Chip Ford’s 1974 Catalina 22 Restoration Project
Sail #3282 
l  Marblehead, Massachusetts

Chip Ahoy’s 2006 Cape Cod Cruise
July 20 - August 5, 2010
 

See also:

Photo Album Float Plan
Chip Ahoy's Canal into Buzzard's Bay back to Onset Bay Panic-a-Track  Cruise Chart 
MainBrace Article:
"A Seaworthy Little Boat When In Crisis"
September 2010 issue


 

Last year (2009), for my vacation I attempted to cruise down through the Cape Cod Canal and beyond.  I made it as far as Scituate, found I hadn't fully recovered from my surgery yet, was exhausted and sore.  After a few days' stay there, I decided that "discretion was the better part of valor," returned home to Marblehead.

This year, I planned to attempt it again.  I made it down to and through the canal, then hit Buzzard's Bay's notorious southwest wind with the canal's 5-6 knot outgoing current.  6-8 foot seas greeted Chip Ahoy and me, I thought it was all over -- you know, life.  Fortunately, I still had waypoints and a route on my GPS back to Onset Harbor, just outside the canal.  "With a little help from my friends," I made it safely and called it quits for continuing onward.  It was time to head home from there.

The trip home from Scituate was a different sort of challenge -- all the way in blind fog, visibility often down to maybe 20 yards.

For just over two weeks, it was another heck of an adventure.

Chip Ford
Sunday, August 8, 2010


The Log of Chip Ahoy’s 2010 Cape Cod Cruise

Tuesday, July 20, 2010; 9:46 pm
On the mooring, Salem Harbor off Village Street


What a day – what a few days! – but at last here I am.

It’s been a wrestling match to get here, seemingly every step of the way no matter which way I turned. The Garmin GPS of course should have worked – it worked last season! – but it didn’t this year. And of course, Garmin doesn’t provide customer support on weekends – when I discovered the problem – because of course none of their consumers would ever run into a problem on their time off; they only use their marine plotters during workday working hours!

So yesterday, after wasting 3½ hours on the phone, mostly in two 35-minute queues – after being disconnected after the first 35-minute wait, then transferred from general support to software support, twice – which put my departure back a day – we were able to finally get my GPSMap 478 to accept uploads from the MapChart software on this laptop to the unit.

Today was a whole different set of hurdles: Just getting Chip Ahoy to the dock and loaded with all my cruising gear.

First was my buddy – who was to help with the Chinese Fire-Drill of needing someone to stay in the “live parked” Blazer (Barbara was the planned sacrifice), while some helped lug down and stand over the gear on the dock, while I went out to get the boat and bring it in to the dock then mule the remaining gear down the dock – who at the last moment became P-whipped and couldn’t make it on schedule.

Next came Barbara and me attempting to do it ourselves – until we hit the “no parking” zone down at the dock, only to find it blocked by unoccupied parked vehicles, one even blocking a fire hydrant. I walked down the dock to find the miscreants, made a couple of new enemies, came nose-to-nose close to a knock-down-drag-out confrontation, and was convinced that discretion was the better part of valor; put off the departure until conditions were more favorable – after getting the other guy’s license plate number.

Oh well, it worked out better anyway. Back at home, Vaughn arrived a few minutes later. As Barbara had an event to attend, she’d not be able to be part of a later triumvirate, so I called another buddy, Ace from the boatyard, and both showed up at 7 pm – high tide precisely.

With Vaughn behind my Blazer’s steering wheel, Ace and I muled most of the gear (with the help of an acquaintance of his we happened to meet so timely at its head) down the dock and the amazingly waiting launch. We quickly tossed everything into the cabin, dropped the mooring and brought Chip Ahoy back to the dock. Still before sunset, we had Chip Ahoy loaded: Ice and food perishables transferred from a few small coolers into the boat’s main cooler, a couple gallons of gas to top off the port 6-gallon tank. As I was using the dockside hose to clean out the cockpit (primarily from spilled gasoline), Vaughn came down to announce he had to leave; I dismissed Ace as well, both of them with my eternal gratitude. I was aboard; this cruise for all intent has begun.

Once I had the boat cleaned up, I took off for the mooring again. Back on it, I went below and spent the next hour or so sorting and organizing – how’ all this stuff ever fit before? Ironically, I’m bringing somewhat less along this time (though I almost forgot tools since leaving the toolbox off in the spring, which could have been a real mistake), but arrangements and configurations, I’ve discovered, must and can be different.

I’m settled in for the cruise, comfortable. Everything more of less has found its place. Obviously, I’m on the laptop. I have a good Wifi signal from the nearby yacht club; the power from Battery 2 is doing well to run the laptop; my five new LED cabin lights are a serious improvement while the oil lamp still provided its ambiance – and can actually see the keyboard after sunset. There was a dramatic sunset though not overly remarkable – a display of towering thunderstorm on the horizon then, but no effects.

Cruise 2010 has begun. It feels great to be out here and away at last on the dawn.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010; 7:10 am
On the mooring, Salem Harbor off Village Street


What a nice place to awaken and be having my morning coffee, on a clear summer day with the sun rising out over Naugus Head. There’s not a ripple in the water, but clouds appear to be slowly moving in from the south.

When I came to enough to realize I wasn’t home it was exciting. “Hey, I’m aboard and on Day One of my cruise!” After the chicken sandwich I brought aboard, a little reading, last night I slept like the proverbial log (whatever that means). I fell asleep with the radio on (like I often do at home), so unconsciously I didn’t skip a beat – at first expected that indeed I was waking at home as usual.

I feel almost guilty sitting here comfortably, in no rush to be on my way, a cup of coffee resting on the companionway step alongside me, the laptop still connected from last night on my – well, on my lap. Like maybe I should be rushing to get underway to Scituate or something. But I’m on vacation and this is Cruise 2010, Day One. It’s nice that everything is working or seems to be; “Enjoy the moment,” I’m reminding myself.

Hooked up through Wifi to NOAA Weather is much better than trying to listen to it numerous times on the VHF radio to get all the details for this log:

21 Jul 2010 (Wed); NOAA for Marblehead

Today: A chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly between 4pm and 5pm, then a chance of thunderstorms after 5pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 86. Southeast wind between 3 and 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%.

Tonight: Showers and thunderstorms likely, mainly before midnight. Some storms could be severe, with large hail and damaging winds. Mostly cloudy, then gradually becoming mostly clear, with a low around 67. South wind 8 to 10 mph becoming west. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.

Thursday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 85. West wind between 13 and 15 mph, with gusts as high as 26 mph.

Thursday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 66. Northwest wind between 7 and 11 mph.

NOAA

COASTAL WATERS EAST OF IPSWICH BAY AND THE STELLWAGEN BANK NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY - 422 AM EDT WED JUL 21 2010

TODAY
S WINDS 5 TO 10 KT...INCREASING TO 10 TO 15 KT LATE. SEAS 2 TO 3 FT. A SLIGHT CHANCE OF SHOWERS. A SLIGHT CHANCE OF TSTMS. PATCHY FOG THIS MORNING. SOME TSTMS MAY PRODUCE DAMAGING WINDS AND LARGE HAIL THIS AFTERNOON. VSBY 1 TO 3 NM THIS MORNING.

TONIGHT
S WINDS 10 TO 15 KT...BECOMING SW AFTER MIDNIGHT. SEAS 2 TO 3 FT. PATCHY FOG. A CHANCE OF TSTMS IN THE EVENING...THEN A
CHANCE OF SHOWERS AND TSTMS AFTER MIDNIGHT. SOME TSTMS MAY PRODUCE DAMAGING WINDS AND LARGE HAIL IN THE EVENING. VSBY 1 TO 3 NM AFTER MIDNIGHT.

THU
W WINDS 10 TO 15 KT. GUSTS UP TO 20 KT IN THE MORNING. SEAS 2 TO 4 FT. PATCHY FOG IN THE MORNING WITH VSBY 1 TO 3 NM.

THU NIGHT
NW WINDS 10 TO 15 KT...DIMINISHING TO 5 TO 10 KT AFTER MIDNIGHT. SEAS 2 TO 4 FT.

So the plan is to make my second cup of coffee then prepare for departure.

The first thing I have to undo is take down the 5-Mile-Wifi antenna from the mast, disconnect the laptop and stow everything. Putting up the antenna in absolute darkness last night was much assisted by the mast deck light – working now since the boatyard’s repair a couple of weeks ago (simple bulb connection corrosion). I haven’t had it working since I installed the antenna and its sail slide channel on the mast. The light is located perfectly for this job, I discovered last night – though sometimes looking up directly into it is a drawback.

I wonder why it seems that every time I sail down to Scituate the wind is pretty much in my face, and usually reverses in time for the trip back too?

It’s dead-on high tide, so I can take the shorter, close-to-shore inside the shoals, route out past Marblehead Harbor to Massachusetts Bay this morning, soon. I’ll get the sails up, but it looks like the trusty Honda will earn its keep for much of today if I’m to reach Scituate (about 30 nm) at a decent time.

Chip Ahoy is pretty much organized – actually, I kind of like where everything finally got settled (crammed in). I was able to reach the Pelican Case with the Nikon DSLR camera equipment much easier this morning than on previous cruises – so expect I’ll use it more as a result. Same thing with the laptop bag and contents. I’ve located much more forward, over the uncushioned v-berth, keeping clear the most forward two anchor chain/road locker covers in case an emergency deployment is demanded.

– 8:00 am –

Half a cup of coffee to go then it’ll be time to break down and head out. Wow, I’m feeling pretty lazy sitting here, comfortable. The best is ahead and I know it; I’m into Newton’s Law about objects at rest, objects in motion. Once I break out of this new comfort of the cabin and start moving about, the mission will become everything; reaching Scituate, and that’ll take a good 6-8 hours of today, later. For the moment I’m internalizing and appreciating that The Cruise is finally here and happening, and I’m here to enjoy it – and am!

Scituate Town Marina
Wednesday, July 21, 2010; 9:30 pm


This morning began with an extraordinarily calm situation. I left Chip Ahoy’s mooring at about 9 am. The conditions continued through until and beyond reaching some sort of junior race regatta happening out from Marblehead Harbor.

Once through the maze of small sailboats, I was on my way, to Boston Harbor channel and south to Scituate today and beyond.

The seas soon picked up out beyond the shelter of the sounds, soon and often quickly building to three feet with the wind (dare I say as usual?) coming at me from the SE soon to change to south.

I motor-sailed most of the day, with the main up, having given up on the flogging genoa. It got a little rough while approaching off Minot Light, seas 3-4 feet head on from the south, lots of bouncing and spray in the cockpit.

I arrived in Scituate Harbor at about 4:00 pm.

This getaway jaunt still is not going well. The culmination of today’s crossing to Scituate was to do a perfect one-foot-on-boat-the-other-on-dock split and drop into the harbor as I brought Chip Ahoy to its slip. Lesson learned: Prepare to singlehand if you are singlehanding; never depend on the summer high-school temporary dockhands – or let them get in your way. Sometimes the “convenience” can become a liability.

I had my stern line cleated aboard and ready, the long bow line coiled but uncleated, ready to toss as I edged Chip Ahoy into its assigned slip. I tossed the young dockhand the bow line and stepped off onto the slip, secured the stern line to the dock cleat, looked forward expecting the bow line to be cleated to one of the three bow cleats aboard. He’d missed or dropped the bow line, was grabbing for the pulpit, just out of his reach as the bow was swinging away in the breeze.

I grabbed a lifeline, told him to get and toss me the bow line, and tried to hold the boat – one foot still on the dock, the other on the boat – attempting to hold the bow from drifting out further. The gap widening too quickly; decision: “You’re going in, pick your landing!” With the kid scrambling to find the line, recognizing my foolish predicament, I let go of the lifeline and fell into the water.

A couple guys on the 25-foot Proline tied up on the other side of my very narrow slip jumped down, gave me a hand getting out, and helped the kid pull Chip Ahoy’s bow in. The kid tied it off using a length of old lobster trap line. I have no idea where he found that, but my bow line, still coiled, was soon discovered on the edge of the Proline’s foredeck; nobody can explain how it got there.

[See lesson learned, below]

After getting the boat tied up properly and squared away below, the pup tent up with the help of my rescuer and new friend, “Rist,” he invited me along to “T. K. O’Malley’s,” a local dockside restaurant and pub. Though I’ve been to Scituate a number of times, this was a first for me. Rist introduced me to a couple of his friends with, “Look who I just pulled out of the water.”

