M/V ARGO CAPTAIN’S LOG June 2013
Today, June 18, we are shrouded in fog. It’s a pea soup variety and I can’t see anything. Thank God for radar! It is 63 degrees; we are in the North Atlantic about 65 miles south of South Hampton, Long Island and about 100 miles southeast of our landfall at Nantucket. It will take us another 15 hours before we can drop anchor in Nantucket Harbor and by then Rebecca and I will have been at sea for seven days and covered about 1,200 miles. The Open Ocean Cruising Society awards a special burgee for such a voyage, but we didn’t apply for membership so we will have to be content with the anonymity of our achievement. A long voyage like this has its pleasures. It is sort of like fun, but different. It begins with trepidation as one realizes all the things that could go wrong or bring discomfort if not disaster. As the days evaporate one by one, staying awake half the night becomes routine, and with it a sense of pride in the accomplishment of doing “it” ourselves. Since there is no TV or internet, the hum of the engine and watching the waves roll beneath ARGO seems to pass the time. Out here there is only the natural world and if the weather is good and nothing goes wrong with the machinery, it can be quit heavenly, particularly at night with the Milky Way overhead. Sometimes a ship will pass on the horizon, and if so a cluster of activity erupts as we move to the radar to calculate the CPA (closest point of approach) and make any course alteration that that may require. But on this trip we have seen only a handful of ships and no yachts. Perhaps it is because we are so far offshore.
We left Stuart on Thursday June 13 at about 1300 in order to make high tide at the crossroads (a point where the Intercostal Waterway, the Indian River, and the outlet to the ocean meet). The water is so shallow there that we almost always drag across the sand on our way out. Once out in the Atlantic, we stayed within 25 miles of the coast until a strong weather front passed. By then we were pretty much stuck with following the coast line up to Maryland, and then we cut the corner and headed for Nantucket, about 400 miles across the ocean south of Long Island and New England. The weather diversion from a more direct route cost us an extra day or two, but it paid off in moderate, following seas on our starboard quarter.
I was three hours into my off watch sleep when we reached the outer buoy at Muskeget Channel that separates Martha’s Vineyard from Nantucket Island. After leaving watch at 0200 I was enjoying a comfortable snooze when suddenly I was being tossed about in an all too familiar manner. Since I couldn’t sleep, I decided to go to the pilothouse where I found out that ARGO was encountering steep six to eight foot waves thanks to a passing cold front that blew up to 40 knot winds against the incoming tide. We felt like we were in a mix-master. We rounded the western side of Nantucket Island and made for the harbor of Nantucket Town. Once inside the harbor we moored at a marina reputed to be the most expensive on the east coast (about $500/night for our size boat). Lucky for us we arrived three days before the summer season began and we were charged reasonable rates.
We stayed in Nantucket three days. One day was devoted to walking up and down the streets of the little town and taking in the sights: there are the Captain’s homes built during the whaling days of the early nineteenth century; there is the Quaker Meeting House with its Spartan, plain countenance, which stands in stark relief to the Methodist Church located across the street that sports a genuine Tiffany window (the irony is that it looks over the Quaker Meeting House); and then there are the countless little Cape Cod style homes of various types such as the half cape (single offset door with no fancy stoop and three front-side windows), the full cape (door in the middle with two windows on each side), the cape the with good front (replacing the grey cedar shakes with painted clap boards) known as “putting on a good front”. All-in-all it is a lovely, picturesque place. Although we had both been to Nantucket years ago, I wanted to stop and visit again because I recently read (and recommend) In the Heart of the Sea by Nathanial Philbrick, the story of the whaling ship Essex and how a great sperm whale had turned on the Essex after being harpooned, collided with it resulting in the loss of the ship. The crew was shipwrecked and set adrift thousands of miles from land. The story tells the history and methodology of whaling, and how some of the crew survived utilizing cannibalism as a means to avoid starvation. I was surprised to learn that cannibalism wasn’t all that unusual under these circumstances in the past. Herman Melville was a contemporary of the Essex crew living at that time in Nantucket and based Moby Dick on this true story.
