|Indian Summer in New England
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
When we leave Annisquam, the main channel continues to weave its narrow way southward towards the little canal that connects to the waters south of Cape Ann. Finally, we come to the first bridge, marking the canal entrance, and pass under it. It has a tricky approach for at that point the waterway makes a sharp, right-angle turn just before running under the bridge which, in addition to being hard to see until you are right on top of it, is too narrow to allow the passage of more than one boat at a time. Once through, the waters widen and then off to the right the docks and hulls of a large marina come into view. As I am steering past in the main channel, a distant sign advertises gas at a price much below that of any waterside gas I have seen for a very long time. I take Kobuk in to capitalize on the opportunity, and a short, frog-bellied man named Jack comes out to assist. He helps me tie off and then gets the gas hose nozzle into my hands. He explains that I have to do the actual gas filling myself because of liability concerns on the part of the marina. I don't understand how putting the task in the hands of novices diminishes their liability, but I am happy to do the work myself.
The second bridge marks the end of the canal, the place where it runs into Gloucester Bay. It is so low that it must be opened before any boats can pass, and as I approach it does indeed begin to rise. I am going with the tide at this point, so I run through first with three boats waiting in Gloucester Bay to come the other way. I had been able to hear them communicating with the bridge controller via VHS but had never been able to get through to him myself. Probably, he intended that they go first, but since I was the one traveling downstream I preempted them and just kept on going. Being inexperienced with boating protocol and somewhat intimidated by the high level of boating activity in these particular waters, I find myself sometimes unsure what to do. Yesterday, for example, reaching Annisquam, I had come up a busy section of the estuary and was slow to locate the red and green channel markers off to starboard a short way. To be on the safe side, I veered over to pass between them and just past their position in the water a fisherman was standing in the bow of his boat throwing his line across the breadth of the channel. As I passed between the buoys, he cast his line across my line of travel and then threw his arms up in frustration when I just motored over his line. I didn't kinow what else to do. Does anybody have any suggestions?
I had asked Jack about Salem and Marblehead, two harbors along the coast before reaching Boston, but he didn't think there was any good reason to stop in either one when there was all that action just a few miles farther on in the big city. His argument was not very persuasive to me, but his sunny disposition and relaxed demeanor were more influential than reason. I carry on all afternoon, bypassing Salem and Marblehead, until late in the day Kobuk turns right and passes down the North Shipping Channel into Boston Harbor. You don't hear much talk about Boston Harbor but it is in fact a remarkably extensive stretch of protected waters--a very good harbor indeed. Islands and sandbar peninsulas screen off the harbor from the open sea, and within the harbor itself lies a fleet of scenic islands scattered about. The entire embayment is many miles across with a number of different stream estuaries emptying into it. Getting from the entrance channel to the city's inner harbor takes us over an hour, by which time the sun is setting and Kobuk is at risk of being caught out after dark. But then, we tuck into Constitution Marina, right beside the USS Constitution itself, and in the thickening twilight a marina employee directs me to an empty slip for the night.
As we were coming up through the outer harbor, boaters were out in force--everything from kayaks to tankers. The waters were so spacious that one felt little concern about collision, but the scene itself was like a picture in a children's book designed to introduce all the types of boats one might think of. It was perfect light then, the amber sun backlighting the Boston skyline and boats moving around in the brilliant glow of sunlight about to die. One boat in particular caught my attention--an ocean sailing race craft. It was a sloop painted blood red, with matching red main and jib hung from a towering mast. The hull was being worked by a crew of at least a dozen men, all with red t-shirts. Her bow dropped vertically down into the water and cut the bay like a scalpel She had an enormous bone in her teeth and, with all the men in red running around adjusting gear, there was a coolly sophisticated blonde dressed in white, seated aft watching the performance and--as you can imagine--doing nothing but sitting there looking good. This streak of red passed Kobuk like a bullet train, although the sounds of passage were much more subtle--a quiet cacophony of squeaking blocks and straining lines. The waters of the bay, though, she seemed to part with funereal silence.
