Monday, 26 November 2012

Still moving south

We left Vineyard Haven for Newport and, after an undisturbed night sleep, hauled the anchor up and set sail for what we hoped would be the Delaware Bay and a visit with Russ and Alison, friends from the 2011 trip to Labrador. The day started with a fast hour or so, became lumpy at the entrance to Narraganset Bay and then settled into a rhythm as we headed toward and past Block Island. The NE wind blew steadily and progress was rapid if quiet; rarely have we managed to cross this section of water without a constant background chatter of fishing boats/tugs etc warning other vessels of their intentions but it was a welcome change. The journey from this area to the mid section of the US involves crossing numerous shipping lanes; 3 for New York alone and traffic was reasonably heavy. The AIS, as ever, made life easier, particularly in the dark when judging distance is generally more difficult...but our first problem came from a fishing boat that Bee had seen well off to port. Initially all we could establish was that it was incredibly well lit up but, because of the brightness and distance away, no direction of travel could be determined. After what seemed an age a faint green light could be seen and we knew then it was traveling in our general direction....our courses closed and too late we realised that far from moving slowly this dredger was steaming, dragging whatever it drags and showing no inclination to slow down. Because of the wind direction and the tack we were on we had little option but to bear away slightly, increase speed a little (we were already running at 7knots +) and cross his bow about 150 feet ahead. Nothing was heard on the radio and doubts began to set in. When we'd put sufficient distance between us we checked to see whether he could hear us. No response and no response either to a general call for a "radio check" Hmmmm. The rest of the night proved quiet but the following day off the third of the three traffic lanes that enter and leave New York we ran into our second issue. Daylight this time and we watched visually and on AIS, a large Chinese container ship move slowly away from NY and toward us. They were steaming at 10 knots or so, we were sailing at 5 or 6. They slowly closed the gap between us and it looked as though our course would converge. Because of the seas and wind direction we had our boom with a preventer on and whilst gybing might be a last resort it would require a lot of prep work before we could do so. We stood on. The gap closed and narrowed. At a point we judged that we could pass astern of the ship we rounded up and sort of hove to. I say "sort of" as we were still moving through the water at 2 knots and now moving closer to them. The ship altered course away from us by 10 degrees and once we were both clear of each other our normal courses were resumed. We had tried calling the ship but had no response and had no idea whether they had tried calling us. Not being able to communicate made life very tense for a few minutes and I began to feel concern about going through the Delaware Canal with no means of communication. As it happened the weather forecast came in and warned that the winds were fading and backing to the north which would leave us with a possible beat up the Delaware Bay or an easy sail down to Chesapeake and then across to Portsmouth. We opted to head on south but in the end it wasn't that easy as we approached Cape Charles in the dark and rain but with the tide flooding into the Bay. The effect of wind over tide over shallow water produces square, lumpy seas and with 5 miles to go before we cleared the bridge/tunnel system we opted to motor sail our way through the things. Water poured over the deck as the bowsprit buried itself in the solid mass of water we were running into. I watched as several inches of water ran along the deck and over the Air Only Vent vent we'd fitted. Having suffered for years with water dripping through various vents we're still over the moon that this vent does exactly what it says. No water drips or leaks below from it, the ventilation is excellent and, when the pension kicks in next year, we intend to fit several more.

By 11:30 we were tied up at the dock some 73 hours after we hauled up the anchor in Newport. We'll stay here for a few weeks, have already started our winter batch of home-brew (5 litres of beetroot and 25 litres of rice and raisin) and the inevitable job list that accompanies a boat. The plan is still to go south...after the last 2 summer cruises to the north and a winter spent in Maine we're ready for some sun......oh alright and some cheap rum!

Some months ago we wrote about giving up on the Taylor's cooker and replacing it with a single "primus" type burner. The reasons were numerous, not least, the horrendous price of spares from Taylor's and their, apparent, indifference to emails from long term customers - we'd been using the unit since 2000. The primus was/is great but we needed to find a way to gimbal it. 

