March 1, 2004|
Newport, Rhode Island
41° 29.325 North
071° 19.319 West
By Bernadette Bernon
tropical storm that had been propelling us away from the mid-Atlantic states,
and sending us hightailing north to Rhode Island, was upgraded to hurricane
status while we were still cooling our heels in the Chesapeake, and we’d
been mighty worried ever since. Named Isabel, she was a beaut – big,
strong, ugly, and according to the National Hurricane Prediction Center,
packing an attitude that was worsening by the hour. We were concerned enough
about the storm that even with a leaking packing gland, which by anybody’s
standards would have been reason enough to rush to a marina with a Travel-lift
and haul out, we opted to sail 220 miles further, to the comparative safety
of New England.
Within two days
of setting off, we ghosted in from the Atlantic Ocean, under sail, toward
home anchorage, in gusty winds and drizzling rain
at the same hour Isabel began to hammer Maryland. Had we stayed there, and
tried to fix the gland in a yard in Annapolis, there’s no telling how
we would’ve made out. Much of the city of Annapolis and the surrounding
region was being battered by brutal wind and about to be covered in tidal surge.
Downtown Annapolis would end up several feet under water.
We sail Ithaka as fast as we can away from the dangers of Hurricane Isabel.
Our first sailing
homecoming after three and a half years away was not without its dramatic
In addition to the storm on our tail, and the problem
with our dripless packing gland (a more unappealing name for a piece of gear
cannot be imagined), Ithaka was exhibiting other bothersome problems. During
the passage, the speed-indicator stopped working due to a on-strike impeller
sensor; the wind indicator lost an arm during a wind gust, and stopped sending
data; the bimini began ripping along the seam where it attaches to the backstay;
and our computer mysteriously stopped capturing the weather data upon which
we’d come to rely. While our trusty vessel was fine, many of the little
add-ons were dropping like flies. Ithaka needed some serious TLC. It was as
though she, too, knew we were headed home for a refit, said “to hell
with it” and was loosening her grip on some of the things that she’d
been holding together for us. With the elements continuing to be relentless,
we pushed onward over the watery pastures toward the barn.
For most cruisers,
a homecoming—even a temporary one like this—is
an occasion for celebration. For Douglas and me, it was also a quiet time filled
with reveries over our sailing adventures, distant cultures, and the secluded
anchorages we’d left in our wake. We were filled with joy to sail safely
past the Castle Hill Light we knew so well. The light, standing sentinel at
the foot of Narragansett Bay, leading into Newport, was shrouded in fog and
washed with rain, as it was the day we left three years before. We were filled
with nostalgia as the familiar landscape of our home waters and all our old
haunts unfolded before us, and we remembered vividly the day Ithaka sailed
out of this same harbor on our first outward voyage. Most of all, we were filled
with profound relief to have made it safely home. Already, we had 25 knots
of wind, and it was predicted to increase rapidly. Hurricane Isabel was upping
her attack on Maryland.
Ithaka is hauled out of the water at Newport Shipyard.
As Ithaka sailed
along the East Passage toward Newport’s inner harbor,
we made three phone calls. One was to Douglas’s mother in Cleveland,
Ohio, who cried tears of relief that we’d made it back in one piece.
And we called my father, and my brother Mark, who both live in Newport. They
said they’d jump into my dad’s truck, and head down to the dock
as soon as we picked up a mooring. I longed to see them and give them the biggest
hugs in the world. And then there was Hannah, Mark’s three-year-old daughter
and our niece, who I couldn’t wait to see. I ached to be her auntie for
real, rather than in long-distance, and to spend this winter becoming a real
part of her life.
Just like we did
a thousand times before, we rounded the jetty at Fort Adams, then zigzagged
the Newport harbor mooring field, tied Ithaka to a mooring
ball, took down the sails, and looked around. We’d been gone for more
than three years, and everything looked as beautiful as ever – the bustling
waterfront, the mansions on the hills, the sparkling yachts moored all around
us. Eerily, everything looked the same as it always did, as though we’d
never left. When we came to think about it later, we’d see that it was
Douglas and me, not Newport, who’d done all the changing.
The Travel-lift drives Ithaka to her corner of the boatyard.
Over the month that followed, we lived on Ithaka on the mooring while we nestled
back into life amongst our family and friends, and looked for the right yard
to haul the boat. Finally we decided on Newport Shipyard, where the price was
fair and the manager, Mark Mutty, seemed like a reasonable and nice guy. Best
of all, the yard was within walking distance of the house we rented for the
frigid winter months.
When the temperature
became too cold to dinghy in and out from the boat, we brought her into the
Shipyard dock, packed every single thing from
every single locker into 46 cartons, unloaded the boxes one by one into my
dad’s truck, along with sails, canvas, and all the gear from the lazarettes,
and took them to the house for sorting, fixing, and re-organizing for our take
off in the spring. Finally, one crisp bright day, with spectacular America’s
Cup yachts and gleaming maxi-racers docked all around us, we strapped our little
boat into the slings of the Travel-lift, and hauled her out. As her underbody
came out of the water, with all its barnacles, green beard, and nicks, Douglas
and I just stood in awe and watched. We had our work cut out for us, sure,
but mostly we were just proud of our boat, and all she’d been through,
and how she’d carried us safely away and back again.
The few months we spent in Cartagena, Colombia, during the past season did a number on Ithakas underbody. The harbor was biologically hot and heavily polluted, so the marine growth on our bottom was rampant. We scraped every other week, which shortened the life of our bottom paint, and allowed barnacles to grow more quickly.
So this is where
we are now, wintering over in Newport, working every day on a long list of
and upgrades on the boat, working on our writing
for BoatUS and for Cruising World magazine, and enjoying sharing our story
by doing several lectures and slide shows at boat shows and yacht clubs around
the country. Now, in our next few logs for BoatUS, we’re going to change
tacks a bit, and take you along for an intimate look at these projects and
these lists, show you what we’re doing to the boat and why, and share
with you our considerations as we decide where we’d like to go cruising
next, in the spring, and how we’re planning for it.
We took everything off the boat for the winter every locker emptied, every sail, every piece of gear so that we could inspect it all, sort it out, and make repairs on things that were worn out.
We’ll be moving back on Ithaka in May, but for right now we’ve
temporarily become land people again – this transition is an adventure
unto itself – and although we’re loving the reconnection on many
levels, on other levels we’re already longing again for the open sea.
On any big dreams in life, until you push to achieve them; until you miss the
comforts that accompanied your old securities, and accept that you no longer
need so many to be happy; until you fear what challenges will be foisted upon
you, and realize that your survival may depend upon your resourcefulness, you
just have no clue what you’re capable of. Now, having been cruising for
more than three years, Douglas and I have a better idea of our own limitations,
as well as our own potential to live a bit outside the box, and we crave the
challenges and the rewards, the freedoms and the vistas, that the cruising
life has opened up for us. Thanks for coming along with us on our voyage so
far. We hope you’re enjoying the ride, and will stay aboard with us when
as take off again the Spring.
One of the best reasons to come home for the winter to be with Hannah.