The Great Loopers Chapter 5. The Fortunate Side



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.

Leaving the Connecticut River.

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.

The Great Loopers Chapter Four. New Frontiers


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.

North Cove.

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.

Santa Drives a Go-Fast


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.

The Great Loopers. Chapter Three. Lessons learned.


“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.
“You alright?”
“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:
“Lessons:
Wear gloves when diving on the prop.
Use floats on the dinghy line.
Have jobs when anchoring:
Rick anchors.
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.

 

The Great Loopers. Chapter 2. Great Loop time.


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 one I 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.

 

 

The Great loopers. Chapter One. Trojan Horse

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.”

 

Murder On The Great Loop Part Five


“Can I offer you a glass of wine? I think I have beer if you prefer.”
“You’re so kind, but thank you, no. Sadly, my drinking days are over since my last heart attack.” he looked down and slowly shook his head. “Sucks the fun out of everything.”
“Some water then? I have plenty. Maybe something for your friend outside. She’s so quiet. What’s her name?”
“Layla,” he said. “Layla come here sweetheart. Would you like something to drink?”
Layla entered the dark mahogany salon and plopped onto the sofa.
“Well, I’ll take that as a yes.” The middle-aged woman rose and stepped down the companionway stairs into the compact galley and opened the fridge. “Nice and cold. This heat will be the death of us all,” she said as she turned to face her guests. Those prophetic words would be her last. The bullet tore through her nasal cavity and exploded out the back of her head.

“Mind if I turn down the AC? I’m chilled.” Detective Gerry Sharpe sat in the passenger seat of the dark SUV. She buttoned up her jacket and turned up the collar.
“Nope,” her partner Pete Jansen said. He felt Gerry’s eyes on him.
“You okay?”
“Yeah,” she sighed and turned to stare blankly at the scenery scrolling by her window.
“What’s going on? You sure you’re alright? You’re awful quiet.”
“Oh I’m okay,” she said, paused a moment. “It’s just that sometimes…” Gerry paused again, organizing her thoughts. “It just feels like it’s not enough.”
“Not enough? What’s not enough?”
“My life. I mean, look at me. I’ve got nothing except this job. There’s nothing going on in my life except work.” She shifted in her seat to face Pete. “In college I had hobbies. I was interested in everything. I had dates, a love life. What the hell happened? My marriage didn’t work. I’m too old to have children. I get up, get in the car, and go to work. I dunno, there’s got to be more. I’m a little envious of these boaters just cruising around, having this grand adventure. Well, where’s my adventure?”
Pete let the moment hang for a bit.
“Gerry, everybody has those feelings once in a while.”
“You?”
“Of course me. I have the same job as you.” Pete started to say something more but stopped. He didn’t want to make the conversation about himself, but Gerry pushed.
“What were you going to say? Go ahead.” Her dark eyes softened.
“There is honor in getting up and going to work every day. We’re lucky to have jobs.” He stared blankly into the oncoming traffic for a moment, then sighed. “But you’re right. This job does get old.”
“Or we are.”

“I used to do all sorts of stuff too. Boating, kayaking, scuba diving. I loved working on cars, always had a hot rod to tinker with. Did you know I was in a rock band?”
“No freakin’ way! You?”
“Oh yeah. Had hair down to the middle of my back. The girls were all over me!” Pete stopped to reflect and involuntarily rubbed his buzz cut, thinning grey hair. “Sure do miss my hair,” he said.
“Guys always think their hair is important to woman.” Gerry reached over and patted his chest. “It’s what’s inside that really matters.”
“So why can’t I have heart and hair?” His remark made Gerry laugh a little.
“Do you really want children?” Pete asked.
“Nah. I never caught the baby rabies. Hey, I like kids, but having one of my own meant giving up a big chunk of my life for a very long time. I just wasn’t willing to do that. I was having too much fun.” Gerry paused and took a deep breath. “And there it is right there. My point exactly. I have nothing going on except this damn job…and menopause.” She reached over and cranked up the air conditioner.
“So shake it up. Do something else with your life. You got your twenty years in.”
“It’s just…not that easy Pete.”
“Ya it kinda is, Gerry.”