 As luck would have it we found a second hand "Atom" unit in Maine before we left on the Greenland trip and I have to say it has been a winner. The unit is well made and we've been able to cook irrespective of conditions. Bee continues to turn out a loaf every other day using a cast iron dutch oven and we have had few problems. It is noisy but even that has its advantages  - drowns out the noise of vile weather and wind up top;  unlike the Taylors with its 6 litre fuel tank the primus holds less than a litre so it really requires filling on a daily basis. But over and above its effectiveness has been the response of the guy who designed the gimbal unit and sells them from here. Knowledgeable, efficient and helpful. Each time we've contacted him he has responded quickly (a major plus when you're often on the move). He also recognises that you may well have the skills to build your own unit so displays on his site a helpful diagram with measurements. Kero is such a sensible fuel for a cruiser and this is a simple, neat alternative to a Taylor's too.

VHF. We seemed to have sorted out our vhf silence. Cary's boat is in the slip next to us and we were able to swap radios around and establish the fault lay with the connection or aerial. Turns out to be a loose connection between aerial and cable and it has been judiciously tightened and taped. 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Money on ground tackle...

We woke to the sound of the anchor alarm going off. Not, in this instance, a warning we had dragged but letting us know we'd stretched out and possibly veered from our original position. That was at 5am yesterday morning, Wed 7th, some 32 hours ago and the storm has raged since. The first 24 hours were fine but as  the wind continued the seas followed suit and built up. The fetch inside was small but the entrance, barely visible, had white water everywhere. The sound of seas breaking on the northern side of the island, at times, drowned out the wind. By the late afternoon the wind had backed from NE to NNW which gave us a little more room astern but also created a confused sea tendency within the anchorage. The wind continued howling. The local radio informed us that the gusts on Martha's Vineyard, less than 10 miles away, had been clocked at 61mph and all local ferry traffic was suspended.   The NOAA site informed us that some 30 miles to the west of us the weather/navigation  buoy recorded 52 knots...whatever it was probably the longest period of foul weather we had at anchor since the week we sat in Newtown Creek, IOW as day after day the English Channel struggled under a Force 11. And we knew it was bad outside when the anchorage gradually saw more and more gulls "at anchor"; resting quietly until their lives might improve.

By the morning of Sat Nov 9th our life had improved beyond measure. For a start the wind had died down and the anchorage was flat calm. But the rain and gloom of the last few days had been replaced with a glorious sunshine. The natural harbour is part of a succession of islands that were, or may still be, owned by the Forbes family apparently. A couple of very large houses could be seen, sheep and a llama were the only real activity. A ferry runs between the harbour and Woods Hole, a  fishing boat came in prior to the storm but other than that we had had the place to ourselves. With a single day of northerlies left we opted to visit Vineyard Haven on Martha's, catch up with friends and await the next batch of favourable winds due in 3 days. Getting the wonderful Rocna anchor up gave us a struggle; convincing me at one point that we must be foul on something. Bee, who handles all the fore deck work, disagreed saying it felt different to a foul..... We secured the chain to protect the windless and tried to motor it out with little impact. Bee wanted more power so that's what we did and although the bow dipped ( in respect to the might of the anchor perhaps) it did break free. Thick, gloopy mud clung to the chain as we laboriously hurled buckets of sea-water over it. Eventually we were able to see the anchor  rising to the surface with a large amount of glutinous mud attached. We had, briefly, thought about setting two anchors in tandem as the anchorage was tight. However as we had anchored once already and then decided to shift position we knew the mud was good and simply added a second line to back up our existing rode using  two rolling hitches to secure it to the chain.We bought this 33kg (73lb) Rocna back in 2006 and have never regretted it. At the time they were new to the market but its design and holding power means we are able to sleep easy at night. Anchors may not have the same sex appeal as all singing all dancing chart plotters and water makers but, to us, they are far more important.  Everything back on board and stowed we motored clear, raised the main and stays'l and set off with a favourable current through the narrows at Woods Hole toward Vineyard Haven. The wind blew gently, the sun shone, sea sparkled and all was well in our world. Next stop, we hope, will be several hundred miles south of here.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Another storm arriving...

The anchorage is quiet; stars glitter across a dark, but not ominous sky and once again we await the arrival of a major storm. We were hoping to use the northerlies coming off an upcoming front to get south but it became obvious as we prepared to leave Belfast that this was going to be one to hide away from.

