Expanded History – Chapter Six
|Chapter Six-SUMMER CRUISES, 1983 TO 1989This chapter covers the long cruises made each summer between 1983 and 1989. They ranged as far north as Newfoundland, as far south as the Grenadines and east to the Azores. For those without the stamina to grind through over 11,000 words here is a brief summary:1983, To Bermuda, the wheel became detached from the rudder and we thought Red was having a heart attack.
1884, To Canada, where we met a prohibition era rum-runner.
1985, We shanghaied a crew at Block Island in order to get to the Caribbean.
1986, The crew jumped ship in the Azores and was busted by the police.
1987, Split between Bermuda and Maine. I fell off the boat in the middle of the night. Edith and Eric got lost ashore on a Maine island.
1988, To the Grenadines, Eric rather carelessly let the mast fall over the side.
1989, To Newfoundland, where we could not see where were going and Shoel kissed a cod.
SHAKEDOWN TO BLOCK ISLAND AND BERMUDA
We sailed at the end of August; the crew consisted of me, Pete, who had sailed on Sea Swan, and Red. Red was a former WWII fighter pilot who was imperturbable under any circumstances; this trip would prove that. The weather was atrocious as we battled into the Gulf Stream; 35 knot winds with gusts to 45 knots. At one stage we had all three reefs tied in the mainsail and even reefed the staysail. At the height of the storm we suddenly lost steering and had to ship the emergency tiller. I discovered the master link had come out of the steering chain but fortunately I was able to find the pieces and put it back together. We made Bermuda in five days, Edith, Brenda and Red’s wife Julie flew down and we cruised the lovely waters on the western end of the archipelago. One morning as we attempted to leave Ely’s Harbour I slipped the engine into gear as Red raised the anchor-nothing happened! I quietly asked Red to drop the hook again; there was no point in alarming the ladies. All four bolts holding the propeller shaft coupling had worked loose, well; that’s what a shake-down is all about. Pete flew home and Red’s son-in-law David took his place. On the trip back the steering chain broke again, the emergency tiller came apart when we shipped that and Red suffered chest pains after a spell at the bucking wheel. We made it back to Stirling Harbor in 4 ½ days, there was plenty to do before Red and me and a couple of Colin’s friends sailed the boat back to Patchogue in October. After we entered the Bay at Fire Island Inlet we touched bottom several times. As the years went by I got to know the bottom intimately between the Inlet and the Patchogue River. For the season we logged 2282 nm. In the fall I pulled the steering system to pieces and discovered that a bronze plate under the pedestal had been improperly cast; as the chain passed through a hole it rubbed on the side; that occasionally dislodged the spring clip. I re-designed the rudder post extension to beef up the emergency tiller. I also ordered an Aries self-steering vane from England, when it was installed in time for the next season I christened it ‘Victor,’ the vane.
A CRUISE TO CANADA
When the ladies departed we sailed to St Pierre and Miquelon, small islands lying south of Newfoundland. They are all that remain of the mighty French empire in North America and are still administered from Paris. The local souvenir shops carried several books about St Pierre’s role during the Prohibition years. It was a major conduit for European liquor to enter America and quite a few local citizens became rich. When we sailed back to Cape Breton Island we managed to drop the Genoa jib over the side when we were changing down to the Yankee jib. In those days I still used hanked-on sails on the headstay. It got torn as we retrieved it, when we tied up at Louisbourg for customs clearance back into Canada I asked the customs officer if there was a sailmaker in town who could repair the sail. ‘Let me look at it,’ he said. He inspected it and opined it didn’t look too bad, ‘Shove in my trunk,’ he ordered then we drove over to a tourist center and gift shop. At the back we followed him into a workshop carrying the sail; several ladies were busy at sewing machines making souvenir aprons. ‘Get rid of that stuff,’ he commanded, ‘You’re going to do something useful and repair this gentleman’s sail.’ He turned to me and winked, ‘I used to be the mayor.’ Louisbourg was a major French port in Colonial times, it had a huge fort and was the haven for French warships that harassed the British settlements in New England. Eventually the British attacked it by land and reduced the fort to rubble. When the Cape Breton coal mines closed in the 1960s the government had the bright idea of rebuilding the fort using unemployed miners. As it happened the plans for the fortifications still existed in Paris and excavation at the site produced numerous small artifacts that could be used as patterns when making new ones such as window and door latches. The miners were retrained and did a wonderful job of recreating the fort. Now it is a great tourist attraction in summer with students in period costumes playing the townsfolk. We made a brief stopover at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Club in Halifax to refuel and pushed on to Lunenburg. Sitting in the cockpit at the public dock I was suddenly startled by a brusque ‘Hello there.’ I glanced up, the call had come from a tall, burly man wearing big fisherman’s boots. “I’m the dock master,’ he continued. ‘Hop on board,’ I said and he climbed down. He said he could charge me dockage but probably wouldn’t bother. I got the hint and poured us both a large glass of rum. We got talking, the dock master job was simply a part-time thing after he retired. He said he had been the town policeman fir many years. The he asked me,’ What do you think I did before I was a cop?’ I thought he was in his mid seventies, so he must have been born well before WW I. I had just been reading a book I had bought at St Pierre about the rum-runners so without thinking much I said ‘You were a rum-runner!’ His jaw dropped, ‘How did you know?’ ‘Well, the dates looked right.’ I told him. He went on to tell wonderful stories about running to Boston in ten hours in a speedboat that that had three war surplus liberty engines. They even had a radio operator to arrange a rendezvous.