Constitution Marina, Boston: 42* 22.259' N / 71* 03.582' W
Distance: 36 miles
Total Distance: 6,204 miles
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Not only does it continue to be sunny and clear--the days are getting downright hot. Last night I found myself lying naked on top of the sleeping bag rather than getting inside it. This sort of thing I haven't done since two summers ago when Kobuk was running down the Missouri in a summer heat wave. Fortunately, the days are not much hotter than the nights, so it is actually quite pleasant to spend time pedaling aimlessly around the city.
With the USS Constitution so near it would be criminal not to visit, so I take much of the morning to walk through it and its associated museum. I guess I have had my fill of square rigged ships for a while since the ship itself does not impress me that much. I rather more enjoy its museum, which somehow seems wrong. There is one impressive thing about the USS Constitution, though--the dimensional size of the timbers used to construct it. At deck level, the mainmast looks greater in diameter than an industrial smokestack and the thickness of the topsides makes a mockery of the idea that a sailing ship should ever try to save weight. One can readily see how this vessel came to be called "Old Ironsides": it would take real ordinance to penetrate wood so thick.
Permanently moored on the other side of the same pier from the Constitution is a World War II destroyer named USS Cassin Young. Like the Constitution, she is accessible to the public and one can walk around on her. During my time aboard, a majority of the visitors seemed to be Japanese or German. But anyway, the destroyer experience is to my mind the more memorable one because this ship is absolutely unforgiving. It is a vessel that has no softness to it at all. Every passageway, every hand rail, every hatch and doorway is raw, unpainted metal and you very quickly notice that a false step or a stagger would cause you to bump into something--and it would hurt. It is a rather scary place to be, I should think, in heavy seas or under enemy fire. In spite of the obvious terrors of being on a submarine, I come away from the Cassin Young thinking that surviving the open sea on a destroyer would be almost as bad.
In the afternoon, I cycle up to visit the Bunker Hill Memorial. It is short on traditional educational materials regarding what happened there, but is quite good at leaving one with a feeling for what it means to struggle. The memorial is an obelisk not unlike the Washington Monument, and inside is a 294-step spiral staircase that allows you to reach its faceted top. There you will find an observation level where narrow windows give restricted views out over the city. The winding staircase handles all traffic, both ascending and descending. It is possible to stop and rest en route to the top, but the narrowness of the steps discourages such behavior.
After these experiences in Charlestown, I cross over the river to visit downtown Boston. I do the mandatory tour of the Old North Church and its environs, but it is the surrounding neighborhood that most fascinates me--an ethnic ghetto in which Italian restaurants line the narrow streets and residents appear to spend their time socializing on sidewalks instead of within the home. The Old North Church occupies an incongruously quiet enclave near the crest of a small hill in the middle of all this.
Not far from Constitution Marina, you can step up to the second floor of The Tavern on the Harbor where a continuous bank of windows offers an unobstructed view of the Boston skyline just across the waters of the Charles River. After dark, I go there to gaze at the city lights as I have something to eat. With the view out the windows looking impossibly close, large screen televisions even nearer at hand are emitting brilliantly colored images of the Red Sox losing to the Minnesota Twins. After stranding two baserunners in the seventh, two in the eighth, and three in the ninth, Boston comes up one run short. When this sort of thing happens, the denizens of Red Sox Country struggle to keep their confidence. But the quiet solidity of all those downtown buildings across the river must help.
Friday, September 28, 2007
By the time Kobuk is running out of Boston's inner harbor, last night's rain showers have passed on, leaving in their trail cloud fragments that litter the sky. But the sky is in a cleaning mood and the litter is being swept out to sea. Kobuk runs down the main reach of open water in Boston Harbor, threads her way between Gallops and Lovell Islands, leaves Georges Island off to starboard, and heads out the southerly approach channel towards open water. The day is late and the sea is flat, so we continue on with the Mazda, covering most of the distance to Scituate before turning things over to the Yamaha. It might be possible to carry on down as far as Plymouth today, but what's the hurry? Scituate has a good harbor and I have never been there, so we will stop there for the night.
