Rediscovering the daily log of my first serious sailing adventure aboard Mashantam with my Uncle Hugh almost 20 years ago, I decided the tales deserve a spot in Aleta’s history. As a proto-blog, these stories provide a little more detail than I might typically write today. The cruise lasted 11 days, taking us north from Boston Bay to Maine, back down to Provincetown, and finally to Mashantam’s erstwhile home in Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts. – Mike
Wednesday July 23, 2003 Scituate, MA
Leaving Scituate at around 7:00 am after breakfasting on bananas, tea, eggs and coffee, we motored most of the day. The forecasted wind sounded promising. NOAA’s automated announcer Patchy Fog predicted southerly breezes at a steady 15 to 20 knots. Once past Minot’s ledge, however, the wind shifted around to the north and died, leaving us on a glassy Boston Bay.
Hugh powered up his faithful engine, determined to at least make Gloucester. When we arrived there we carried on to the Isles of Shoals. Down in the galley, I worked on lunch sandwiches. A committee of gulls wheeled in. First one, then two, then four woke up and smelled the mustard. Tossing the odd piece of cucumber overboard distracted them and they settled on it in a kind of committee debate about its suitability as food. Conditions improved during the course of the day. The shifting winds and following seas turned respectively stronger and steadier. The day turned out good enough to shake down the crew and help them find their cruising legs.
On our arrival in the Isles of Shoals we found the mooring field almost empty, obviating the need to drop anchor. We heard waves crashing over the breakwater with a bassando thunder. The New England Cruising Guide gave us some insight to the islands’ history. Established as a retreat for the Unitarian Church, the most impressive sight, aside from the lighthouse, is the huge hotel complex on Star Island. Apparently, nothing stops Unitarians having a good time while on vacay.
After a supper of galley-cook’s salad, Hugh taught me the finer points of Othello and soundly beat me at two games, a trend that would continue. I fell asleep soundly, unaware of the excitement the next day would bring.
Thursday July 24, 2003 Isles of Shoals, NH
The Unitarians began stirring as we breakfasted at 6:30 am. It occurred to me that the houses that lay astern were same as those gracing bottles of Smuttynose beer’s Shoals Pale Ale (now discontinued – ed.). It appears I was right. Smuttynose Island, with its stone cairn and two wooden houses, was bleak. I don’t recall the cruising guide making mention of the island’s notoriety. In 1873 there was a notorious axe murder there. Anita Shreve wrote about it in her book The Weight of Water. Later it became a film starring Elizabeth Hurley and Sean Penn. The morning’s damp fog and general mizzle only added to the dark atmosphere of the place. I began to see how months living on this barren rock might tip an unbalanced mind towards homicide.
The day’s sailing was tattooed with fog. At times visibility dropped down to 100m, giving Hugh a chance to blast his foghorn. “What if we get a response?” I wondered aloud. “Then we’d be in trouble!” Hugh replied. Soon after getting underway, the topping lift shackle broke, parting company with the boom. I jumped up and lashed the flailing topping halyard to a cleat, not fully realizing what had happened. My detailed knowledge of the rigging still a little scarce at this point.
While not crucial with the mainsail up, the topping lift keeps the boom from crashing into the cockpit when the sail is down. In the murky, unpredictable conditions we didn’t know if we would eventually need to drop the mainsail, so it was worth fixing there and then. Assessing the situation, Hugh dug around below and found a replacement shackle and we headed into the lee of Boon Island to repair things. Boon Island has a wildly impressive lighthouse and not much else on it. It provided just enough shelter to get the job done.
We sailed on. A sprinkling of rain joined the fog. Rounding Cape Elizabeth under sail, the breeze was strong enough to kick up a following sea. Mashantam rocked from stern to stem. We found our fog-bound waypoint with the aid of Hugh’s handheald GPS receiver. It was reassuring to have the additional navigational technology on board. By the time we reached the entrance to Portland Harbor the fog had finally lifted. Past Portland Head light, Ram Island light, and on up to Falmouth Foreside and the Portland Yacht Club (PYC) we sailed.
