Boston Marathon -
July 24, 2003
Like a lot of sailors, we're very good at giving advice. You don't even have to ask us; we let our opinions flow freely with or without prodding. We like to think we're continuing a long maritime tradition of spinning yarns. Of course, we don't really expect anyone to heed our advice, least of all ourselves.
Probably the admonition we cite most often is never commit to being somewhere far away at a fixed date in the distant future. There are too many variables over which you have limited control: the weather, your health, your boat's health. Rushing somewhere to make a deadline is inviting trouble; you may be tempted to take risks that a prudent sailor would normally avoid. All the time, we warn other cruisers not to do this. And all the time, we go ahead and do precisely what we preach against.
Last February when we were in the Bahamas, we received an e-mail from Katrina Beneker of the Pelagic Sailing Club in Boston. She wanted to know if Eileen would be interested in performing for her organization this summer. We hadn't heard of the Pelagic Sailing Club, but we had heard about Boston. "Great city," David said. "I've been there a few times by car, but never by boat. We should go." As it turned out, several of our cruiser friends in the Bahamas were from New York and New England. They all agreed that we should visit their home waters. They gave us lots of advice on places to go, people to meet, and things to do. We soaked it all in. After a few more e-mail exchanges with Trina we had a date nailed down: July 24th.
Eileen enjoying herself at the helm off the New Jersey coast
Our enthusiasm to explore new cruising grounds was only slightly dampened by one little consideration. We were scheduled to be in Chesapeake Bay on July 4th. David's best friend from childhood days was having a big 50th birthday celebration at his summer place on the eastern shore, across from Annapolis. In nine years of cruising, the good ship "Little Gidding" had not been north of Baltimore. We got out the only chart we had that included Boston. It also included the entire eastern seaboard and a good part of the Caribbean. "Look," David observed, "Boston is only eight inches from Annapolis and we'll have almost three weeks to get there after Laurie's birthday. No problem."
In the months following our decision to go to Boston, various friends gave us all manner of charts and cruising guides and (of course) more advice. We discovered that there were a hell of a lot of places we just had to see in those eight inches between Annapolis and Boston. As the word got around, some other boating organizations in the area contacted us about possible appearances. Our good friends David and Susan in Ontario said they'd like to drive down for a visit. We were several weeks and several hundred miles away and we were already getting booked solid.
"Maybe we should scale down our itinerary," Eileen suggested. "We have to be back in Baltimore for the beginning of September, so we only have a couple of months to cruise further north." We decided to concentrate on the waters around Long Island Sound, Block Island, and Narragansett Bay. We could rent a car to go from there to Boston for the performance on July 24th. "That will save us over an inch," David calculated. We were set. That was two months ago.
Fast forward to last week. Our July 17 entry in these pages indicates that we were still in Chesapeake Bay, not Long Island Sound as planned. To be more precise, we were in the Oxford Boat Yard and our diesel engine was undergoing major surgery. Our mechanic Dave was not happy with the palpitations of its injection pump. If it was human, our engine would have failed an electrocardiogram. The various options all sounded grim: bypass surgery, valve replacement, maybe a complete transplant. We looked at the calendar and at our bank accounts and started sweating. In a flurry of phone calls and e-mails, we lined up car rentals and places for the boat to stay in the Chesapeake and places for us to stay in New England. Last Thursday, just as our cruise north was looking like it was going to become a road tour, Dave completed the operation on our engine. "It's still not perfect," he said, "But it should get you through the summer. Come see me again for a check-up in the fall."
At daybreak on Friday we motored out of Oxford and headed up the Bay towards the C & D Canal. The night before our friend Richard had warned, "You shouldn't leave port on a Friday." While we had been tending to our engine's woes, Richard had been putting the final touches on his pristinely restored hundred-year-old wooden schooner. He was also heading north on a tight schedule; he was planning to attend a wooden boat festival in Mystic, Connecticut. But he wasn't leaving on a Friday. "Can't help it," we responded. "We're late."
We reached the west entrance to the canal before sundown and anchored for the night. At dawn on Saturday we were underway. David checked the current tables for Delaware Bay. "Looks like we're going to enter the Delaware just in time for the flooding tide. We'll have the current against us for most of the trip down the Bay. But if we delay for six hours, we'll never make it to Cape May in daylight."
"Then I guess we'll just have to fight the current," Eileen concluded. "We can't wait another day or two for better tides."
We entered the Cape May Canal at dusk and a little over an hour later exited into the Atlantic with our running lights on. We raised our sails and turned up the New Jersey coast. There was no wind. "I guess we're motoring," David said. "We don't have time to wait for the wind to come up. Let's hope the autopilot works."
Finally sailing in Block Island Sound, with the wind vane self-steering unit doing the work
We usually only use the autopilot when we're motoring. Under sail, we let our wind vane self-steering unit take over the helm. The autopilot failed us back in the spring on our passage to the Chesapeake from Florida. The manufacturer's tech support people thought its fluxgate compass needed replacement. We ordered a new compass and David temporarily installed it just before we left Oxford. Because of our delay in the boatyard, we didn't have the opportunity to test it.
Eileen was at the helm. She switched the autopilot on. The course display looked good. She engaged the drive unit. Nothing. "The new compass works, but there's something else wrong."
"I guess we're hand steering," David said.
We hand steered and motored Saturday night, all of Sunday and into Monday. Finally, as we approached the northeast end of Long Island on Monday morning, the wind came up out of the south. We raised the sails, shut the engine down, and connected our wind vane self-steering unit. As we entered Block Island Sound, David checked the current tables again. "Guess what? The current is going to be against us all the way to Narragansett Bay."
The sun was low on the horizon Monday evening when we ghosted up the West Passage of Narragansett Bay. We dropped the hook in Dutch Harbor just before nightfall, two and a half days after leaving Chesapeake Bay. That was three days ago. This afternoon we drive up to Boston. We made it with time to spare. And if we're lucky, we might have time to fix the autopilot before David and Susan show up.