Pete’s phone vibrated in his pocket.
“Jansen,” he clipped. “Uh huh. Uh huh. Where?” He fished out his notebook and handed it to Gerry. She wrote down the address as fast as he spit it out. “Got it. I’ll let you know,” he said into his phone. The call ended.
“What’s up?”
“The Caruso’s boat went missing from its mooring in Waretucket,” he said. “The Coasties found it In Yonkers on some kind of free municipal dock along the Hudson River.”
“Someone killed June Caruso, stole the boat, and dumped her body along the way.” Gerry oversimplified, but Pete got the idea and nodded.
“Okay, so we talked to her in the morning, and they found her body in the afternoon. She must have been murdered on the boat. June mentioned she was showing it to someone. ”
“Which means the killer could still be with the boat.”
“We should check it out. We’re like an hour away,” Pete said.
“Yonkers, New York? An hour? Maybe in a helicopter!”
“Okay. You’re right. It’ll make for a long day, and nobody’s making us go, but we are halfway there.”
“Alright Pete. Let’s go. What the hell, I’ve got nothing else to do.”

It was a pleasantly warm and slightly humid evening. The sun hung low, barely touching the tree tops on the opposite shore. Long shadows crossed the street and ran halfway up the brick three storey buildings that inhabited the upscale West Yonkers neighborhood. A large restaurant dominated the waterfront and overlooked the Hudson River and the municipal dock. The smell of aftershave and expensive perfume emanated from the well dressed patrons filing in for dinner. Pete and Gerry stood outside the imposing iron grate fence that completely surrounded the busy eatery.
“There she is,” Gerry said, nodding towards the green and white Great Harbor GH 37 which sat proudly at the end of the battered dock. The name Andiamo was written across the transom in large green and black drop-shadow cursive lettering.
“That’s our girl all right,” Pete said.
“What’s that other boat in front of it. They both have the same little flag up front.”
“It’s called a burgee. Lemme Google that.” Pete took out his phone and typed in AGLCA. “Huh,” he said and read aloud. “Americas Great Loop Cruisers Association is an organization of people who share a sense of adventure and a curiosity about the boating adventure known as America’s Great Loop.” He read on. “The Great Loop is the circumnavigation of Eastern North America, a continuous waterway connecting inland lakes and rivers with the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and the Great Lakes.”
“The Hudson is part of this Great Loop thing?” Gerry asked.
“Apparently. Looks like it goes north past Troy then takes a left at the Erie Canal.”
Pete pocketed his phone and pulled the gate on the side of the restaurant. It didn’t open.
“One way locks,” he said. “You can get out but not back in. Can’t reach around.” On either side the shoreline sloped steeply down from the street.
“This is our only way to the dock.”

“Look,” Gerry pointed. A tugboat was making its way to a group of large wooden pilings behind the restaurant. Deck hands scrambled and quickly secured the vessel. When its captain emerged from the wheelhouse, Pete stuck two fingers into his mouth and let out a shrieking whistle. The Captain looked up.
“Can you let us in?” Pete shouted. The Captain nodded and dispatched a wiry deck hand who nimbly jumped over the gunwale and scrambled up a stone wall. He made his way to the gate and unlocked it from the inside.
“Thank you,” Gerry said.
“It’s always locked,” the man said. “We have to stick something in the gate so we can get back to the boat.”
“It’s supposed to be a free dock,” Pete said.
“Yes, I know, but it’s always locked.”
The detectives walked to the top of an aluminum gangway that angled downward to the dock floating ten feet below them. A tall chain-link gate blocked their entry.
“It’s padlocked! No way around unless we swim,” Pete said. “So you can dock for free but you can’t leave the dock to enjoy all these cool shops and restaurants. On what planet does that make any sense at all? This is ridiculous.”
“Welcome to New York,” Gerry cracked. “Hey. Check this out.”  A section of chain link on the lower corner of the gate had been cut from its poles and could be peeled back enough to crawl under.
“There’s no way I can fit under that,” Pete said. “You go ahead. I’ll call the local cops and see if we can’t get this gate open.” Pete held back the chain link for Gerry. She slid under on her back. “And be careful,” he added.
“Betcha ass,” she answered.