We had another slight mishap at Fort Gorges. Somehow missing the main channel, we made a sharp tack to avoid the low water and rocks surrounding the mid-19th century stronghold. Gybing suddenly, a maneuver we were studiously avoiding, the vang suddenly shot aft landing in Hugh’s arms.
Both of us were a little bewildered but unhurt. I went forward and lashed the vang to its shackle. A broken fiddle block pin was at fault. It was a small bit of excitement which further shook down the crew. After radioing the yacht club for mooring instructions, a launch sped out and led us to our tie up for the night. Dinner on board was accompanied by an entertaining J-24 race, replete with cannon fire (from the shore, not the boats).
One of the subtleties of sailing is proper the display of the ensign. Every evening at sunset most yacht clubs fire a cannon. In PYC’s case a single barreled shotgun with a double charge served as a fine proxy. The signal reminds captains to bring in their colors and blow taps, if so desired. Every morning at 8am the gun is fired again as a reminder to deploy the ensign. Apparently, ship’s officers don’t want to be bothered at sunrise and have settled on 8:00am as the proper time to come on deck.
As we relaxed after dinner, Hugh made a list of necessary provisions and gear required for the next stage of our journey. Cruising, as I was about to discover, is not just challenging while at sea. It can be downright frustrating when on land.
Below is the gallery from Aleta’s visit to the Isles of Shoals in September 2018.
Friday July 25, 2003, Falmouth Foreside, ME
Having made such excellent progress during our first two days, we took the time to re-provision and refit the boat. The first step after a late-ish start was to clean the crew. Portland Yacht Club provides showers for its members and guests and, while the soap was initially AWOL, we found willing help to rectify the situation. Scrubbed up we then split up to pursue new shackles, tackle, and sundry flibbertigibbets.
Handy Boat Service (another HBS*) was a short launch ride from the PYC dock, so like a twit I walked the long way around by land. As a chandler’s HBS is replete with sweatshirts and Croakies, but lacks a good selection of fiddle blocks (shown left), particularly one that might replace a 30-year old Holland. Pressed further the staff’s answers all ended in a chorus of “West Marine!” Obviously, some form of nautical Mecca (for those lubbers among us).
I went in search of the captain and found him lurking in the car park in search of his crew. Reunited we set out to determine our best course of action. Back in the chandlers we inquired if one might make the pilgrimage to West Marine on foot? Certainly not! Proving once again that without a car in the United States you are basically screwed. Thus, a taxi was called. The cab driver agreed to meet us at Shaw’s, a local hypermarket, a mile and a half away. Shirley of HBS kindly agreed, since she was ‘anyway going home to make lunch for her Olympic freestyle skiing daughter’ (who for some reason wasn’t allowed to boil water) to drive us to our rendezvous.
Although our taxi driver had aspirations of becoming a marine biologist, he had never heard of West Marine. Yet I believe, having now visited West Marine personally, this knowledge is crucial for any mariner. Furthermore, our trip there will prove to have been one of the pivotal events in our driver’s aspirational career. His next career waypoint, after finding West Marine, would be a sojourn at Southern Maine Technical College. From there he hoped to work at Marine World as Shamu’s personal trainer, a job leading to, well who knows, perhaps Zodiac driver to the stars of the sea?
Hugh found a new fiddle block, paid, and we returned to Shaw’s in the same cab to provision. It’s always fun to tell the cabbie: “Wait here!” It adds an element of uncertainty to the activity in hand, as well as an unknown financial risk. “Wait here!” we cried, diving into Shaw’s clutching our long list of necessities, including Boddington’s ale and Guinness stout.
The afternoon was peppered with rain showers and rigging experiments on the boat. Some of which were all wet and some of which were successful. We returned to shore, but not before we’d moved Mashantam to a new mooring. Three Sheets had returned to her mooring unexpectedly and we were bounced to Lucky Bear’s spot instead. Dinner among the conservatives in PYC turned out dry, not least because of the conservative dribble emanating from the neighboring table. Turns out PYC is a BYOB establishment and we two silly SoB’s had left the B on the boat. Clams were the menu’s special item. A good choice since the mussels were off. Come dusk and broods of savage mosquitoes, we hastened our retreat to the boat, downed a tot of rum, and slept soundly in anticipation of Malcolm Harris’ arrival in the morning.