Scituate Town Marina
Thursday, July 22, 2010; 10:30 am


Oh yeah, I sure did something to my right knee when I went into the drink; it’s swollen and sore as hell. By the time I got back from dinner last night it had begun aching, a little swelling. On Barbara’s phone advice, I wrapped it with a plastic trash bag filled with ice cubes, slept with it on. This morning it hurts worse, is now obviously swollen.

I limped over to Dunkin Donuts at about 8:30, decided on ice coffee instead of hot, and a couple donuts. Back aboard and finished with breakfast, I dug out the battery charger and shore power cord, hooked them up. I got a block and couple bags of ice up the harbormaster’s office, now have another ice wrap around the knee, hoping to reduce the swelling and discomfort.

The last time I was here, last summer at about the same time on my last attempt to reach Cape Cod, it became the turning point. After extending my stay by a few extra days, I decided the pain from the spleenectomy and my surprising malaise, sort of exhaustion, was too much – the fun had gone from the cruise, I had no motivation to continue. On the advice of many, I decided not to push any further, to head home.

I’m hoping this knee injury doesn’t turn into the same result – but I must admit, I’m considering it an option. If it doesn’t improve soon (can’t bend it without considerable pain), I’ll have to think about staying another night if possible, see how it feels tomorrow.

– 8:00 pm –

I hobbled over to the nearby CVS drug store early this afternoon for a knee Ace bandage; found one and something even better. The Futuro Knee Support seems to be helping, but the CVS “Peas Cold Therapy” is an additional benefit, much easier to use than ice cubes in a plastic bag wrapped around my knee with a sail bungie cord. It’s shaped like a donut, with a Velcro strap to hold it in place over the knee. It’s filled with pea-size gel-filled balls that conform to the knee’s shape. I dropped it onto a block of ice in the Igloo cooler for a few hours then applied it (for 20 minutes as recommended). It’s back on the ice block, the knee support is back on. I hate to be too optimistic, but I believe the knee is feeling better.

I also arranged to keep this slip for an additional night tomorrow. This afternoon I still hadn’t raised the outboard or rudder, decided to see how attempting that would go. It’s my right knee against the transom that provides leverage, and that required bending it. This wasn’t going to happen. I did finally manage to get them both raised; the rudder from the starboard side, but it was a real struggle, a challenge finding some position that provided the leverage. If performing this simple task was so difficult, I decided to see about spending an additional night, give my knee another day to hopefully heal better.

I decided to settle in for a stay – plugged in all the electronics chargers (handheld VHF radio, two camera battery chargers). The cell phone charges using a 12v cigarette lighter plug (do we still call them that?), and I can charge the laptop through another, connected to a 12v to 110v inverter though the laptop seems to prefer shore power. I stowed the inverter and plugged in the laptop.

The Wifi signal from the harbormaster’s office wasn’t strong enough to connect to my home/office computer through LogMeIn, so I ran the 5-Mile-Wifi antenna up the mast and connected its signal and power USB cables to the laptop. What a difference that made – the maximum five bars of “excellent” signal (54 Mbps speed) connected to my home/office computer immediately!

I’d planned to have dinner with longtime friends, Norm and Joan Paley – a tradition whenever I land in Scituate – but called and postponed until tomorrow, now that I’m here for another day. I want to give the knee as much downtime as possible. They graciously invited me instead to their home for dinner, but I declined that as well. I’ve got food aboard that’ll hold me over without putting unnecessary mileage on the knee.

Today was a scheduled, intended layover day in Scituate and I lucked out, not only just because of the unanticipated knee injury and being able to stay another day. The wind out of the north was blowing at a steady 20 or so mph with 30-plus mph gusts; seas running 3-4 feet according to NOAA weather. A small craft advisory was posted all day, at least until 6:00 pm. The couple and their four small dogs who pulled in to the slip on the other side of Chip Ahoy aboard Bon Bini, a Grady-White Sailfish 25 Sport Bridge on their way back home to Newburyport, came up through the canal from Nantucket – reported it was a really rough trip, especially crossing Nantucket Sound.

Scituate Town Marina
Friday, July 23, 2010; 7:45 am


Ironic, when I left Chip Ahoy’s mooring in Marblehead a couple of days ago, my only health/medical concerns were first, my left elbow; after banging it a month or so ago, then doing something to pull forearm muscles (tossing my seabag aboard from the launch a couple weeks later), I’ve been using an Ace elbow bandage. It was still a bit sore, a weak point I thought would work itself out so long as I am careful using it. Second, I was hoping the still weakened stomach muscles from the spleenectomy would hold together; last year, I learned the hard way not to stretch and yank down on a halyard – I planned to respect this knowledge learned the hard way.

Instead, I have a new ‘handicap’ to consider after doing the dockside split and falling in; the right knee is now my primary medical concern. When you’re singlehanding, everything needs to be working; nobody else can do what you can’t. Capability is and must be the primary consideration.

It’s feeling better this morning; I slept well last night even when rolling over on the bunk. I put on the knee brace upon awakening, before taking the walk up the dock ramp and over to Dunkin Donuts for my morning coffee and donuts. The knee is still sore, “out of sorts” is the best way I can describe it this morning; just not right. At least the swelling seems to be down. I’ve got the “frozen gel-peas” ice pack wrapped around it again.

The NOAA marine weather forecast for today seems to make staying another day not too inconvenient:

Synopsis: HIGH PRES BEGINS TO MOVE OFFSHORE TODAY. A WARM FRONT WILL APPROACH THE REGION TONIGHT AND LIFT N BY SAT. A PRE-FRONTAL TROUGH WILL CROSS THE AREA SAT FOLLOWED BY A COLD FRONT SUNDAY. HI PRES FOLLOWS FOR MON AND TUES.

MAZ019-232015-
EASTERN PLYMOUTH MA - INCLUDING THE CITIES OF ...COHASSET ...HINGHAM ...MARSHFIELD ...PLYMOUTH ...SCITUATE 338 AM EDT FRI JUL 23 2010

TODAY
PARTLY SUNNY THIS MORNING...THEN MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS WITH ISOLATED THUNDERSTORMS THIS AFTERNOON. HIGHS IN THE LOWER 80S. WEST WINDS AROUND 5 MPH...BECOMING SOUTHWEST WITH GUSTS UP TO 20 MPH THIS AFTERNOON. CHANCE OF RAIN 50 PERCENT.

TONIGHT
SHOWERS WITH A CHANCE OF THUNDERSTORMS IN THE EVENING...THEN A CHANCE OF SHOWERS AFTER MIDNIGHT. PATCHY FOG. HUMID WITH LOWS IN THE UPPER 60S. SOUTH WINDS 5 TO 10 MPH...BECOMING SOUTHWEST AFTER MIDNIGHT. CHANCE OF RAIN 80 PERCENT.


The weather forecast for tomorrow and my cruise down to Plymouth:

NOAA marine forecast for Plymouth, MA
Forecast valid: 9am EDT Jul 23, 2010-6pm EDT Jul 29, 2010

Saturday: N wind 5 to 8 kt becoming E in the afternoon. A slight chance of showers after 2pm. Patchy fog before 2pm, then Patchy fog after 3pm. Seas around 1 ft.

Saturday Night: Variable winds less than 5 kt becoming SSW around 6 kt after midnight. A chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly after 9pm. Seas around 1 ft.

North wind 5 to 8 knots, becoming East in the afternoon, perfect for once -- seas around one foot sounds wonderful after the pounding and spray on the trip down on Wednesday! “Chance of showers and thunderstorms” is almost always appended to any NOAA forecast in the summer, is assumed a possibility by most of us.

– 10:00 am –

Gray sky; the clouds have rolled in. Not much wind, a slight breeze, more like air moving; some flags on other boats are moving, but not Chip Ahoy’s.

I just had the neighbors in the Grady-White take a couple photos of me wearing Wes Iiames’ “Miss Spent Youth” hat, standing alongside Chip Ahoy, told them the story of how it came from Ohio. Thanks again, Wes – but this was the first time I’ve donned a cap so far on this cruise; did it just for you, buddy! The neighbors are preparing to depart for Newburyport. It should be a good trip with their twin Yahama 200s and enclosed bridge.

11:15 am

What went wrong:

I’ve given a lot of thought to what happened wrong coming into this slip on Wednesday ever since, and came to a simple enough conclusion this morning – before the 38-foot Saber, “Cetacea” out of Hingham, arrived to take the now empty slip alongside Chip Ahoy.

My mistake was to not cleat the bow line before tossing it, expecting the dockhand to know what to do with it. I expected he’d grab it, the bow pulpit (which is what they’ve always gone for before), wrap it around any of the three bow cleats at hand, tie off the other end to a dock cleat.

My new buddy, Rist, and the other couple guys aboard the Proline 25 alongside when I came in, later told me how impressed they were as I maneuvered Chip Ahoy into the slip, how smoothly I stepped off and tied off the stern line. Then everything went to hell when the dockhand lost the bow and it started swinging away from the dock, his grasp. That’s when I attempted to scramble back aboard and didn’t make it.

My mistake was not cleating off the bow line before tossing it to him.  What was I thinking?  It's a small boat, the cleat is easily available at the bow; anyone catching the line can quickly cleat it.  Wrong, and a stupid assumption on my part. I had a system that worked.  I should have stuck to it.

Alternatively, my mistake was accepting assistance. I’ve got singlehanded docking down to a method that has never failed, if doing it alone. But that requires having bow and stern lines cleated and in hand. “Easier” is not the same as better – or even “as good.”

As I watched Cetacea figuring out how to come in, I stepped out onto the dock in case he needed a hand. (I also wanted to see how the knee would work when I wasn’t thinking about it.) Two of the dockhands arrived just in time, but still needed my assist to get it in alongside Chip Ahoy – very tricky on such short, narrow slips. The owner and his dad worked efficiently; dad at the controls, the owner running around the deck preparing lines. They backed in and tossed us lines – attached to deck cleats, proving out my assessment of what I did wrong. Never assume someone on the other end of your line knows what to do with it. Never assume.

Damn, I still wish someone was taking photos or video of me going in. What a great lesson; what a great article for my next MainBrace article – if only I had some visuals. Rist told me he could have taken a picture with his cell phone, but hadn’t given it a thought, was focused on pulling me out. He added that I should count my blessings; but I see it as a learning experience, something I can pass on perhaps. “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I don’t think my knee would agree with that stronger part . . . but maybe "makes you smarter"?

[back]

– 2:25 pm –

I just returned from walking a few blocks to the local ship’s store and a supermarket nearby, picked up a copy of the 2010 edition of Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book. I’ve usually bought one every year, keep it aboard, but haven’t needed it for so long that I didn’t bother this year; the closer you get to the canal, the easier they are to obtain.

My knee is feeling much better, so when I leave tomorrow morning I’ll be pointing Chip Ahoy south again, down to Plymouth next. I just went over my charting, got the phone number handy for Brewer’s Plymouth Marina. I’ll call ahead tomorrow, see if I can score a slip; if not there’s the local yacht club or town dock for likely a mooring anyway.

– 5:45 pm –

It’s pouring out there, and the temperature has dropped considerably; mid-60s perhaps, down from the low- to mid-80s. It awoke me from a nap, I had to move fast to close the forward hatch before any more rain got inside. The forecast calls for rain through the night with the chance of thunderstorms. It’s supposed to clear for tomorrow morning – I hope before I need to break camp. Stowing everything below wet is not my favorite idea. The pup tent over the boom is doing a nice job keeping it dry down here in the cabin, though I just closed the sliding hatch. Oh yeah, this is a downpour.

Scituate Town Marina
Saturday, July 24, 2010; 4:45 am


It’s still dark – it won’t be sunrise for another 45 minutes or so – cool (low-60s) with very dense fog. I went to sleep pretty early last night, about 9:30, with ice around the knee; awoke a few times with discomfort from it. I put the brace back on, then tried elevating the leg (using the foul-weather jacket I needed earlier and some towels and clothing). Finally, about half an hour ago, I did more ice and decided sleeping was over, I couldn’t find a comfortable position; it was time to get up and start thinking about today: Do I go on to Plymouth, try to spend another day here, or just head back home to Marblehead again?

