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

Chip Ahoy’s 2007 Rockport Mini-Cruise
September 6-8, 2007

See also:

Photo Album Cruise Chart

It's been a slow sailing season for me after breaking my collar bone and a rib slipping and falling down my stairway in mid-May.   Chip Ahoy didn't get launched until July 28th -- before this cruise I'd sailed it for a total of four days this year, then a three-day cruise down to Scituate last week.  I had to get more use from the boat this season, more sailing in, go somewhere new.

I've never been to Rockport Harbor, though sailed past it decades ago.  Back then we'd sailed around Thatcher Island as well, and I recall being impressed with it dual lighthouses, "America's last and only operating twin lighthouses."  I hoped to sail past it again in 2004 on my first coast of Maine cruise, but conditions weren't right -- instead, I cut off Cape Ann by going into Gloucester Harbor and through the Annisquam River, both heading north and coming home.

So I finally got to visit Rockport Harbor and pass by Thatcher Island, twice, again over the past few days.

Chip Ford
Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Log of Chip Ahoy’s 2007 Rockport Mini-Cruise

Thursday, September 6, 2007; 7:00 pm - 69°
My mooring – Salem Harbor, Marblehead, Mass.

I arrived aboard an hour ago; the sun is just setting.  I filled the main (port side) gas tank with two gallons, topping it off.  I guess I really didn't need more gas yet -- still had about four gallons in it.  Better safe than sorry!

It's blowing S at 17 knots.  Chip Ahoy is swinging on its mooring, rocking and rolling a bit.  That damn thumping is constant.  I've tried lowering the keel (15 cranks) but it doesn't seem to make much if any difference. -- but it sure sounds and feels like the keel.  Cranked up tight seems to have lessened -- dare I yet say eliminated? -- the thunking.  I do believe so!  Tight is shall now be.

The NOAA forecast sounds -- interesting.  Lows temperature overnight in the 60s (nice).  Tomorrow winds SW at 10-15 gusting to 20 knots late; seas 2-4 feet.  High temperatures in the 80s to low 90s.

Though Labor Day Weekend has passed, summer is rebounding.  At least through the coming weekend it seems.  The high pressure over us is pumping up heat from the south that's supposed to last at least through Saturday and into perhaps into Sunday, when the wind direction is supposed to change to the east and northeast.  What perfect weather for a mini-cruise!

I feel like Abe Lincoln in his log cabin, writing by the light of an oil lamp, and I love it.  I've been listening to the NOAA weather forecast on the VHF radio for about an hour now -- I can never catch the details the first time around, my mind roams on each detail -- what's it mean, how can it effect me?  I think I've got the picture for at least tomorrow and Saturday.  "Two to four foot seas" sounds a bit intimidating, along with winds gusting to 25 knots, but I've handled that before.

"Pick your weather" I subscribe to as an accolyte.  This decision will be borderline.  If it gets no worse, I can deal with it, but there is little margin for error if it should worsen.  As Barbara just said in our phone conversation, I can always turn back if conditions worsen.

That strategy is good until, as she called it, "the point of no return."  I see that being upon reaching the Eastern Point buoy off Gloucester before my next leg to Thatcher Island.  After that, I'll have little choice but to make it for Rockport Harbor.  Even turn-tailing at that point would make for a long and difficult sail back between Bakers and Misery Islands and the relative shelter of Salem Sound.

"Pick your weather" will likely be difficult tomorrow in the early morning.  It'll no doubt be pretty calm at dawn, won't begin kicking up until later when I'm well along my way.

But that's tomorrow morning.  Tonight I'm simply enjoying being back aboard for the night.  Everything I can do is done.  My course is plotted (yesterday) and uploaded to the two GPSs (this morning), Chip Ahoy is gently swing and rocking (and no more thunking, hallelujah), the weather forecast seems good and I have a destination ahead for the next two days at least.  Can life be any better?

Friday, September 7, 2007 - 66°
My mooring – Salem Harbor, Marblehead, Mass.

I'm having my first cup of morning coffee (a second will follow -- the pot of water is heated), while listening to the NOAA weather forecast.  It's still calling for SW winds 10-15 knots gusting to 20; seas 2-4 feet.  Tomorrow (Saturday) more of the same.

It's pretty calm here on the mooring, a breeze but light; maybe 5 knots, having lightened during the night and early morning.  The harbor/mooring area is quite calm.  While rolling a bit last night, I was awakened a few times by that damn keel clunk -- definitely the keel I'm now convinced.  I may even use the locking bolt today, just to keep the keel centered or whatever.  But I'll have to remember to loosen it before cranking up the keel again if I do!