Saturday July 26, 2003, Falmouth Foreside, ME
According to the captain the sunrise bathed Mashantam in fiery ochre. The sun shone in the mahogany of her newly restored cabin top. She is a thing of beauty. By the time the crew surfaced the sunrise had disassembled into muted yellows and the radiant effect was largely lost.
Having refueled and taken on water the day before, we took Mashantam down to the dock only to make boarding easier. I found Malcolm at the clubhouse. The chances of an Englishman looking for directions and wearing a cap with a capital ‘M’ on it not being Malcolm were fairly small. We press-ganged him and at once shoved him on board. Heading out under power past Clapboard Island, we made our way through the channel that snakes around Chebeague Island and found ourselves within sight of Halfway Rock lighthouse.
Slowly, the wind built to the point where we could become a proper sailing vessel. Powering down near Marker Island, we raised sail and headed across Casco Bay for Seguin Island and the Cuckolds. Seguin has some tricky rocks around it, but a fabulous lighthouse high on its narrow hilltop. The light itself isn’t that tall, but its position provides it with an enormous advantage and makes it visible far out to sea. Ambling along as we were, I went below and made our regular lunch of sandwiches. Malcolm shared stories of his times hitchhiking across America as a young man during the Summer of Love. He also recounted his prior sailing experience, a deal of which included sending the mast and rigging of a Snark sailboat to the bottom of a lake.
We successfully rounded Seguin, avoided Tom Rocks, passed the Cuckolds and arrived in Boothbay Harbor at about 3:30PM. That gave us time to find a mooring and further futz with the rigging. It turned out that the fiddle block Hugh bought was one size too small for the main sheet. Digging deeper into the lockers, we found a spare but discovered it was warped and the cam cleats wouldn’t hold. That resulted in sudden unexpected slackening of the mainsail. It should have been funnier than it was.
Whipping, the fine art of keeping ropes from unraveling, is a classic sailor’s skill. I tried my hand at it, and it amused me until it was time to go ashore and find Malcolm’s lady friend, Cheryl. We mooched about the tourist traps looking at postcards and t-shirts until she showed up around 6:15PM. Loading Hugh’s dinghy Scargo to her gunnels, we clambered back aboard Mashantam for rum cocktails. Hugh made free with the jigger, the ice pick, and pineapple juice. Two drinks later and in a state of semi-lubrication we headed back to shore, making two trips to lighten Scargo’s load.
Dining at the Harborside Restaurant we talked at length about the problems of the world and where is America’s sense of collective responsibility, anyway? Cheryl had written a book about Vietnam, yet to be published, that sounded very interesting. It’s always nice to find right-thinking lefties during one’s travels. The mix of rum, beer, wine and decaf took its toll and it was off to bed in the aft cabin, with the hope the officer’s head would soon reopen.
[*] Hugh’s last name is Blair-Smith, hence HBS
Sunday July 27, 2003 – Boothbay Harbor, ME
Boothbay Harbor was fouled with clouds and howling winds as another front moved through. Our original plans called for us to be joined by Beth and Dan, Hugh’s current east coast crew. Several voicemails had still not raised them by 8:30AM. Our objective was to leave no later than 10:30AM, giving me some time to go ashore and run (I was training for a marathon in October).
I spent about an hour exploring the town, passing the large Catholic church and on to Spruce Point Inn. Along the way I waved to a couple of bed and breakfasting couples enjoying the morning on their porch. The inn’s location affords a nice view of Burnt Island light sitting in the fairway to the harbor. I also came across the schooner Roseway, deep in the throes of reconstruction.
After a quick shower, I hailed Hugh from the dock, and he rowed in to collect me. It turned out Beth and Dan couldn’t make it after all. By that time the wind had picked up to 30 knots, so we put off leaving for another hour. That gave me the chance to effect repairs on Scargo’s seats. With more than one bolt loose it was a tricky job. The wind tugged at the painter causing random jerking in the dinghy, making any finesse or speed impossible. Once fixed we hauled Scargo back onto Mashantam’s deck and, given the conditions, we lashed her down good and proper.