Last night I called off dinner plans with the Paleys again. It was raining just too hard to climb the dock and reach the closest restaurant, or even the parking lot if I accepted their offer again for dinner at their home. Besides, I really didn’t feel like moving. Norm will be coming down this morning to say hello, give me a hand casting off.

After we talked, just before 8:00 when Dunkin Donuts would close, the rain had let up. I put on the foul-weather jacket and limped over for a large coffee, a breakfast sandwich, and use of their men’s room. When I came out, it was pouring again – I was soaked by the time I got back to Chip Ahoy, the paper bag that held the sandwich was saturated almost to falling apart.

– 8:45 am –

After walking over to Dunkin Donuts at about 6:00 am to pickup my morning coffee fix and a couple of donuts, back on board I decided that my knee was feeling good enough to shoot for Plymouth once the fog cleared. Done with breakfast, I began breaking camp: Put away the laptop and all its peripherals, disconnected the battery charger, lowered the Wifi antenna, rudder and outboard (the latter two go down much easier than they come up!), dug out and organized all my cruising equipment so it was ready to go, then waited for Norm to arrive before taking down the pup tent (hoping it’d dry more).

I figured when he arrived I could be on my way to Plymouth within 15 or so minutes. Just before unplugging the shore power cord, at 7:30 I decided to call the Brewer Plymouth Marina, see if anyone was in yet, and try to arrange for a slip reservation. The woman who answered told me at this early moment in the morning they had nothing available. She put Chip Ahoy at the top of a waiting list, took my information and cell phone number, and promised to call if anything opened up. She suggested I call the Plymouth harbormaster, see if he had anything available.

When I reached him, he told me they could find me a spot for the night. When I told him the size of my boat and our location, he asked, “When are you departing?”

“Very soon,” I replied, “about 9:00, 9:30 the latest.”

“Don’t even think about it,” he replied.

“What?”

“We’ve got zero visibility right now and expect this fog to hang around until at least mid-afternoon. There’s zero wind, so you’d need to motor down all the way blind. Isn’t it foggy up there in Scituate?”

I told him that it was lifting, that all the weather reports I’ve got – VHF radio, NOAA/NWS online, and AM radio stations – have forecast the fog dissipating by mid-morning followed by sunny skies, light wind out of the NW.

“Not here,” he asserted. “We’ll be lucky if this fog lifts sometime this afternoon.”

We talked a while about my experience in fog (Maine), but he was adamant.

“A twenty-two foot sailboat doesn’t belong out there in this kind of fog. You got radar?”

I told him Chip Ahoy didn’t, but had a radar reflector.

“That’s great if everyone out here is watching theirs – we’ve got charter boats running all over, all kinds of bigger boats than yours out there. You got a GPS aboard? I told him I had three, which placated him a bit I think.

“You don’t want to be out there in this fog, believe me,” he insisted. “You’ll need enough gas to motor the whole way down, there’s no wind, and it’ll be entirely by GPS.”

I assured him that I had sufficient gas (and made a note to have Norm bring me down a couple more gallons), that I’ve done the route a few times before.

“Stay where you are. That’s my best advice; just stay where you are today. Call me after noon if you want and I’ll give you an update on the conditions.”

Oh boy, I planned an early start to get me to Plymouth before the forecasted late afternoon showers and thunderstorms. It’s a six hour cruise down to Plymouth at 4-5 knots. Leaving after noon would get me to Plymouth with any luck by six, seven o’clock pm. I doubted I could remain in this slip (especially on a Saturday) until noon without paying for another night, and if I wanted to stay overnight, now was the time to see if I could extend again.

I went up to the Scituate harbormaster’s office, told him his counterpart’s advice, asked if another night’s stay was possible. No problem (they like my $66/night cash – no credit cards accepted), and the assistant told me they were picking up all kinds of “Secureté” calls on their VHF about the conditions. Another assistant walked in and told us he couldn’t see across the street from his house.

The first laughed, “We were just talking about that.”

So I’m back down aboard Chip Ahoy at its slip; just got done unpacking, running the Wifi antenna back up the mast, still need to raise the outboard and rudder again. I’ve got the laptop back to a user-friendly state and am settled in for another day in Scituate. I called and told Norm the situation; he’ll be down later, will bring a couple gallons of gas with him.

The sun is out, brilliantly (9:40 am), no sign of fog here – but it does still seem to be hanging to the south. I don’t know, but from here and what I can see, I think I probably could have made it to Plymouth. But maybe they’re still socked in down there. I’ve got the VHF on switched to Channel 16, and “Secureté” calls are still coming in.

Oh well, better to be safe than sorry – and it won’t hurt to give the knee another day to heal more.

Plymouth Brewer Marine
Plymouth, Massachusetts
Sunday, July 25, 2010; 5:20 pm


I guess it was worth a day’s wait to arrive here after a perfect day of sailing. Such days are a rare experience.

It’s gray and overcase, just became so an hour or two ago. I should be checking on the weather (for some reason) but right now I’m being serenaded with Reggie/Calypso music from the nearby Plymouth Yacht Club, how utterly nice and atmospheric! I’m here for tonight and tomorrow night too, so I’ll worry about weather tomorrow.

I was up at sunrise this morning ready to go; well almost. First I had to fetch my morning caffeine fix from Dunkin Donuts, along with a couple donuts for breakfast, and check the weather conditions for the coming day while enjoying breakfast aboard.

But for the usual CYA tag line, “a chance of showers and thunderstorms,” today in the early afternoon and later in the evening, the NOAA/NWS forecast sounded great:

Coastal waters:

TODAY
SW WINDS 10 TO 15 KT...BECOMING W LATE THIS MORNING AND AFTERNOON. SEAS 2 TO 3 FT. A SLIGHT CHANCE OF SHOWERS AND TSTMS THIS MORNING WITH VSBY 1 TO 3 NM.

TONIGHT
NW WINDS 10 TO 15 KT. SEAS 2 TO 4 FT.

Plymouth:

Today: A slight chance of showers and thunderstorms before 5pm, then a slight chance of thunderstorms after 5pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 91. West wind between 10 and 14 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

Tonight: Mostly clear, with a low around 63. West wind around 7 mph.

This, from many weather sources, sounded great. I started breaking camp again even before calling ahead to find a slip, mooring, anchorage, whatever. I was going sailing, so I needed to get ready.

– 6:20 pm –

Ah well, a near-perfect day still. The Reggae music just stopped as the showers arrived. Apparently the yacht club had a live band playing outdoors. I just pulled in my shower towel, hung out to dry, and shut down the forward hatch in a quick scramble. Getting to the forward hatch over the Igloo cooler then v-berth is a hobbling process. My knee still isn’t much up for crawling over things in tight quarters, but it’s manageable with a little forethought.

This morning I had everything ready to go by shortly after 8 o’clock – even unplugged the shore power and took down and stowed the pup tent.

At 8:30 I called the Plymouth Brewer Marina, arranged a slip for the night using my credit card. Wow, things were suddenly breaking my way!

By 9:00 I had the cruising equipment in place and in place, where it belongs when needed, and booted up the outboard. When it’d warmed up I shut it down and went up to the harbormaster’s office, thanked them for their extended hospitality and was again invited back (always nice), and one of the assistants offered to come down with me to help see me off (how can that hurt?). I left the slip at 9:20 am heading for Plymouth.

Once outside the Scituate Harbor jetty and heading out to the sea buoy (amongst a minefield of lobster trap buoys), I finally found an opening where I could head into the NW wind (about 6-8 knots, I’d estimate) and hoist the main sail without picking up any extra lobster trap baggage. I was almost out to the buoy before finding my slot!

Getting on my track to Farnum Rock and the entrance to Plymouth Harbor beyond, I raised the genoa – wing-to-wing for quite a while, but at least the outboard noise ceased. (Is there a finer feeling than that abrupt silence?) Seas were running a comfortable 1-2 feet and more or less following.

The wind shifted through the day, from NW to SE just before reaching the entrance to Plymouth (and Duxbury) harbor, losing some strength while shifting, a few times for a short while fluky, but I didn’t need to lower and start the outboard till close to the end of the day – when I realized I was behind arrival schedule. (Likely only cruisers will appreciate this anxiety). Throughout the day, Chip Ahoy averaged about 4 knots.

Chip Ahoy and I arrived at the dock in Plymouth at 3:40 pm; pretty much what I estimated when I told Lisa this morning when booking the slip, “3-4 pm if everything works out.” They put Chip Ahoy on the side-front dock for the night, almost if not exactly (GPS coordinates) where it was back on August 13, 2006:  http://chipford.com/cape_063.htm

After a good and rewarding day of sailing, and a couple of days without, I couldn’t wait to take a shower and change clothes. It was hot, low-90s. I had to suck down the final half a Coke can then two bottles of water before I could even begin to settle in the boat. I was wiped out. The knee held up despite the few necessary excursions out onto the foredeck while underway; I just had to think ahead. I think the worst on the knee was just sitting in place at the tiller for hours. I had to think to keep stretching it over onto the opposite seat. Moving – anyplace, I think – was beneficial.

Plymouth Harbor’s long, distant entrance channel is now in serious competition with the Merrimac River’s entrance to Newburyport with powerboat nutcases; insanity.

One boat – a huge 52-footer (my estimate) with a flying bridge named something like “CHookem and Eat’em” or some damn thing (believe me, I had more to think about than grabbing its name, and the .45 was buried too far below out of reach, thankfully) sat behind me while a huge charter boat charged down on us, but as soon as that charter boat was out of the way he opened throttles, veered around Chip Ahoy, and created an immediate 4-5 foot wake alongside. Oh if only I could have reached “The Equalizer” in that moment I could have downed a “big one”!

I wonder if any of those nutcase, power-crazed, impotent-otherwise “boaters” have ever given a thought to what they literally leave in their wake.

Think of that phrase, and its derivative. From where did it originate? “Leave in its wake”?

Leave it in its wake . . .

Coming into Plymouth Harbor, comparing the powerboat craziness to the similar upon the Merrimack River, and thinking for some time about writing a newspaper column about this breed of powerboater’s, I sailed along with of course thoughts running through my mind. I casually vented them all on the poor, lowly dockhand who did a right job of getting me tied up to the dock in Plymouth (granted, I gave no room for exception, or error this time).

The observable thing was, is, and has been; a powerboater is never there to see the results of his actions, the consequences. When you are rolling in his wake, mast and rigging clawing, chances are he’s a quarter, half a mile beyond.

He’s not a bad guy, probably doesn’t mean to be.

He’s just frigging clueless of the wreckage he leaves behind, in his wake.

Oh God, I feel a column coming, I’m ripe.

The last one was publish in the Salem News by Barbara:

http://chipford.com/maine_cruise.htm#Salem_News

I’ve been quietly capturing photos, collecting names and ports.

I’m bidding my time.

It’s coming.

When I stepped off the boat on the dock in Plymouth this afternoon, tied off the stern line and the young guy tied off the bow – I was watching with my other eye and thanked him – and explained why.

Then, I told him: “When I become the next Emperor, on my first day I shall decree that all lobster pot buoys are BANNED, to no longer require boatsmen to factor them into critical navigation decisions.

Decree #2: Powerboat license tests will require a week aboard a small sailboat. (Oh, we don’t have boating licenses yet? We will when I’m “The Great Benefactor.” (And I’m a libertarian!) Only powerboaters, when I’m El Duce!

If ever Emperor, I reserve the right to keep my .45 within close reach.

But I digress . . .

I can’t help it once in a while. Often I think too much, and one never has more time to think uninterrupted than singlehanding for hours at a time. Honestly, what else is there?

Where I left off:

Last night my buddy Norm picked me up at the harbormaster’s office with drizzle coming down. I had my foul-weather jacket on, but really didn’t need it. Thought I might. We picked up a case of Coke for the boat at the local supermarket then he took me home. Joan heated up a huge plate of fresh seafood – more than the three of us could do away with. Their two dogs were great, and the kitty took on to me just before I asked to be returned to the boat.

I was exhausted and didn’t last long awake when back aboard. Up early, no nap, that’s why I’m catching up only now.

Plymouth Brewer Marine
Plymouth, Massachusetts
Monday, July 26, 2010; 6:15 am


Semi-awake just before dawn, I got some pretty great shots of not only the sunrise but a full moon setting on the opposite horizon.

Back aboard I pulled out the Origo alcohol stove and boiled up a pan of water, got out the coffee teabags. I’m sipping hot coffee and watching the sun rise, another vacation day ahead and nobody but me is awake yet. My moment.

