A Short Cruise to Maine 2020
Fiona was launched in late August and was ready to depart in early September. The crew, Tom and Chuck, showed up a week early, we bent on the sails, loaded the heavy gear and did the food shopping. The recalcitrant freezer was fixed by the amiable Peter Kreiling. We seemed set for a great cruise. Our planned departure was delayed by a day due to easterly winds and a mysterious leak of seawater which we eventually traced to an open drain on the freezer heat-exchanger. We left with the high tide, a spring as it happened, the day was dull and overcast, but it brightened later. Once into Patchogue Bay we found the speed log wasn’t working. The usual cause is weed on the impeller but cleaning it did not produce a solution. So, we sailed without speed and distance info except that available from the GPS. A good tide took us through Fire Island Inlet, minimum depth under the keel was three feet. A couple of miles off the coast we found a gentle breeze on the starboard beam and set full main and jib. This wind drove us along the Long Island coast until about 4 am when it died, and we started the engine. We left the mainsail up, which was probably a mistake; the slatting sail caused the masthead fitting of the topping lift to fail and the lift fell in coils to the deck. It was foggy as we rounded Montauk Point, visible only on the radar.
In Block Island Sound the engine suddenly died, the usual cause is an air lock due to a blocked fuel filter. But the filters were clean, and the reason emerged later. Some sweaty work in the engine room got the air out of the fuel and the engine started again. We chugged towards Buzzards Bay in a hazy fog. Later in the day I checked the fuel consumption and found we expended far more than usual. A check of the lube oil dipstick showed an oil level an inch above the max; the conclusion was obvious; we had a fuel leak into the sump from the engine-driven fuel pump and this also caused the earlier stoppage. This could be dangerous, it could lead to bearing failure due to the diluted lube oil. We emptied the oil from the engine into old fuel jugs and refilled with new oil. What to do about the fuel pump was a problem, I didn’t have a spare, besides fitting it as one lies on a hot engine is no fun. I decided to depend on the external electric pump which was fitted to pressurize the filters when they were changed and re-plumbed the fuel system accordingly. The engine ran fine when we restarted the leg to the Cape Cod Canal but horrors; the autopilot refused to turn on. Cruising without the autopilot is tedious, I decided to head for New Bedford, although I had never been there, I knew the large fishing fleet would ensure plenty of electronic technicians were available. We anchored for the night about five miles from New Bedford, the weather was calm. In the morning Chuck used his cell phone to locate a firm to service the autopilot, they also recommended a marina we could visit. We tied up at the Pope’s Island Marina without problems. Everyone was wearing masks, they took Covid-19 seriously in Massachusetts. We had a pleasant lunch at a Bar/grill across the street, the waitresses were all masked. The service technician showed up, but annoyingly, the autopilot behaved perfectly! The company waived a fee in return for a copy of my sailing book. Another problem that had plagued us since the trip started was a misbehaving regulator on the main engine alternator. An engineering firm just across the street from the marina, R.A. Mitchell, recommended an auto electric shop in town and was nice enough to drive us there in a company van. The technician had a substitute regulator for me which worked reasonably well. We also got a nice tour of old New Bedford on the way to his shop.
We arose bright and early in order to catch the favorable current n the Cape Cod Canal. The autopilot was not working. Surprisingly, we were delayed for twenty minutes on entering the canal by a test lowering of the railway bridge. With the new moon the current was running very strongly, and we made it to the bay in record time. Chuck got busy on his cell phone and arranged for a spare part for the auto pilot to be Fedexed to the harbor master at Bar Harbor; hopefully waiting for us when we arrive four days later. A four-hour slog under power brought us to Provincetown. The harbor was packed with boats, there for the Labor Day Weekend, I guess. After refueling we picked up a mooring, which was extraordinarily expensive. The main Street was a mandatory mask area, everybody followed the rules. Downtown seemed as crowded as ever. One bright spot in our quest to keep the boat running; we persuaded the log to function, a wire had corroded through. And the generator regulator picked up in New Bedford worked well, except it had to be unplugged when the engine was turned off, a minor nuisance. We all enjoyed the old used book shop. After a little food shopping and lunch, we returned to the boat, Tom and Chuck returned to the marina to do some laundry. We were under way by 8 am for the leg to Maine. Once clear of Cape Cod we experienced a ten-knot easterly breeze, perfect for a reach on the rhumb line to Bar Harbor. The wind held up all day and through the early night, we hand-steered in two-hour watches. Offshore was very quiet, no whales, no ships. The favorable breeze died out a few hours after midnight and at 4 am we started the engine. It quietly died at 5 am. The cause wasn’t obvious, we checked all the fuel filters and changed two for new ones. With some coaxing the engine produced the familiar, comforting rumble. It ran sweetly after that, but the autopilot never came to life and we were forced to hand steer. A fog enveloped us as we approached the Maine coast, even miles offshore the lobster trap floats were a menace to our prop shaft.