A small flotilla of power boats accompanied our departure. We fell into a long line and assumed they knew where their GPS navigation systems were taking them. We followed the stinkers as far as Mouse Island and peeled off. Halfway unfurling the jib gave us enough sail for 5-6 knots. From the passage at Ram Island light, we headed towards Monhegan Island. The southerly wind provided us an opportunity to shoot through the island’s harbor on a lark. However, it soon became clear that the swell wasn’t going to cooperate.
Rounding the island and taking a more northerly course, the swell, now at our stern, crossed in two wave trains 60 degrees apart, making boat handling a bit of a challenge. Still, we maintained our speed and found some relief as we reached the shallower waters near Wheeler Bay.
Hugh raised his daughter Caroline on the VHF radio. She instructed him that once we were in sight of the first nun to “connect the dots” until we found the pulling boats. Almost as soon as we’d fetched up a mooring, Caroline rowed across in her tender and ferried us ashore. She looked well. Albeit at work. As the director for Outward Bound’s Hurricane Island program she is always on call, and constantly plagued by voicemail, lost luggage, and buzzing pagers.
After a tour of the new Hurricane Island Outward Bound School (HIOBS) facility we headed for dinner at Tenants Harbor at The Cod Inn. Caroline and I had fried clams, while Hugh smashed away at a Maine lobster. It took him a while to figure out that the standard-issue claw-crunching nutcrackers had been replaced by a nifty rock. Releasing his inner Cro-Magnon, he periodically peppered the other guests with shrapnel.
I rode in the back of Caroline’s Honda with Panda, one of her many huskies. Panda is a sled pet and clearly not cut from the same cloth as Jack London’s hardened, vicious alter egos. Panda leaned into me. Soppy thing. It was nice to have a furry companion during an unexpected pang of homesickness. Heading back to the boat for the night, the humans in the car made plans for breakfast.
Wheeler Bay, like many of Maine’s harbors, is exposed to the south and doesn’t have quite enough natural protection to break up the swell. We rocked and rolled until the rains came through in the wee morning hours, signaling a wind shift to the northwest. Finally, things flattened out and we snored in appreciation.
Monday July 28, 2003 – Wheeler Bay
I awoke at about 4:45AM and watched the sunrise. The night had begun gloriously clear, clouded up, then cleared again. I took several pictures of the bay as the sun rose between the trees. As promised Caroline came to collect us at 6:00 am for breakfast in Thurmaston with Bob and Liz.
Bob had previously been a Special Forces officer in Vietnam and spent many years with Outward Bound as both an instructor and director. He currently sits on Outward Bound’s board trying to bring a field perspective to a predominantly businessman’s mindset. Liz is a nurse exploring the links between traditional western medicine and more holistic approaches. In all it was a fun discussion. One of the highlights was Bob’s story of delivering elephants to a village in northern Vietnam. Like many creatures which consume large amounts of carbohydrates, elephants suffer from flatulence when sedated. Hence the operation’s name, Bah-room.
The challenge was getting the elephants from where they were to where they needed to be. At one point the British command nearly called a halt to the operation. They accused the Americans of cruelty for wanting to drop elephants by parachute into the village. In reality, the plan called for transporting the animals via a C-130 transport plane to a nearby airstrip and carrying them to their final destination with a giant lifting helicopter. This story appears to have been the inspiration for the Disney film, Operation Dumbo Drop.
My excellent breakfast of poached salmon scramble was the right thing for the day’s sail ahead. We mooched about HIOBS waiting for the general store to open, buying mementos, and saying our goodbyes, eventually getting underway in brisk fashion around 10:00AM.
Raising full main for the first time, we took full advantage of the northwest winds and sailed straight out of Wheeler Bay. After agreeing on a course for South Harpswell Harbor a grand day’s sailing ensued. Clear cloudless skies and 20 knot winds drove us along at 6-7 knots. We got as far as Burnt Island where a shift of wind caused the helmsman some consternation. The captain’s orders were clear: follow the wind shift around, “so she’s sailing comfortably.” A couple of lazy 360o turns later, the captain further inquired as to just what the hell I thought I was doing? And why weren’t we making progress? Seems we’d sailed right into a wind hole.