It’s so nice, relaxing, knowing I’m here for the day; I’m glad I made the decision when I got in immediately, instead of agonizing each morning as I did in Scituate.

Part of that decision was that I’ve got to call Garmin again, wrestle with them again over the uploading issue I spent last Monday doing. It took hours then on the phone and my computer to upload my final routes and waypoints. I tried again yesterday before departing to upload a minor (technically, not navigationally!) change. Same problem. Garmin’s ultimate solution last week was to reset the GPSMap 478 from scratch, then upload the mapping software.

I considered (and looked up the steps from a prior e-mail from Robert Bemben, another C22 sailor who’d had the same problem) trying it again – but feared losing what I had that’d get me here to Plymouth. I decided to get here with what I had and was working, worry about the critical correction I made from the top of the canal (east end, I understand) to Falmouth; the error would have run Chip Ahoy aground.

That’s my project for this morning, which will probably turn into my project for today. Gamin’s phone number is etched into my mind; don’t even need to search for it [800-800-1020], which says something. This unit will be going back to Garmin when I get home – if I make it back. Thank goodness for the two handheld backups – to them I was able to upload the corrections!

But to do this, I will need an Internet connection, I suspect. I wanted one anyway, ran the 5-Mile-Wifi antenna up the mast while setting up here yesterday. But I couldn’t get a connection, and this is weird.

There are many strong signals, but the Wifi was taken over by two local networks; taken over. There are two other non-secured networks with reasonably strong signals which I should be able to connect, but can’t. The powerful Beacon Wifi takes over any connections – somehow. After over fours hours last night wrestling with this, I’m only beginning to understand how, and why.

When I couldn’t pick up anything but their two signals, and the marina, of course, was closed, I headed out onto the dock and asked around, got lots of advice here. The huge yacht (ship), Tin Man, out at the end of our face dock gave me their user name and password. It didn’t work either. Someone else sent me down another dock to see a woman who lives aboard and is “computer savvy.”

I found Ellen aboard Andriamo, working on her computer, her husband watching TV, and sought permission to come aboard.

Ellen said, “Oh, let me shut off my computer,” to which I quickly replied, “Please, don’t. This is what I need your help with!”

We talked a bit, then she gave me the contact information for the Wifi provider to the marina.

I called them, spent the next couple of hours trying to “subscribe,” connect to no avail. (I now have about two dozen attempted user names and passwords that don’t work.) I needed a 12-digit code that I didn’t have – or didn’t know I did.

When I registered at the office, they burdened me with a large folder filled with Chamber of Commerce stuff, like many marinas do when registering transients. Utterly in desperation, I dumped it all out on the cabin floor and sifted through the detritus. I found a business card. On the reverse side was the code for Wifi registration!

I guess that’s one way to get you to look at all those commercial flyers and pamphlets.

Like finding the winning lottery ticket, I went back and plugged in that number. Rejected! Another phone call, more time on the phone wrestling with it, and finally I’m connected!

Not bad, eh? Two nights here and it only took one of them to just connect to the free Wifi Service!

In Scituate, all I needed to do was turn on my laptop.

I wonder if I still have access? Oh well, the marina office should be open in another hour – not that I think they have any tech support for their farmed-out Wifi service.

Plymouth Brewer Marine
Plymouth, Massachusetts
Tuesday, July 27, 2010; 7:15 am


Another beautiful day ahead, according to the weather forecasts: “Sunny, with a high near 87. West wind around 9 mph,” according to NOAA/NWS for the Plymouth area; seas 1-2 feet.

Yesterday was a quiet one aboard at the dock, pretty much a tech support day spent much on the phone. The first problem with uploading the GPS brought a good hour on the phone trying all sorts of things with no success. The GPSMap 478 will not accept changes from the laptop, no matter what the tech support agent had me try. In the end, we did the factory reset, then uploaded the saved file. That worked, but still would not upload the added waypoint and changed route, which would run me into rocks off Falmouth. I was advised to send the unit to Garmin for inspection and possible repair.

After getting off the phone with him, I tried copying the route from the old file to the new one (where I had deleted it), and it worked – there along with the changes!

Later I called Nikon tech support about an error message the D90 kept giving me (“F_ _”), refusing to shoot. I learned it means the lens isn’t connected properly; removing and reconnecting it seems to have worked. I made a new friend with this guy (wish I got his name), who’s going to visit my website, e-mail me later. We had a long conversation about cameras and boats. He wants to stay in touch.

I took a walk up to the center of town for a late lunch, and looking for a package of D batteries for the AM/FM radio. Incredibly, I couldn’t find any. The knee is feeling much better.

My plan for today is to depart here around 9:00 and head for the canal. I’ll call the Sandwich Marina in a few minutes, see if I can reserve a slip there for tonight. That’ll set me up perfectly for getting down through the canal with its current.

The weather ahead looks good, until tomorrow night. Thursday looks bad with a new front moving up; rain and thunderstorms forecast for the day and overnight. My plan is to reach Falmouth Brewer Marina tomorrow, sit out Thursday there.

Sandwich Marina
(aka, “Harbor of Refuge”)
Sandwich, Massachusetts (Inside Cape Cod Canal)
Tuesday, July 27, 2010; 6:15 pm


I pulled in this afternoon at about 2:30, with the current running strong from east to west (from Cape Cod Bay to Buzzard’s Bay). It began its ebb at 11:30 this morning, so I caught it pretty much in full flow – and what a current it is, up to some six knots. Just crabbing across the canal to the marina on the other side was an adventure, being swept deeper down into it, especially with me not clearly remembering exactly where its entrance was, but that it’s just inside the mouth on the opposite side.

Once inside the entrance to the “Harbor of Refuge,” a cut in the canal wall, the water calmed and I was able to easily tie up to the fuel dock, where a couple dockhands were waiting at the pumps to assist. Since I did a lot of motoring to get down here today, I filled up the port side gas tank while there (it took almost four gallons at $2.99/gallon – not a bad price at a marina). Once registered and paid for the stay, I was directed to a nearby slip where I’ll spend the night.

I didn’t bother putting up the pup tent – too much work for too short a stay; I intend to be out of here tomorrow with the current, which means just before noon. I wasn’t going to bother hoisting the 5-Mile-Wifi antenna either, but (for work-related reasons) I had to connect to my home/office PC and the marina’s Wifi signal wasn’t strong enough. With the antenna hoisted up the mast, I am getting an “Excellent” five-bar signal, and connected through LogMeIn finally.

The trip down was uneventful, almost boring. I left Plymouth at 9:20 am. It took about an hour just to get through the long, winding channel with the outboard and out to the sea buoy, where I was hoping to find a breeze. Nada. The sea was flat, no air movement. Like the other sailboats out there today, I continued motoring without even attempting to hoist a sail. The forecast had called for the wind to be from the west at about 9 mph; but if it was, I couldn’t find any of it. Not “almost boring,” boring period but for navigating – until I reached the canal.

Entering the canal became real exciting, with its powerful current. I arrived just over two hours after it began its ebb, from east to west (I still think it’s more from north to south, but am internalizing the terminology). I crabbed across the current to get to the opposite side, where the marina is located, just inside the mouth. I’d been running at about 5 knots with the outboard; all of a sudden I was flying at over six, straight down the canal sideways. I crabbed across the canal, moving faster sideways than forward. I wondered if I could get across in time, or would be swept past the marina’s entrance.

I made it to the other side, found the entrance in the wall behind which the marina is located, and scooted in with more outboard throttle. And the current stopped, once inside. I’d entered another dimension, wow. “The Harbor of Refuge” indeed.

I pulled up to the fuel dock, though I’d been assigned slip B-18 on the phone. I had no idea where to even begin to look for “B-18,” and it’s tight in here. Once tied off, I was able to register for the night, and filled the port side gas tank as long as I was there ($2.99/gallon, not bad for marine fuel); it took almost four gallons.

I’d switched over to the starboard tank out at the canal’s entrance buoy before committing; I didn’t want to run out of gas before I reached the marina, and the tank felt light. Regardless, it still had almost two gallons remaining. But, for a few moments, I wondered what would happen if I missed the marina’s hole-in-the-wall entrance.

I also wondered why I didn’t just race down the canal with the current all the way through to Falmouth on the other end, my next destination. Poor planning – ignorant planning is more accurate. I could have reached Falmouth Brewer Marina this afternoon, at least by evening, had I done this before. The current was perfect for my unintentional timing.

I’ve talked with a few locals and the harbormaster’s office about this current – it can reach 8 knots, and might as we’re under a full moon tide. If the railroad bridge ahead is lowered as I approach (raised is its default position, unless a train is coming), I could find myself in some trouble – but I’m assured this is “unlikely.” The train is – ready for this? – sort of a tourist thing, for sightseeing and dining!

Talking about trains, while I’ve been writing this (over perhaps two hours between other tasks, intermittently), a nearby and passing train keeps blowing long blasts of its whistle. There is a railroad crossing up at the head of the harbor, across the road that goes into the town center. I need to find out whether the two are connected, because if they are, that bridge must be going up and down a lot more frequently than I’ve been led to believe.

The knee did well today, no problem though a bit uncomfortable being in the static sitting position at the tiller all day.

Heidi, the harbormaster or an assistant, was closing shop when I stopped in and asked where the closest local supermarket was. She gave me directions, then offered to drop me off there, which I accepted. Carrying a 12-pack of Lemonade and a few other things (found D batteries, forgot coffee tea bags, grrr) and heading back, a good mile or more, I realized this was not a good idea, especially with the knee still in its brace. I called and got a taxi back to the marina ($6.25 plus tip).

I called for a taxi – I still don’t believe it! But I was thinking “Pennywise and pound foolish.” The $6.25 plus tip to the driver was still cheaper than if I needed to spring for another fifty bucks a night here for the slip if I further damaged the knee. The brace alone cost three times more than the cab did.

The ebb current sets westward tomorrow at noon. My plan is to be ready to go and be out of here just before; say 11:30 as it slackens. No rush in the morning tomorrow, though I didn’t even put up the pup tent for this afternoon and could have used its shade; sunny and low 90s. I’m now enjoying my second cup of “cowboy coffee,” the stove’s out there in the cockpit, ready for another go come morning.

Sandwich Marina
(aka, “Harbor of Refuge”)
Sandwich, Massachusetts (Inside Cape Cod Canal)
Wednesday, July 28, 2010; 8:30 am


My luck is great so far today; let’s hope it sticks around for the rest of the day, at least through the canal!

I called Brewer Fiddler’s Cove Marina in North Falmouth at 8:00 to try making a reservation. “We’ve got nothing available,” I was told, not even a mooring. I left my cell phone number and asked them to call if anything opened up soon, then dug out the charts, my cruising notebook, and began searching for an alternative.

I’ve already plotted a course to Onset Harbor from a previous attempt to make it through the canal (2006), loaded into the GPS units, so that was a possibility – though it’s on the other side of Buzzard’s Bay from where I want to be. The guy at the marina suggested I try calling Kingman Marine, also in Fiddler’s Cove; they might have a mooring. I was just about to try that when the cell phone rang.

It was Brian at Brewer’s Marina – and he found me a slip after all! I’m all set for two or three nights there. (Bad weather is coming in tonight through tomorrow, so I plan to stay wherever I wind up tonight through at least tomorrow.) I think I’ll stay in North Falmouth for three nights then head back to Marblehead, instead of continuing on through Woods Hole to the other side of Falmouth, then on to Cotuit where Wally and his wife have their summer home.

It’s still a long trip back to Marblehead, will be longer when I make it through the canal. It’s been a week since I departed, so it’s time to start heading back. Well, almost time, but I don’t want to go any further before turning around.

Onset Bay Marina
Wareham, Massachusetts
(Just outside the Cape Cod Canal in Buzzard’s Bay)
Wednesday, July 28, 2010; 6:00 pm


Wow, I really am still alive.

The cabin is a mess, I’m still straightening it out, putting things back on shelves and seats, evidence of the near disaster.

I got in here around 3:30, maybe 4:00 this afternoon, who knows; but I got in here and am tied up to a slip. Decompressing. Earlier today I didn’t expect to ever need a slip again in this mortal coil, honestly.

