stuff out, or managing my expectations. Whatever it is, it’s something that has followed me my entire life. I’ve come to rely on it, believe in it, trust in it, this unnamed thing that has literally and figuratively saved my life many times. From the bad comes the good. It’s a double edged sword, one that I would prefer to leave in its scabbard. In fact, it used to frighten me, until I learned to temper my fears with the wonderful things that I love to surround myself with.
From the log book on July 9th 2017. Written by the XO. “Anchor up at 6:15. Arrived North Cove, Essex, CT at 1:30. On a “non-member’s” mooring.* Over 47 miles in 7 1/2 hours. Hit a log in the crowded Connecticut River, which then bounced off Salty. *It’s a harbor of refuge.”
It’s wicked early, but we weren’t the first to leave the comfortable anchorage behind Gardner’s Island in the Point Judith Pond, Rhode Island. As the sun approached the horizon, and spread an orange glow across the underside of wispy clouds, I watched three sailboats weigh anchor and follow each other around the island and out towards the sea. They all had the same hailing port written across their transoms, meaning they’re travelling together. I wondered where they’re headed, and what adventures they’ll have. We followed the trio to the Harbor of Refuge. They went left, we went right. Our destination: North Cove, Essex, Connecticut.
We vowed to never travel on a weekend, when everybody that owns a boat is out on it, but we stayed such a long time in Rhode Island that we made an exception. Were we subconsciously prolonging our departure into parts unknown? Every port from now on will be the furthest west we’ve ever cruised. New frontiers await.
We soon discovered that the entrance to the Connecticut River was very popular with our fellow boaters. Everyone was pretty much ignoring the 5 MPH NO WAKE buoys. Except us. Par for the course. I get it, no one wants to go slow.
We were hugging the reds, minding our own business, just letting all the boats zoom around us, criss-cross in front of us, and generally behave badly, when we see this huge, fifty-plus-footer barreling up the channel behind us. The dude was throwing up a four-foot wake! Tossing everybody aside like matchsticks. It was unbelievable. The protocol for taking such a wake from behind is to run away from it, but we were already on the edge of the wide channel. We’re just gonna hafta hang on and hope we don’t get swamped. I could see this schmuck standing on his flybridge, looking straight ahead, nose in the air, oblivious to the mayhem. His wake slammed into us on the port side rear quarter. We slid perilously sideways, but Ginger Lee managed to right herself quickly enough to avoid disaster. Then we hit a tree! I could hear it scraping along the keel, then the sickening sound of it ripping into unprotected, spinning props. Salty, our dinghy in tow, took it head on with a loud BONK. There is that horrible feeling a boater gets, when, for a few minutes, you don’t know if you’ve been holed, or if the running gear has been damaged. My eyes kept going to the bilge warning lights. Praying they wont flash on. Jeez! I hate that feeling.
The radio came alive with pissed off boaters telling Mr. Schmuck to shove it and other more colorful obscenities. But he either had his radio off, or he was ignoring it. He just kept flying down the channel. Finally, somebody said: “What do you expect. It’s the f***ing weekend.”
Well, the bilge lights never came on, there was no vibration from bent shafts, and Salty towed steadily behind us. Yay! I’m so glad we survived. Let’s just say it was very exciting, and leave it at that. When we took a left into the little channel that led us into North Cove, it was like night and day. Calm waters and bucolic scenery soothed my frayed nerves like Valium. We were the only boat under way in this quiet little cove. The cruising guide said to grab any unused mooring float with a yellow ribbon attached to it. Of course, there were no yellow ribbons, but plenty of empty moorings. We grabbed one, and just to be sure, I called the yacht club that controls this cove and they said we were fine. Time for a drink. A strong drink. And time to renew our vow to never travel on weekends.
We spent the afternoon cycling around Essex and Old Saybrook, CT. I have to say, I don’t feel like a 65-year-old guy. I have no problem peddling my butt around, or walking for hours, or contorting my body into our crowded engine room. I was ten years younger when we decided to do The Great Loop. I laugh when I look at my driver’s license. Last month, the RMV renewed it using the 15-year-old picture they had on file. I barely recognize myself. I was clean-shaven and had lots of thick, dark brown hair, like the robust young man I am in my dreams at night. Don’t misunderstand, dear reader, I feel older in a good way, a successful transition into maturity. I survived the maelstrom that is life in some pretty turbulent decades. I did all the stuff that should have killed me, but it didn’t. My thinning hair is grey, my bones creak a little, I need glasses, and I’m afraid that someday my age will keep me from doing the things that I enjoy. Thankfully that hasn’t happened yet. But I’m a cautious man, I knock on wood, and even occasionally thank the Lord for my very life, such as it is, ya know, just in case there is a God.