Whatever the origin of the name "Scituate," it does not roll off the tongue like dripping honey. It sounds like a scurvy place. It's not. It is a clean, lively, upbeat little town with enough boats out front to satisfy any harbor rat. At the town marina, the harbormaster fixes me up with a slip for Kobuk and briefs me on where to find things. This is done thoroughly and with an enthusiasm that surpasses all experience. I am not merely welcomed; I'm treated as a special guest. People passing on the dock almost never fail to stop and make conversation. They love their town, but what makes them peerless hosts is that they always seem to direct the conversation to Kobuk and me, discussing themselves and their home only when queried.
The town is the most convenient one for boaters that I have encountered so far. Generally, small towns are better than big cities because everything tends to be concentrated nearby, and Scituate exemplifies the principle. From where Kobuk is parked, it is one block to the wireless Internet cafe, two and a half blocks to the grocery store and liquor store, and less than two blocks to the gas station and the bar. A movie theatre is next to the Internet cafe, a drug store is across the street, and there must be a half dozen restaurants closer than the gas station. It is so compact that I don't even feel compelled to use Bike Friday. The town marina itself is an appealing place with stable docks, an inviting marina building, and signs all around of a well-planned maintenance program. This is the kind of place you wouldn't mind staying for a while: everything you need and people who treat you well.
The movie theatre is too near to resist, so when twilight dims the streets I step inside to take in a show. When it is over and I walk back outside, the night sky is star studded and a September chill has cleaned up the air. Off to the left, across an open parking lot, the waterfront bar is glowing yellow and warm. The night is young so I amble over, pass upstairs, and take a seat at a table where the harbor is visible through a bank of windows and where large screen televisions within can be easily viewed. My eyes are drawn, however, to a buxom, raven haired young woman on the far side of the bar. She has very white teeth. One can tell because she smiles a lot. She notices me and for the next couple hours we engage in periodic bouts of eye contact--far easier for me since she is being closely attended to by a middle aged linebacker who evidently has endless stories to tell and can only tell them from very close range. This is going nowhere, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.
The bar is busy, but not crowded, and people's attention is sorely divided between their own particular social circles and the Red Sox game that plays in silent color on virtually every television. The Sox are very close to winning the division championship but the Yankees are breathing fire down their necks, and too many times have Red Sox fans been burned. Eventually, the Sox do manage to come from behind and beat the Twins, and one can almost feel the release of tension in the bar. People who to this point have been working at having fun now find it easier. Even the alcohol seems to more readily do its job on them. The Red Sox victory is a relief, but what really animates the crowd is what happens to the Yankees. When the Sox game ends the televisions stay with the crowd rather than shifting to other topics. Inside Fenway, there is a large screen projecting the final few innings of the Yankees-Baltimore match up. The Sox fans are hoping for a miracle--an Oriole come-from-behind victory. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Orioles score three runs and tie the game. The thousands of people in Fenway, transfixed by the big screen display of a potential Yankees disaster, refuse to leave the stadium. In the top of the tenth inning the Yankees load the bases but somehow the Orioles keep them from scoring. Then in the bottom of the tenth the Orioles load the bases and use a bunt to bring home the winning run. The Sox fans go wild. They are delirious. Granted, the turn of events has just guaranteed a Sox division championship, but I can tell from the looks on all those faces that the real delight comes from the fact that the Yankees lost. No pleasure can be greater, it seems.
Scituate Harbor: 42* 11.700' N / 70* 43.352' W
Distance: 25 miles
Total Distance: 6,229 miles
Saturday, September 29, 2007
The town churchbell struck midnight as I was strolling back to Kobuk last night. I walked down the ramp and onto the dock, and in the distance I could see a woman peering into Kobuk's window. As I approached I said hello, and when she found that I was connected with "this little boat" she wanted to talk about whether or not I was crazy. She had heard from others about Kobuk's voyages and now that she had Kobuk's crew in hand she hoped to extract some sort of explanation for why anybody would choose to do such a thing on such an undersized boat. I tried to explain to her that Kobuk is designed for rivers and she pointed out that Scituate is on the ocean, not a river. I told her Kobuk could manage in waters like these as long as we were careful, but she didn't think it was possible to be careful enough. Her name was Ann and before we were done talking she invited me over to have a beer on the fishing boat that she and her husband, Joe, spend their weekends on. Their boat was only a few steps down the dock and, one thing leading to another, a social beer turned into two. By the time I turned in for the night, Ann had passed out and Joe was staggering around like a storm tossed sailer suddenly set ashore.
