Nantucket Sliegh Ride

Published on November 9, 2009 by in Talk


You only get so much in a life, time making love or having a sail like we did the other day.

I’m thinking of the almost 24 hours from Block Island, R.I. to Sandy Hook, N.J.where we have been sitting 36 hours now on a storm tossed mooring behind a breakwater that is facing the wrong way today. We have had an interesting time getting here and of course we’re not where we’re going yet.

Captain Mark and I left Bass Harbor, Me.after 1 Pm last
Saturday with Feng Shui, A Morris 38 bound for Shelter Island ,N.Y. Feng Shui and her owners are finest kind. This is her second delivery of the season, Capt Andy and Mark brought her ” home” to the Morris Co. for repair after she suffered the embrace of another moored boat whose jib unfurled in a short sharp thunderstorm.

The wind started light and SW as we left Bass Hbr. but went north and east and built through the afternoon. So Saturday night, clear with a full moon, we ran pretty much dead down wind across the Gulf of Maine with a reefed main in 20-25 kts with 6foot sloppy seas occasionally slopping sideways into the cockpit. That was a nice sail. There was just a moment before dawn Sunday when the big red-hearted sunrise turned the still high yellow moon orange and made a light that was weird but wonderful.

We made the Cape Cod fuel dock before 5 Pm and had a very uneventful motorsail overnight down Buzzard’s Bay and across Block Island Sound to Gardiner’s Bay. I had the 3-6 watch and Capt Mark woke me just in time to catch the mooring at the Shelter Island Yacht Club just before 9 Am, Monday morning, Labor Day. We rested and socialized in the busy harbor, spent the middle of the day cleaning the boat, and enjoyed excellent hospitality with the owners and friends. Another perfect working adventure but just the start of the current one – already known as the Nantucket Sleigh Ride.

To get to Nantucket from Shelter Island takes 3 ferries, 2 taxis, a rent-a-car , and most of the day. Late afternoon midweek after Labor Day the brand new yacht club is very quiet. Front and center, the prettiest boat in sight, is our next ride, a Morris M36 “daysailor” with teak cabinsides and deck. Check the weather and confirm the weather is due to deteriorate in a day or so, so we provision poste haste and untie her just after 5Pm, and (end of the season)just after the fuel dock closed. We are bound for Annapolis, M.D. most of 4 days away. The boat has a full 20 gallon fuel tank and3 empty 5 gallon buckets we would like to have had filled.

The new plan is to head to Block Island for our next fuel stop. Not to waste anything we head out over the shallows between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, calm and wine red in the sunset.

It is very shallow between the two islands and while they call it Muskeget Channel there is barely a buoy for a clue. We are small and shallow draft but truly without the highly accurate GPS chartplotter we could not go this way. The irony is that we are on the edge of the paper chart. Captain Andy and Mark brought the boat Annapolis to Nantucket in the spring and the Block Island to the Chesapeak charts that were aboard and still should be- ain”t.

Basics. Paper charts are the ultimate authority. The GPS chartploter is the best (and easiest) navigator ever on any vessel, any ocean, any time. It’s a miracle. The problem is that even if (depending on format) all the information on a paper chart is on the machine screen- you can’t look at it in the same way. Zooming in and out can never reproduce the overlook that is possible staring at a real chart. Normally we would never leave home without one. Even with our experience in these waters this is not a good thing, but we feel good to go because of that experience.

There’s basics, now politics. But wait, we are off on a lifetime sail, so screw politics , but be assured there are some. We’re off and they’ll be back.

We got to Block Island like we get a lot of places, at 0-dark-30. With a couple of hours before a fuel dock could possibly be open we grabbed a mooring and a nap. The fellow at the pump could not get over the boat- prettiest one he had seen all summer. This was a re-occurring theme. Everywhere we went people came running across jetties, seawalls and docks, altered course and hailed us passing in canals and marinas- “What kind of boat is that? It’s a Morris. Beautiful.”

It was a gray day with the wind rising and aft of the beam when we headed out of Block Harbor just after 8 Am. Starting with a reefed main and full jib we used different sail combinations all day, ending up with just a scrap of jib by the end of my watch at midnight. Perfect boat, perfect company, less than perfect day but the boat is romping and we are digging it. Ironically we need to slow the boat down as we are headed for Hell’s Gate and have the fear of a foul tide.