One afternoon we took a motor tour of the island that revealed its truly lovely, bucolic beauty: cranberry bogs, beaches, little villages and trophies of the wealthy and well-to-do. Many homes sell in the millions, while the most expensive recent sale fetched $48,000,000 for a six acre plot and some nice buildings. Nantucket has a permanent population of about 5,000, but during the summer the population swells to 50,000, with each visitor likely to bringing his or her own car! Traffic, whether by foot or by car, becomes impossible. We were glad to have visited during the off season.
On the dock, we met a fellow boating couple – Ron and Marsha. Ron recommended that we visit Falmouth, as it was a picturesque spot, and the home of Peter Noonan who was THE man to buy diesel fuel from in these parts. So we went to Falmouth, enjoyed the hospitality of Ron and Marsha as they hosted us to diner at the Falmouth Yacht Club, filled up with fuel that was sold at the best price I have seen in years, and rented a car for a little sightseeing. First we drove a few miles over to Woods Hole, home of the famous oceanographic institute; cute, but not much there for the tourist. Next we drove up to Hyannis Port hoping to see the Kennedy Compound. Once again there wasn’t much to see as no access was permitted to the street leading to the residence, and Hyannis Port doesn’t have much else to recommend it. So, our trip about the area was pretty much of a bust, and we returned to Falmouth having decided to pull out the next day.
On Tuesday, June 25, we left Falmouth bound for Portland, Maine. To get to Portland one must travel either around or through Cape Cod. The preferred route takes us through the cape via the Cape Cod Canal. To get to it, we had to get from Nantucket Sound to Buzzards Bay, which requires a transit through either Woods Hole or Quick’s Hole. Peter Noonan and his assistant “Squid” advised us not to take the passage at Woods Hole as many boats including a USCG cutter foundered on the rocks there last year. So we took a slightly longer route and made our way into Buzzards Bay via Quick’s Hole, which isn’t a hole but a passage between two islands; there, we turned east toward the Cape Cod Channel. The channel is about ten miles long and allows transitors to avoid a 135 mile passage around the cape. The only problem with the channel is the current, which can be around 4 knots in either direction depending upon the tide cycle. For us, that represents about half our normal cruising speed, and as we went through the canal our speed dropped to as low as 2.3 knots (from what normally would have been at least 8 knots). We entered the canal around 1500 and made our exit around 1700 into Cape Cod Bay. It was a beautiful day: bright sun, blue sky, little wind, and calm conditions.
Once through the channel we decided to cruise all. I took a nap for 2 hours while Rebecca stood watch and cooked diner. After dinner Rebecca went to bed and I took the watch until 0200; at that time she took over and I went back to bed. That night we traveled slowly so as to make Portland around 0900. Our speed was 6.4 knots (7.4 mph) using 5.6 gal of fuel per hour. The sea was calm and very pleasant. The sky toward Boston was dark with occasional flashes of lightening, a harbinger of a coming storm. To the east, the moon was rising and it appeared as a beautiful red disk. The ocean was dark, but as Argo pushed the water around her bow stem the waves gently broke away revealing flashes of green light from the photo plankton. It was a wondrous evening indeed!
We entered Portland along Cape Elizabeth and entered Casco Bay in a light fog. The harbor is easy to approach, and it is guarded by the most elaborate and potentially effective forts (ca. 1860) that I have yet seen. In the day, cannons were positioned to rain fire on an approaching enemy from all sides including a fort built on an island in the middle of the harbor. Fortunately we passed by without taking fire! We moored at a marina just north of the peninsula on which Portland is located.