Thus it is that this morning I am not up at an early hour. The hours are passing and I haven't the spirit for questing today. As the hours wear away, I just let them go. No touring, no errands--just a lazy, sunny day with nothing on my mind.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Everything was ready for an early departure from Scituate, but when I went to the harbormaster's office to pay my bill a number of locals who already had been out in their boats were in there talking disgustedly about how bad the fishing was and how rough the water. The wind today is not so strong, but they claimed that the seas were 3-5 feet and that I shouldn't go out. I heeded their advice and postponed departure, but the weather forecast was calling for dying winds in the afternoon so I decided to make a late morning departure and take a look for myself. If as bad as everyone was claiming, then I would just come back in. If rough but manageable, I could carry on the short distance to Plymouth. If better than that and moderating, well, then maybe I could get to and through the Cape Cod Canal. To some degree, I was interested in going out just to see what these folks consider to be 3-5 feet.
Shortly after eleven, I cast off and take Kobuk out into the channel. When I get outside there is some roughness, but it is quite manageable for getting to Plymouth--a passage that shouldn't take more than three or four hours. The wind is striking us on the beam and the waves are more or less doing the same. I find the conditions encouraging, actually, since the actual waves are really only a couple feet in height. They are playing their way over swells that are, indeed, 3-5 feet but swells are really no threat regardless of the direction they come from. If the swells were smooth, Kobuk could easily proceed under Mazda power and chew up twenty miles per hour. As it is, however, the choppy surface keeps our speed down and since the wind shows no sign of abating in the first couple hours, I turn Kobuk right and head in the long entrance to Plymouth harbor.
To get into Plymouth you have to run down a long entrance channel and then tuck in behind a sandy spit that extends a couple miles northward from the south end of the bay. Behind the spit is a shallow lagoon, long and wide. It takes time to get in past the breakwater that protects Plymouth's waterfront from chop on the lagoon and radiating seas coming from outside, but it is worth the detour because the town is lively. The town harbormaster directs me to a buoy where I can moor Kobuk for the night and gives me the VHF channel for calling the water taxi to go ashore. The assigned buoy is tremendously close to shore, only a couple boat lengths from a floating dock that rents jet skis. I can sit on Kobuk and listen to the nightlife in the nearby bar, a boisterous nightlife that seems not the least discouraged by the fact that it is only mid-afternoon.
A trip ashore on the water taxi allows me to sample the town for a few hours. Not too long since the taxi service ends at eight in the evening, but long enough to get something to eat and to take a look at Plymouth Rock. The rock is on the shoreline of a city park, next to where the replica of the Mayflower has its permanent home. Over the rock is a sort of miniature Greek temple with brilliant white columns. It is undersized relative to something like the Acropolis, but it is massive in comparison with the rock itself. Most disturbing of all is that it has no more sense of proportion than a cardboard box. To employ classical architecture whilst ignoring the matter of proportion is like playing the 1812 Overture on a Jews Harp. In any event, the rock (with 1620 graffiti carved into it) lies in a sort of cut-out basin, a few feet down below the floor level of the temple. It is all quite disappointing, actually.
If you go to visit Plymouth, don't go to see the rock. It isn't worth the trip. The town, though, has other things to recommend it. It attracts visitors from nearby--from Boston and Duxbury and other proximate places--and not just history hounds from far away. This means that the town is geared to offering a good time to everybody. Believe me: people wouldn't come here from Duxbury if all they could do is look at the rock. Plymouth will give you plenty of history. The houses reek of history and although I didn't get into any of the museums I suspect that they are pretty solid stuff as well. You will get your share of colonial American origins, but then you can have a good time on the side.