From Lunenburg we sailed across the Gulf of Maine to Pollack Rip Channel on the south side of Cape Cod and anchored at Nantucket. After that we visited Woods Hole and Westport and completed the cruise by returning to Stirling Harbor, Greenport, for the rest of the season. Edith, Red and I took the boat to Block Island for a very pleasant weekend in late August. In September Red and I sailed the boat back to Patchogue by ourselves. We had added 2,727 nm to the log in 1984.
A CARIBBEAN CRUISE
It was apparent we would make our landfall at night, unfortunately the sky was overcast as we approached St. Martin and that precluded a solid fix. The lights of St Martin and Angulla were visible, but I was not confident enough of our position to make a run inshore. Instead, when the depth finder showed we were on soundings I turned the boat and reached seaward for an hour before reaching back. This was safe seamanship but it turned out badly; we were struck by a couple of squalls of 40 knots, in the driving rain we lost sight of the islands and clawing down the Genoa jib the flogging sail tore. Also we got soaked to the skin. Eventually the sun rose, as it usually does, we motored into Marigot Bay and I called my friend Dudley who was then living aboard Ramage in Simpson Lagoon. After a couple of days we sailed to Gustavia on St Barts, a hard beat but an easy run back to meet Edith, Brenda and her friend Susan who flew in. Jim left us, in the logbook he wrote a nice thank you including ‘the privilege of staying Wet. Wet. Wet for 12 ½ days’. He was right, I decided for the next season to try a roller furler for the jib.
We spent a pleasant few days in St Martin and then sailed for Road Harbour on Anguilla. From there we crossed the Anegada Passage overnight to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. My all-girl crew stood watches so I could get some sleep. On arriving at Virgin Gorda we spotted Maverick, Edith and I were very excited and rowed over in the dinghy. But Ruth and Jack had sold her and we knew nobody on board. Things were changing as we found out when we anchored behind the reef at Marina Cay; The Bathams had sold out and the little hotel was shut. We sailed to our old haunts of the 1968/69 cruise; Road Town on Tortola, Norman Island with bat caves accessible only from the sea and Jost van Dyke. We wound up at St Johns, where John and Barbara, our shipmates of the 1964 transatlantic cruise, had started a travel agency. Fred and Pete, Karen’s father, flew in as the return crew and John and Barbara laid on a typical island party where we met many of their friends and sank copious amounts of rum punch. Edith and the girls left the next day on the ferry to Red Hook and then a plane from St Thomas for New York.
I don’t think Karen was too pleased to share the trip back with her father. But a four person crew meant easy watches and we had an uneventful sail to Bermuda. During our stay hurricane ‘Claudette’ put in an appearance to the north of the island, when she had passed we powered out of the Cut at St Georges with no wind but a choppy sea left by the hurricane. Fiona rolled as we chugged north and abeam of the Kitchen Shoal buoy the engine quit because of sediment in the tanks stirred up by the motion. I crouched in the hot, smelly engine room cleaning filters when Pete called down, ‘Eric, I can see coral under the boat.’ The current was drifting us onto Kitchen Shoal. This was quite an incentive to get the Perkins running again, although Fred and Pete stood by the anchor in case it got too shallow. When a diesel stops because of fuel starvation air gets into the system and purging the air is a real problem, a small hand pump is fitted to the engine for this purpose but my experience at Kitchen Shoal convinced me something better was needed and that winter I added an electric fuel pump and a vacuum gauge, which indicates how clogged the fuel filters are getting. Needless to say, I got the engine running again before an unpleasant meeting with a coral head. The rest of the trip to Stirling Harbor was not as exciting.
