Friday, 21 November 2008

“How can you miss them if they never go away………”


 Is it really September? Already we’re behind with this update, as we shelter up Somes Sound from Tropical Storm Hanna which is due to hit Penobscot Bay tomorrow. Luckily we’re a little further east so the worst might miss us. We’re on Mount Desert Island and have caught a free bus into Bar Harbour to use the internet. It would have been fine had I remembered to bring the wireless connection bit with me but at least I can get this started.
The splashing of Hannah eventually took place and we settled in for a week or so of visits and last minute jobs. The day before we launched we got a message, via the yard, that Pete and Lucia were arriving in 5 weeks so we’d have that to look forward to when we returned from Canada. We spent the week-end after the launch sorting out the mizzen etc and then to our surprise we spotted a bright yellow boat creeping up the harbour and realised that P&L had indeed arrived. The message turned up to be one of those “send reinforcements..” and had actually been that they intended to be here on Monday and haul out in 5 weeks. Ah well at least they had arrived safely as thunderstorms were everywhere further south.
We tested the anchor system and found that worked perfectly. Well almost. We had to make a couple of changes but it has transformed the whole procedure and makes it all a lot safer and quicker. Next is to build and install a high pressure power washer to clean off the mud that clings to the chain and anchor*
So here all 3 Brits were in Belfast Harbour with various plans as to what we all intended to do. P&L left first to develop their “no more than 10 miles a day strategy” leaving 2 boats to finish off their work schedule. We’d got a local company called Art’s Canvas to run us up a doghouse shelter screen to stop winds blowing rain into the saloon and we were knocked out with the result. The effect is to create a warm, cocoon like atmosphere in which Toots stretches out and sleeps or sits peering through the ‘cathouse’ windows surveying her territory. We also took a friend out for a taster on Hannah but the lack of winds made it a poor sailing day and much of the winds for August have been like this. September it usually begins to improve and we’re looking forward to that.