Plymouth Anchorage: 41* 57.781' N / 70* 40.002' W
Distance: 22 miles
Total Distance: 6,251 miles
Monday, October 1, 2007
Things are looking good. A light northeasterly is blowing so once out of the Plymouth harbor we will be able to turn right and head more or less downwind. There's lots of seaweed getting blown up onto this lee shore, though, so patience is important. Until we're clear of the seaweed, the jet drive will be at risk of clogging. Out we go, at least a couple miles off shore, and gradually we bend around to a route that parallels the coast. With the wind nudging us aft on the port side, I shift Kobuk to the Jet drive and we bound along, overtaking small waves as we go. I would like to get to Woods Hole today, and that is many miles away on the other side of the Cape Cod Canal. If we can knock off 10-15 miles at the start then there will no problem with arriving before dark. But then, after only a few minutes of Mazda power, there is a sudden increase in rpm's and decline in speed: we have picked up seaweed. Ah, well--there's nothing for it but to carry on with the Yamaha.
As Kobuk approaches the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal, I shut down all systems for a few minutes to top off the gas in the Yamaha's jerry can and to consider where to do my swim for clearing the jet drive. I have seen only a handful of boats in the last couple of hours, but now while I am adrift there by the entrance, an entire fleet of power boats comes roaring in from out at sea and passes rapidly by. It is a squadron of more than a dozen, all traveling together, and when they pass they turn a placid sea into a purgatorial one. Finally, they disappear up into the canal where they presumably slow down (since the ten mph speed limit is strictly enforced). Kobuk and I rock and roll around for a few minutes while the multiple wakes run their course, and then I turn to the cruising guide to check out the canal. It seems there is a small harbor notched into it on its western side. There should be a place to tie off in there and work on the jet drive, so I motor slowly up to look for the harbor. The current in the canal is strong and adverse and we cannot progress very fast, but slowly we close in on the harbor and move through its entrance and into still waters. When I go to tie off, however, a man standing on the dock informs me that it will cost ten dollars to do so. I think this is rather inhospitable so I take Kobuk on a circuit of the harbor and then head back out into the canal. Over on its other side there is a line of pilings evidently intended as a tie-off place for large tankers. The pilings have an unused look to them and through the binoculars I can see rusty chains dangling from them. This, I decide, would be a good place to moor: I can hang Kobuk by a line from one of the chains and the current will keep us clear of the post. No sooner have I tied off than the Coast Guard boat comes out of the harbor to see what is going on. They yell across to ask if I need help and I explain that I am not in distress. When they learn the nature of my project they wish me well and head for home. I have heard that the Coast Guard no longer rescues small boats in distress (only their occupants), so I wonder what they really want.
The pilings a close on the western bank of the canal and along the bank a scenic walkway carrys a fitful traffic of joggers, walkers and cyclists. When some of them see me preparing to go for a swim, they find it enough out of the usual to stop and watch. I have an audience for my performance and although the water is warmer than it has been all season long, one woman in particular commiserates with me for having to take a dip this late in the season. When all is readied, I could set out, but the tide will change in less than an hour, so I stay put for a while, fix myself some lunch, and wait for the favorable current.
With the tide pushing us along, we run through the canal at a good pace and out into the maze of sticks and buoys that lie in the waters at the head of Buzzards Bay. We thread our way along and, with nearly an hour to spare before sunset, we reach the outer buoy for the Woods Hole Passage. We enter it, however, on an adverse tide that is running through with enough force to tilt the big can buoys at a forty five degree angle. I wonder if the little Yamaha has the grit to push us through against such a raging flood and so with the main engine all prepped for immediate start-up, I drive us hard against the current. Outside the entrance buoy we were running at over six miles per hour, but the deeper we get into this short passage the slower our speed becomes. At the critical narrows, the junction between "The Strait" and "Broadway," our speed is down to zero. Kobuk is about ten yards off the red nun and the water is galloping by. Our forward progress has dropped so low that the GPS no longer registers any speed. We are so close to breaking through--only about fifty yards from the slacker waters of Woods Hole's Greater Harbor--but the Yamaha can do no more and I have to fire up the Mazda.
It is getting dark and I can find no suitable place to tie up next to a wharf in this little town. There is a marina on Eel Pond, but to get to it a bridge must be raised and I cannot raise a bridge operator to raise it. As the sky flares out into gunmetal gray, I go out into Greater Harbor and pick up one of the many unused moorings there. It is late in the season and many boats have already been pulled for the winter, so I doubt anybody will be coming along in the middle of the night to complain.