Later in the season Red, Gary, a friend from work, and I sailed the boat to Block Island. Early in September Red, Pete, Pat, another co-worker, and myself sailed the boat back to Patchogue. For the season we added 4,219 nautical miles to the log.
A CRUISE TO THE AZORES
We motored overnight to Horta on Faial, it is definitely the yachting center of the mid-Atlantic. Virtually every boat making a passage to or from Europe stops there at the huge marina. The marina is protected by a long seawall on which yachts paint their logo. Some are very artistic and took days to execute. I bought some small cans of paint and added Fiona’s modest contribution to the picture gallery. After a couple of days we prepared to sail to Terceira, where there is an international airport, to pick up Edith and Brenda. Just before we left Paul announced he was leaving and walked off with his duffel bag. This left me in a dilemma; skippers are not supposed to leave their crew scattered about in foreign countries but if I was to meet Edith on time we had to get going. We duly met Edith and Brenda and the next day sailed to Graciosa Island. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and tied up to the ancient stone dock. A nasty swell caused the boat to bang against wall and I was afraid the fenders would burst. Some local sailors rowed over and without a word in common we managed to set a breast anchor so that we could relieve the load on the side of the boat. Then a local fellow noticed that the stern mooring line was chafing badly on the edge of the stone near an iron mooring ring. To my amazement he whipped off his shirt and wrapped it round the rope for protection. Now that really is hospitality, however I was able to find some old canvas for the same job and give him his shirt back. We had read that the great attraction on Graciosa was the Sulfur Cavern so in the gathering dusk we took a taxi through a tunnel in the caldera wall to the site. To visit the cavern one descends down a tall tower with spiral stone steps to the floor of a crater that slopes downwards towards an underground lake. There is a strong smell of sulfur and gas bubbles up through muddy holes in the rocks. It was really spooky as the light faded and we made our way back up the steps to the waiting taxi. The next day we sailed back to Horta, it was a beat against a strong southwest wind; Edith and Brenda were not impressed. The next few days we toured the tourist spots, including the famous Peter’s Sport Café. This bar had been started years ago when Faial was a whaling port and the owner collected an astonishing amount of incredible scrimshaw off the returning whalers. We went upstairs to take a look and I cringed at the thought of this priceless collection in the same building as all those drunken yachties smoking away.underneath. We discovered Paul had been arrested during a drug bust on some hippie encampment by the police. But the authorities just wanted the foreigners out and Paul had been sprung by some yachties at the marina and given a berth while we were away. We virtually kept him under lock and key in the cabin the night before Edith and Brenda left and he flew out with them the next day. Ultimately his father had the grace to repay his airfare. This left the problem of finding a new crew member but we could not find anybody in the short time before we had to leave and so Mike and I began a two man Atlantic crossing to Bermuda.
We headed for Bermuda in an attempt to avoid crossing the Azores-Bermuda high pressure region- notorious for large areas of windless calm. Even though we sailed down as low as 29º N we did not avoid the calm, with the sea like a mirror we slowly motored at what I hoped was fuel-efficient 5 knots for nearly a week To Mike’s horror we ran out beer and we were reduced to drinking the cheap ‘Green’ wine we had bought in the Azores, it was pretty bad. Squalls developed in the afternoons and sometimes we got a lift for an hour or two from the wind. It was fascinating to watch the development of the squalls; the clouds would pile up, and then darken with lightning and we could see a band of rain downwind. Then the whole development would fade away. We passed whales and the odd tanker. We noticed the VHF radio whip antenna at the mast head had disappeared, Mike winched me up in the bosun’s chair and I fitted a piece of stiff wire from a coat hanger as a substitute. As we neared Bermuda the weather worsened and at times we had three reefs in the main battling a head wind. When we tried to tack the seas were so high we could not get the bow around and we had to start the engine to power the boat onto the other tack. Eventually the loom of Bermuda was discernable one night; we tied up at St Georges the next day with only a few gallons of fuel left in the tanks. I was already a week past the date I was supposed to be back at work. To make matters worse I had been promoted to a fairly responsible position a month before we left and the Laboratory Director had not been too impressed with my plans to sail away for a couple of months.