We made a landfall at Great Duck Island, invisible in the fog and chugged up the east coast of Mount Desert island. As we got further inland the fog lifted. Unfortunately, my directions to Tom at the helm were not sufficiently precise and he headed to the west side of Bald Porcupine Island, we bounced on a stony reef, but the tide was high and Fiona has a sturdy keel. To our surprise there appeared to be small cruise ship in the harbor, I thought the virus had scared away the cruise ships. We assembled the inflatable on the foredeck and puttered over to the floating dinghy dock. Bar Harbor seemed the same, except all the tourists were wearing masks. We all enjoyed a good night’s sleep after the tedium of hand steering. The next day, Wednesday, dawned foggy. After a traditional pancake breakfast, we checked in with the harbor master (no Fedex delivery), replenished the galley at Hannafords and returned to the boat with the mournful chant of the local foghorn. Tom and Chuck went ashore in the afternoon. The Raymarine part had arrive, we installed it, after a little programming it worked perfectly.
Next day dawned foggy, we powered to Harbor island, CCAer Solution was on the mooring, we anchored and the gang dinghied to the island. After a ramble they returned with a large souvenir rock. We powered to Stonington and anchored in our usual spot. A walk to the west end of the village brought us to the NAPA store, the girls wore masks and wouldn’t let us inside. But they found a promising-looking regulator to replace he defunct Balmar. We had supper on board. Fiona was strangely reluctant to leave Stonington, as the anchor hove into view we saw the reason; the fluke was entangled with a thick power cable. A little maneuvering shed the unwelcome load. The forecast predicted 15 knot northerly winds for the leg to Butter Island, once clear of land we found a 25 knot wind and the pounding brought on the usual problem ; the engine stopped due to sediment stirred up in the fuel tank. It was too rough for the planned stop at Butter Island. North of Islesboro the wind fell to a zephyr but we sailed with the jib for a while and then tied up at the Belfast town dock, Kathy was on duty. Dinner at Darby’s rounded out the day. Saturday we took care of some maintenance. Tom and Chuck explored the old town. At Happy Hour Kathy stopped by for a cocktail. Sunday started with a pancake breakfast, it was cold on deck; 44 degrees F. One last ramble through Belfast and we left at noon. Kathy refused to charge us dockage.
We powered into a light southerly breeze and picked up a mooring at Warren Island, a state-run park. A hundred years ago it was privately owned, a rich wool merchant built a huge ‘cottage’ which featured 22 bedrooms, it burnt to the ground in 1919. The piles of foundation stones are still visible. In the morning we enjoyed a wonderful sail, 12 to 15 knots of wind on the starboard beam, all the way to Rockland. We arrived in time to take an abbreviated tour of the Farnsworth Art Museum, shortened because of the restrictions imposed to deal with the Covid-19 virus. We could only book a tour of the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum for Wednesday afternoon, which gave us an extra day in Rockland. Tuesday, I had lunch with my old antique automobile enthusiast friend, Sarah, and the guys took a walking tour of historic Rockland. Wednesday we taxied to the Transportation Museum, visitors had to reserve ahead, the enormous display had been compacted into a one-way walking tour, but it was well done, Tom and Chuck had never been there before and enjoyed it immensely.