Woods Hole Anchorage: 41* 31.568' N / 70* 40.609' W
Distance: 53 miles
Total Distance: 6,304 miles
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Kobuk slips her mooring ball as the early morning ferry pulls away from its loading dock. Both of us are bound for Martha's Vineyard so I just settle into her roiling wake. Big boat wakes somehow seem to calm the waters and take the edge off wind blown waves, so our passage across Vineyard Sound is less choppy than it otherwise would have been. The ferry bears away up the inlet where Vineyard Haven is located, but we carry on along the coast a few more miles to reach Edgartown out near the island's eastern end. Even though it is coming at us, the chop on the water is trivial and Kobuk is able to get up on a plane and ride over it with nothing more than a little chattery smacking now and then. Even so, the speed seems below par for the level of rpm's on the engine and I am wondering if the current is particularly strong. Maybe so, but perhaps the jet grating down below has sucked up a little seaweed--just enough to diminish the flow of water to the impellers. This explanation seems the more likely since the engine temperature is a few degrees higher than usual (the jet pulls in cooling water as well as propelling the boat).
It may be October, but Indian summer still hasn't lost its grip. The bright sun in the clear sky illuminates the white houses of Edgartown so brilliantly as to almost make the eyes hurt. The shore is lined with stately homes, close together for their size, and although many of them are white clapboard colonial a considerable number are classically simple cedar shake style with steep-pitched roofs that hardly have eves. Just past where the little four-car ferry crosses over to Chappaquiddick and the narrow neck of harbor water begins to broaden into a round, yacht-bedizened pond, a man in a harbor boat motors over to yell at me, "Nice Boat!" He asks me if I am looking for a mooring and when I tell him my preference for a place to tie off, he directs me to Herring Creek Marina and says he will call ahead to have the attendant there help me.
The marina docks are built of pilings and unpainted planking, the standard here along the waterfront, and Kobuk ends up tied on the back side of the outer one--the one that serves as the gas dock. Two recreational fisherman in an open boat motor in to get gas and as we talk I learn that they come here together every year from the Gloucester region because the fishing is so good. They like to compete in the Bluefish-Striped Bass competition that is going on now and when I tell them I don't even know what a Bluefish looks like, they haul one out from their fish well and lay it on a seat bench for me to look at. It is a beautiful creature, luminescent and full-figured with an impossibly narrow shape where the tail fin attaches to the body. The two men encourage me to "get fishing" and say that my standard cruising speed would be ideal for trolling. One of them guarantees that I will catch something if I drag a line between here and Cuttyhunk, my next planned stop. He says, "Watch our, though: Bluefish can really bite." The other one confirms it and claims that if you're not careful you could lose a finger. The first guy then goes on to elaborate and tells us both about a man he knew who had a bluefish flop up off the ground after having been landed and bite the poor guy on the side of the thumb. When the man went to the doctor, the doctor told him that the tendon had been severed and that an operation would be necessary. "But will that mean I can't fish in the tournament?" the fisherman wanted to know and when the doctor confirmed the bad news the fellow became very reluctant to have the operation. The doctor said, "I think we're being a little short-sighted here," but the fisherman decided to make do with a thumb that can only be flexed at its inner joint and not the outer one. This works just fine as far as the fisherman is concerned: it is flexion at that inner joint that he uses to control the line coming off his reel. For his favorite activity, the outer joint doesn't matter.
"Look," says the taller man, "There's one right now!" A great surface commotion off one end of the wharf evidently is a bluefish chasing minnows. I don't know how he can tell that a bluefish is responsible for the action, but when I look down into the water next to where we are talking a swirling school of small silver darts is so vast that, within my circle of vision, there is no end to them. After the two men set out for fishing spots unknown, I pay more attention to the waters around me and never fail to see them full of fish. Later, when I take a swim to clear the partially clogged jet drive, I feel as if I am interrupting there flow. While hanging on the back of Kobuk I think to myself that it would be a good thing if, in addition to being carnivorous, bluefish are bullies.