Old Saybrook Town Beach
You don’t see or hear of too many young people doing this Great Loop. I have a theory about that, and it has a lot to do with money. It’s not cheap to do it. Financially, by the time a person is in a position to even consider such a thing, they’re usually older. People will sell their homes and buy a new boat to this. It happens all the time. Not us though. We saved for nearly a decade, and when I say we, I mean my wife. Saving is one of her superpowers. I’m the dreamer in the relationship, but everyone deserves a chance at their dreams, and if you listen to them, really listen, you can hear them come true.
It was unusually cold for Florida, or so they told me. I’m a New Englander myself. Born and raised there. Specifically, Massachusetts. My wife and I were just passing through Carrabelle on our 32 foot Trojan cabin cruiser Ginger Lee. One day in late December, this little town received its first ever winter storm warning. Naturally, I assumed I would wake up to a winter wonderland, just like we do in New England. Everything would be blanketed in pure white snow that would cling to the pines, weighing their branches down, and sparkle like diamonds in the morning sunlight. The familiar sound of snow plows scraping the street would reach my ears as I lie in bed. “Get up Rick. Put on your boots, your coat, mittens, and that warm wool hat. Grab a shovel. You know what to do.” But that never happened.
The sun had already breached the horizon when I got out of bed. The old alcohol heater was a doing a good job keeping us toasty warm inside our floating home. I started the coffeemaker and padded up the companionway stairs. Outside, everything looked the same as when I went to bed. I don’t know why I was disappointed. “I hate snow,” I thought to myself. “It’s such a bother.” But it was cold out there, even by New England standards. Our outside thermometer read 19 degrees. The marina people had a fire going on the great porch where the local folks would gather for coffee, donuts, and cigarettes. Everyone was wearing camo. I guessed that when it got cold, these northern Floridians donned the only warm clothing they owned, their hunting gear.
Ginger Lee rocked slightly in her slip as my wife and I moved about in preparation for departure. We will be crossing the Gulf of Mexico, a trip that will take longer than there are hours of daylight. It was our very first night passage, and we were both a bit apprehensive about it. We never boat at night. There is no reason to. Not normally. But there are no ports for a boat this size on the northern edge of the Gulf. In order to continue our Great Loop voyage, we must cross over to the western Florida coast.
The wind was light, the water flat, and visibility was better than we could have asked for. I backed the big cruiser out slowly as the XO (my wife) gathered the fenders and lines and returned them to their proper places. I tuned the radio to 78 and keyed the mic.
“C Quarters Marina. This is motor vessel Ginger Lee vacating slip nine. Thank you so much for your hospitality. We had a nice visit. I hope we can make it back here sometime. Merry Christmas. Ginger Lee out.” After a beat the radio crackled back.
“Well you’re certainly welcome here anytime Ginger Lee. Safe travels and Merry Christmas to you too. C Quarters over and out.”
Twelve miles out of Carrabelle, we left Dog Island to port and set the GPS. It’s screen began slowly counting down the hours and miles to the one and only waypoint that matters today: Tarpon Springs.
At first it was spooky cruising in the darkness, totally relying on electronic instruments, but even that wore off after so many hours of listening to the drone of the engines.
“I wish we could fly,” I said aloud. “We’re so slow, and there’s nothing to look at.”
“Boring is good on a boat,” the XO reminded me. And she’s right. No drama is good.
“Oh oh,” she said, right on cue. “Fog bank.”
“Can’t see anything anyway,” I said as we were engulfed. “Pea soupah!”
“Radar’s clear,” the XO said. “AIS too. We’re alone out here.” Again, as if on cue, the radar screen blanked off. I reached behind the old CRT monitor and wiggled the connection. Sometimes that works, but not tonight.
“AIS is out too,” the XO said. “We’re flying blind.”
“We still have GPS.” As soon as I said that, the darn thing shut down. Suddenly, everything went dark. We had nothing. No electric power. It was pitch black, but at least the engines were still running.