I just marked up my boat's chartbook for my route to Rockport.  The larger chartbook at home, that I used to plot my course, is better, more detailed.

The expected deception is upon me, as anticipated.  It's calm at 7:00 am, giving no hint of what's to come.  Last night my plan was to set the main sail with a reef before leaving the mooring -- but it's much too calm for that now . . . or yet.  I reefed on the fly last week heading down to Scituate so can do it underway if necessary -- it'll be just more difficult in 2-4 foot seas.  I want to check my topping lift line here this morning; I think it's not run correctly.

I've got the shorts, summer attire, at the ready -- it's supposed to reach for the low-90s today.  I won't need the jeans and socks for much longer this morning.  I just took off the sweater -- the new one Barbara dug out of her cedar chest and gave to me:  bright red, "British & Islandian Yachting" emblazoned on the front, whatever that is.  I just took off the socks too.  It's going to be a warm one today and tomorrow, apparently.  At least I'm heading out with that in my favor.  My second cup of coffee is done -- time to get underway.

Friday, September 7, 2007; 3:30 pm
Rockport Harbor

I arrived half an hour or so ago.  It was an uneventful trip, I'd say almost disappointing if it wasn't so darned pleasant.  I was expecting more of a challenge, considering the forecast, prepared for the worst.  Instead, I got perfection I couldn't have asked for.  SW winds, but I doubt they exceeded 10-12 knots.  Seas 2-3 feet, gentle rollers.  The wind increased north of Cape Ann as I approached Rockport, but I expected they would as the afternoon went on.

Annemarie, the assistant harbormaster, was great guiding me into the dock, meeting Chip Ahoy there to help with the dock lines.  Before entering the harbor, I setup to dock on my starboard side -- my choice, according to her on the phone -- but when I pulled into the "inner breakwater" it was all I could do to park the boat on its port side.  No big thing, with her assist.  It was dead calm inside here, at low tide so low beneath the yacht club parking lot above.

John Graichen ("Malacass") had called me from work shortly after noon to see how I was doing.  I told him the conditions were really much better than I'd anticipate by now.  "Never mind what clothes I've taken off:  All I'm wearing is undershorts and shorts, buddy.  It's beautiful out here!"  At that time the temperature was in the high-80s anyway.

Very shortly after John called the wind died, just vanished, nothing, nada.  After ten minutes of that I started the motor (about 1:00 pm) and furled the headsail.  This lull lasted for about fifteen minutes, then the breeze returned.  Steerage is critical with those damned lobster pot buoys all about -- drifting is a dangerous option -- and all frigging day I was dodging them.

Sailing by Thatcher Island with its two lighthouses was a déjà vu moment for me.  The first and last time was aboard the "Even Song" as I recall, some thirty years ago.  It's an impressive sight -- "America's last and only operating twin lighthouses."  I'd intended to to it on the way up to Maine on my first extended cruise, but conditions weren't right.  I ended up cutting off Cape Ann entirely by going through Gloucester Harbor and up the Annisquam River, out into Ipswich Bay.

I tightened down the keel holding bolt this morning -- not that I ended up needing to.  I also remembered to loosen it this time coming into the harbor!

Docked and settled in here, I decided I wanted a beer or two -- but Rockport amazingly is a "dry town."  All sorts of tourista restaurants and shops everywhere about (it reminds me of Provincetown or Boothbay Harbor, tourist traps), but no beer.  I'm docked alongside the Sandy Bay Yacht Club.  A nice view, but even they they don't serve alcohol in any of its permutations either.  As a paying "transient sailor" of the town, apparently I'm entitled to all the yacht club's amenities (showers, etc.), but you can't get what they don't have.

So "Mr. Personality" worked his charm and eventually got someone to take mercy on a visiting sailor's hardship.  Instead of my having to call a taxi, he offered to drive me to the nearest package store the next town over to pick up a six-pack.  Damon Cummings also took the time to give me a great guided tour of the coast between Rockport and Gloucester.  Now I've seen some of the places -- backup anchorages -- I'd only read about.  I love traveling when this happens, try to create it.  It usually works, actually it seldom fails.

Back at the dock I bought a bag of ice at the yacht club (a buck) across the parking lot to replenish my little cooler.  Getting the six-pack then the ice down the ladder at low tide to the dock was sure a challenge, especially with one shoulder I don't want to fully depend on yet.  At low tide, which it was, the climb is a good twelve feet straight down.  Getting up is challenging enough:  Going down is worse, that moment you turn your back and take the first step blindly.