With the British investment in the construction of the Grand Trunk R.R., Portland became an important seaport. The Gulf Stream, which helps ferry ships from North America to Europe, lies just offshore and these two factors along with a beautiful natural harbor helped made Portland an important sea port in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Montreal shipped the riches of Canada by rail here to gain an ice free port to Europe. Portland’s economy began to slip after the Second World War, and now the city appears a little tattered and not very vigorous. Most of the historic downtown buildings are red brick with granite embellishments, many of which were built after the great fire of 1866. Even the sidewalks are redbrick. The newer buildings are all built out of similar brick, giving the city an appearance reminiscent of a land grant college. Some of the streets remain cobblestone in the “old town”, and the merchants make an effort to discourage chain stores from infesting the area so as to preserve an historic genre. The waterfront is still comprised of mostly late nineteenth century wharf buildings, which are interesting but not especially attractive. We took a motor tour (conducted by Will Cogswell, whose uncle is James Cogswell, a professor of art whom we met at a friend’s home before we left. It is a small world indeed!) The rest of the town is built of wooden clapboard structures similar in many ways to those found in San Francisco. Some are clearly Victorian, while others are a sort of Italianate, while others are a “tent” structure popular after the Civil War.
Last evening we drove to Freeport, a nicely coiffured little town about 15 miles north of Portland. It is not only the home of the L.L.Bean, but also a brand name discount outlet mecca so popular with shoppers looking for a deal. L.L.Bean itself covers several city blocks in various buildings, so one needs to know what their looking for in order to enter the right building. Rebecca enjoyed the stopover and I found a few things also.
After Freeport we headed further north to Brunswick, a little town that is home to Bowdoin College, one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Among its graduates are Nathanial Hawthorn, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and President Franklin Pierce. The campus was quit lovely, although small and enclosed within a town that offered little distraction to their earnest supplicants.
We left Portland for Boothbay, which is about 35 miles north of here, at 0945. It was very foggy in the harbor and it was full of lobster pot buoys that we had to maneuver around. Once in to the main channel, it was very easy to become disoriented in the fog despite all our modern electronic equipment. Out of the harbor and on the ocean we found the conditions as predicted; large swells and foggy conditions. A few of the swells were in the 8-10 foot size range, but most were in the 6 foot range, and the visibility was minimal. The swells rolled in from our starboard quarter, occasionally moving us far over on our port side…nothing of any concern only surprise and wonder at the power and force of the sea. When we entered Boothbay we hoped that the warming of the land during the day would have dissipated the fog inside the harbor, but no such luck. The harbor was completely socked in and it was full of mooring buoys, lobster pots, and boats at anchor. We could only see a hundred yards or so in front of us, so we picked our way around until we found our slip at the Tugboat Inn at the center of town; that required constant VHF contact with the dock hand that couldn’t see us, but helped us find their little spot on the edge of the wharf.
That evening Rebecca had arranged for us to attend a performance at the Carousel Dinner (it was really just sandwiches) Theater. Just before we left for the theater a fellow on a boat across the way who had watched intently as we moored Argo, offered us the use of his car; so off we went. After arriving at the theater we met the owner, Robb Bernard, who is a “retired” performer now teaching theater and performance at the only all-girls Quaker School in the country. I mentioned that we had recently been to the Quaker Meeting House in Nantucket and was now an expert in matters Quaker, so…I thought that displays or actions drawing attention to one’s-self (including tombstones) were verboten. Consequently I was surprised that he had an appointment there. He explained that the all-girls Quaker School now had only one Quaker attending, so things were somewhat more relaxed. At any rate, he owns the Carousel and produces these shows during the summer. He goes to NYC to recruit aspiring singers and dancers. They form a small troupe who perform as well as wait tables between acts. This year the program features the music of Nat King Cole during dinner, and Elton John after dinner. It was a lot of fun.
We plan to be in Bar Harbor for the 4th of July, and then keep moving up the coast to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland by August.
We have put a few new pictures up on our website at www.tischtravels.com. Thanks for looking in on us.
We hope you are enjoying the summer wherever you are.
Captain Randy & 1st Mate and Chief Medical Officer and Galley Maid Rebecca