What a ride. Understand two things about boat deliveries- the engine is usually on and the autopilot is usually driving. We travel 24 hours a day if possible and would life to make at least 6 kts, so motorsail as necessary. Sometimes we have a sail up just for looks but not today. Besides being so pretty the genius of the Morris “daysailor” is how easy it is to use and sporty to drive. The critical lines: jib in and out, and the mainsail up and down and trim are led out of sight to rope clutches by the port and starboard electric winches just at the helm, where you can stand and play that thing like a fiddle.

Speaking of music, I’ve never liked headphones on watch. Earlier in the season we went from Padanaram, Mass. to Rockport, Me. and back in an older wooden boat without an autopilot. Actually having to steer the boat makes for a long watch and I now have a discman. Now is a real ecstasy of rhythm and boat motion and melody. Alejandro Escovedo is rocking out and singing his songs of the sea (he’s a surfer who likes Boattalk), and I am singing and dancing like I’ve just discovered God. We are definitely at church.

Watching the autopilot sail the boat downwind, it drives reliably but steers kind of loose. I’m already having too much fun now let’s sail this thing. Tweak the sheets, auto off and get the groove of dancing with the rudder instead of fighting it. Like I said, only so much in a lifetime, especially if you notice, and the captain resting below will have to hear me singing because I can’t help it and his harmonica is worse.

Through The Race at 9 kts and down the sound we go watch on watch, wow man, wow! In between watches off Stanford, Conn. the two of us stow the mainsail. This requires rounding up into the wind and falling off again . Sometime after this maneuver we notice a boat cushion is missing and must be presumed lost at sea. We often don’t even use things like cushions (if you don’t use it you can’t hurt it) and this is a bad punctuation on a great day. The cushions inside are velcro’d but that would be harder to hide outside in such a perfect cockpit. Nobody saw it go or even thought of it with the current conditions- but there’s a re-learned sea lesson: just when you get comfy it can and will reach out and slap you sideways. We haven’t broken or lost anything in a long time and Capt Mark in particular is not happy.

The moon is just past full in and out of the clouds so we have auxiallary lighting as we pass under the Throg’s Neck Bridge and into the East River at 2 Am. We are good with the tide and all hands are on deck to run through New York City. It’s true , neither the town or traffic on the river ever sleep. Tugs, tugs pulling and pushing barges, ships coming and going and at anchor are even more interesting to listen to on the radio. (Favorite exchange: “How’re you moving that thing, Captain?  Pushing her, that’s all we know how to do , push, push, push.)

The East River is not very wide. Above the U.N. is an expressway so we also have 60 kt traffic a biscuit toss to starboard. The U.N. seems small tonight and the city in general has a surreal orangy light, is massively in your face, but also has a sort of lack of depth. Also this morning of September 10, the intimate proximity of the tip of Manhatten and history conspire to give me a strange feeling. Out the Buttermilk Channel and past the Statue of Liberty at half past 4Am, that was my favorite trip to New York.

Now we face the coast of New Jersy, a forecast of 40 kt winds and some of the politics mentioned earlier. There is no question we will seek shelter. It is decision time and now we really miss those paper charts.

The way I understand it there was big trouble with the delivery of this boat north and south before we came along. By bad trouble I mean a grounding and a flooding. Capt Andy and Mark were the first to succeed flawlessly this spring and of course the owner now wants nobody but Capt Andy. Unavailable , cruising with the owners of a very favorite boat, he is in Annapolis and on the phone worrying about us too. Andy recommends Atlantic Highlands at Sandy Hook, N.J. Mark wants to go to Liberty City, N.J. and we pick up the outermost mooring behind the breakwater at Sandy Hook at about 7 Am.

There are a couple of hundred boats in here between us and the dockage, dead to leeward. With this wind the breakwater is not much help and the dock does not look good. We are on a very sturdy and new looking double penant mooring and feel pretty bombproof. Boats came in all morning including an older couple with a badly wrapped jib problem. For the last day and a half we have got to watch our neighbors lose sail covers, biminis, dodgers and so on. On the tide the breakwater is under water with a 3 foot sea inside. We are hanging out bucking and plunging with the bow occaisionally submerged. The starboard penant looped over the bow light twice.

The forecast this morning was for dangerous thunderstorms and maybe a tornado. First time ever to hear that on the marine weather! And of course we are still here. This afternoon things are moderating, the launch is finally out with anxious owners , and we’re thinking tomorrow.

Mike Joyce  @ Sandy Hook, N.J.   9 / 11/ 09

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