We picked up a lost soul in Bermuda, John, who had quarreled with the owner of a south-bound boat and was looking for a ride home. We left after only two days of restocking and refueling for a relatively good crossing to Long Island, although the logbook records winds to 40 knots and three reefs, Mike and I were getting used to that kind of sailing by then. Curiously when we broached the last remaining fresh water tank we found it had gone foul and for drinking and cooking we had to use the five gallons we carried in the ‘abandon ship’ locker. We tied up just under five days out from Bermuda.
I made two more trips to Block Island in the waning days of the season, one with Edith and a friend from work, Gary and his wife Cindy. We arrived at the Block Island entrance channel just after midnight and went aground only to be ignominiously pulled free by the local coast guard. Edith and I made our last visit of the year to Block with Jon, his wife Louise and son Jeffrey. In early November I took the boat back to Patchogue with Rich and Phil, the son of one of my neighbors. In 1986 we sailed 6,547 nautical miles.
BERMUDA AND MAINE
We soon had the boat sailing and the next day was characterized by calm, squalls and wind. Ironically, a day after my unintended immersion we dropped the sails and went for a swim over the side. A day later we tied up at St Georges, Bermuda – a five day passage. Within a few days Don and Jon flew home and Edith flew in bringing Louise’s children, Jeffrey and Christina, who were aged about eleven and five. For the next six days we made a leisurely cruise of the western part of the Bermuda islands such as Mangrove Bay, Paradise Cove and Shelly Bay. These were pleasant times spent swimming, fishing and exploring the old Boer War Cemetery. One incident, that is only funny in retrospect, was when we tied up stern-to at a small hotel called the Glen Coe. The dock was immediately below the dining area, which was crowded with guests who greatly enjoyed our performance. The idea was to drop the anchor and reverse up to the dock with the engine and tie up stern-to. This requires good coordination between the helmsman (me) and the anchor winch operators on the foredeck (Edith and Louise). As I backed down and, for one reason or another, could not get a line on the dock more and more diners put down their knives and forks to watch. At one point I dashed to the foredeck to help and then dashed back to the cockpit, I was bare-footed and on the way caught my toe in a ring on deck that produced a string a sailor’s curses and a lot of blood as I hopped along. When we finally tied up I seem to remember a polite round of applause, but perhaps over the years my memory has embroidered the incident.
When Edith and Louise flew home with the children Mike, my grizzled companion of the ’86 Atlantic crossing, joined the boat. I still wanted another crew member and passed the word to Bernie Oatley, the unofficial greeter of cruising yachts at St Georges. In the end he found me three more; Ian and Phil, two Brits and Paul, another stranded American yachtsman looking for a ride home. We left Bermuda on the 30th July and had a good run to Maine where we anchored south of Cape Elizabeth on August 5th, waiting overnight before powering into a marina on the south side of the river at Portland. After clearing customs quite a party developed at the marina bar with some local ‘Maniacs’. My old sailing buddy Fred had left a message to say he was anchored at Jewel Island, not too far away in Casco Bay. When the crew departed by bus I sailed single-handed to Jewel and rafted next to Fred’s boat Athena. The next day I sailed to South Freeport where I had rented a mooring for a couple of weeks, the yard gave me a ride to the airport and I flew back to Long Island and the ‘salt mine’.