The canal was a challenge with the SW head wind, stronger than I’d expected (a steady 20 knots, it turned out). Most of the way from northeast to southwest in the canal's 5-6 knot ebb current, spray was coming over the bow. No big thing, but it made photography difficult, not to mention visuality with glasses. Soon into the canal a huge barge came up behind me pushing a huge bow wave with another big tug following with its own wake.  The barge's bow wave quickly and surprisingly dissipated.

Once out of the canal I expected clear sailing to West Falmouth – for some reason. Boy, was I ever wrong.

I’ve experienced the mouth of the Merrimack and Piscataqua Rivers on a strong outgoing current into head winds. It’s rough, clashing natural forces, until you get through them. I thought I was dealing with the same phenomenon – once out beyond the clash, the seas would settle.

Boy was I ever wrong, and getting wronger.

The clash became greater, four foot seas coming at me as I navigated between channel buoys, five foot and still they kept coming, building. Six foot, seven and Chip Ahoy and I were taking a pounding. When they kept coming steady and still building, I headed out of the channel, hoping for calmer water, there was a small fishing boat anchored over there, watching the depth gauge. 40 feet, dropping, 30, 20, still dropping and boat and I are still being battered – maybe not quite so much, but the depth was dropping too quickly for comfort. I crawled forward to the bulkhead to squint at the depth gauge to be sure. Yes, not feet, fractions of feet: 8.2 feet, 6.0, uh oh, head back out. Yeow, no good options, none. We were getting battered.

Back into the 6-7 footers, I’m starting to freak out a bit. I open the cabin, jump below, grab the PLB [personal EPIRB] and stick it in my pocket, close up the boat, jump back into the helmsman’s seat, clip the PLB to my belt, stare at the sea and wonder WTF am I doing out here in this little boat. I don't have the time to grab my foul-weather jacket (I was soaked already anyway) nor the SAR life jacket, never mind get them on. This came on too abruptly, without any warning.  I have to stick with the inflatable vest I'm wearing and hope I won't need more and that it won't go off, settle for being wet; foul weather gear won't do any good now anyway.  I thought about grabbing the safety harness tether but decided I wasn't all that sure I wanted to be attached to the boat if it goes down.

A prayer of gratitude went out to Frank Butler, Catalina Yachts designer. Chip Ahoy was holding together, though a C22 isn’t designed for these conditions. Which will go first, I wonder: mast or keel; maybe the rudder? Please God, not the outboard. The hull’s sure taking a ferocious pounding too; maybe something will split, break? Jesus, what am I doing out here in this?

I’m tacking under motor only, just to quarter the huge waves, roll a bit with them instead of them busting over my bow. I’m trying to play the edges, still hoping to reach Falmouth – what a story this will be if I can make it! I can, just don’t panic, Ford. Play the angles, tack if you must. Play the angles, the edges.

Six feet of water below Chip Ahoy, motor-tack out quick without broaching. Seven and eight foot seas hungrily greet me to play with Chip Ahoy. This is nuts, insanity. But I have no options. The canal current is still running out; I can’t return. These seas are going to swallow me soon if I don’t. A rock and a hard place.

Out of options. That calming sensation returned for the first time since ’76 aboard the Even Song.

Ford, you’re going to die, so relax and handle it as best you can. Choose your exit strategy.

That should be pointing back, show I wasn't totally stupid – they should understand when the boat goes down that I had turned back, that I'd recognized that going on was crazy. I timed the turn between waves to avoid a broach, cut hard at the right moment, and came about. Chip Ahoy was heading back to the canal’s sphincter without broaching. Now what?

I have no idea, but Chip Ahoy is pointing in the smartest direction. Now what?

I gave up ducking the spray coming out of the canal. It was impossible to duck, so I just sucked it up. But quickly my glasses were not only wet but salt-coated. Wiping them only smeared the salt film on the lenses.  I couldn’t see out of them, so pushed them up onto my forehead, beneath the wide brim of the floppy hat. The GPS was in the same condition. The “waterproof” chart was saturated.

With the sea and waves now following, I called Barbara, filled her in (probably saying goodbye), asked her to quickly find me a contact number for the Onset harbormaster. I still had a route and waypoints on the GPS to Onset Harbor from my 2006 trip. I could at least find it – and it was between my current location and the canal’s anus.

Maybe I can reach it, get out of this mess, survive?

Barbara, in turn, called Wally (my second cruise backup), filled him in. He called me, then called ahead to the Onset Bay Marina and reserved me a slip, called me back and helped talked me in.

Once I found the harbor’s entrance buoy, just short of the canal, I pulled into the lee of the land and the roiling seas were left behind. Wow, relief – incredibly wondrous. But the wind was still blowing hard. I contacted the marina on channel 9, as Wally had advised, and was soon heading for my slip alongside the fuel dock.

Even idling with enough power for steerage I was coming in too fast with the following wind and short sea even within the harbor. I timed it, hit neutral early as I was right on target, two dockhands were awaiting, had to hit reverse as I came alongside the slip, still hit the dock with my bow. We had Chip Ahoy tied up quickly, without further event.

I was soaked – everything was soaked, things below looked like a bomb had gone off.  Between what I could make out on the chart without glasses, occasionally locate my position with the salt-coated GPS screen by a thumb-wipe, I was able to find my way here.

I was actually less blind without my glasses, figure that.

I took some photos randomly – point-and-shoot snapshots so I had something to show if I survived – but I didn’t capture what could have been the best: When my life was seriously threatened and my focus was entirely on survival; when so much ocean spray was coming over the bow it would have been a waste of time and risk of camera. Damn, wish I had a few of them – but the ones I managed to literally point-and-shoot without aiming ought to provide some atmospherics.

See Chip Ahoy's track coming out of the canal into Buzzard's Bay, then back up and into Onset Bay -- a PDF file

I’m really glad that I decided not to tow along “Chip Mate,” the dinghy. I doubt it would have survived the conditions, at best it would have been a major distraction, if not contributed to a disaster. So far, I’ve never come close to needing it anyway; the dinghy hasn’t really been necessary except for the coast of Maine cruises.

See Note below on the conditions this day, later provided by Robert Bemben, another C22 owner who sails the Great Lakes out of Michigan.


Onset Bay Marina
Wareham, Massachusetts
Thursday, July 29, 2010; 7:35 pm


A quiet, relaxing day here today. I awoke at the usual time, pre-sunrise, but went back to sleep – a first for some time.

Later this morning I hiked up to the men’s room and took a shower. The laundry room next door was empty, so I began the laundry drill, which became a competition when I arrived. I was apparently competing with someone else, a couple of hundred yards away up the dock and to the laundry room. At first, the washer was full but done and unattended. I finally transited it from washer to atop the dryer. Mission finally accomplished at 5:30 this evening, incredibly. How many hours spent on laundry? You don’t want to know.

I took advantage of the shower amidst the laundry exercise, then took off for town (Wareham) – wherever that is – for essential supplies: A 12-pack of Coke and a box of tea-bag coffee at the supermarket. I took a taxi again; most expensive Coke and coffee I’ll ever consume.

Onset Bay Marina
Wareham, Massachusetts
Friday, July 30, 2010; 9:00 am


Back aboard yesterday afternoon, the laundry situation continued, my competition’s load was now in the dryer. After a considerable wait, I gave up, returned to Chip Ahoy. I needed more ice for the cooler, so drained the cold water into the cockpit, bought another block and bag of cubes, refilled the cooler. While I was in the dock office, I paid for another night’s stay here, through tonight.

The next hike up to the laundry room found an empty dryer; I was almost done. At 5:30, just before the marina would lock up the laundry room, I pulled my clean and dry clothes out and brought them back down to the boat, sorted and stowed them. One otherwise simple domestic chore was completed; I’ve got clean clothes for my return trip, and enough ice to keep the cooler’s contents cool for another day or two.

For supper last night, I opened a can of Campbell’s beef and bean chili, heated it up on the Origo stove, and enjoyed it.

It’s a beautiful day with an almost mirror image forecast for tomorrow. Rain is supposed to arrive by late Sunday. The temperature until then is supposed to reach highs of a moderate mid- to upper-70s, low humidity, wind from the NW at 5-10 mph.

-- 1:40 pm –

My plan is to leave here early tomorrow, around 7:00 am. There will be no time for coffee tomorrow morning; just take everything down and stow it after sunrise, set everything up for cruising. The canal current turns east, back up the canal, at 7:26 am. By the time I reach the entrance (and railroad bridge) it will be flooding. Chip Ahoy should be able to rocket right up through it into Cape Cod Bay, arrive by about 10:00 am and keep going back up to Plymouth Harbor; no need to stop at the top in Sandwich, the Harbor of Refuge.

I’ve arranged for a slip back at Brewer Plymouth Marina for tomorrow night (then will move on to Scituate on Sunday morning). Too bad it’s a good six miles through the winding channel and into the harbor from the ocean, then back out again.

The trip from here to the marina in Plymouth is about 35 miles. It’ll be a long day reaching it, but Chip Ahoy should fly through the canal’s ten miles from Onset on at least a five knots current.

The forecast for Sunday looks good, but with clouds and showers moving in late in the day. I’ll have to wing it, but maybe have to decide to spend an additional night in Scituate before continuing on home.

I’m surprised how little gas I used on Wednesday, coming down through the canal then fighting for my life against those seas until arriving here. I’d filled the 6-gallon tank in Sandwich, at the top of the canal. The tank feels like it’s down by only 1-2 gallons and I did a lot of motoring. I was going to fill it here, be ready for my early departure, but it’s not worth it. (I still have the starboard side 6-gallon tank for backup, and it too is pretty well filled. I can’t even imagine I could need that much just to reach Plymouth.)

Onset Bay Marina
Wareham, Massachusetts
Saturday, July 31, 2010; 4:25 am


If I wanted coffee before departing this morning, I had to get up early. I have a lot to do before departure, so I had the pot of water boiling by 4:00 am, my first (of two) cup of “tea bag” coffee is in hand while I check the weather reports again, look over my route up the canal to Plymouth. I’ll begin breaking camp here in a half hour; remove the pup tent, lower the wifi mast antenna, unhook and coil the shore power cord after sunrise, stow everything. Then I’ll move the cruising equipment out into the cockpit and get set up for departure. I’ll be ready to cast off at about 7:00 to meet the changing current at 7:30 up into the canal.

This will be a longer than usual day – about 35 miles up to Plymouth. It will also be an unusually early departure, so I can still make it by late afternoon.

The NOAA/NWS weather forecast: “Mostly sunny, with a high near 77. Calm wind becoming northeast between 5 and 8 mph.” This pretty much mirrors the AccuWeather forecast, so it’s going to be a relatively easy cruise – especially compared to the one getting down to here.

Talking to one of the locals yesterday, he told me if the wind’s blowing from the SW, they take their boats up through the canal to the Cape Cod Bay side to avoid what I experienced coming in on Wednesday. If there wind’s from the north, they do their boating down here in Buzzard’s Bay.

The wind will be coming out of the NE today, though light. I expect to run into some chop when exiting the canal and its current – as I did the last time, in 2006. It’s pretty rough, but manageable and short in duration.

Plymouth Brewer Marine
Plymouth, Massachusetts
Saturday, July 31, 2010; 5:00 pm


I made it here at about 3:40 pm after a long day. I departed Onset Bay Marina at 6:30 am, headed for the canal’s southern/western entrance. The current was still coming out when I hit Buzzard’s Bay but due to slow and turn. By the time the current was flooding, I was past the railroad bridge and on my way home.

The trip – 7 :10 am entry, 8:40 exit – saw Chip Ahoy reach, according to the GPS, a top speed of 7.4 knots just before the canal spit us out into Cape Cod Bay. With a NW wind, I expected some serious chop at the exit, but it was worse the last time I went through it. That NW wind made cruising north difficult all day, even as it shifted to NE in the late morning. I had the main sail up for the trip, tried the genoa for a short period before furling it back in, kept the motor running to ride the 2-3 foot seas at a relatively comfortable roll.

Everyone else boating around me today was doing the same, some with bare poles. It was a day of perseverance.

I considered going on to Scituate today; thought I had an early enough start and was making enough progress (averaged almost 4 knots all day) to reach Scituate without stopping in Plymouth. But the more I considered it, the less reasonable it sounded – a case of irrational exuberance on my part, the results of fraudulent charges against me and foolish challenges made on the C22 discussion group. A few would like to accomplish nothing more than killing me with their ignorance, stupidity, or duplicity, so I stuck to my plan – 35 miles today is enough; enough for me.