“Talk about flying blind. Now nobody can see us.”
“We still have the compass, and paper charts. Stay on course.”
“The gauges are all on zero. We can’t monitor the engines. I don’t like this.”
That’s when the port engine wound down and petered out. The starboard engine followed suit, then there was utter silence.
“Well, no more worries about monitoring the engines,” I cracked.
With my volt meter in hand, I opened the access door and touched the leads to the battery. The sulfur smell of burnt circuitry made the diagnosis easy.
“Battery’s fried,” I said. “Looks like there’s a short right here. I separated two wires that had crossed. You got any cell service?”
“Nope. Try the hand-held.”
“Any vessel, any vessel, any vessel. Come back to Ginger Lee. We are disabled. Exact position unknown. Over.”
“We’re way outta range. We should drop anchor.”
“Can’t power the windlass. I’ll drop the spare.” I made my way to the foredeck in the eerie darkness. There was neither a puff of wind, nor a ripple of wave. It was like standing in a cloud. My face and hands dripped. I swear I heard bells.
“Honey, did you hear that?” She whipped open the window and stuck her head out.
“Yup. Sounds like bells.”
“We need a light up here, there may be a boat nearby. Try the radio again.” The XO handed me the flashlight. I turned it on and its beam travelled about a foot and a half. Bells again. Louder this time. I stood perfectly still, listening intently. Suddenly, a blazing red light lit up the entire boat!
“What the…!” There was something above and behind us, about a hundred yards away, and coming fast! The XO saw it too.
“What is it?” she yelled, her body stuck halfway out the window.
“I dunno! Must be aircraft, and it’s coming down!”
“Rick! It’s gonna hit us!” she screamed and ducked inside.
I literally hit the deck, covering my head, waiting for the impact, but there was none. No crash, no splash, no big whoosh, nothing but silence, and a whole lot of lights. I slowly stood up, rubbing my eyes in amazement. Right there in front of me, drifting in and out of the fog, was sixty feet of bright red, jaw-dropping, hot rod motor vessel. Sexy enough to rouse Don Aronow from his grave. Trimmed in white pinstripes and lightning bolts, shiny chrome hardware, and extra bright red and green running lights, it glowed like a wonderful apparition. K. Kringle was written just below the cockpit enclosure. On the transom, above the two stainless steel, surface piercing props, in gold and silver drop-shadow script, was the name Santa’s Little Helper. North Pole the hailing port. It was truly a go-fast to end all go fasts. In front of this gorgeous boat floated nine jet-skis, tiny by comparison. Four green ones on the right, next to four red ones on the left. The one in the very front shone the brightest red spotlight I have ever seen.
“Honey, what day is it?” I asked. Not such an unusual question for two non-working mariners on a year-long trip.
“Sunday. I think.”
“But what’s the date?” She paused a moment, then answered.
“It’s the 24th. Christmas eve!”
“That explains a lot,” I stammered. “C’mere and check this out. You’re not gonna believe this.”
“You’re not gonna believe this,” she answered.
On the swim platform sat two brand new marine duty batteries. Each neatly tied with red ribbons and bows. Next to them sat a small, potted, pine tree with a note that read: For being so nice, Santa.
“Look, he’s still there. I think he’s waiting to make sure we’re okay. We shouldn’t keep him waiting too long,” the XO said. “Got a long night in front of him.”
“Right,” I nodded, and got right to work, quickly replacing the batteries and hooking them up. It wasn’t until Ginger Lee was running, and all her lights were on, did we hear the rumble of twin, turbocharged, 454’s. He was gone in a flash of white light. Rising so quickly into the night sky, he actually took the fog with him!
For the next seven months on our Great Loop adventure, we lovingly cared for that little tree, and decorated it with shells and other small mementos. We even gave it a name: Santa’s Little Helper. When we got home, we planted it in our front yard for all the world to see, and to remind us for many years to come, to never forget the magic of Christmas.
“We have two lives. The lives we learn with, and the life we live after that…” Bernard Malamud.
From the log book on July 6, 2017. Written by the XO:
“We don’t know exactly what time we anchored in Point Judith Pond, because in our enjoyment of the first deployment of the Mantus anchor, we backed over Salty and wrapped the non-floating (!) “safety” line around the port prop. If I had to guess, we stopped about 1:15, then spent about an hour and a half bailing out Salty, cutting lines, swimming after the cushions and gas tanks, and unwrapping the prop. (Not to mention checking the bilge, testing the port engine and re anchoring). Fun.”