Red and I along with a technician from work, Rick, drove back to South Freeport in late August and sailed the boat to Monhegan Island. The forward head jammed up and Red and I had a happy but smelly time pulling it to pieces. From Monhegan we sailed to Round Pond, Potts Harbor and back to South Freeport to pick up Edith and Jim, my ‘shanghaied’ crew of the ’85 cruise. After a visit to Cundy Harbor, a very traditional Maine fishing port, so traditional that the bottom was littered with two hundred years of marine detritus and we brought up an old lobster trap on the anchor. Next we sailed up the Sheepscot River to Bath. They still make big ships for the US Navy there, a short walk from the vast assembly docks is the Bath marine museum, a fascinating place if you like maritime history. I wanted to take a short cut under the bridge at Peble Point but the mast seemed just a foot too high, I suggested to Jim that we winch him to the mast head in the bosun’s chair to check as we tried to sail under but he didn’t buy into that and instead we made the long hike down the river again to Fort Popham where we anchored for lunch. We spent the night on anchor at Ebenecook Harbor and harvested a few mussels for happy hour. From there through Townsend Gut with its famous swing bridge; the operator always asks your name as you pass. From the Gut it is only a few miles to Boothbay, visitors are allowed to tie to the town dock for three hours. It is always a change to mingle with the tourists and have an ice cream. There is a nice secondhand bookstore just near the library which I always drop into. When I returned to the boat Rick had his duffel bag on the pontoon and said he was leaving. He had been somewhat agitated for a few days because he could not contact his wife by phone at our various stops.
Boothbay was as far east as we had time for, we headed west, sailed past Seguin Island and made for the hotel at Sebasco. The hotel provides moorings and use of its facilities. Red was on the foredeck with a boathook trying to pick up the mooring rode. The hook got caught and as Fiona drifted away he had to abandon it, much to his chagrin. We launched the rigid dinghy, which is very handy for this sort of eventuality, and Red rowed over to retrieve the boathook. We had dinner at the hotel and then sailed to Mackerel Bay on Baileys Island, there used to be an old-fashioned fisherman’s restaurant and bar, now sadly gone. Our next stop was Jewel Island where Edith and I had a rather scary experience; we took the dinghy to the landing point on the east side of the bay, anchored it and scrambled up the rocky shore to a footpath. We decided to walk to the east side of the island and make our way along the shore to the WWII observation towers on the south side of the island. The first part was fine but there was no path along the shore and the further we got the more difficult progress became. The afternoon was drawing to a close, I suggested we make our way inland to intersect the path to the towers, and then we could easily return to the dinghy. Bad idea; the interior of the island was littered by fallen trees, impenetrable bushes and undergrowth and marshy bogs. Eventually, scratched and muddy, we came across the path and as the shadows lengthened hurried back to the dinghy. The tide had risen and the dinghy bobbed on its anchor a few yards from shore in three feet of water, I waded out, rowed over for Edith and we returned to the boat for an extended happy hour.
From Jewel we sailed back to South Freeport and Edith and Red drove home in the car we had left there. Jim and I sailed the boat south via Portland, Provincetown and the Cape Cod Canal. At Block Island we rendezvoused with Fred, who was sailing Athena with his family. We arrived at Stirling Harbor at the end of the Labor Day weekend, I had arranged a mooring there for the remaining part of the season. In retrospect, I have the most treasured memories of cruising in Maine with Edith and friends whose company I enjoyed.
At the end of September I took three visiting physicists who were working on projects I was associated with to Block Island for the weekend. They were Vesso from Bulgaria, Hao from Peking, China and Jian from Shanghai, China. The Chinese showed up in business suits and polished shoes. All were sea-sick on the way across Block Island Sound. Vesso found a bottle of Mount Gay rum and cured himself with a generous slug. Block Island has pretty well shut down by the end of September so we were able to tie up at Champlin’s Marina, at least the Chinese didn’t have to scramble into the dinghy in their suits. In early October Red and I sailed the boat back to Patchogue, as usual we dragged through mud in the river on the way to the yard. For the season we logged another 2,305 nautical miles.
