Rediscovering the daily log of my first serious sailing adventure 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. Due to the demands on the editor, and you dear reader, these entries will be posted two-days at a time. When I recover the photos from the cruise, I’ll post those, too. – Mike

Wednesday July 23, 2003 Scituate, MA

scituate-lighthouse-gccbeeb110_1920Leaving 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

Isles of ShoalsThe 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.

lighthouse-g627e07329_1920We 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.





  1. Must acknowledge being granted some minutes of fame in this medium! I’d forgotten that we had failures of two robust stainless steel thingies on the same day. All ye who equip cruising boats, never forget that spares were important even before Prince Harry. What a lovely cruise that was. I’ll comment further on each part.


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