I got tied up here, settled in and paid up, then hit the marina restaurant for my first real meal for a while; fish and chips, excellent.

Back aboard, I started to relax, write, when a large boat loomed outside Chip Ahoy’s starboard windows. I stuck my head out and found “Zoot” from Marblehead, a MainsShip Pilot 34 Rumrunner II, idling up for dock space. I couldn’t believe it was going to try coming in between Chip Ahoy and the next boat back, though there was some space. Sure enough, so I jumped out onto the dock to offer assistance, caught docklines coming at me from every direction, tied them off as fast as I could while the driver ran his bow thrusters. Soon they were in, tied up, with not an inch to spare.

The woman – a very experienced hand; the owner’s wife? – just knocked on Chip Ahoy and delivered a delicious big slice of chocolate cake!

This is the first time along a cruise that I’ve had back-porch neighbors, five or six of them; of all the boats here, Zoot is the only one pointing in a different direction, instead of bow-to-stern, but whatever. I just hope they don’t mind my all-purpose bucket actions during the night! They’re gone now, maybe they’re not staying aboard tonight? Probably too many of them to do so; too old to rough it anyway.

My plan is to enjoy my couple cups of coffee in the morning then leisurely slide out of here and head for Scituate. I didn’t hang the pup tent; did hoist the Wifi antenna and connect to shore power. It won’t take long to break camp and depart; I expect to be on my way by 9:30 am, maybe 10:00, no rush. I’ve got a reservation for a slip in Scituate for tomorrow.

Plymouth Brewer Marine
Plymouth, Massachusetts
Sunday, August 1, 2010; 8:30 am


A beautiful morning: sunny, low humidity, though turning cloudy with a chance of showers in the afternoon and overnight.

I’ll need to refill the cooler with ice, then fill the port side gas tank here on the way out; swapped over to the starboard tank as I came into Plymouth Harbor. The port tank is pretty light, but it probably still holds a gallon or two – I’m always surprised that it does when I think it’s near empty. I just don’t want to run out of gas at a critical moment while docking or something, so play it safe.

I woke up at dawn this morning, but rolled over and went back to sleep; unusual for me, usually impossible. I got up at about 7:30, took a stroll up to the men’s room, looked over the gas dock situation, came back to the boat and pulled out the Origo stove and “tea bag” coffee fixings.

I’d like to take a shower, but that can wait until I reach Scituate (singlehanding has its advantages!) – I just called the harbormaster’s office there and reserved a slip for tonight and tomorrow night.

Scituate is just over 22 miles from here; if I leave by 11:00, I should reach it by late afternoon/early evening before sunset.

On a Scituate Launch / E-Z Rider Mooring Company mooring
Scituate, Massachusetts
Sunday, August 1, 2010; 7:00 pm


A great day of sailing from Plymouth to Scituate, favorable winds and following seas; for what more can a sailor ask?

I got an earlier start than I’d expected, leaving the dock at about 9:00 am, but needed gas. I’d checked out the gas dock – wanted to find it and determine how to reach it – and found it empty. I walked down to the boat and cast off, headed for the dock, found a very large powerboat had moved in. A neighboring boat’s two occupants told me across our space that it’d just pulled in would likely be there filling up for a while. Wonderful.

I circled the tight mooring area, reached the fuel dock on VHF, was advised that there was a little room on the end of the other side of the fuel dock if I could get in. I had left Chip Ahoy rigged for a port side tie-up, fenders and all, from leaving the dock. I had planned ahead, for what it was worth. I didn’t have room in the mooring area to run around changing lines and fenders for the starboard side, decided it would be as-is, port side. I would try backing in.

I pulled in slowly, pointed at a nearby dock, put the outboard in reverse, pointed both outboard and rudder toward the fuel dock, and – amazingly – backed right into it.

The dock hand and the guy fueling the big powerboat were ready for my tossed bow and stern lines, had Chip Ahoy tied up smartly.

“Very impressive, captain,” the guy from the powerboat commented. “Apparently you’ve done this before.”

“No,” I replied, “But there’s a first time for everything.”

I was pretty impressed too that I could get Chip Ahoy in so well in the situation, in reverse.

Out to the harbor ten or fifteen minutes later with two full gas tanks, I motored through the channel (caught up with the paddle-wheeler, “Miss Plymouth,” and eventually passed it), entered Plymouth Bay and hoisted sails while dodging lobster trap buoys. The wind was out of the east, light, maybe 10 knots, almost bow-on but that would change.

Outside the bay, I headed north toward Farnum Rock and Scituate beyond. What a perfectly pleasurable day of sailing, almost close-hauled with a gentle sea, a foot or two. Is there anything more calming than that moment when the motor is shut off and lifted, the silence of pure sailing? These conditions lasted until Farnum Rock, as the sea began to build gradually. By the time Chip Ahoy and I were approaching the entrance to Scituate Harbor, the sea had built to about three feet, following. Outside the harbor, I started the motor, dropped sails, and prepared for docking while I had room.

What a let-down, but a picture-perfect ending to a less than perfect cruise; it all fits together. It all started here in Scituate after all, with the knee. Oh well, what are you going to do but roll with the punches.

When I arrived in Scituate Harbor at about 4 pm, as instructed this morning I called the harbormaster’s office to find out where Chip Ahoy would dock. “Who?” I was asked, then was quickly informed that they had no room in the inn for my boat, no record of my reservation. Basically I was on my own, sorry about that.

Okay, get over POed and onto Now What. They told me to call “one of the mooring companies, see if they had a vacancy.”

“Err, here’s the situation. I’m singlehanding, I’m in your harbor, I’m holding the radio in one hand, the tiller in the other, I’m looking for instructions on what side I should be preparing to dock, I don’t have a Yellow Pages, need another hand to use the cell phone which isn’t available. Please advise.”

The harbormaster’s office advised that I use channel 9 to contact a transient mooring company, signed off. I sure did, probably not the story they wanted related over the channel 9 working station; definitely not the PR they’d prefer. I got a couple of replies, jumped on “Scituate Launch / E-Z Rider” for a mooring for the night.

A Scituate Launch / E-Z Rider boat met and led me to the mooring, where I tied up to it, quite easily it turned out. I expected more complications but it all worked out well; my boat hook on a floating Coke bottle attached to the mooring’s pennant.

I’m POed, and took the Scituate Launch / E-Z Rider launch in to the town dock. “Calm down, Ford” I tell myself. These have been always accommodating, considerate folks who just screwed up, big time on me. They are good folks. Calm down.

I walked up to the office and did that thing my mother always used to do – hadn’t thought about the gesture since: Two index fingers crossing/rubbing over each other; “Shame on you.”

Mike, the assistant behind the desk, said he was there at 8:30 this morning when I called, it wasn’t him who took the call. He was, as always, helpful otherwise. I can use their showers, get ice there, just like I’m staying as a guest.

What can I say? Someone screwed up and left me stranded. He and none of his buddies are going to give him up. It’s not worth making a big issue of it (grrrrr), I’m settled out on a mooring off the dock for the night. That’s just how it is. Honestly, I’m glad I have the damned mooring, given the incompetent screwup and the option of nothing.

-- 9:00 pm –

I’m well settled in, and found that I actually like it out here on my little private mooring, maybe even more than across at the town dock. It really didn’t take long. When I got back from my first visit via launch, it began. Barbara was due on the radio and I wanted to hear her, but at ‘the top of the news’ the radio station reported rain showers tonight into tomorrow morning; I reacted by putting up the pup tent, calling and asking if I could spent another night on this mooring if so desired. Yes.

I’ve got to check the weather in the morning.

The point is, I’ve set up this boat to be right here. We are self-sustaining, and it’s working.

Cabin lights: Self-contained LEDs, running off their own small batteries, for which I have a few packages of backups.

Laptop computer: I have options. I can run it off a direct 12v (cigarette) ‘power source’ (which apparently doesn’t recharge) or through the 12v-110v inverter, which does. The usage is or should be obvious, the drain on house batteries negligible. Then there’s always firing up the outboard with its alternator to recharge them.

Five-Mile-Wifi: It function’s as advertised. I love it. I’m running it up the mast at every port I make. 4-5 times the reach and power.

It won’t be nearby (damn) Dunkin Donuts coffee, but I make the next best, and a pot of ‘cowboy coffee’ is boiling.

Self-sufficiency.

Fun, in a sort of way, and satisfying.

On a Scituate Launch / E-Z Rider mooring
Scituate, Massachusetts
Monday, August 2, 2010; 6:15 am


A beautiful sunrise, a comfortable place to be, and I had a good night’s sleep. The leftover coffee’s been reheated; I have the first cup in hand. This mooring might be a godsend, I may return to Scituate Launch / E-Z Rider Moorings the next time I come to Scituate. Most of the time spent here I don’t need access to shore anyway. The shore power electric hookup is nice, but I can live aboard without it. I miss walking up to Dunkin Donuts, but can do without the convenience. The price of a mooring is half that of a slip.

I’ve got the 4-way battery switch set to battery one, so I can’t kill both batteries. The laptop is being powered through the 12v-110v inverter, the Wifi signal from the harbormaster’s office is lower out here (for some reason – it’s right there within sight) but still sufficient thanks to the 5-Mile-Wifi antenna. Very relaxing, and the all-purpose bucket works well out here in my isolation.

The weather forecast looks pretty good through tomorrow. There is a “chance” of showers today and dark clouds are building to the west, looks like rain. I put up the pup tent last night because showers were forecast for overnight and this morning, but didn’t occur. I could leave and be home this afternoon, but I think I’ll sit it out here for the day; leave tomorrow morning.

– 6:00 pm –

It was a coin toss this morning: Stay for another day or go, head home. I decided to stay, extend my vacation cruise aboard for another day. When I make it home tomorrow, it’ll be officially two weeks from departure.

After finishing up the leftover coffee from last night, I made another couple cups and just relaxed aboard, finished off the donuts I brought back last night. This mooring is actually rather comfortable, more private than being tied up on the dock with all the other boats, neighbors, and traffic.

I called for and took the launch ashore at about 1:00 pm. After taking a much-needed shower at the harbormaster’s office, I walked over to the Mill Wharf Restaurant and had a large bowl of excellent clam chowder.

The launch took me back out to Chip Ahoy, where I edited Barbara’s weekly newspaper column using Wifi and LogMeIn to get it. The Wifi signal out here is reasonably good – it seems to come in strong, but fade to weak intermittently – but at least I’ve got a connection, didn’t pay for it and don’t need a password.

I discovered that the laptop’s battery isn’t charging, despite being connected to the inverter. After much wrestling with it, and testing the inverter with other 110v (camera) chargers, the problem seems to be with the laptop’s 110v power supply – the one I just bought for last summer’s cruise, which doesn’t have more than 30-40 hours on it. I’ve got the original that came with the laptop, at home. I’ll try that when I get home, but in the meantime, I can run the laptop off the 12v power supply adapter I bought at the same time, cigarette lighter connection, but it doesn’t charge the laptop’s battery. Oh well, good enough for tonight, and I’ll be home tomorrow night.

No rain yet, but it’s still in the forecast; showers overnight. I closed the forward hatch before going ashore this afternoon, just in case the rain arrived, have left it closed. With the mid-70s temperature, I haven’t needed the additional ventilation.

Tomorrow’s forecast sounds good: SW wind all the way, 8-12 mph gusting to 20 later in the afternoon, a possible thunderstorm late but I hope to be on Chip Ahoy’s mooring by then, a trip of about 25 miles.

I plan to be on my way home tomorrow morning, off this mooring by 9:00 am.

On a Scituate Launch / E-Z Rider mooring
Scituate, Massachusetts
Tuesday, August 3, 2010; 6:00 am


“SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM NOON EDT TODAY THROUGH THIS EVENING.”

The NOAA/NWS forecast sounds menacing for later today:

“SW WINDS 10 TO 15 KT. GUSTS UP TO 30 KT. SEAS 2 TO 4 FT. A SLIGHT CHANCE OF SHOWERS THIS AFTERNOON.”

For Scituate:

Today: Partly sunny, with a high near 79. Southwest wind between 9 and 15 mph.

Tonight: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 70. Southwest wind between 11 and 14 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph.

For Marblehead:

Today: A slight chance of showers after 3pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 80. Southwest wind between 7 and 13 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

Tonight: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 69. Southwest wind around 11 mph.