TO THE GRENADINES
Edith decided to stay on St Martin for a couple of days while Louise, Don and I sailed the boat to Martinique, where she joined us via the local airline. We then hurried on to St Lucia, anchoring at Pigeon Island. Bad weather set in for a day, it was just too wet and windy to leave, no doubt it was an easterly wave; the possible beginning of a hurricane, but the logbook is silent on that and how we passed the time. The next day we sailed past the Soufriere volcano on Dominique and smelt its sulfurous breath. We anchored in the channel at Young’s Island and toasted ourselves with a few rounds of Mount Gay, we had arrived in the southern Caribbean. In the night we dragged and gently touched another boat, the German couple on board was very polite about it as they knocked on our hull and suggested that we move. We were now in the Grenadines, our next anchorage was beautiful Admiralty Bay on Bequia. From there we sailed to the spectacular Tobago Cays and anchored for the night at Palm Island. Edith and I thoroughly enjoyed being back in the cruising grounds we visited aboard Iona, twenty years earlier. For Louise and Don it was an introduction to one of the most wonderful cruising areas in the world but, perhaps sadly, in the midst of rapid change. From Palm Island we sailed over to Mayero for lunch and spent the night at Canouan. We had hoped to sail to Mustique, but the brisk Trades were just a little too far north and we could not lay the course, instead we just managed to weather the west end of Bequia, although it was pitch black with squalls. The next day we tied up to the well named ‘Harpoon Saloon’ (Bequia was once a famous whaling port), treated ourselves to a big dinner of local fish and left after sunset for Isles de Saintes. We were starting the return leg, it was August 5th. Edith and Don planned to leave from St Martin, although we had to deal with some rough weather to get there; spending part of one night hove-to. On the way we popped into English Harbour, Antigua. Phil, a coworker, flew in to join Louise and me and we sailed to Anguilla, just a few miles north of St Martin. For lunch we anchored at Sandy Cay, an idyllic little island with palm trees and a reef, now closed to visitors. An overnight sail across the Anegada Passage got us to Virgin Gorda in time to clear customs, have a swim at the Baths and anchor for the night at Marina Cay.
In the morning our departure for Bermuda was delayed by Louise, who dropped her contact lenses while taking a shower in the forward head. Unfortunately we couldn’t find them, but that was the worst misfortune of that leg, by the fifth day we were greeted by white tropic birds and we tied up at St Georges six days out from the Virgins. After a couple of days Louise and Phil flew home and I was joined by my daughter Brenda and her friend Jessie. They stayed just a few days during which we anchored at Shelly Bay. Talking to Edith by phone, I discovered that the man who had agreed to crew for the leg to Long Island had dropped out. When the girls flew home I scoured Bermuda for crew and co-opted Bernie to find a warm body but time was running out and on August 28th I left for a singe-handed passage across the Gulf Stream to the States. I didn’t know it as Fiona butted out of the Cut against a stiff easterly breeze that a great adventure was beginning.
My plan was to sail to Newport, RI, for customs clearance. Once Kitchen Shoal was astern I was able to set sail to the easterly wind, engage Victor and listen to the coast guard weather forecast from Portsmouth, NH. Tropical storm ‘Chris’ was diminishing and not a threat, a cold front was expected to drop south but it would be a couple of days before I was in its vicinity so I pushed happily to the northwest. With the wind just behind the beam Fiona made good time and I was enjoying myself. By late on the 30th the wind had veered to SW and the boat was going like a train on a port reach. The logbook records I listened to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto at full volume. After that I called Edith on the shortwave radio via the commercial station WOM to let her know what was happening and give her an ETA. The wind steadily picked up with squalls, a squall line had been predicted by the coast guard ahead of the front, which I expected to meet in a few hours. The loran fix put the boat 13 miles from the estimated position of the north wall of the Gulf Stream, where the current ran at its strongest, often up to four knots. Not a good place to meet a cold front, I thought. How right I was. Shortly after calling Edith I logged the boat surfing at 9 to 10 knots and I went below to don heavy foul weather gear. When I returned on deck conditions had gone from bad to worse. The anemometer was pegged at its maximum reading of 60 knots. Victor was not coping, I later found out its plywood steering vane had blown away. I had a reef tied in the mainsail and I tried to furl the jib. At this point the boat jibed and for a while I steered an easterly course, this would keep the boat in the Gulf Stream, but to get back on port tack I had to start the engine and power round. Conditions had gone beyond anything I had ever experienced; the air was filled with white foam illuminated by a fitful moon. I could not stand at the wheel. Fiona was virtually knocked down with the sea pouring over the starboard cockpit coaming. My concern was that the reefed mainsail would split; I had managed to furl the jib. I eased the sheet so that the sail was not too stressed. The staysail, which was furled on its boom and secured to a port shroud blew across to starboard. Suddenly, silently, in a millisecond the mast disappeared and I stared in disbelief at the shrouds lying across the cabin roof. I could hear the mast and main boom banging on the hull. A quick check in the bilge showed the boat was not taking water. Obviously the whole rig had to go; there was no chance of getting it back on board. Although I had bolt cutters on board the wind was too strong for me to stand up and I could not use two hands for the cutter. It was all I could do to hang on, the lifelines and stanchions had been flattened by the departure of the mast. I decided to pull out the cotter pins using vice grips. I slithered along the port side, pressed to the cabin side by the wind, the pins came out like they were made of butter, amazing what a scared man can do pumped up by adrenalin. I got a hacksaw to saw through the headstay, which was biting into the pulpit. I cut the main and jib sheets and the mast dropped so that now it was hanging from the starboard shrouds. Getting rid of these was more difficult, I was now staring straight into the sea from the starboard side of the deck, with the lifeline gone I was nearly pitched in a couple times as the boat rolled heavily, I was saved each time by the safety harness. Finally I pulled out the last pin and I watched the mainsail shimmering into invisibility as it plunged over a mile to the seabed.
