We knew this first week would serve as a good shakedown, as it does for any boat splashing in the water at the beginning of the season. Thalia had not seen a lot of use in the last 2 years. Therefore, we expected to have a few unexpected things come up. What was unexpected about the unexpected was the fact that we, more specifically I, was not ready. It all started off fine. We moved aboard Thalia at Great Bay Marine on Thursday, May 25 as planned, and had a real pleasant visit with our friends Don and Shelly (including a little tasting trip at nearby Stoneface Brewing Co). Don drove our car back home, so at this point we were committed! All good, until 4am that is. A steady rain was pattering on the deck. I was restless, as I normally am for the first few nights aboard the boat until we’ve adjusted to life on board. As I lay awake in bed listening to the rain fall on the deck, my whole world literally flipped upside down. I do really mean this literally. It was as if someone had rolled Thalia 180 degrees. Everything was spinning around me. Someone was playing a mean psych trip on me And, no, I wasn’t suffering from a hangover! I was suffering from intense vertigo. I started breaking out in a cold sweat, and quickly move down to the cabin floor to try to recover. But if i just lifted my head the slightest amount, I’d get super dizzy, nauseous, and my head pounded. My breathing was short and erratic. Then, I started to recall that I had hit my head earlier that night on the metal frame of our new dodger. Geez, was I suffering from a concussion? By 8am, my condition had not improved, and after consulting my doctor on the phone and mentioning the head injury, she recommended I get into the ER immediately for a CT scan. Thus I became very well acquainted with the local Newington paramedics. 911 at your service! I was carried down the dock in the pouring rain, on to a stretcher, into an ambulance and off to Portsmouth Regional Hospital. Thankfully the CT scan came back negative. The bump on my head didn’t do any internal damage. But apparently I am at risk of vertigo and I’ll need to follow up with a neurologist. With a few meds to ease the dizziness, the spinning and nausea subsided and Karen and I uber’ed back to the boat to rest up and come up with a new plan. Thanks to the wonders of medicine (and oh yeah, that valium prescription) I was feeling much better. Late in the day, we took Thalia out for a brief motor around Great Bay to check out the engine and other systems. The rain had subsided, I was feeling better, and we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s go!’ So off we headed, running a favorable current down the Piscataqua River to Pepperell Cove, across from Portsmouth, for the night. The folks at Great Bay Marine are fabulous but with the whole ER thing, I needed to get away from the bad karma of the night before. Woo hoo, our first night on our own, at anchor, embarking on our summer adventure! It felt fantastic.
Saturday dawned clear and rain-free, so we headed out early into the ocean offshore of Portsmouth and pointed the bow towards Cape Ann (Rockport/Gloucester). We spotted a few whales on this stretch, but otherwise, even though it was Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, there were very few boats on the water. With the mast down, we were living the motor boater’s life. No winches to grind, no fretting over which sails to fly, no debate about whether our sails would get us to our destination quick enough. We simply pointed the boat to our destination. There is a great amount of predictability about motor boating. Your GPS tells you your ETA and generally it is pretty accurate – you get to your destination when you expected. You gain predictability but lose the peace and tranquility of powering your boat with the wind in your sails. We’ll have to wait until the Great Lakes for that.
We stopped Saturday night just outside the east end of the Cape Cod canal. The favorable current the next day through the canal was not until 11am, which gave us a chance to dinghy into the quaint Sandwich Harbor and go for a long walk on the Cape Cod Canal trail. Someone had a good measure of foresight when they made this addition, designing a nice wide paved path on both sides of the canal. As it was Sunday morning, the trails were well subscribed by walkers like us, in-line skaters, parents with strollers, and a few road bikers breaking the sound barrier.