For an afternoon outing, I cycle up to Oak Bluffs. It is a different waterfront town a few miles away, and as I pedal through the residential periphery its homes seem to be Edgartown wannabes: similar in style and substance but one small step down in terms of the resources used to buy and maintain them. The town center, though, is a totally different place. It does not pretend to the colonial historicity of Edgartown. It has a funky edge to it; a whiff of cheesiness; a tinge of the Brighton and the Coney Island. It is a likeable place with a surprising number of shops displaying themes of Eastern spiritualism and sensualism. People are out in force, and they don't look like tourists.
Back in Edgartown, after dark, I walk down to the main wharf to check out the weigh-in that occurs every evening (and morning) during the tournament. I don't see the two fellows I talked to earlier, but I do get to see lots of bluefish and striped bass. There is a line of men and boys bringing their trophy catches of the day--and a few women looking on. In a small pool of yellow light, surrounded by darkness, the fish are weighed and, if big enough, held up for photos and then turned over to two young men responsible for filleting them. There is a quiet awe amongst the onlookers and all the anglers look serious and proud, and studiously casual.
Edgartown, Herring Creek Marina: 41* 23.407' N / 70* 30.515' W
Distance: 16 miles
Total Distance: 6,320 miles
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
A long string of islands runs off to the southwest from Woods Hole, paralleling the western shore of Martha's Vineyard and leaving a sound that is only few miles wide. Nonamesset, Naushon, Pasche, Nashawena, and finally Cuttyhunk. Dangling at the end of the string, out beyond the southwest end of Martha's Vineyard, Cuttyhunk is famous for its fishing and respected for its isolation. The only town on the small island is the little hamlet of Gosnold, named for the seventeenth century entrepreneur who established a settlement there. In the early afternoon we set out for Cuttyhunk.
Kobuk rips across the rippled waters in fine style, chewing up the miles as I stand looking through the open clamshell top, taking the wind in my face. As we round the top of the Vineyard and head down Vineyard Sound, the great current coming out of the Woods Hole Passage is setting against the wind and the result is a broad zone of two-foot chop but bounded to the north, east, and south by calm water. I steer Kobuk along the southwest perimeter of this maelstrom, running in smooth water at 25 mph but with nasty waves that die suddenly only a boat length off to starboard. We are operating in only about eight feet of water, but we're well away from shore and the nautical charts show no hazards here. Still, I watch the depth finder like a snake charmer watching his snake.
Before long, we have closed in on the eastern entrance to the Canapitsit Channel that runs between Nashawena and Cuttyhunk. It has been a fine day, but a mysterious one: blue skies or a few thin clouds have accompanied us throughout the voyage, but in the distance--first out to sea beyond the Vineyard's eastern end, and then along the Cape Cod shore to the north, and now finally around the southwest end of the Vineyard--thick banks of fog have obscured certain sectors of the horizon. It seems impossible that there could be fog on such a fine day, but there it is.
When we pass through, Canapsit Channel has none of the madly rushing flow that beset us in the Wood Hole Passage, but the narrow neck between the buoys does look especially narrow when swells from out to sea move you towards it in a series of uncontrollable surges. It is not risky, though: there is even a sport fishing boat sitting near the channel buoys with two men casting lines while their open boat rises and sinks with the swells.
The entrance to Cuttyhunk lagoon is here on the Buzzards Bay side of the island, and Kobuk slides in on glassy waters. A number of signs appear indicating that you can't park your boat here, that you can't empty your garbage on the island, that the price for an anchorage is two dollars per foot, and other such cautionary messages. Boaters are an unruly lot who often do try to get away with questionable behavior, but what is the point in setting out signs that are worded in such a negative tone? Cuttyhunk's isolation is so extreme, it appears, that outsiders are resented.
But right now there is nobody around to do any resenting. The harbor facilities are unattended and all the villagers are elsewhere. A recreational fishing boat comes or goes occasionally, but the place is otherwise still. I tie Kobuk to the end of a wharf and go for a bicycle ride. The few streets of the little town carve their way up and around the northwestern flank of the small hill that forms the center of the island. Most of them come to a dead end sooner or later. Houses situate themselves with little regard for street side orientation and each one seems to be landscaped to suit the peculiar individuality of its owner. In some places, connections are via paved paths rather than streets. Views are very good indeed. Cuttyhunk's rather forlorn and windswept circumstance would not appeal to many, but I suspect that the self-selected residents like it very much.