Saturday, September 8, 2007; 7:00 am - 71°
Rockport Harbor

A good peaceful night's sleep on perfectly flat water with no boat traffic, no keel clunks.  NOAA just reported that yesterday's high temperature hit 94°.  I definitely darkened up my tan -- even got a little pink on the top.

The forecast today is the same as yesterday's:  SW wind 10-15 knots gusting to 20; seas 2-4 feet.  A slight chance of thunderstorms later in the afternoon.  Temperature should be in the high-80s to 90s again too.  Exactly the same weather forecast.

I'm off to a slow start this morning; up at 6:15 then a climb up the ladder to the town's public restroom at the middle of the parking lot above, alongside the harbormaster's office, to wash up a bit.  Back aboard, I fired up the Origo stove and boiled a pan of water.  I'm on my first cup of coffee with another to come before I start preparing to depart.  I should be underway by 8:30 again this morning.

These Maxwell House "Coffee Singles" sure make brewing a cup or two of coffee almost effortless.  I may never brew "cowboy coffee" in the percolator again!

The more sheltered inner harbor Chip Ahoy is in is quite busy for a small working harbor.  The outer harbor is filled with pleasure/recreational boats.  Where I am is almost entirely filled with working boats.  Regardless, all the boats in each harbor moor bow and stern, due to the lack of protection, I 'm told, from east and northeast winds.  Boats do not swing on their moorings here in Rockport Harbor.

A nearby church bell tolls every hour, and just informed me that it's 8 o'clock.  Time to get this show on the road, homeward bound.

Saturday, September 8, 2007; 8:30 pm
Marblehead, Massachusetts (home)

I got in this afternoon from Rockport at 3:45 pm. “What a difference a day makes”!  I’ve been waiting to use that line all day today when I got to write.  Both yesterday and this morning, NOAA weather forecasted SW winds at 10-15 gusting to 20; seas 2-4 feet.  Sitting on my mooring yesterday morning enjoying my second cup of coffee I decided it was too calm to reef the main sail, I’d do it later if necessary.  It never was. The wind was 10-12 knots and the seas were two feet, maybe three now and then.

The exact, very same forecast this morning for today; nothing changed – but reality.  “What a difference a day makes.”  Yesterday I had one extreme of the forecast, the low end.  Today I met the upper end, and maybe then some.

After my morning coffee I began readying the boat for departure.  I was set to cast off at 8:30 am, but one of the assistant harbormasters climbed down the ladder and, using a borrowed dinghy, skulled out to their boat just off my starboard stern.  We chatted as he skulled by.  He apparently was a trouble-shooter for the harbormaster, finally got the boat running.  About then another local showed up above and climbed down the ladder onto the dock.  The assistant asked if the local would catch the borrowed dinghy and return it to its place on the dock.  I lent a hand getting it around Chip Ahoy, with my outboard running, warming up.  The harbormaster’s boat moved out, we secured the borrowed dinghy.

“Well as long as you’re here,” I addressed the new guy, “would you be willing to give me a hand casting off with my lines?”  It’d looked like a reasonably simple job getting out of there, but I learned long ago singlehanding that the more help the better.  I was out of there cleanly in minutes.

Once outside the Rockport Harbor breakwater, I began to recognize that this wasn’t yesterday’s conditions.  I got my sails up, the motor off and lifted, then headed for the sea buoy.  There was more wind than yesterday, much more.  It was SW for sure, and that’s directly where I was heading.

After dodging all the lobster pot buoys, at the marker I pointed into the wind bow on.  It took innumerable tacks to reach my next waypoint, while things got pretty crazy between conditions and lobster pot buoys in my way.  I couldn’t run my course – too many of those damned buoys to think cohesively, too many adjustments to make to avoid so many.  I inadvertently ran over three and those were “hold your breath and pray” moments until they popped out behind the transom.  You could hear them bumping and bouncing along beneath the hull until they cleared.

Thank God they did, because I don’t know exactly what I’d do if one fouled in the keel cable.  It’s too damned cold to jump overboard unless there’s no option, though I did recently buy a diving mask for if all else fails.  Besides, in those conditions it'd probably be life-threatening at best.  In 100 feet of water with 3-4 foot seas, a deployed anchor with only 200 feet of chain and rode isn't going to do much holding -- so what would happen once I cut the lobster pot buoy loose while in the water?  Oh I'd be tethered to the boat for sure, but could I get back aboard up the boarding ladder quickly enough to regain control before the next one tangled, or aboard at all?  These thoughts were running through my mind.