I note that the first forecast uses knots in its wind speed, while the Scituate and Marblehead forecasts use miles per hour.

If I leave within an hour, 7:30 am, I’ll reach Marblehead by maybe 1:00 pm, an hour after the small craft advisory is in effect. It’ll be a rough trip home, but at least the wind and seas will be following instead of bow-on. Fifteen miles per hour winds are one thing, but gusts to 30 are too much. 2-4 foot seas fall into that category too, if avoidable – and right now these conditions are avoidable if I stay another day.

I want to get home, but these conditions sound like too much to risk. Oh I hate this indecision, making this call. Once I’m out there, there will be no turning back, and nowhere to go but making it all the way home.

Right now, the forecast for tomorrow is not much better; slightly lower winds still from the SW at 10-15 knots with gusts up to 20), but with seas running 3-5 feet – no small craft advisory, at least not yet.

Conditions don’t seem to be much better until Thursday, when wind and seas lessen with a new high pressure area moving in.

– 9:20 am –

Okay, I’m staying for another day (at least). I reached Scituate Launch / E-Z Rider just after 8:00, got the mooring for another day. I left a phone message on their answering machine at 7:30 but didn’t get a call back by 8:30, so reached the launch on Channel 9 and got the okay to stay. The owner came out in a launch a few minutes ago to confirm receiving my phone message, reaffirm another day’s stay.

I told him of the early weather reports; he said “Yeah, we’re in for a bit of a blow today. Smart decision, captain.”

I just checked the mooring line, whether it was chafing on the tip of Chip Ahoy’s anchor, as it does at home. It was, a bit, so I rigged the anchor up higher on the pulpit as I do at home. More wind will mean more swinging and pull on the mooring.

So it’s another day in Scituate for Chip Ahoy and me. The wind’s blowing at 20 mph according to NSW current observations, with stronger gusts, swinging Chip Ahoy considerably with each one.

According to the most current NWS observation from Logan International Airport (Boston) at 8:54 am: “Wind from the SW (230 degrees) at 20 MPH (17 KT) gusting to 24 MPH (21 KT).”

After two cups of “tea bag” coffee I stowed away all the coffee fixings, shut down the Origo stove to let it cool before stowing it below too. I still hoped to get away. I just made a percolator of “cowboy coffee,” am on my second cup, but the stove’s running out of alcohol. I filled the stove’s two tanks back in Onset Bay, emptied the gallon of denatured alcohol into the empty quart of “clean-burning marina stove alcohol,” threw it away. I thought this would get me back home, but I’ll have to find more when I go ashore today.

I’ll likely sit here all day wondering whether I made the right decision or not, but already the wind has increased by 8 mph since I awoke five hours ago; there’s still two hours before the small craft advisory kicks in through midnight. The pup tent over the cockpit is flapping and snapping, straining at its bungee cords. Maybe I’ll need to take it down? I really wanted to be home tonight, but that assumes safely. I’ve got too many doubts about that “safely” part at the moment. Given the facts and forecast at hand, and my personal observations here, this was probably the best decision.

– 5:00 pm –

It’s been blowing here in Scituate Harbor pretty strongly all day, According to AccuWeather from 12 mph early this morning to SW at 17 at 4:00 pm. The Small Craft Advisory has been in effect since noon and runs until midnight; the gusts have been downgraded from 30 to 25 mph. The gusts are strong, abruptly swinging Chip Ahoy about its mooring. I think the pup tent is catching a lot of them, acting almost like a sail. I went out earlier this afternoon before going ashore and tied off a couple of its free aft grommets with a line back to the stern pulpit, to keep the tarp from flogging, possibly ripping. But the static line I used might instead cause the grommets to be pulled out.

I just checked other locations as of 4:00 pm:

Boston (Logan Int’l Airport): Wind SW at 20 mph.

Beverly (Municipal Airport): Wind WSW at 14 mph.

Neither of those NSW pages give warnings of gusts, just steady wind speed. NOAA/NWS are calling the gusts at 25 mph.

I took the launch ashore to the town dock at around 1:00 pm again, used the harbormaster’s men’s room, tossed my trash, found a nearby hardware store and picked up a quart of denatured alcohol, had lunch at T. K. O’Malley’s. Back at the dock I picked up two bags of ice cubes then called and waited for the E-Z Rider launch to take me back out to Chip Ahoy. It took the launch 25 minutes to pick me up, as I watched the ice cubes melt in 80-plus degree temperature.

When the driver arrived I held up the melting bags of ice and said, “Like watching the sands of time pass through an hour-glass.” He apologized, told me he was out in the outer harbor helping another small boat get into a mooring, and they had a real tough time of it.

I asked him how far out he runs the shuttle; all the way out to the breakwater at the outer harbor’s entrance. I asked how conditions were out there; he told me very rough and choppy, that I wouldn’t want to be out there any further. I told him of my indecision this morning, whether to leave or stay. “Believe me, captain, you did the right thing.”

I can stay tomorrow too if I so decide, and the conditions don’t look a whole lot different, at least until maybe Thursday. It’s beginning to look like the cruise back from Chebeague Island, Maine, when I got locked into a stretch of storms and downpours on the Saco River – only this time it’s strong winds and high seas.

I’ve been watching the harbormaster’s small utility boats out all afternoon just passing through and around the harbor, sort of aimlessly but I’m sure looking for troubles. The young kids in their small sailboats have been scooting around here in the inner harbor all day putting on quite a demonstration – I watched one of them (four kids aboard that little boat) run aground and wrestle until he finally sailed off again. These kids are good, and real ballsy in this wind. While they have a club chase boat looking over them, I suspect this is one of the reasons for the harbormaster’s utility boat activity today. About an hour ago the harbormaster’s boat towed in a downed windsurfer by its mast, along with its two occupants. A lot of activity is going on all around.

On a Scituate Launch / E-Z Rider Mooring Company mooring
Scituate, Massachusetts
Wednesday, August 4, 2010; 7:20 am


Another morning of indecision and frustration, but it looks like it’ll be another day in Scituate.

Tomorrow looks much better; today’s forecast is quirky depending on which reports I view:

Overall, according to NOAA/NSW, the trip looks marginally doable (and I want to get home!) – but again, I don’t want to be caught sometime in the early afternoon out in the middle of Massachusetts Bay in rough, threatening conditions with a few more hours of sailing to go to reach Salem Sound and my Marblehead mooring.

According to NOAA/NWS, current wind conditions at Logan International Airport (Boston) are “Wind from the SW (220 degrees) at 14 MPH (12 KT).” At Beverly Municipal Airport (closest to Marblehead) they report “Wind from the SW (220 degrees) at 8 MPH (7 KT).” Note the 6 MPH/5 KT difference – only some 15-20 miles apart (with Beverly/Marblehead to the north). This became important in my later decision. It seems such a relatively short distance can make such a difference.

Reaching a decision on whether to depart this morning or not, the first consideration was – duh, what’s happening outside. The wind is still blowing, has all night, and the gusts are picking up again. Once up (at about 5:30 am) and with the “cowboy coffee” percolator brewing, I turned on the VHF marine weather forecast, fired up the laptop, and began my morning weather research routine.

To reach Marblehead from Scituate will take me a good six hours over a wide-open Massachusetts Bay, across the 15-mile wide Boston shipping channel. I want to know the forecasts for Scituate (for the morning), Boston (for mid-day), and Marblehead (for arrival).

I subscribe to AccuWeather Premium, have found it to be extremely accurate. It’s forecasts for those three locations call for much more extreme wind than the NWS does:

For Scituate, from 8 am – noon, the wind builds from 13 mph (gusts of 17) to 15 mph (gusts of 24). I figure I’ll be out of this area and into the Boston zone around noon.

For Boston, from 10 am – 2 pm, the wind builds from 14 mph (gusts of 20) to 17 mph (gusts of 30).

For Marblehead – and here’s where it gets hairy – from 1 pm – 5 pm, about when Chip Ahoy and I should be approaching home, the wind is forecast to reach 19 mph (gusts of 35) and diminish to 17 mph (gusts of 32).

NOAA/NWS simply states “SW winds 10 to 15 KT. Gusts up to 20 KT late this morning and afternoon. Seas 2 to 4 FT. Isolated showers this morning.” The NWS, in this case, uses knots, while AccuWeather uses miles per hour. (If you need to translate, a knot is 1.15 miles per hour.)

Today’s NOAA/NWS forecast for Marblehead: “Partly sunny, with a high near 84. Southwest wind between 9 and 13 mph.” Here they use miles per hour.

So is it 9-14 mph in Marblehead all day, no gusts? Or do I trust AccuWeather’s hour-by hour forecasts of 19 mph winds with gusts of 35? Quite a difference – like between making it or not perhaps?

Tomorrow looks like the best opportunity, NOAA/NWS and Accuweather basically agree: The SW wind will continue but drop to 10 knots, gusts to 20, with seas running 2-3 feet.

I’ve decided to wait for tomorrow to depart.

– 4:25 pm –

Current wind conditions in Marblehead at 3:53 pm: From the west at 11 mph. (Forecast for 5 pm: From the WSW at 13, gusting to 24 mph.)

I blew it today, trusting the weather forecasts; I should have departed this morning, would have made it home easily. Here in Scituate, AccuWeather shows wind from the WSW at 16 mph (same as Boston). Despite the pattern I thought I saw this morning, with it blowing more the further northeast I went the later in the day, the wind’s actually higher here in Scituate than if I was approaching Marblehead, where I expected to be about now had I departed. Grrrr.

Better safe than sorry – until you’re not, I guess.

When the E-Z Rider launch picked me up just before noon, the driver said he thought I’d have been on my way this morning. I explained my weather research, but while awaiting his arrival and looking around Scituate Harbor thought to myself, “Geez this isn’t bad at all; I should have left.”

I got up to the harbormaster’s office and on their whiteboard was posted “Gusts to 20 mph, Seas 3-5 feet.” I had a long chat with the assistant, a former owner of a C22, who thought I did the right thing by staying. It was nice to hear, but I still wasn’t assured.

It’s always a call: Sometimes it’s a good one, sometimes not. You have to make it in the moment with best information available at that time; that’s all you can do. Later, like yesterday, you can say “Great call!” or like today, say “Damn, I could have made it!” Win some, lose some. I lost today – but I didn’t put boat and me at risk.

Just before noon I took the E-Z Rider launch in to the town dock; a beautiful day in the high-80s to low-90s and sunny. Ashore I took a shower, deposited my accumulated trash into the dumpster, then took off my daily shore leave. I picked up some CoffeeMate (almost out, almost picked up another can of ground “cowboy coffee” but thought I can make it home where there’s more); another quart of denatured alcohol (on a mooring, the stove sucked up most of what I had); found a book store to renew my reading materials (I thought the two books I brought along would last the trip); then had lunch at T. K. O’Malley’s again, their “award winning” fish chowder. Back at the dock, after calling the launch and seeking an ETA, I picked up another two bags of ice cubes. If I knew I’d be staying in Scituate this long, I’d have gone for a block a couple of days ago instead of cubes! I was back aboard in about five minutes this time.

I’ve got a pot of coffee percolating, reheating the unused from this morning. For the first time in my cruising experience, I’ve used more than half of the five-gallon fresh water c0llapsible fresh water tank (primarily for making coffee). If I was going on much further, I’d have to consider refilling it.

This morning I fired up the Honda 8 four-stroke just to charge the #1 battery I’ve been draining with the laptop. First, I was curious if it would electric-start (no problem) after the drain I’ve been putting on Battery #1 while on the mooring. I’ve got the battery switch set to #1, so #2 should be fully charged and ready as a backup with the twist of the switch. I ran the outboard at a bit over idle for half an hour. (I’ve still got almost 12 gallons of gas – and its weight – so this wasn’t a consideration.) I’ve been making sure the sliding hatch isn’t covering the small solar panel: While it provides little on the short term, every little bit counts in these situations. So far everything is still good, working as expected. Quite satisfying after all the thought and work I’ve put into it.

On a Scituate Launch / E-Z Rider Mooring Company mooring
Scituate, Massachusetts
Thursday, August 5, 2010; 4:15 am


Up very early this morning, I’m anxious to get started home. Today it’s not the wind, it’s the “strong thunderstorms” threat. If I had the patience, I’d wait until tomorrow when the weather’s forecast – at least at the moment – is for perfect conditions: Sunny, SW wind 10-12 mph, seas about a foot. Today every forecast calls for showers for most of the day and scattered storms from this morning through tonight.