Our next port of call was Port Clyde. We ambled to Marshall Point, on the walk back Tom discovered an abandoned lobster trap float which he intends to take back to Ohio as a souvenir of Maine. Back in the village the crew bought four lobsters from the tank in the general store at $6.46/lb and had an eating orgy on board. Thirty minutes after leaving in the morning the engine room filled with steam, we were heading for a pass between two rocky islets, but the wind was fair, we set sail and sailed to Boothbay Harbor without any problems. The engine overheated because the seawater inlet filter was choked with weed.
Shortly after our arrival a couple hailed us from their dinghy, Helena and John, they had crewed aboard Fiona during the last Antarctic voyage; in 2014, from Salvador to Santos, Brazil, and in 2015 from St. Martin to Puerto Rico. Now they live on their own sailboat, Petronella, for which Helena blames me. Next morning, we hiked to Hannafords for some grocery shopping. Sitting in the cockpit on our return, eating lunch we were hailed by a man in a lobster boat we wanted to buy my books! We invited him to Happy Hour, he came by and turned out to be an extremely interesting sailor, Maynard Brewer. He had operated tugboats in the Caribbean and Pacific and told us several amusing yarns. Now he had 600 lobster traps to tend in Boothbay, last year he bought a run-down sailboat and hoped to refurbish it and sail to Bermuda. He departed with two of my books, free in exchange for his stories.
From Boothbay harbor we sailed to Townsend Gut for the 8 am opening. A light wind drove us to Cape Small, Fuller’s Rock lay sullenly in the swell. We negotiated carefully to the Basin, we were now in Casco Bay, which is littered with rocks. Tom and Chuck were very impressed by the beauty of the Basin. There is now some development on the shore, when I first visited thirty years ago the Basin was pristine. We picked up a mooring at Sebasco Holiday Resort and had dinner in the bar.
It was a two-hour chug in very light winds to Jewel Island, I had promised Tom and Chuck a walking tour there to the old WWII ruins. On the way a cruising sailor contacted Chuck on Instagram and suggested we meet up. He owned a Westsail 42. We anchored at Jewel, the small bay was host to four other boats and quite crowded. The other Westsail showed up, the captain elected to anchor at Cliff Island about a mile away, due to the ‘crowd’ at Jewel, After Tom and Chuck had climbed the old towers we moved Fiona to Cliff Island alongside the other Westsail. The captain turned out to be a young man sailing alone called Nick Carey. He had been inspired to buy a Westsail 42 by watching Fiona videos! He worked part-time as a mate on a tugboat and was slowly refurbishing his boat. He stayed on board Fiona for a spaghetti dinner cooked by Tom and I gave him a copy of ‘An Inexplicable Attraction’ to read.
We powered the few miles to Portland and tied up at the Fore Points Marina. This was the old Portland Marina, but under new management has really gone upmarket. Several mega yachts flying flags of convenience and bristling with satellite antennas were nestled together at the east end. Chuck was the communications guru on the boat, using his cell phone he had made the arrangements to get the spare part for the autopilot shipped to Bar Harbor and he has made all our marina reservations as we sail down the coast. But in Portland we couldn’t get a reservation for the Portland Museum of Art, a major reason for visiting the place. The Covid-19 virus had restricted the number of visitors and shortened hours at public places. Chuck thumbed his cell phone and suggested a visit to the Museum of Industry and Technology, they even had a submarine we could board. That seemed like a good alternative, but then the drawbacks of cellphones emerged; our reservation was in Portland, OREGON. Later the Museum of Art relented and let us in on our final afternoon.