On the second day of our Great Loop trip we managed to sink the dinghy, and it was my fault. Let me explain. After reading so many reports of Loopers losing their dinghys, I thought it would be a good idea to use another line, a “safety line”, in addition to the towing line. Sounds good right? Yeah, I thought so too. Two lines are better than one. I simply used Salty’s long painter and clipped it to the tow bridle. But here’s the problem, the “safety line” didn’t float! There it is right there. It all happened in Rhode Island. We entered the Point Judith Pond and dropped anchor. I heard a sickening crunch, and in an instant the bow of our 12 foot aluminum dinghy was completely under the transom, pulled there by the non-floating “safety line” that wrapped around the running gear.
When I realized what had happened, I felt really bad. I got that uncomfortable red flush of guilt that started in the pit of my stomach and clawed its way up to my eyeballs. I was breathless, speechless, and worse of all, I think I scared the heck out of my wife. What was I thinking? Twelve feet of non floating line dragging behind the boat like I’ll never use reverse. I could have looped it a couple of times around the main tow line which has floats attached to it. But no. I just let it hang there, begging to be fouled.
I have never been so hard on myself as I was at that moment, and that made it all the more difficult to do what I had to do. “Snap out of it Rick. It’s probably not the dumbest thing you’ve ever done, although, it’s probably somewhere in the top ten.”
There were split second decisions that had to be made. The contents of our dinghy, equipment that we need, was floating away. At first the situation seemed dire.
“Should we call for help?” the XO asked. The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t think so. Our predicament was ugly but stable. The new Mantus anchor had set, our engines were off, and even though Salty’s bow was being held underwater by a half-inch line wrapped around the prop shaft, I knew it wouldn’t sink completely. As dictated by law, small boats are required to have floatation built into them. In Salty’s case, two of his seats are filled with foam.
I hopped onto the swim platform and sawed through the line with a serrated knife. Salty popped free but was filled to the gunwales with water. I started bailing as fast as I could. Meanwhile, the XO dove in to retrieve the cushions, oars, life jackets, and whatever other stuff was in the drink. I thought it odd that Salty’s bilge pump, powered by a 12 volt car battery, was still operating. That battery had been completely submerged! The Mercury 9.9 outboard motor seems to have stayed above the water, which is very good. Now we had to deal with the fouled prop. We got out the wet suits and masks. The XO went in first.
“Prop’s fouled,” she reported after a quick dive. She took a big breath and disappeared again. After several dives she came up with bloody hands.
“Barnacles like razors,” she said. “Couldn’t move the line.”
“I’ll try,” I said. I put on leather gloves and slipped into the water.
I’m not used to this kind of diving, ya know, with a wet suit and mask. In fact, the one and only time I tried scuba diving I didn’t like it. I felt bound up, claustrophobic, and couldn’t relax enough to enjoy it. The instructor and my wife were having a grand time exploring reefs and interesting fishes, but the whole time my brain was screaming GET ME THE HELL OUTTA HERE! I took a deep breath and went under. In the wet suit I felt disconnected from the elements, a weird and uncomfortable sensation. Without weights I had to pull myself under the boat by using the swim platform supports which were covered with tiny barnacles. I could see how the XO cut up her hands. Being under such a large dark object, our boat, was strange, unnatural. “Get out of there Rick!” I was fighting my instincts. I only got within a foot of the prop when I realized there was one instinct that I couldn’t ignore: air. With all the excitement my adrenaline must be spiking because just could not hold my breath for more than about 15 seconds. I scrambled to the surface.
“Are you okay?” the XO asked.
“Yup,” I said, but I was not okay. I was wicked out of breath, and I guess I was feeling my age, but I figured I could do a series of short, 15 second dives. Jeez! I used to be able to swim the length of a pool under water. Of course, that was twenty years ago, but still, 15 seconds!
I took a breath and pulled myself under again. I could see the ragged end of the line that I cut a few minutes ago. It was trailing two feet behind the prop. It looked like the other end of the line had wrapped itself several times around the shaft between the prop and the cutlass bearing strut. I tugged on the prop and it turned freely. That was good. The fouled line seemed to loosen slightly. Even better. AIR! NEED AIR! I surfaced again. The XO was leaning over the railing looking at me, concern written on her face.