With final, final farewells and the third and final pie from Mary T, we headed out from Belfast with a good northerly breeze to see us on our way. We had hopes of making a non stop crossing of the Gulf of Maine rather than the usual stop start that has plagued us in the past. And so it proved to be with good speeds across a lumpy sea. Bee and Toots felt decidedly unwell from the motion as we ploughed on, dropping a second reef into the main to help balance the course and motion. The night was cold, very cold but we crossed and got to within 5 miles of the canal entrance at Cape Cod before the wind eased and speeds dropped below 3 knots. Not a speed we would ordinarily consider motoring but we needed to make sure we were through the canal before the tide turned and with less than 4 hours left to do so we needed to get on. 30 hours after leaving the dock we entered the canal and our speed began to pick up.
Railway Bridge, Cape Cod Canal

Still with the main up we slipped through the water at 8 knots and as the sun began to set through the arches of the railway bridge we knew the last section would be in the dark and cold. Our original plan had been to keep going to Cape May but the speed with which the front was moving plus the distance still to go suggested we should anchor for the night. Pocasset Harbour is pretty small but the bay outside has good holding and shelter from northerlies and we dropped anchor tired but content.

Monday saw a flurry of emails as we sought advice from friends about anchorages in the Buzzards Bay area. Our thought was either Block Island or Hadley Hbr, both of which we used in the past. In the end we chose Hadley and all the advice seemed in agreement. A short hop from where we were and we approached the tight entrance about 3 hours later managing to sail, impressively we thought though no spectators on such a cold day, through the narrow entrance and into the anchorage. We motored into the inner hbr but found plenty of local boats still on buoys so came back out to anchor south of Bull Island. The forecast is for NE 25-35knots with gusts of 55 on Wednesday, Thurs having similar strength winds.

As I write this the wind can be heard beginning to pick up...could this be the start?

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Post Sandy

The day after we arrived in Smiths Cove we decided we'd move closer to the shore. The anchorage was deserted but with the week.end upon us we expected boats to start arriving. As we dallied we saw at least 3 boats, albeit without masts, approaching. They came past us, waved and continued on to a set of mooring buoys close to the shore. Once they were finished the handlers came by us in a tender to have a quick chat. One of them, Ken Eaton, turned out to be the owner of a local boatyard and suggested we might take up a very heavy mooring that was vacant. All the gear, he assured us, had been inspected recently and we would have no problem. Normally we're lary about using moorings but with this assurance and the fact that they were much closer to the shore and trees than we could safely manage under anchor persuaded us. So safely connected we made storm preparations; removing the stays'l, lashing down the main and mizzen to stop gusts loosening the sail. The next few days passed and we watched the few boats come in, recognising several from Belfast. In the event the storm really didn't account to much. Some gusts - the strongest just 39 knots an anchored boat recorded but with such good tree protection there was no fetch and whilst sleep wasn't that easy to succomb to at least it wasn't a terrifying experience. Ken, on his first sortie by us, had told us that there would be a sack of wood waiting for us on the dock and when we motored across to Castine town dock there was. Hours later a local couple had confirmed with the harbourmaster that we could stay on the dock for the night and another local came to tell us he had a further two bags of wood we were welcome to. The offer of the night on the dock was extended to a Dutch boat with two young children aboard; they were over the moon as it was Halloween and they would be able to join in the festivities. Welcome to Castine!

Whilst we'd been waiting for Sandy to arrive we'd been in contact with David and Susan who'd left Belfast a few days before we'd moved across the bay. They ended up in Oyster Bay at the western end of Long Island so very close to the mayhem that was about to occur. In the end they dragged, spent 5 hours motoring into the wind (holding their position), blew out isinglass panes in their sprayhood but survived the 62 knot gusts.

Thursday morning arrived and Bee with that familiar look of bargain hunting that crosses her face went immediately onto the internet before coffee was poured. Seems Job Lot, a store in Belfast, post their bargains on a Thursday.....The list scanned and checked it was declared that at least 4 items were staples for us and had been reduced significantly and our destination was decided. After chatting to various locals we cast off to follow another Belfast bound boat back. Little Bear, the other boat, was being single-handed so motored whilst we had a glorious sail back under all canvas. True the sun didn't shine but with few lobster pots and the bay to ourselves it was a wonderful few hours.

The much awaited northerlies are here, bringing their cold winds but as the south beckons we can put up with them for the next few weeks/months. With luck we'll get down to Cape May avoiding the Cape Cod Canal but that always remains an option.