I recorded these events in the logbook at 02:35 hours on the 31st. When the seas quietened down after a grey dawn I was able to start the engine, leaving the steering to George. As the seas subsided the boat speed slowly increased and by the afternoon I was making four knots. I rigged a couple of antennas using a dinghy oar to get some height. These enabled the loran to function and just before noon I was able to raise WOM again and tell Edith I had run into a problem and would probably by a little late back. I called the coast guard; in the sea conditions prevailing I was not sure I had a enough fuel to get back, my destination was now Fire Island Inlet on Long Island. At first my ‘Pan’ call was relayed by a Canadian research vessel on Georges Bank to the CG station at Boston, but later I was able to call the CG at Moriches directly and we established a six hour reporting schedule. As it happened the fuel lasted out, I got back to Weeks Yard with 30 gallons left when I pulled in on September 2nd. Not so late after all. Fiona had logged 3,790 nautical miles for the trip.
The boat survived because the mast was stepped on deck, when it blew off it did not cause significant damage to the cabin structure, although the three inch diameter stainless steel compression post under the mast step was bent. If the post had collapsed the story would have been different. The point of failure was the starboard aft shroud which parted about a foot above the swaged eye on the turnbuckle. From damage caused purely by the wind before the mast went I estimated the maximum wind speed at 150 knots (to see the calculation read ‘Dismasted …’ in the ‘Published Articles’ section of the website). Quite a lot was damaged; most of the chain plates and stanchions had to be replaced not to mention a new mast and rigging, new sails and winches. Surprisingly, a teak grab rail on the aft cabin roof was shattered, that must have been caused by the backstay, which probably passed perilously close to my head. My insurance company weaseled out of any payment, as they usually do. Regardless, I was in for a busy winter. When I got back to work Anne said I was like a cat; I had nine lives. I did a quick calculation, cast my mind back to the old RAF days and a couple of electrical near-misses at the Lab and said, ‘More like fifteen, I think’.
A CRUISE TO NEWFOUNDLAND, CANADA
The harbor radio directed us to the container dock, where we tied up near huge ships being loaded and unloaded day and night. It was very noisy. There was one other yacht there, a steel boat built by a retired GM engineer from Detroit called Xanthro Roc, which is a fancy way of saying ‘Yellow Bird’. He had a much younger, very attractive wife. I got a tour; the aft cabin was huge bed with a mirror for a bulkhead. I must say, there was a man who knew what he wanted. There were no other bunks on the boat, he explained they didn’t want anyone else sailing with them. We went to the community theater to see a play put on by young persons from Trepassey, a small fishing port near Cape Race. It dealt with the social problems of growing up there; the women worked at the fish factory, the men went out on the boats. If you wanted more from life you had to leave, although many did not want to. Their love of the village was spelled in the title of the play; ‘A Piece of Heaven’. I imagine the demise of the cod fisheries has resolved that problem. Shoel planned to fly home from St Johns and Edith flew in. We had a final supper for Shoel at a fisherman’s restaurant, he was conned by the proprietor to become a Son of Screech. Screech is a traditional rum, originally made in Newfoundland by fermenting the scrapings of the barrels containing molasses shipped up from the Caribbean. At the climax of the ceremony Shoel had to kiss a cod which the owner triumphantly produced from a freezer. It was all great fun, at least for the rest of us. We were held in port while a gale raged outside, when we did slip out I had hoped to stop at Trepassey and take a look at this paradise but the weather was too bad and we sailed directly to St Pierre. Naturally it was still foggy, the loran was still acting up, and Edith stood on the bow platform straining her ears for the bell on the buoy at the harbor entrance. After a day in port we sailed to the Bras d’Or, it was sunny for a change. The leg took a day and a half against a head wind, we anchored a few hours after sunset near Baddeck. We tied up the next day for a visit to the museum and left in the late afternoon for a gunkholing cruise to Malagawatch and on to St Peter’s. Both Edith and Mike had a swim, I am not that fond of cold water. We locked through the canal and sailed to Liscomb Lodge up a winding river. A salmon dinner, served on a wooden plate completed the day. Dropping the mooring at first light we sailed to Halifax harbor and moored on the Dartmouth side. There is a great maritime museum at Halifax which includes a WWII corvette you can board. They seem very crude and must have been dreadful to serve on in a North Atlantic winter. An exhibit which has always fascinated me during visits to Halifax describes the explosion of a French ammunition ship which was entering the harbor to join a convoy in the winter of 1916. It collided with another ship on the way in and caught fire. When it blew it leveled Halifax, the wooden houses burned and thousands were left in their night clothes in the bitter cold. The telegraph lines went down, it was a day before the outside world even knew about the disaster.
