Joining the Crowd -
August 7, 2003
For a couple of weeks now we've been cruising New England; Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, to be more exact. It's the first time we've been in these waters and we've learned two important things: a lot of people live around here; and many of them own boats. This gives rise to a third phenomenon - there's one helluva lot of boats out on the water. It would be hard to characterize Chesapeake Bay, where we were a short while ago, as underpopulated. The cities of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, and Norfolk are either on the Bay or an easy drive away. And many of the denizens of those centres own boats. Compared to what we've seen lately, though, the Chesapeake seems like a remote cruising ground.
It was when we were northbound off the New Jersey coast that we had our first inkling we were entering a more populated zone. It was a Sunday and the chatter on the VHF radio was non-stop. Admittedly, just about everywhere Channel 16 is getting more and more crowded, but on this particular day the radio traffic jam approached gridlock. The Coast Guard pleaded with callers to clear the air so they could attend to legitimate emergency communications. A commercial dive operator complained his divers were being buzzed by jet skis. In Cape May, a power boat was sinking at the dock, water pouring through some undetected opening. Around the corner, a sailboat was drifting ashore, its prop entangled with a crab pot. Further north at Barnegat Bay, two simultaneous distress calls were creating confusion as would-be rescuers mixed up the two emergencies: an overturned sailboat with crew in the water; and a powerboat on fire. Elsewhere, a sailboat was jammed under a not-quite-high-enough bridge, its rigging brushing up against high voltage power lines. The sun had set and we were approaching the New York harbour shipping lanes and the calls continued. Everyone seemed to be running out of fuel as they turned for home. Just as Eileen came up for night watch the Coast Guard warned of a downed airplane southeast of Long Island. "Great," she said. "In addition to avoiding all the commercial ships pouring through here, I've got to dodge airplanes!"
You could walk ashore across the decks of the boats rafted together in Dutch Harbor
When we arrived at Dutch Harbor on Conanicut Island the next day we found a bay full of moorings. We squeezed in between the south limit of the mooring field and the shore and dropped the anchor. It was a fair distance to the public dinghy dock, but we were well protected. We wondered where all the other anchored boats were. Ashore, our friend Jamie warned, "Just wait until the weekend. Believe me, you won't be feeling lonely then!"
After three days on the hook we decided to take a mooring for a night. Eileen had a performance scheduled and we wanted to be closer to the dock to unload her sound equipment. For forty bucks we tied up to a mooring. We very rarely pay for dockage or a mooring, so maybe we're out of touch with current prices. It didn't seem we were getting a lot for our money. No water or electrical hook-up; no showers, swimming pool, or internet connection; just a mooring (a launch service was available, but we couldn't use it due to its limited hours of operation). David commented, "That dinghy trip from where we were anchored doesn't seem that far anymore."
The next day, Friday, we cast off from the mooring and headed back to the fringes to anchor. Around midday, other boats started to arrive. By nightfall anchored boats were all around us. All Saturday morning they kept coming. Rafts seemed to be particularly popular, especially among the power boaters. In our July 3rd entry ("Too Much Togetherness"), we commented on a couple of rafts that anchored near us in Solomons, Maryland. They were puny compared to what surrounded us in Dutch Harbor. Soon there was hardly enough open water left to navigate the dinghy ashore. It would have been easier to walk from deck to deck.
We concluded that moving from one anchorage to another in Rhode Island was probably a bad idea on a weekend. We waited until Wednesday to sail further up Narragansett Bay to the charming town of Wickford. Wickford Harbor is entirely choked with moorings; it's impossible to anchor. The town provides five moorings free of charge for transients. They're located just inside the breakwater and have a 24 hour limit. It's a great deal so you really shouldn't complain that it's a mile to the centre of town. We arrived around noon and grabbed a vacant mooring. By mid-afternoon, all the freebies were taken.
"Little Gidding" swings on a coveted town mooring in Wickford Harbor's back forty
After enjoying our free twenty-four hours in Wickford, we sailed up to Bristol. Bristol Harbor is large and open to the south. It's also full of moorings. At the south end of the mooring field, next to the Prudence Island ferry docks, there's some leftover space for anchoring. We were meeting Tim Murphy, managing editor of "Cruising World" magazine, in Bristol and he advised us to anchor there. Later that evening, as we ate ice cream in the cockpit of "Little Gidding", Tim mentioned, "It's really exposed to the prevailing winds here. I remember the first time I anchored here with my wife-to-be and it was blowing hard; our relationship almost ended we had such a miserable night!" Fortunately, we had light easterlies the night we were in Bristol and our marriage remained intact.
On Friday, we got an early start and sailed back down the bay towards Dutch Harbor. We had ordered some parts for our autopilot that were due to arrive in nearby Jamestown. We managed to get there before the weekend rush. David went ashore and picked up several boxes from Jamestown Electronics. He piled them up on the salon table and began leafing through a thick installation manual. "I'm not sure this is going to be as easy as I thought it was going to be," he confided to Eileen.
"No big deal," she responded. "We've found ourselves a free anchoring spot in a sheltered location. You've got all the time in the world."