I must make an observation here. Sharing watches as we did, we’d be hammering along at 6½ knots when Hugh would hand over the helm and tell me to keep to the same course. And not to bump into anything. Easy as it sounds, there was clearly something else afoot. Whether due to prescience on the captain’s part or just plain coincidence, the wind invariably dropped as soon as I took the wheel. Keeping the same heading was straightforward enough, but I’ll be damned if our speed didn’t slow by a couple of knots. By the third day, having finally dismissed the coincidence theory completely, I became more accusative. “Coincidence? I think not!”
Eventually, we found the wind again and were on our way. Most of the day was spent on starboard tack, changing our point of sail only a couple of times to avoid Sister’s and Black Rocks. We threaded through Ram Island light channel leaving Fuller’s rock to port. A glorious sunset found us searching for a mooring in the darkness of a quiet, calm pool in Harpswell harbor. We celebrated the day’s efforts with a couple of tots of rum, some Dinty Moore stew augmented by Spicy Veg-All. The captain was mightily chuffed with the day’s efforts.
It is worth mentioning some of the routines that take place on board ship. Routine is the sailor’s friend. It is through continual repetition that safety is ensured and risk is minimized. Many of Mashantam’s routines were based on the captain’s years of experience cruising and racing. Others are a little more idiosyncratic.
Breakfast, for example, is taken in the cockpit and consists of a hearty combination of carbohydrates and protein. This varies between a bowl of fresh fruit followed by eggs, to a bowl of fresh fruit followed by waffles or pancakes. The cook is generally the captain, although there is no exclusivity on this point.
Once breakfast is cleared and sailing underway, at 10:00AM Spicy Hot V-8 tomato juice is presented on deck. For consistency, the V-8 is always stored in the forward, port-side locker under the bunk in the main cabin. At around 11:00AM snacks are often produced, but not invariably.
At noon, without fail, the all-important beer bell sounds, and beer is distributed to all hands. Lunch is taken underway, usually sandwiches of divers kinds. By late afternoon a snack of grapes or chips and salsa may be called for. On this cruise dinner was taken in port, either on the boat or on shore.
Other routines include using the old silver Lewmar winch handle for raising the mainsail, while the newer, powder-coated one is used for trimming the jib. A gilguy is always used to keep the mainsail halyard from slapping against the mast. The eggshell cover for the binnacle is kept in the paper locker on the forward starboard side above the bunk in the main cabin. The officer’s head (the stern taffrail) is open 24 hours per day, modesty permitting. None of these routines, as engaging as they are, come close to the Pavlovian effects of ringing the beer bell.
Tuesday July 29, 2003, Saco Bay, ME
Once we cast off our mooring in Harpswell Harbour, we raised the Merriconeag Yachting Association colors on a pigstick at the masthead and went across for Hugh’s decennial visit. No answer from VHF channel 9 and no useful information from the swells aboard a 50’ ketch moored where the yacht club was supposed to be. This led us to abandon any shoreside activities and strike out for Kennebunkport instead.
Although we had raised the mainsail in the harbor, the flat calm forced us to power as far as Portland Head Light and Cape Elizabeth. Things looked up noticeably by the time we reached Saco Bay, and we raised the jib. Tacking back and forth across the bay, we made a steady five knots. Passing Wood Island Light, we headed out into the bay and turned back towards our destination. No signs, thankfully, of Bushes, presidential or otherwise. Having mercifully avoided Two Bush Channel and the Hypocrites on this voyage, we were anxious to bypass any further contact. The chart also refers to Bumpkin Island which may indeed be their stronghold.
Our route up the Kennebec River was exciting, in a low tide kind of way. Apparently in the old days there were moorings in the river proper, but this time we tied up at Chick’s Marina for the princely sum of $131 per night. Mashantam gleamed next to the shiny, plastic fornicatoriums.