Gerry slowly approached the shiny trawler. There was no movement visible inside or out.
“Hello the boat,” she called out. Nothing. She rapped on the hull.
“Hello. Ahoy. Anybody home?” she called out again. Again there was nothing. “Crap! I hate this,” she muttered and cautiously stepped onto the aft-deck. The boat rocked and recoiled slightly against the white fenders that protected it from rough edges of the dock. In one smooth controlled movement she drew out her Glock 21 and held it against her thigh.
“Is anybody here?” she called once more. She tried the door. It opened an inch. She took a knee and slowly muzzled the door open several more inches. With a two-handed grip on her gun, ready for anything, she peeked inside.
“Hey. Where are you”?
Gerry nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Christ, Pete! You scared the bejesus out of me.” Gerry sat back against the gunwale, hand over her heart, breathing hard.
“Sorry. Didn’t see you there. Couldn’t find anyone with a key,” Pete said. In his hands was a large bolt cutter. “So I got ol’ Betsy out of the trunk.” He smiled broadly. “Don’t leave home without it!”
Pete stepped onto the swim platform and joined Gerry on the aft-deck.
“Door’s open. Looks like nobody’s home,” he said. He drew his snubbie. “Ready?” he asked somberly. Gerry nodded. He pulled the door open wide and Gerry entered.
“Clear,” she said.
“Check below. I’ll go up.”
“Clear below,” she shouted. “You okay?”
“Looks like we’re alone,” he said and holstered his piece.
“Looks like,” Gerry answered. She relaxed and put her Glock away as well.
The interior of the cruiser was starkly beautiful and deceptively large. To the right, a sectional sofa wrapped around a table, to the left, an entertainment center between comfy chairs. Two steps down led to a large galley with full size appliances and even a washer and dryer. There was a guest cabin with its own shower and head. The master berth featured a queen sized bed and another huge bathroom. Everything had its place and at first glance nothing seemed unusual.
“This boat is amazing,” Gerry said to no one. Pete was upstairs.
“Hey, Gerry. Check out this pilothouse. It’s got everything!” he gushed. When she didn’t come up, Pete went down the stairs to find Gerry outside on the aft-deck talking on her phone. After a while she hung up, took a deep breath, and entered the salon.
“I could get used to this,” he said.
“Me too. In fact, I will get used to this.”
“What the heck does that mean Gerry.”
“I mean, I will get used to this. I just bought this boat!”

 

 

Good Girl Ginger Lee


She didn’t get her usual winter beauty sleep last year. Yup, stayed awake for a year and a half and travelled 6,000 miles without any major problems. Pretty good for a 43 year old boat. Today the XO and I cruised her to the Moby Dick Marina in Fairhaven, Massachusetts where she was taken out of the water and put up on jackstands for a well deserved rest.

We started the day at 6 AM with a good breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast.

Bikes are ready for the short trip to the waterfront.

Salty II awaits in 4 feet of water.

I wade out, untie Salty, and bring him ashore. The XO climbs aboard and I shove off.

The engine refuses to start so we have to row out to Ginger Lee. Damn that ethanol gas. It wreaks havoc with marine engines.

We’re off at 7:45 AM. Salty stays behind hooked to the mooring. I will use our other dinghy Pepper to retrieve him later when I remove the mooring ball and pennants for the winter. At that time I will attach a winter stick to the chain so we can reverse the process next spring.

Pepper and winter stick are ready.

The XO at the helm heading for New Bedford Harbor. Seas are one foot or less. Wind is negligible. Perfect conditions for the 4 hour trip.

Approaching the New Bedford Hurricane Barrier. They close these gates for storms to protect one of the largest fishing fleets in the nation.

Going through.

Inside the harbor, we must wait for this swing bridge to open at 11:15.

We have some time to kill so we take a tour.

We are surprised to see this small cruise ship which we encountered many times during our Great Loop adventure. It cruised the Intracoastal Waterway along the Atlantic.

The bridge opens on time.

They are ready for us.

No waiting!

The XO stays on board for the lift.

Power washing the bottom.

It’s a relief to get ol’ Ginger Lee out of the water, but kinda sad in a way. We went through so much together. She carried us safely through so many miles, so many ports, so many locks and docks. She was our home for a year. Our very lives depended on her and she never let us down.
You can rest now Ginger Lee, you did well. Thank you for everything. We’ll wake you up in the Spring when we will no doubt have many more adventures together.

 

 

Where Was I Last Year?