 October 12. As the world plunges deeper into financial market we’re back in Belfast getting a bit of cementing done and saying goodbye to fellow cruisers as paths split. We arrived back about a week ago having cruised up to St Andrews and hung about before re-entering the US and collecting a fresh visa. The biggest change from 4 years ago is the number of boats we saw beyond Schoodic and even our favourite anchorage, in this part of the world, had 3 or 4 other boats already at anchor when we arrived. We had sailed that part of the journey with Robin & Jackie off Blackthorn and a day or so later they headed off as they needed to complete more paperwork than us. We delayed our exit until the rising tide as the entrance is a little tricky. Didn’t wait long enough or I strayed too far from the, unmarked, channel and we found ourselves hung up on a rock, pirouetting gently until we floated off. Ah well we’d know better next time….. One of our anchorages was in the lee of 26 radio towers the US navy used to communicate with their nuclear subs in the cold war days. At night we would gaze out at these huge towers, each with several red pulsating lights as they formed some sort of sci-fi backdrop to lobster buoys, fir trees and seals. A bumpy ride took us up to Campabello Island where we snuck in for the night before heading onto St A to book in and spend a week or so with R&J and Martang, a Dutch single-hander. It was a much needed break from both work and the last week or so of intense social activity and we both tried to unwind and recharge our emotional batteries with some success. As time went on we took to rowing to nearby Navy Island to chop firewood and take Toots for a walk before returning to a welcome fire. Although the days were often warm – we’re still wearing shorts - the evenings turn cool enough to run the fire so we’re getting the best of both worlds. When we’d all judged we’d been clear of the US long enough to get back in with no hassle all 3 boats headed back into the US, cleared in and then sailed back into Canadian waters and moored up for the night. Early next morning we all headed off conscious that the NOAA weather was warning about the possible arrival of Hurricane Kyle in Maine waters in a few days time. Although the storm was about a thousand miles away we could already see the evidence as swells began to roll in from the SE as seas built up far to the south. Initially we pulled into another favourite, The Cow Yard, but realised that the nearby Mud Hole would give greater protection and headed slowly over as we were, again, too early. R&J opted to come with us and, as they draw less, went in first. They touched and stuck and we backed off rapidly, trying again some 30 minutes later. What followed was a pantomime of error as we touched, came off, touched and stuck and were, within a few seconds, beam on to the tide with our rudder eight foot from the rocks. All good things come to an end of course and eventually with the help of the rising tide, thundering bursts of throttle and time we slipped free and crept in to anchor. The pilot book now contains an instruction to ourselves never to enter this anchorage at less than half-tide……………… The next day we were joined by a couple of fishing boats and we settled down to wait the arrival of Kyle. NOAA gave regular updates and before long we found that it was possibly going to make landfall somewhere between East Maine (where we now were) and New Brunswick (where we had just come from)…… Now one of the great strengths of Mud Hole is the enormous amount of protection it offers and the Pilot Book rightly describes it as a Hurricane Hole. Perhaps another give away was offered by the two fishing boats that rafted up together and had in their crews, two young lads and a dog. Obviously these guys weren’t taking it too seriously. We later found out they’d sheltered from five previous hurricanes so were fairly blasé about the whole thing. In the event it was a non-event as Kyle swung away to the east and went on to terrorise those poor sods heading home to Europe from Greenland…
Once the seas had died down we all headed out and in sunshine and a pleasant northerly breeze we had a great sail back past Schoodic cramming on canvas and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We headed further south and east over the next few days with a couple of cracking sails until we finally decided to get back to Belfast before the winds swung to the north. Under reefed mizzen and stays’l we raced along the east coast of Ilesboro before making the turn for Belfast and a final beat. By now we’d got a heads’l up and playing at sailors we tacked slowly toward the anchorage.
Maine foliage
The glorious sunshine had given way to lowering clouds and we dropped sails and motored the final half mile in a vain effort to avoid the soaking that was heading our way. Too late of course. It has been this heavy rain throughout the year that has accentuated the wonderful autumn colours as the season advances. Stunning reds and oranges and all shades in between make cruising this area a visual joy.

So since then we’ve completed a few jobs, made good the damage to the keel that Jim Hammond had dived under Hannah and found and cashed and spent the $130 cheque that Epifanes had sent us as a refund on the paint we’d had so much trouble with. YES –a result!!


 Before we had left for Canada we had been lucky to meet up with Rick and Karen who own and run a charter boat called Wanderbird. (Google Wanderbird and look at their website) They’ve been in the schooner business for years but got out to do something a little different-they charter up to Labrador in a converted Dutch fishing boat. The interior had been designed and built by Karen but it was their ethos about their business that really attracted us to them. And as we said our goodbyes to this couple we had really barely met they paid us a huge compliment and landed us with an enormous responsibility. A few years ago (2006) a couple finished the first human powered circumnavigation of the earth and bought a bottle with the intention of handing it onto anyone else they felt was doing something interesting and like-minded. Well it came to a Norwegian family and then to Rick and Karen and then to us and it now sits awaiting its next recipient. Rick was at pains to point out that it should be viewed as a “Good Luck” symbol and that drinking the contents would be bad luck………………… The thermal vest and hat they gave us were definitely not for handing onto a next party and have been put to daily use.
We spent the last week in Belfast saying goodbye to as many friends as we could fit in becoming increasingly more “socialised out” by the time we finally left. We really do feel as though this town is home for us and saying “tarra” to folks for another few years is very emotional. True to form Jonathan and Chris had invited 2 boat crews up to eat and didn’t bat an eyelid when we rang to add another crew. We had a great time with them and most of their families and earlier that
same week we’d called on Jonathan’s mum, Dawn who’d showered us with fruit and veg (including Maine grown peaches!) and the loan of her car. Definitely a radical family and an absolute joy to be with.
There are so many folks we owe such a lot too and for us they represent the absolute best of hospitality and friendliness. A day or so before departure Alex (the boat-yard owner) finally accepted our offer to stack wood in the cellar for