Hugh raised his friends Chuck and Jorie Allen on his handheld. Chuck was Hugh’s roommate at Harvard and retired after a lifetime’s successful service in medicine. Jorie is a nurse with an interest in nutrition. Their pretty New England style house sits set back from Route 35 just outside Kennebunk. After feeding us a dinner of Thai food, they offered us a room for the night and a shower in the morning. We met their four dogs, the soppiest of which was Hades, a boxer. When not looking out for their daughter, they are gardening and rebuilding a pond in front of their property. Chuck also paints and teaches part time at the local community college.
Wednesday July 30, 2003, Kennebunk, ME
We woke at 6:15AM with the goal of leaving the dock no later than 9:00AM. After scrambled eggs and fresh fruit for breakfast, Chuck drove us to the dock, pausing at the local supermarket for some last-minute provisions. I shopped while Chuck and Hugh chatted. We made our way back to the boat, cast off smartly and motored out to Bigelow Bight on another glassy sea.
We put-putted as far as Ogunquit where the wind picked up and gently heeled the boat over. Having raised the main on our departure from Kennebunkport, it was a short job to roll out the jib, and we were made five knots. The southeasterly winds pointed us out to sea, so we tacked down past Boon Island Light and towards the inside edge of the Isles of Shoals. Duck Island saw a wind lift that increased our speed a full knot.
Coming about we got a good view of the Corwith Cramer, a marine training schooner out of Woods Hole. Handily beating along at six knots I took a few photos of her in the brilliant sunshine. Looking at the time, however, it became clear that we weren’t going to make Marblehead by nightfall – our original ‘stretch goal.’ Our alternatives included Newburyport, Rockport, and our eventual destination, a mooring at the Annisquam Yacht Club.
We tacked across the bight and Ipswich Bay in variable winds. Having taken a good look at Plum Island we put into Annisquam without trouble. Tidal flows in the Annisquam River have the effect of negating the usual head-to-wind behavior of moored boats. The current pushed Mashantam’s stern to the wind, exposing the galley to periodic gusts. Closing a couple of hatches allowed us to cook our dinner of corned beef hash and eggs and warm the cabin to boot. Fortunately, a generous Cuba Libre chased away any late night chills.
Thursday July 31, 2003, Annisquam, MA
Waking at our usual time and still turned 180o to wind, we breakfasted and considered our options for passing through the Blynman Canal to Gloucester. Hugh did the heavy analytical lifting, working up a timetable of events for our passage. We were told by the AYC that the canal had a couple of 4’ spots which meant waiting for high-ish tide. After waiting a full hour, we left our mooring at 10:00AM and headed off, keeping a sharp eye on our depth gauge. Respecting the buoys, we weaved through the river and on up through the canal.
The navigational aids convention of red-right-returning was consistent for the length of the canal. Unlike the Cape Cod Canal which reverses the colors halfway through. The only difference on the Blynman is that at the mid-point buoy numbering changes from 2+n on the north side to 3+n on the south side. We weren’t really prepared for the amount of wiggle in our course. We’d been using charts with a much bigger scale and the turns, although clear and straightforward, came upon us faster than expected.
There are three major hazards on the canal: a bridge over Route 128 with 65’ of clearance, a railroad drawbridge, and the Blynman Drawbridge. Route 128 proved no problem for Mashantam’s 52’ mast height, providing we stayed in the center of the channel. Even so, it seemed snug looking up from the cockpit. As we turned the next corner, we avoided a wrecked trawler lying half in the fairway and pulled up behind a Gin Palace, the Giovaninni.
At 34 feet across, the railroad bridge is narrow. Its cant, though, means sufficient mast clearance is gained only by sticking close to the Cape Ann side of the channel. Furthermore, the bridge stands at a 90 degree turn in the canal and it’s impossible to see what’s coming upstream towards you. I radioed Giovaninni’s captain and inquired about the traffic situation. He let me know it was clear and we happily followed him through the gap.
Once past the railroad bridge, we could see the open Blynman Drawbridge ahead. The tidal inrush created standing waves making forward motion challenging. At a full 2,000 rpm we again tailed Giovaninni and finally made it out into Gloucester Harbor. We paid our respects to the statue of the Gloucester Fisherman and motored on towards the breakwater and raised the mainsail.