“I think I can get it,” I gasped. “Couple more dives.” Down I went. This time I went right for the tangled part. I grabbed a loop and pulled as I turned the prop forward, remembering that I had the boat in reverse when it fouled. It worked! Two loops came free. AIR! NEED AIR! SURFACE NOW! Up I went. Gasping while holding onto the swim platform, it felt like the wetsuit was squeezing the life out of me. “Two more dives,” I thought. Down I went again. I freed another two loops, but the remaining line had a knot. My working time had diminished to roughly 3 seconds. Up I went.
“I need a knife,” I said between heavy breaths. “I lost the other one.” The XO went into the cabin and came back with a steak knife. I held it in my mouth pirate style and went under. I sawed halfway through the knotted line before I had to surface again. The XO looked at me expectantly. I think I was wheezing.
“God I hope so,” I thought. “One more,” I said, and went under, hopefully for the last time.
Finally, the line parted and I hit the surface with the remaining line in my hand. The XO hung it on a hook as a reminder of how crazy things can get.
The last entry in the log for that day, Written by the XO:
Wear gloves when diving on the prop.
Use floats on the dinghy line.
Have jobs when anchoring:
I wrangle the dinghy.”
It was quite a day for us. We don’t normally have such a hard time of it. I tried my best to put it all behind me, but I think I don’t want it all behind me. I want to learn from it. That’s the way it should be. Shake it off, but remember, or it might happen again.
Despite the auspicious beginning, it turned into a good day. We showered, ate dinner, and watched the sun set. Sleep came to me very early that night. In the morning we brought Ginger Lee even further into the Point Judith Pond and took a slip at the Ram Point Marina where we had our first guests of our trip. An old friend, Andrea Peitsch, came by with some of her buddies. One of them got seasick and had to leave. Imagine that, getting seasick while tied up in a slip on a calm night. Obviously not a Great Looper.
This guy got seasick.
I used to love this marina. It just felt right and the price was fair. New owners changed all that when they tripled the slip fee. We left the next morning and anchored off Gardner’s Island, the same place we fouled our prop and sunk the dinghy two days ago. No problems this time. We learned our lessons well.
From the log book: July 5 2017 9:10 AM “We start the Great Loop from Zecco’s fuel dock. 86.3 gallons.” And then my favorite part: “Tranquil boating weather.”
The boat has been in the water since April. You’d think that sometime in the past 3 months I would have found time to fuel up. Nope. Gotta get fuel, too bad it’s in the opposite direction we want to go. Ah well, it’s a sweet morning and there is no hurry. So after fueling up, we once again say good-bye to our Swifts Neck mooring as we head southwest.
Even at this early hour there are a couple of boats anchored off Long Beach, Wareham’s popular party beach that disappears completely twice a day. Countless unsuspecting non-locals have anchored too close and found themselves high and dry for a complete tide cycle. It’s always entertaining. Good-bye Long Beach. See ya next year.
Todays destination is F.L Tripps in Westport Point, Ma., a full service marina tucked behind Horseneck Beach near the Rhode Island border. We set the throttles to a blistering 7 MPH and hang on. Even the sailboats pass us. But who cares? We’re on Great Loop time! There are no schedules to make, no appointments to keep, and nothing to do except watch the world go by. It’s amazing how quickly one can get used to going so slow.
When cruising from point A to point B in open waters, boring is good. You want to be bored out of your skull. When there’s no engine problems, no bilge alarms, and no warning lights flashing, it’s a good day.
We round Bird Island light and set a westerly straight line course to our first waypoint Hen and Chickens, a group of dangerous rocks that lay just outside of Horseneck Beach. You can see some of them, but most of them lurk just below the waterline waiting for unsuspecting mariners to smash their hulls. Not to worry though, the channel around them is well-marked and we’ve been there before plenty of times. It should be a nice, boring, four-hour trip.
“What do we got for snacks?” I ask
“We got apples.”
“Apples it is!” I said and leave the comfort of my passenger seat to tend to it. The XO likes hers cut up in dainty wedges. I handle the knife carefully so as not to slice my hand and ruin our first day with a trip to the emergency room.
ER doctor: “So, Mr. Coraccio, exactly how did you cut off your thumb?