NOAA/NWS: SW winds 5 to 10 KT. Seas 2 to 3 FT. Patchy fog. A chance of showers in the morning ... then showers likely with a chance of TSTMS in the afternoon. VSBY 1 NM or less ... increasing to 1 to 3 NM in the afternoon.

AccuWeather pinpoints the time of the expected “strong thunderstorms,” but after its erroneous forecast of winds yesterday I’ve lost faith in it. I mean, do they make this stuff up?

Scituate: 7 am, 10 am, 4 pm
Boston: 4 am, 1 pm, 3 pm
Marblehead: 7 am, 1 pm, 7 pm

I’m on my second cup of “tea bag” coffee, ready to start preparing the boat once the sun comes up. It’s too dark still to see the sky, clouds; but I don’t see any stars of the sliver of moon that was up there before I went to sleep last night at about 9:00 pm. The wind here has begun gusting, so there might be a storm lurking nearby – I can’t tell. My plan when I awoke at 3:30 was to be on my way before 7 am, but if it’s pouring I won’t be moving until it ends. After all this time here, I expected to at least be able to take down a dry pup tent tarp. What a hassle this weather has become – just one day away from home when I arrived on Sunday. I expected to be home on Monday. This is very frustrating. Even with the various weather forecasts I’ve checked, I don’t know what to expect today.

Home in Marblehead
August 5, 2010; 8:00 pm


An interesting day, but the bottom line is that I beat the severe thunderstorms, if barely. Never mind that it was by just an hour, I beat them and arrived ahead. As I suspected, the AccuWeather forecast with times and places when and where they’d occur were off the wall. The only one I experienced was back on my mooring, and nowhere near the time frame forecast.

I’m sitting at my office desk now, but the room’s rolling. I’ve come to expect this after an extended liveaboard cruise, it’ll last for another day or two; something about the inner ear or whatever.

This morning, after my third cup of coffee and more indecision, I pulled the trigger; decided I’d be off for home. I was tired of weather forecasts that exaggerated, afternoons of regret. I would likely get wet if I was wrong, so I’d be wet. I laid out the foul-weather gear in preparation; and the cribboards to close up the boat if and when the need came.

At 7 am I dropped the mooring, headed out of Scituate Harbor. I had no idea what to expect, but I hoped to reach home today. I expected to get wet along the way.

All was going well until I motored through the breakwater and headed out to the sea buoy – into increasingly heavy fog.

A quarter of a mile out I couldn’t see more than about 20-30 yards, the lobster trap buoys as they appeared ahead. Uh oh, I thought, maybe this isn’t such a good idea, maybe I should turn about and head back right now.

But I’ve done dense fog before, hoped it’d burn off – after all, it was only about 7:30 am and some forecasts had called for “patchy fog.” Besides, I have GPS and have done this whole trip back to Marblehead (from Plymouth) blind before depending on it entirely. And I have the two handheld backup GPSs. I can handle this, right?

By Minot Light off Cohasset the fog had somewhat lifted, visibility increased to about half, three-quarters of a mile. No land was in sight, but it was 3-4 miles off. I think I could make out the top of the lighthouse out on its rocky peninsula a mile or so off, maybe. The ocean was flat, barely a ripple. There was some sort of breeze (SW) so I hoisted the main sail. It was doing nothing, so I dropped it and revved up the outboard again. I needed to get home before the thunderstorms.

I had the Boston shipping channel (about 15 miles wide) to cross yet. When I called and spoke to Barbara, I told her I intended to radio Boston Coast Guard Control to see if there was any shipping traffic coming in or out. If there was, I probably wouldn’t see it coming soon enough; a serious risk when crossing in fog.

Before I could, the CG began calling out on Channel 16 a “secureté” warning that an LNG tanker was enroute with a security cordon around it. Oh, great timing on my part! I radio the CG, described my boat, location, its direction, and my limited visibility, informed them that I had a radar reflector but no radar, asked what they suggested I do. I was told to do nothing unless I saw approaching security vessels, which would see me first and warn me off. The escort vessels would be a mile ahead and astern of the tanker, 500 yards off its port and starboard.

God, what fun.

Sometime later, a huge ship loomed out of the fog. I quickly veered to starboard in an effort to get out of its way, not cross its track. It didn’t seem to be moving. I recalled seeing anchored ships out here in the middle before, a sort of holding area. I watched, it didn’t move. It was anchored. I got back on my GPS course.

The more I closed with the Marblehead coast, the thicker the fog became. Soon it was back to 20 yards or less visibility, totally blind again, lucky to see lobster pot buoys before entangling with them. Nerve-wracking. I stayed on my GPS course, kept aiming at the navigation buoy waypoints, kept running up on the buoys where they belonged – when they suddenly loomed out of the gray ahead, 20 yards.

It was getting later, no thunderstorms yet. Just a few showers. I’d donned my foul-weather jacket, closed up the cabin, a couple hours ago.

Approaching the entry buoy into Salem Sound (off Marblehead) I heard the first horn from another blind boat. I grabbed mine from within the lazarette and blew it back. A few more responded. Oh boy, I’m not alone out here – we’re all feeling our way along!

It sure felt like I was.

So for the next half hour or so, we all located each other with horns – at least let each other know we were out here too. There was virtually no visibility and obviously there were other boats out here. I had to open up the cabin and grab my backup air-horn cannister to keep my end of the serenade going, while inching my way homeward, an eye on the GPS as that’s all I had. Spooky. A large sailboat emerged out of the fog briefly just to my stern; it got a double-blast of my air-horn, before it turned into (according to GPS and chart) Marblehead Harbor.

Once inside Salem Sound, visibility abruptly increased, amazingly. I broke out of it, could see a sort of wedge of fog reaching from the power plant ahead out to the islands off to starboard. Small sailboats and powerboats were playing inside the competing fog banks. What a different world, dimension, this became.

Shortly after, Chip Ahoy was on its mooring, home at last at around 1:30 pm.

I called and told Barbara I was back, that it’d take a while to settle the boat and pack things up, that I thought I’d take a short nap before calling for the launch. This turned out to be a mistake, a necessary one as I was drained but then came the thunderstorms, and they were severe for sure.

I awoke from my nap about an hour later, continued with settling the boat, got the sail cover on just as the first drops began falling. In the cabin I closed up the cribboards just as all hell broke loose: an incredible deluge accompanied by fierce lightning and thunder, which immediately reminded me to disconnect the mast top VHF coax cable from the back of the radio before it got struck again.

I found the leak inside the cabin: Both starboard windows! I couldn’t believe it, but the proof was evident. The forward one leaks the most, the aft pretty steadily. I stuck the “cowboy coffee” percolator beneath the forward leak, the small cooking pot beneath the aft, the small frying pan beneath the cribboards where the teak vent in the top one was leaking slightly at its seal. Wonderful. All that work on the windows project accomplished little if anything; that project all started over a leak in that aft window seal. At least first, this was the only such nasty weather of this cruise; second, I was aboard to witness the leak sources; mystery solved.

When the storms passed (there was a brief break between thunder and lightning), about an hour later, I was ready to move. I grabbed my sea bag, the Nikon camera equipment in its Pelican case, and the laptop bag, closed up the boat, and called the launch. I called Barbara on the cell phone on my way in; she was waiting for me at the head of the dock when I muled everything up. I was back home a couple of minutes later.

It is good to be home.

Conclusions:

Every one of my seafaring cruises seem to have its own lessons. Each leaves me with new experiences, added knowledge, and greater respect. Some of the challenges are the same, but there are almost always new ones that need to be adapted to and learned from. From this seafaring cruise in a very small sailboat I learned:

First and foremost, do not have one leg on the dock, the other on the boat, and expect you can keep the boat from drifting away from the dock! The ensuing injury (after falling in) is still with me, my knee remains wrapped in the Ace bandage brace. It made the rest of the trip more uncomfortable than it needed to be – and kept me in Scituate longer than I’d planned, recovering.

Second, do not venture out into Buzzard’s Bay with the Cape Cod Canal’s flood current into a SW wind and running seas in a small boat. It cannot be done – as the locals later attested – either comfortably or safely.

A slip in Scituate ($3/foot X 22 feet = $66/night) is not worth the minor convenience and shore power than the cost of a mooring there ($35/night), with the launch service available on call and free. Especially if you can live without shore power, as Chip Ahoy can for a time. I liked the privacy of the mooring better anyway.

If you have a good GPS (and a backup), and know how to navigate, have a working VHF radio (and backup), departing into fog is manageable – if a bit nerve-wracking, being constantly alert until through it. “Through it” might mean all day, at the end of which you will be exhausted from tension.

The laptop ceased working on the 12v/110v inverter connected to Battery #1. I thought the problem was with the laptop’s power supply pack – the inverter’s indicator lights worked when connected to the boat’s battery. The laptop’s 12v “cigarette lighter” converter worked, connected to Battery #1 directly with alligator clips but wouldn’t charge the laptop’s battery (a Dell error message). Having a second means of powering the laptop was essential. The laptop’s 110v power supply pack works here at home, so the problem is somewhere between the boat’s battery and the inverter, I believe. I wonder if the inverter was charging my handheld VHF radio and other electronic accessories, or was the laptop just demanding too much from/through it? (Running the outboard for half an hour to charge the battery may not have been enough?)

I hate to admit it, and don’t advise this, but I won’t accept weather forecasts as certain or even very reliable in the future. Though they usually give a good “big picture,” along this trip I’ve found them frequently wrong, sometimes even alarmist worst-case predictions. More often than not, they’re pretty close – just not all the time. Still, always better safe than sorry.

The best I can say about blinding fog is, it comes with no real nasty wind that'd blow it away.  Give me the wind and a clear day!

PHOTO ALBUM CHARTS
NOTE:

 


"It looks like July 28 on Buzzard's Bay had a sudden rise in winds to around the 20 knot mark at mid-day that persisted all afternoon." [Source]
– Robert Bemben, 1991 C22 wing keel, 'Jib Dance' 

Back to July 28

Chip Ahoy's 2010 Voyage (per Garmin BlueChart courses)

Course Date Distance
Chip Ahoy' mooring (Marblehead) to Scituate Harbor Jul. 21, 2010 27.3 miles
Scituate to Plymouth Jul. 25, 2010 22.1 miles
Plymouth to Cape Cod Canal (Harbor of Refuge, east end) Jul. 27, 2010 17.2 miles
Canal to Onset Bay entrance Jul. 28, 2010 9.7 miles
Onset into Buzzard's Bay, retreat back to Onset Bay Marina Jul. 28, 2006 8.4 miles
Onset Bay Marina to Plymouth Jul. 31, 2010 26.9 miles
Plymouth to Scituate Harbor Aug. 1, 2006 22.1 miles
  Scituate Harbor to Chip Ahoy's Mooring (Marblehead) Aug. 5, 2010

27.3 miles

  Total distance (statute miles)

161 miles


The Salem News
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Distress signals came from Beacon Hill, Buzzards Bay
By Barbara Anderson

... Chip Ford was taking his annual sailing vacation before the August hurricane season. Every year he heads up or down the coast in his little red sailboat which is rigged so he can comfortably sail it alone; this year he decided to take it through the Cape Cod Canal for the first time.

"Chip Ahoy" is a 22-footer that he found eight years ago in a barnyard and lovingly restored, while paying the Massachusetts sales tax and the annual excise, unlike Sen. Kerry — who finally paid his fair share only after he got caught trying to shelter his 76-foot yacht in yacht-tax-free Rhode Island....

Technology to the rescue! This vacation Chip Ford set up a Wi-Fi connection on his laptop, on the boat, with his home computer; he sent the legislators' e-mail addresses to me and I let them know we had been alerted to the planned ambush....

Later that day I got a call from Chip to tell me his boat was about to sink in Buzzards Bay, where a strong canal current and southwest winds were causing eight-foot waves that kept him from reading his wet charts with salt-encrusted glasses. He called to say goodbye, which I would have taken more seriously if he hadn't added that, darn, he was too embattled to get his camera out to capture the highest waves.

I called his friend Wally on the Cape, who read from his own dry charts to Chip on his cellphone, guiding him to safe harbor. Another crisis averted. Another day in the life.

-- Full column --


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