Edith and Mike flew home from Halifax, I was joined by David, the husband of one of Edith’s nurses. We hopped down the Nova Scotia coast in day-long legs, usually tying up at the government wharves at night. We stopped at Lunenburg, explored the Le Havre River and saw a wooden trawler under construction in a very traditional yard. We had a long beat against SW winds to La Tour and pushed on to Yarmouth at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. The tides are enormous here, we tied up at high and when we returned after supper we faced a 15 ft climb down a slimy ladder on the dock wall. Our next stop took us across Grand Manan Basin to Eastport and some cruising in downeast Maine. We groped our way into Roque Bay on Libby Island in dense fog; apparently there was a cruising club rendezvous in progress but the only boat we saw was a power boat which briefly emerged out of the fog called Morning Star. It was still foggy in the morning as we made our way to Bar Harbor, I felt sorry for David who had endured nine foggy days on the boat and not seen much. He left at Bar Harbor and two old crew veterans flew in; Louise and Red. Before we left we took in a play by a local reparatory called ‘Stage Door’. The young man who ushered us to our seats asked where we were from, Red answered, ‘Bellport’. ‘What a coincidence,’ he replied, ‘my mother is from there.’ Turned out Red had dated his mother’s sister. We pulled Red’s leg;’ why, that young fellow could have been your nephew!’ After a lunch stop at Long Island we sailed to Stonington. Louise noted in the logbook that blueberries and cream she had ashore were ‘delicious’. We made our way to Deer Island Thoroughfare and on to Camden. Here the coast guard caught Louise and me in the dinghy without life jackets as we chugged back to the boat. I put on my best British accent and pretended I was unaware of quaint American regulations. Rockland added the Farnsworth and Transportation museums to our cultural pilgrimage.
At Matinicus Island Louise bought two lobsters off a fisherman and ate them both for supper. We had been disappointed in the island itself, I had expected proud, offshore Maine pioneers, but it was more like a seaside slum, with wrecked appliances rusting on the shore and junk everywhere. However, it was redeemed, during the night the painter chafed through, a fisherman found our dinghy on the rocks and brought it back to the boat early in the morning. We made our usual stop at Boothbay, sailed on to Sebacus, Louise logged that we had fruit pie for desert in the restaurant, and the next day we anchored in the secluded Basin. Our next stop was Admiral Perry’s house on Eagle Island, which is now operated by the National Park Service. A brisk wind took us to Portland the next day. There is a great art museum in Portland and the restoration of the waterfront has been carefully planned so that million-dollar condos have not displaced the fishermen. Walter joined us here for the return trip to Long Island. We had good sailing to Provincetown but from there the wind was on the nose, after exiting the Cape Cod Canal the chop in Buzzards Bay was too much and we took refuge at Hadley’s Harbor. Next we made it to Block Island and from there we sailed to Shelter Island. Louise’s children were dropped off by Jon for the weekend and Walter left us. We cruised to Coecles Harbor and West Neck, which in a boat that draws six feet is not as easy as it sounds. We had lunch in Greenport, dropped off Louise’s daughter and the remaining four of us sailed to Patchogue. After rounding Montauk Point we had a good night under sail along the south shore of Long Island. We got back Labor Day weekend having logged 2,996 nautical miles. What a great summer despite the fog!