After all that excitement, the passage to Provincetown took us through the doldrums. An intermittent sighting of a pilot whale, a trawler, and a couple of sailing ships broke up the boredom. By late afternoon we had reached Race Point Light and were once again under sail making five knots. My daughter Katie called me on my cell phone to make sure we were still coming for dinner. We eventually pulled into port around 7:30PM.
The entrance to Provincetown harbor brushes the head of Cape Cod Bay, but the beach drops off very dramatically to a depth of 100’ feet and more. Hugging the shore, Hugh came within a couple of hundred yards of the beach. With one eye on the depth sounder and one on the green buoy Mashantam got around smartly. Not that that could be said of the sailing vessel Diva, following us in. In a generally chicken-shit fashion they tacked just as they closed in on the shore, bearing off just when they should have been celebrating success. After contacting Provincetown Mooring we circled the end of the breakwater waiting for our escort, dancing here and there with some large day cruisers in the channel.
The kids dashed down to the dock to greet us, curious about the beard I was sporting. “Whoa, you look so different!” Wendy was singularly unimpressed. Group-wise we wandered into town and stopped at the Grand Central Restaurant for dinner. The food was fine, the ambiance slightly marred by having to sit outside where it was a little chilly and a little smoky.
When our orders got delayed, the kitchen provided a plate of cheeses to keep us going. I had a full rack of lamb and Wendy a fishcake of serious proportions. After dinner we wandered the streets taking in more activity in a few minutes than I’d seen all week. In some ways it was a little overwhelming. Ice cream cones followed by window shopping led to a parting of the ways around 9:30PM. The children showed no real interest in joining the last couple of days of the cruise. Which, in the event, turned out to be a sensible decision. Stepping onto the dock for our return to Mashantam the heavens opened and soaked us thoroughly.
Friday August 1, 2003, Provincetown, MA
Lashed by rain we raised the main and headed towards the Cape Cod Canal into the eye of 15 knot winds. Patchy Fog was for once fairly accurate in his forecast. We lumbered through intermittent seas in showers and fog for the better part of the morning. At times, we could only see 75 yards ahead. Having set a waypoint in the GPS, Mashantam easily maintained course. When the fog started closing-in further we clicked on channel 13 to listen for marine traffic and make our own sécurité call. No response came. Blasting our handheld foghorn a couple of times yielded no response, either. So, it was a bit of a surprise when a 40’ sailboat appeared 100 yards off our starboard bow. In those conditions our 10 knots closing speed might as well have been 100.
Elsewhere, Captain Dan in a large commercial vessel squawked periodically on the VHF, giving everyone his location in a southern drawl. The fog thickened. Eventually, we found buoy Red-White ‘CC’ clanging mournfully in the gloom. While we might have come within earshot, it is highly unlikely we would have found old CC without the aid of the GPS. As the buoy’s bell faded behind us, the fog lifted. Suddenly, I could make out the smokestack at the power station near the entrance to the canal. Visibility continued improving as we powered through the channel, passing the Hog Island sleigh ride without incident.
Our evening’s goal was South Dartmouth, MA. Specifically, somewhere behind the Padanaram breakwater. Arriving around 7:00PM, Hugh hailed the New Bedford Yacht Club for a mooring only to discover that the Buzzards Bay Regatta was in town and had taken every one of them. The launch driver gave us a couple of anchoring tips, but in the end we cheekily fetched-up a mooring belonging to R. Jones. We thank the R. Joneses heartily. Next to us lay a large Oyster sailboat replete with every electrical gizmo known to maritime creation. Unfortunately, its crew demonstrated very poor understanding of ensign protocol. Moreover, their attempts at raising the mainsail without the aid of a winch proved more than they could possibly manage on a boat that size.
Dinner finished the mess of spaghetti we had started on our first night aboard back in Scituate. Aided by a bottle of Haitian rum, we sat chatting while the fog rolled back in and night closed around us.