Captain Rick: “Well Doc. I was cutting an apple for my wife…”
I actually worry about this shit. Maybe a year on this vessel, afloat on Gods vast waterways, where even the tiniest infraction could mean disaster, will cure me of such insignificant fears.
My wife asked me what I hoped for, during this trip.
“What a great question,” was my first thought. “Definitely not oneI can answer right away,” was my second thought. “Did she mean spiritually, or accomplishment-wise?” While munching on my apple, I thought about it. Food for though so-to-speak. On the spiritual side, a few thoughts entered my mind: become a better person, a better man, a better husband. Look for the good in everyone. All the things many of us strive for. I went with a more relevant answer.
“For one thing, I’d like to become a better mariner,” I said, and I think that surprised her. She is the long distance, open water helmsman, and I take the helm for the close quarters stuff, like mooring, anchoring, and docking. Been like that for years.
“You seem to be doing alright.”
“It’s mostly the docking part,” I said. We just don’t do a heck of a lot of it. In our home port we keep Ginger Lee on a mooring so I’ve gotten pretty good at mooring the boat. But in our boating area, which is primarily southern New England, slips are wicked expensive, sometimes 4 or 5 bucks a foot per night, so if we can’t anchor, we rent a mooring instead. The only time I get to dock is when we need fuel.
In the early afternoon we leave Buzzards Bay, round Gooseberry Neck, and enter the Westport Harbor Channel. To me, this is one of the most scenic channels in New England. I am all eyes. Off to the port side, a fancy castle-like mansion perches on the rocky point called The Knubble. To starboard, the white sands of popular Horseneck beach arches east for nearly two nautical miles, and is dotted with people, colorful umbrellas, and pop-up cabanas. Again, to port, small cottages on the curved shoreline of Acoaxet grab my attention. Many of them have one unusual thing in common: roll-up garage doors that when opened, expose the complete interior to this amazing seaside scene. Again, to the starboard side, two fishermen stand ankle-deep right next to the red buoys that define the edge of the narrow channel.
“Tide’s low,” I said as I nudge Ginger Lee more towards the middle. The XO approves.
“Yeah, let’s stay off the nuns.”
The beauty of Westport
The strong reversing current makes anchoring foolish. Nobody does it here. Everyone grabs a mooring at F.L Tripps. I set my sights on mooring number 77, no fool I. We glide past it 50 yards or so, turn around, and slowly approach against the current. With a boat hook the XO snags the float, pulls it up over the bow, and throws the loop onto the bitt. It’s 2:04 PM
“We’re in,” I said and shut down the motors and the electronics.
Quiet time. Those few moments after shutting down is quite spiritual. Without the drone of the engines, the water induced movement, and the squawking radio, everything seems so still. The world exhales. I open all the windows, feel the warm breeze on my face, observe the herons, gulls, and osprey plying the shallows, and hear the sounds of a nice summer day.
There was a mountain of stuff on our kitchen floor. Bags and bags of stuff. Clothes, food, books, cameras, laptops, Tupperware, pans, and who knows what else. We walked around it for days and watched it grow until one day, after breakfast, we filled our Jeep with it and hauled it down to the Swifts Neck beach. In the still morning air, the XO and I swatted away the no-see-ums and loaded the stuff into our 12 foot aluminum dinghy and delivered it to Ginger Lee, our Trojan F-32 cabin cruiser floating calmly on her mooring 100 yards off the shore. It was already fairly warm outside even thought sun had just cleared the tops of the tall pines that guard the harbor. A lone fisherman in a small white skiff motored slowly through the channel past Long Beach and pointed his bow towards Buzzards Bay. Blue-gray ripples followed behind the little craft and eventually lapped our white fiberglass hull.
The neighbors, peeking through the curtains of their summer cottage, must have wondered what the heck was going on. They often saw us here on the shore with a duffel bag or two, but this towering pile of stuff meant something unusual was going on. And it was. A monumental trip, every boater’s dream, the adventure of all adventures, the holy grail of cruising: The Great Loop! Insert fanfare, cherubim singing, glittering rainbows, and other such heavenly regalia. It only took a half dozen years to get to this point.
Six years ago I mentioned to the XO that I would love to do The Great Loop. I gave her the nutshell version.
“You cruise north up the Hudson River in New York, then west on the Erie Canal, around the Great Lakes to Chicago. Using the Mississippi and other waterways, you head south to the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, then north up the Atlantic coast. You follow the seasons. It takes at least a year.”