Bee and Alec
winter and we rapidly shifted and stacked 3 cords of oak. I say rapidly but speed did decline a little toward the end as the sheer weight of all that wood took its toll. And on the last day, as we lay alongside awaiting the incoming tide to float us off we met up with a bunch of gig rowers from Cornwall who of course knew people that we know in Cornwall and won’t Nigel and Jude get a shock when they see our photos. That day also gave us an opportunity to spend a little time with a man who means a lot to us but sadly has stayed away suffering deeply with depression. We can only hope that he reads this and realises how much he does mean to us and that we may get to see him again in happier times. I spent a last evening with Pete in a pub, a “threat” we’d often voiced when Bee and Lucia went off on one and it was a sad trio that parted around midnight as he’d rode back to the other yard where Fair Grace and Lucia waited patiently.
Up early on Sunday to leave before our emotions overtook us but as we emerged from the companionway Pete and Lucia were there to say a “final” tearful farewell as was Kathy, the absolute gem of a harbourmaster, who has been SO good to us and counts as a great friend. A very difficult time, for me, made worse as we pulled away from the jetty, by the throwaway comment from Rick, the skipper of Wanderbird “…see you in Labrador next year….”
We left Belfast with the hope of visiting places we hadn’t yet seen and at some point of catching up with Robin and Jackie who had left the day previously (more tears) and so headed down to Vinalhaven, a place we’ve only just discovered on this trip and really like. From there we sailed west to Tenants Harbour and then further west getting ready to cross the bay and down to P’town. Found a couple of good anchorages and with a so-so forecast for the crossing felt we would have enough time to get over before the really bad weather arrived. Will we ever learn…?