Where was I last year? Yeah. I know. The XO and I were doing The Great Loop. But here’s the thing: there were so many ports, and so much stuff going on, that I can’t help thinking of it as a single entity, as just “The Great Loop.” It’s like my brain hasn’t yet processed and organized all the little bits of information. I want to remember everything. To assist my brain in that formidable task, I started consulting our ships log on a daily basis. Between the log and our old calendar–which the XO faithfully marked every day–I know exactly where I was one year ago.
As the memories came flooding back, I quickly realized that in each and every port there was a memorable event. All I need to do is tie that memory with the place.
For instance: one year ago, in the second week of September 2017, we docked in Lexington, Michigan. At the marina restaurant the XO found twenty dollars on the floor. Free Lunch!
XO: “Remember Lexington?”
Rick: “No. Not really.”
XO: “The place where I found Twenty bucks.”
Rick: “Oh yeah. Paid for lunch. You had a reuben, I had a cheeseburger. We docked near the breakwater. There was awesome people watching.”

Free lunch.

Lexington Harbor breakwater.

From the port of Lexington we limped into Port Sanilac with a broken belt. Also memorable because they actually had a replacement belt.
From there we cruised to Harbor Beach, Mi. The log book says simply: “Futile attempt to anchor in weeds.” I remember a four-foot ball of weeds clinging to our Mantus anchor. It was the first and only time it failed to set.

Harbor Beach lighthouse.

After four tries we gave up and pulled into the Harbor Beach Marina. Turns out it was a good move because the weather really kicked up and we had to stay three days. It’s so much better to be tied up in a protected marina.

Twilight in Harbor Beach.

Next was Port Austin. Our assigned slip was next to a floating duck blind. Duck hunting is very popular here. Hunters will camouflage a skiff and float it to the area they wish to get the ducks. This particular skiff was huge. It was like a clubhouse with a kitchen,TV, running water, barbecue, and a full bar. It was fairly obvious this craft didn’t leave the dock. Several guys were drinking beer and cooking brats on a smokey charcoal grill. The XO and I were starved half to death after our 6 hour trip and it smelled so wonderful. Jeez! My stomach was rumbling. Suddenly there was a knock on our hull. It was one of the “hunters”. A big burly man with a round face and ruddy cheeks. Like Alan Hale dressed in camo.
“Thought you guys might be hungry,” he said with a smile bigger than lake Huron. In his large hands he held two of the biggest, most beautiful bratwurst sandwiches I have ever seen. Cooked perfectly and slathered in mustard. We were speechless. It was my first taste of bratwurst. From then on brats were a staple on Ginger Lee.

Port Austin morning.

And that’s only some of what happened in the second week of September 2017. It was one hell of a week I tell ya. It seemed as if fate had intervened for our safety, happiness, or simply for our amusement.
But wait! There’s more! There are 52 weeks in a year. It will be difficult to absorb and organize so much, but I will enjoy doing it.

Murder On The Great Loop Part Four


Detective Pete Jansen shouldered the handset to his ear and scribbled into his notebook.
“Okay. Got it. Thanks,” he said. The unmistakable sound of an old phone being hung up reached the ears of his partner, Gerry Sharpe. She knew right away it was not a regular hang-up, but a more urgent one.
“What’s up?” she asked, peering over her laptop.
“They found a body.” Pete already had one arm into a sport jacket big enough to cover his desk. “C’mon, were going to Stonington.”
“That’s near Fishers Island. ‘Bout time that dude turned up,” she said as she got up and pulled her jacket off the back of her chair.
“Dudette,” Pete said flatly. “Floater’s a woman. They’re saying it’s June Caruso.”