The next day we left Fore Points shortly after eight, we set sail to a light westerly wind. George the autopilot occasionally made random sharp turns which we fixed by disconnecting the rudder position transducer. The wind backed and died. We started the engine but found the engine would not accelerate to normal cruising rpm. I thought we might have picked up some rope or flotsam on the prop. Early in the morning we drifted and tried turning the propeller shaft by hand from inside the boat. It seemed free but I still though something may be entangled. A couple of hours after sunrise we suddenly found the engine room full of noxious smoke. While we drifted Chuck went for a swim and photographed the propeller with an underwater camera. It was clean of any attachments. The reason for the drop in engine speed must be a mechanical problem. When the smoke cleared and the engine cooled down Tom fashioned a patch for the engine exhaust hose, which had sprung a leak. Obviously, Nantucket was out, we were going home. We headed for the canal but we needed to wait for two hours at the east end of the canal for the ebb current to start, we anchored in the lee of the jetty, although there was almost no wind. When we raised anchor we found the maximum engine rpm was limited but we were just going fast enough the navigate the canal with the current in our favor. As we chugged down Buzzards Bay the engine rpm dropped so that we could only maintain 2 knots, fortunately the sea was calm. The scene was lit by a fitful moon. I decided to head for New Bedford, just as we had done a few weeks earlier when the autopilot failed. We made our way very slowly from buoy to buoy using GPS as we navigated the rocky waters. Fortunately, the current was mostly favorable. We tied up at the familiar Pope’s Island Marina at two thirty on Saturday morning. When we awoke it was the weekend, no work could be organized on the engine until Monday.
We enjoyed downtown New Bedford, particularly the Whaling Museum, the city has a system of ferry rides which connect marinas and piers on the waterfront, which is very convenient. For our evening entertainment, Chuck ran ‘The Martian’ on his computer, the plot seemed appropriate; stuck in a strange place. First chance I got on Monday I called Pat at Weeks Yard for his advice. Chuck worked his cell phone to query diesel repair shops; most had a backlog of work several weeks long. Several gave us advice which matched that from Pat; thoroughly swamped the fuel system with Marvel Mystery Oil. This we did, and Tom re-worked the patch on the exhaust hose, the engine room was crowded. I gave the manager of R.A.Mitchell, across the street a copy of the my sailing book, actually the copy belonged to Chuck, who donated it for the common good. I don’t know if it was a factor but the service manager assigned a technician to look at our engine and Eli showed up on Tuesday morning with a big bag of tools. He removed the four injectors and promised to keep us posted.
Eli rebuilt the injectors but when tested the engine showed no improvement. He suggested modifying a spare injector so that it would be possible to check the overall health of the old engine. This he did but then I decided that test could just as easily be performed at Weeks and it was time to move on, a northerly breeze was forecast for the next day; great for the run to Long Island. At first we tried to leave early in the afternoon and organized a tow but the captain of the tow boat decided the wind was too strong to safely extricate Fiona from the crowded dock. Early the next morning the tow dropped us off clear of dangers in Buzzards Bay.
With the light northerly wind and the engine in gear running slowly we managed to average five knots. Unfortunately, the autopilot had stopped working and we hand-steered through the day. By nightfall we were abeam of Montauk Point and slowly traversed the Long Island coast through the night. Chuck contacted TowBoat/US and we arranged a tow through Fire Island Inlet. The tow captain was extremely knowledgeable of the sand shoals in Great South Bay and negotiated Fiona’ s six-foot draft to the Patchogue River without touching bottom once. I was chagrinned to pass friends on their boat in the river as we were towed to Weeks.
All in all, we had enjoyed a wonderful cruise in Maine, particularly appreciated by Tom and Chuck who had never visited that part of the country before. We dealt with numerous equipment failures, which are part of the cruising life. Chuck did a wonderful job of handling communications and finding answers on his cell phone. Tom was captain of the dinghy and dealt with many maintenance chores on board. My increasing deafness and fading vision forces me to question how long I will be able to cruise myself.
Photos (Credit: Chuck Lohre)
Eric and Tom at the Whaling Museum, New Bedford.
Nick and Eric, Cliff Island
Dinghying to Jewel Island
Eric standing in the companionway
The happy cruisers in the main cabin, Tom, Eric, Chuck
Maynard visits Fiona, Bar Harbor
Eric, Helena and John at Bar Harbor
Fiona moored at Port Clyde
Marshall point, Port Clyde
Classic Maine joke, General Store, Port Clyde