“Can we do it in this boat?” she asked.
“Oh yeah,” I answered. But at the time it seemed like a far away dream. How dare I even think of it! We had just purchased this boat for $22,000.
“We bought two diesel engines with a free boat wrapped around it,” the XO said. And she was, of course, right. The cost of new Lehman 120 diesel engines approaches ten grand a pop, and we have two. But those engines would be the reason we could entertain the notion of a 6,000 plus mile voyage. Lehmans can run for over 20,000 hours without a major overhaul.
I obviously I got her hooked on the idea because ever since that day she doggedly worked the budget, and more importantly, worked on getting her one-year leave of absence from her job. That in itself turned out to be quite a task. Small town politics was a formidable foe indeed. Nobody who worked for that town had ever requested such a leave. There was no precedent, nothing in place for this. For some reason or another there were people who disliked the idea. “We all wish we could take a year off and go gallivanting about,” was heard in one town meeting where the XO’s proposed leave of absence was dismissed. There were towering highs and heart wrenching lows. Sometimes it just didn’t seem like it would happen.
But the XO kept plugging away, buoyed by her boss’s enthusiasm. “It’s going to happen,” she said many times, but we were not convinced, until finally after many long years, the XO came home with a written agreement. That’s when it hit me hard. It became real and tangible. I remember the feeling in the pit of stomach. Yes, of course I was happy, but there was also a twinge of panic and fear of the unknown. It’s like taking a flight in a small airplane: I know it will be a beautiful experience, but why is it so hard to unglue my feet from the tarmac? Now we could plan in earnest. It sucked the breath right out of me.
I made modifications to increase our water, fuel, and holding tank capacities. I also installed solar panels and designed a system that will run our refrigerator continuously. “Ice from the sun,” the XO says. Our aft deck has been completely enclosed with a hard top and isinglass sides. “It’s like having another room,” she said about that project. She was pleased to get her fair Celtic skin out of the sunlight. “I come from the land of the pink people,” she would often say. The woman can get a sunburn through a tee-shirt.
The list of completed projects goes on and on: the window replacement project, the dinette relocation project, the flybridge improvement project, the sleeping berth project, new water heater, new plumbing fixtures, new alternators, new batteries, new outboard motor for the dinghy, blah blah blah… We’ve been very busy, but that’s over now. I have just one more thing to do before we get underway. I need to take the Jeep back home, cover it up in the driveway, and walk back to the beach. That’s the plan for the next 20 minutes.
Changing out the alternators.
“Stick to the plan Rick,” I say to myself. No need to take a last look around the house or check the grounds or anything else. We’ve already done all that several times. We gave away our houseplants, turned off the water, emptied the fridge, forwarded the mail, and tended to a hundred little details, too many to mention. The house will be under the watchful eyes of our good friends and next door neighbors Joe and Bernadette. “Hopefully Joe wont burn it down,” my wife kids, but I wonder. He’s no stranger to explosions and fires.
I stuck to my plan, covered the Jeep and walked slowly back to the shore. One foot in front of the other, heading towards the unknown. The cicadas droned and osprey circled above. Early morning dog walkers and lawn waterers tossed me friendly waves and warm smiles. A thousand thoughts filled my head. I felt surges of fear and courage, dread and hope. I felt like crying and laughing. I was hot and cold, weird in a normal way.
The beach was littered with boxes of spent fireworks from last nights Forth of July celebration. I put one leg into the dinghy and pushed off with the other. The instant my foot left the sandy shore a wave of independence washed over me. “Good-bye Swifts Neck.” It’s queer, I know, but the XO and I both do things like that. “Good-bye house. Good-bye Jeep. See ya next year, tree.”
Our neighbors Joe and Bernadette see us off.
We had our little celebration on the foredeck. It included a bottle of Moet, not for drinking mind you–we never drink and drive the boat–but for dedicating our new AGLCA burgee and to bring good fortune on our impending adventure. We both took a sip or two, then for extra good luck gave our friend Neptune a healthy glug over the guard rail.
“This is really happening,” I said. That moment really got to me. Through tears I thanked my wife.
“You are the sole reason why this is happening. I love you.” I said.
“I know,” she answered. And with that we dropped the pennants and released Ginger Lee.
“Good-bye mooring. See ya next year.”