“Stonington is a small harbor. We don’t get a heck of a lotta bodies floating around here,” the Harbormaster said from behind an old steel desk. He pulled off his sun faded cap and ran a knobby hand through his white hair. Leaning back, he gestured toward two ladder-back chairs against the wall. The Detectives sat.
“One of our locals pulled her up in a net. Couldn’t have been dead all that long. Most of her face was still intact. Not so much the back of her head. I’m no expert, but I’d say she’d been shot. Family’s already ID’d her,” he said sadly, as if he’d been through that gruesome process. “Anyway, I heard about that fella went missing up in Chocomont Cove. Same name, Caruso. Thought I’d better call you guys.”
“‘Preciate it,” Pete said and pulled out his notebook. “They were married.”
“Interesting,” the Harbormaster said looking over his glasses.
“Very interesting. Not sure what to make of it. What time was she found?”
“‘Bout four in the afternoon.”
“We were supposed to meet her at four,” Gerry chimed in.
“It appears you’re late.” The old Harbormaster cracked.
“Was the body tied up, weighted?” Pete asked.
“Oh yeah. Standard 5/8 line. Big ass Danforth anchor and–this is weird–a thirty pound kettle bell.”
“Kettle bell?”
“Exercise equipment,” Gerry said. “It’s a round metal thing with a big loop handle so you can swing it. The weight is usually marked right on ’em. Maybe June Caruso was an exercise nut.”
Pete nodded and noted.
“I’d like to talk to the fisherman. If it’s okay,” he said.
“Sure. Last slip down the end of this dock. Should be there right now. Name’s Ferguson, John Ferguson. Captain of the Cara-Lyn. ” The Harbormaster pointed out the window.
“Where’s the body now? I need to talk to forensics.”
“In Hartford. We got nothing like that here.”
“Right. Seems fairly straightforward. Your guy pulls up June Caruso in his net, she’s obviously been shot in the head, body’s been identified by family, and we have no idea who did it,” Pete said and tucked his notebook into his jacket. “That’s all I got. Gerry?”
“What kind of knots were used,” she asked. “Might tell us something about the murderer.”
“Don’t know. Bet John would.”
“We’ll go see him now,” Pete said. “Anything else Gerry?”
“I’m good,” she said.
“Thank you for your time Harbormaster.”
“Anytime guys. Good luck with the investigation.” They all stood and shook hands. Pete held the door for Gerry.
“Detectives,” the Harbormaster called out as they were leaving.
“Ya?” Pete answered.
“I’ve been haunting the waterfront a wicked long time. There’s something I’ve heard more than once.”
“What’s that?” Pete asked, turning toward the older man.
“If you want to kill somebody, do it at sea.”

Pete and Gerry headed off toward the fishing boat Cara-Lyn. Lobster traps, buoys, and various pieces of marine equipment lined the edges of the aging dock. Sea gulls roamed at will, many preferring to perch on the rigging of the untidy working vessels that were docked sometimes four abreast in the crowded harbor. The whole place smelled of fish, diesel, and old wood.
“What did the Harbormaster mean by that “killing at sea” remark?” Gerry asked. “It sounded so sinister.”
“I totally get what he was saying. I mean, take a look around. There’s like a thousand boats. And that’s just the ones we can see. You got one guy policing this whole area. He can’t be everywhere. Once you cruise your boat out of the harbor you’re completely on your own, and usually alone to do whatever the heck you want.”
“What about the Coast Guard?”
“Wicked underfunded. And besides, there are hundreds of thousands of square miles of open water. There’s just no possible way to watch all of it.”
“Doesn’t seem right, or safe,” Gerry offered.
“Boating isn’t safe. Not totally. Heard tell it’s part of the attraction, that element of danger, being left to your own devices and such. Man versus the sea. It’s kinda exciting. Don’t you think?”
“Holy crap Pete. You sound like a boater.”
“Ha! I wish.”
“Well why not?”
“Ya know. Bills.The job. No money, no time.”
The pair stuck out like a sore thumb. Pete, a large man in his brown suit and Oxford’s, and Gerry, a trim woman neatly dressed all in black. They would have seemed unusual anywhere, but here on the working dock, they couldn’t have been more at odds with their surroundings if they were wearing fancy evening clothes.

“Told me you’d be coming by,” Captain John Fergusson said without looking up. He sat on the gunwale amidst a pile of fishing nets and engine parts.
“Sorry to keep you from your work,” Pete said and thrust out his hand. “Pete Jansen. And this is Detective Sharpe.”
“Just as well. Got plenty to do,” he answered and swept a ropy arm proudly towards his salty fishing boat. “This old girl is way past her prime. Held together with bubble gum and duct tape,” he said as he wiped his hands on a rag. “Gotta get another season out of ‘er,” he smiled. “That’s exactly what I said last year.”
Pete ignored the grimy hand and shook it firmly.
“Heard you had quite a day, Captain.”
“Call me John.” The smile left his face. “Yup. Quite a shocker.”
“I know sweetheart. It wasn’t one of my better days, but I’m so happy they’re together. Such a nice couple. Remember how nice they were to you?  What’s that? Yes, yes of course we can dock soon. Huh? I know dear. We all have needs.”