Passing through the Cape Cod Canal with a favorable current is always a joy, watching the land pass by at a pace typically reserved for speed boats. This time, we tried to time the current so that it was closer to slack when we exited the other side into Buzzards Bay. Too many times in recent memory we have headed south into Buzzards Bay with a nice push of 2-3 knots, against a prevailing SW wind of 10-15 knots and find ourselves in a washing machine of white water as these two forces of nature duke it out. With the mast on the deck, we were especially concerned about the boat rolling and pitching. I had bought some trucker-style ratcheting ‘come-along’ straps to make sure it was pulled down tight, but it’s a heavy piece of hardware, weighing in at least 500 pounds. All was good as we entered Buzzards Bay – current lightly in our favor and only a slight counter breeze.
Our destination for the night was Cuttyhunk Island. This is a popular spot in the summer, at the end of the long Elizabeth Island chain just off Martha’s Vineyard, for day trippers and overnighters. When we arrived, the tide was too low for us to transit the narrow, shoaling channel entrance into the coveted inner harbor, so we dropped the anchor outside and settled into the cockpit with a bottle of wine and a round of cheese.
A storm was forecasted for the next day, with plenty of wind and rain, and we already had plenty of cold temperatures at the outset, so we decided on an extra layover day at Cuttyhunk. Memorial Day in New England always seems like a toss-up. Two years ago we sailed to Oak Bluff on Martha’s Vineyard, enjoying lots of warm temps and a summer-style party scene. But the cold and rain we were facing now is equally common. Oh well, there were plenty of emails for us to catch up on and boat work too. As it turned out, we were on our computers most of the day, and Karen was learning how to use her Mother’s Day GoPro gift, and with all our electronics going we ended up draining our battery bank! It appears our batteries have reached the end of their life and we’ll have to find a time to replace them very soon. With all of our motoring, combined with our solar panels, the batteries have always stayed fully charged, except for this first day of no sun and no motoring.
Our next leg of the trip from Cuttyhunk was going to take us across Buzzards Bay and Block Island Sound, exposing us more fully to the ocean. So we left at 5am on Tuesday to make a big push in one day to get into Long Island Sound, about 70 miles away, and to time it right for a favorable current. As you enter the eastern end of Long Island Sound, you pass over a spot called ‘The Race’, which is another witch’s cauldron of water current, as the entirety of Long Island Sound flushes in and out every 6 hours. The current can be 3-4 knots and cause swirls, boils, and standing waves. It’s best to wait until Mother Nature rests between tide cycles – slack water – and cross The Race at that time. All in all it was a 12 hour day but all went according to plan, with a few hours of strong rolling ocean swells near Block Island, but otherwise a steady day of motoring. We parked for the night at a little indentation in the eastern tip of Long Island named Trumans Beach, at Orient Point.
Beaching the dinghy so that we could get a good walk in before nightfall, it was hard to avoid the many signs that these swanky, exclusive communities post to keep us, the wayward traveler, out. There was the ‘No Trespassing’ sign we noticed on the beach once we pulled up our dinghy, another ‘Private Property Above The High Water Mark’ sign further down the beach, and in the beach parking lot, a sign that only local residents were allowed to park. We had picked up some trash on the beach to throw away, and there was even a sign about that, stating that you have to pack out any garbage, no garbage facilities existed! The only ones making out in this affair were the sign makers! Based on my knowledge of coastal zone management and water rights, it’s my understanding that you can’t ‘own’ the water below the high tide mark. We’ve used that as our assumption when landing at a beach, and we take extra care to avoid swimming areas and populated spots. If anyone reading this has more knowledge about the rules around owning the waterfront and the beach, and how public access works, please comment. Growing up in Southern California, I never once saw a ‘Private Beach’ sign. Public access to the water was the norm. In populated areas and the summer season, you’d often have to pay for parking, but access was available to all.
Alas, we had a great walk through Orient Point and East Marion. If we had found a restaurant, we would have been easy patrons, but all we found were residential streets, so it was left overs for dinner back at the boat. But we were relieved to have made it across the exposed Block Island Sound area and into the protection of Long Island Sound. The waters should be smoother from this point onward and we won’t have to worry as much about whether our mast will stay put on the deck.
When we left the Portsmouth area, our compass heading was nearly due South. Now our compass heading is pretty much due West. We are inching closer to New York City and then we’ll be chug-chugging up the Hudson River.
Life is good!