Saturday August 2, 2003, Padanaram, MA
Waking slightly later than daybreak we wolfed down a feast of fruit followed by waffles and bananas smothered in maple syrup. We left along with a number of BBR boats and headed south towards Cuttyhunk Island.
Once underway, Hugh recounted the story of his father’s first big case as a newly minted Harvard-educated lawyer. Colonel Teddy Green was the son of the Witch of Wall Street, Hetty Green. Fantastically wealthy, Teddy lived in several houses. When he died, New York, Texas, Florida, and Massachusetts all vied for death duties. Only one would collect, however. The state that proved Teddy’s permanent residence was theirs. Robert M. Blair-Smith was on the case. Throughout the summer of 1936 he labored to prove that Massachusetts was Teddy’s permanent home. My grandmother played a part: coaching one of Teddy’s floozies on how to give evidence and show some deportment. Massachusetts won the case. Bob won the kudos. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sailing was fine with strong southerly breezes. We had a nearly near miss with a trimaran, Triceratops, but she changed course before a blast on the horn was necessary. Just at the point of entering Cuttyhunk harbor, the fog returned and we had to pick our way carefully past Pease Ledge. Foggy though it was, there were enough breaks to find our way into the pond and the inner harbor. Moorings at Cuttyhunk are a little different. They have a ring with an extension that lets you tie up with your own mooring line. A system significantly less slimy than hauling up wet, rotten, pre-attached lines.
Rather than walk up to the fog surrounding the top of the island, we sat in the cockpit and ate our lunch smorgasbord style, doing our best to finish up the leftovers in the cooler. I could tell we had pushed ourselves a bit in the past few days. I noticed that both of us hit our heads more frequently and snored more sonorously.
Since we’d be running before the wind with only the jib on our way back to Marion, Mashantam’s permanent home, we took a moment to drop and cover the mainsail. Heading north, the fog once again closed in and we began making our way buoy to buoy. Slowly nosing out of the harbor we found the first nun to port, not starboard, as is customary. Once properly identified, it set us on a path towards the RW fairway marker. From there it is a straight shot to old Red ‘10’, in the middle of Buzzard’s Bay.
Steering by compass, in the traditional manner, we marked waypoints as we passed each buoy for future reference. With visibility ranging between 200 and 1,000 yards we finally begged the GPS to lead us straight to Centerboard Shoal, and from there into Marion. We snagged Mashantam’s mooring and tied off. While Hugh ran inventory, I cleared up below and called my Aunt Vicki. We manhandled Scargo, the dinghy, off the foredeck. With everything secured, we radioed the Burr Brothers launch and headed ashore.
Driving back to the Cape had an odd effect on me. For the better part of the past 11 days, 7MPH seemed fast. Riding shotgun at 55MPH towards Cape Cod was somehow overwhelming. It was a bit like my reaction to Provincetown: an overload for the senses. Things moved too fast. My children accused me of being snitty when I took them for ice cream later. But there was only so much loud pop music I wanted to hear that night.
Sailing, especially for extended periods, has a strong meditative effect on me. At once relaxing and enervating, it offers few distractions from one’s own thoughts. Whatever those thoughts may be. Even concentrating on maintaining a course or calculating the effect of a wind shift on our progress, I still found sufficient cycles for contemplating stuff. That said, I shut out work almost entirely.
In summary, a fine, recuperative adventure. As a sailing companion, Hugh provided me with enough down time and space in the conversation to allow the ‘cruise effect’ to firmly take hold. My thanks to the captain, my family, and the dogs I met along the way, for making it possible.
Editor’s Note (April 2023): After nearly 20 years, one of my surprises was not how many URLs functioned, but that any did. From the original manuscript, about 15% of the links worked. The rest were either dead or off by a few letters. Wikipedia was two years old in 2003 and its content meager. Since then, it has grown into the world’s encyclopedia. New links have been included wherever the old ones failed.
What also changed was my writing. A few legit writing courses certainly improved things over the years. As a web log, these entries succeed at relating bare facts. Their weakness is not giving the reader a better sense of place and feeling. I was tempted to throw the entire lot out and start again, but perhaps that is better reserved for the book. After a few weeks I’ll put this in its proper place at the very beginning of these adventures.