Think of an anchor you can’t reach suddenly dropped astern with the wind blowing at 15-20 knots, 3-4 foot seas – and what it’ll do to your day of fun and adventure!  Excuse me but today I’m livid – I’m thinking of joining PETA if they’ll get rid of lobster trap buoys – all those poor lobsters being caught then boiled alive, you know, and all that nonsense notwithstanding!  Just get rid of those damned buoy minefields before they kill somebody, if they haven’t already.  As the politicians are so fond of saying to promote any pet cause – “even if it saves just one life . . .”  I spent more effort, concentration, and concern dodging those frigging buoys than sailing, and I had to if I was to survive the conditions – and frequently dodging them increased the adverse conditions unavoidably.

Just less than a mile north of Thatcher Island, while on a starboard tack close-hauled and beating into the wind while dodging the minefield of buoys, trying to stay on a semblance of my course route, I checked my new depthfinder and was surprised to see it reading 10.2 feet, as the last time I looked "Chip Ahoy" and I were in over 90 feet of water.  I figured there must be something wrong with it, then saw it bump up to 10.3 feet.  It was working, but was it accurate, could it possibly be?

I immediately tacked toward shore on a close reach, toward the course I'd taken coming up, to the route plotted into my GPS.  It remained at 10.3 feet for a short while -- bouncing a bit between 10.2 - 10.4 as I actually backtracked to reach my previous (known) route.  Then it began to gradually build up again.  The rest of the day back to my mooring it seemed to work quite accurately. [See footnote below.]

Way off my route around Thatcher Island, I started the motor.  I dropped the headsail soon after, it was doing nothing to help.  I was heading straight into the wind, plain and simple and to avoid the reef to the island’s east I had to be good.  That began the motoring, which lasted most of the day.  I was heading SW into a SW wind blowing at about 20 knots, with lobster pot buoy minefields all around.

It’s too bad that the best photos never get taken.  The photographer is always too busy taking care of himself and his boat, simply surviving. I got some pretty good shots of the conditions as soon as I could, but not the best ones.  I was just too busy keeping the boat afloat to think about photos or able to to take any.

I made it through 3-4 foot seas hoping for a better wind, for about an hour then dropped the main sail too. I would motor home, screw it, enough.

As I approached the Bakers Island/Misery Island channel (the entrance to a more sheltered Salem Sound) I hoisted sails again.  The wind died soon after.  I dropped sails again and motored home to my mooring.  Along the way back, I noted many sailboats deeper into the sound sailing well; I was just too tired to hoist and haul down all over again, I was too close to my mooring, almost home. Just get me there.

I arrived at my mooring at 3:30 pm.  It took the usual hour to get everything aboard squared away.  I considered taking a nap before calling for the launch to take me to the dock.  Then I looked at the sky, the clouds. NOAA had warned earlier of “possible” showers and thunderstorms in the late afternoon.  The strato-cumulus clouds were building to the west; they were piling up and coming.  I radioed for the launch and was home up the street from the dock by 5:00 pm.  The thunderstorms rolled in about an hour later.

All in all, a good cruise and adventure.  A quick two days at sea up and back to Rockport Harbor.  A great day going up, a challenge coming back.  It's good to be home again, though:  It always is.

Footnote:  [September 12, 2007]  I just pulled up my Garmin Mapsource program with its BlueCharts CD, hooked up my GPSMap 76CS to the computer and uploaded my handheld's tracks to the computer charts.  There it was, a submerged shipwreck, just ahead of where I did my hard tack toward land and my plotted route!

The Mapsource chart at 0.3 miles zoom shows a reasonably large depth contour around the area of a submerged wreck, marked at a depth of 26 feet (my Chartbook shows similar detail).  But when I zoomed in to 0.2 miles a blue depth contour area inside appears around the wreck -- an indication of one fathom (six feet) or less!  I turned on my hasty port tack a mere 60 feet (according to the Mapsource measuring tool at 200 feet of zoom based on my track) before crossing into that one-fathom contour line, just 216 feet before coming directly over the wreck at whatever its depth.  I think I now know what caused the wreck!

  • Lesson 1:  When you wonder, find the answer.  It leads to:
  • Lesson 2:  Zoom in tight when approaching anything that might possibly be an underwater obstruction, regardless of even what your Chartbook or NOAA chart reads.

  • Lesson 3:  Watch your depthfinder; trust it.

  • Lesson 4:  There are reasons submerged wrecks happen and ships go down in the first place!  Stay clear of them.

    0.3 miles above view 0.2 miles above view 300 feet above view

    -- Back to the log where you left off --