We left in sunshine and lightish winds for the 130 mile jaunt. As progress remained slow we began to look around for options and found many tide dependent or shallow or with no obvious anchorages so we kept on. Half way across the wind finally began to pick up and we made better progress. We also needed to reduce sail as the wind kept on increasing as did the wave heights. How many times have we seen this movie? We ploughed on and as dawn approached we were closing P’town and the wind kept increasing. P’town lies in a bight that offers good protection but requires you turn north to head up toward it. The same direction the wind was coming from and we spent an hour beating into increasingly short, steep seas that would throw them selves skywards as we tried to batter through them. As we were heavily reefed and had only a stays’l set our progress tack to tack was about 160 degrees so very slow. We took the decision to abandon that destination and head for the Cape Cod Canal. An easy decision but with serious ramifications. The Canal lay 20 miles to the south of us, and with wind blowing heavily from the North we would be running onto a lee shore. The canal is very tidal with currents of up three knots for or against you depending on which way it is running. Realising we had missed the west going tide and needed to slow down we opted to heave to and then drop the main. Because the Bay has numerous shallow areas relative to the overall depth the waves were confused and breaking everywhere giving us our most uncomfortable ride ever when hove to. We then changed to the storm stays’l in order to reduce our drift even more and then set about working out when the tide would change in our favour. When we hove to it was about 12 miles from the Canal entrance and our rate of drift was between .8 and 1.5 knots but as we only needed a few hours grace it was a speed we could accept. To check our workings we called up the USCG to ask them. They rang another authority who reliably informed them it was 2 hours earlier than I’d thought. We set off under our trusty storm stays’l- a tiny scrap of heavy canvas that nevertheless had us sailing at anywhere between 5 and 6 knots. That speed gave us two hours or so to compose our galloping hearts for the task ahead. I went through the various scenarios that could possibly happen as we approached this narrow slot with heavily breaking seas all around us. One danger had been removed with the knowledge that the tide would be with us as a wind over tide situation may well have produced a solid wall of water at the entrance but the breaking seas could cause us to broach or be swamped at the wrong moment. We had implicit faith in Hannah and her sea-worthy hull shape and felt we were in little danger but the thoughts were there. We approached under sail with the engine running as a stand-by and, as so often happens, the entrance was an anti-climax as we swept in, found shelter behind the breakwater and immediately began to accelerate as the current picked us up. I’d already decided that we’d treat ourselves to a berth for the night as the forecast was for continued 50 knot gusts, so lined ourselves up on the entrance keeping close to the side the current was coming from. We came though the entrance, motoring fast to combat the current which was sweeping us sideways, found an eddy that immediately swung us 90 degrees and I found myself heading straight for the fishing dock. Chucking the engine in reverse and over-revving hard we slowed, stopped and began to reverse off. Bee, who had been on the bow getting lines ready, came astern to laconically remark “You do realise you’re over the top of the rocks…..” Luck was with us as we spotted a vacant berth just past the Coast Guard boats and were blown sideways onto it.
At US$60 per night (!!) we were never going to stay more than one night and so the following day we needed to turn Hannah to have any chance of getting off the berth without damage. Luckily a guy in his seventies turned up to admire Hannah and was prevailed upon to move various lines whilst we manoeuvred Hannah under engine and warp. We’ve done this often in the past though rarely in such winds and we struggled to get her past the point of equilibrium, made worse by the fact that the wind seemed determined to shove us onto an expensive yacht moored behind us. Still we managed in the end without touching and our helper was full of praise. I suggested that a hundred years ago it would have been common practice to move boats like this…”Hmmm, he said but they would’ve had a lot more people as well….”
So through the canal and a few days wandering the bays before we brought up in Marion, Mass. to await yet another blow going through. On the day of its arrival the harbourmaster came out in his launch to suggest we might like to use one of the town buoys inside the harbour as 45 knots gusts were forecast and the shelter would be better. He also dealt with all of the paperwork, calling customs etc for us. I’m certain it was all meant in the kindest possible sense but we couldn’t help feel it was oh so similar to the authorities in Cuba.
With a fine forecast promised we left Marion for Newport, RI. Leaving the harbour with Bee hoisting the still reefed main I was so intent on watching it go up I narrowly missed steering into a channel buoy and then we were off. As the day progressed we made a succession of sail changes and kept up speed until with a couple of miles to go we were headed by the wind and motored into Newport harbour in the dusk.
Blackthorn
 Of course Robin and Jackie weren’t here as an earlier email had told us they were still enjoying the delights of Maine but other friends were and we’ve enjoyed the time here. Newport is, as a local we’d met earlier told us, a bit like Cowes-except you can anchor for free off the town here. We arrived a few days ago and Robin and Jack pulled in last night so it was great to play catch up for a few hours. The rest of the week looks to be a no-no as far as the weather is concerned as storm force winds batter the outside and inshore forecasts carry gale force warnings.

Blackthorn

Those of you who have read earlier pages will probably remember me writing about The Ring Anderson. We had an email from Richard a day or so ago with the very sad pictures of the boat. The Ring had been taking on water for some time and had been moved to a marina where the pumps could be connected to the mains and kept running 24 hours a day. A power shortage caused a lot of water to come in but it seemed to have been contained. The last photos show The Ring with water above the deck as she rests on the bottom. As the boat draws 10’ and the decks were probably 7’ above the waterline she is in deep enough to wreck much of her fine woodwork, engines etc. but for Richard, Pin and family it must surely be the end of a dream. What will happen now I’ve no idea, nor why the marina were unable to do more to help save her but for us it has been very, very sad.
So that’s it for another update. We’re sat in Newport Harbour with the wind coming out of the SW blowing somewhere between 25 and 35 knots. As our route is down toward New York for “dustbin sized pizzas” before we head further south it looks as though we’ll be stuck here until the w/e at least.
*This is a blatant lie!
Lastly, we’re now in New York but if we write this bit up it’ll be 2009 before we get it posted. In the meantime Happy Festivities where ever you are.