By the time I get back to Kobuk, night is coming on and a shroud of fog has settled on the island. After dark, in the damp evening air, a weathered woman out walking her rabidly curious little terrier type dog comes down the moisture laden wharf to check out Kobuk. She hails me and in the misty yellow light of the dock lamps she talks unremittingly about how nifty Kobuk is and how much she likes to race her little outboard powered dinghy across Buzzards Bay to Dartmouth on the other side. She claims to have made the crossing in fifteen minutes.
Cuttyhunk: 41* 25.474' N / 70* 55.727' W
Distance: 30 miles
Total Distance: 6,350 miles
Thursday, October 4, 2007
The fog has lifted somewhat, but the sky is a gray gauze that hovers closely and keeps visibility down. Across Buzzards Bay and westward along the mainland coast lies Narragansett Bay where the wealthy of yesteryear kept their yachts and their palatial summer homes. Newport, out near the mouth of the bay, is located on one of the many islands. I would like to get there today, but when I arise early and listen to the marine forecast there are small craft warnings in effect for Buzzards Bay until ten in the morning. I am skeptical, however, for the wind does not seem that strong. It is blowing from the southwest, which is more or less the direction we are headed, but it is not that strong. I decide to take Kobuk out and see what things are like. After all, if we can manage out there for a couple hours, the forecast people appear to be implying that conditions will improve. As you can see, I am not eager to extend my stay in Cuttyhunk.
The wind and waves out here are quite manageable and our angle of attack is such that we can take it all a little off the port bow instead of straight on. In spite of the rough ride, we make good progress across the bay, in the middle of which is a 1.2 mile wide shipping lane that we cross on constant alert. No ships appear, however, and the day proceeds with very little boat traffic of any sort. Of course, our disk of visibility is limited to a circle no more than a mile or two in radius.
The marine forecast, although somewhat overcautious in its assessment of the roughness, is spot on when it comes to timing: at ten o'clock a noticeable decline occurs in the strength of the wind and the size of the waves. Shortly thereafter, the fog drifts away and haze filtered sunlight spreads across the region. Now I can see the coast of Rhode Island, and only a short while later I steer Kobuk up the channel leading in to Newport. Moving along close to the shore of the island, turreted, castle-like homes on broad meadows of grass occasionally look down on our stately progress towards the harbor. Small, rocky headlands alternate with small, protected beaches.
Newport is a small city with a big city harbor. Given the modest size of the place, the shoreline around the engineered embayment is a remarkably continuous run of wharves projecting outward. In the few places not dedicated to wharves, houses and businesses cantilever themselves out over the harbor waters. Even this late in the season it is a busy place. I find a modest looking wharf that the binoculars tell me accepts transients and motor in to tie off. It is unattended and traffic here is light, so after making things shipshape I take a little swim in order to bathe and shave. The sun is bright, the streets are noisy, and I am ready to go to town.
Some exploratory cruising on Bike Friday turns up a gas station and in the late afternoon I make three shuttle runs with the two jerry cans. It is a two hour project, but time is not a big issue and with the bike as a transporter the ferrying is not hard work. Shortly after returning with the final two jerry cans, a short man with curly gray hair comes purposefully down the wharf to talk with me. He wants to know about Kobuk and the shuttling of gas. His name is Mike and he does not suffer from shyness. He is a building contractor in Boston, but he and his wife come to spend a week vacationing here every fall. They had seen me shuttling gas and knew that the nearest station is quite distant, so his curiosity got the better of him. His hair may be gray but he a very youthful man, both in physical appearance and in the way he moves. When I discover that he is sixty seven years old, I am more than a little astonished. When I ask him what his secret is he says he mows his own lawn and does his own work, and thinks about all the other things he wants to do.
In the evening as I am walking along the well-worn bricks that form the road base for Thames Street, I come across a brownstone building with a street corner entrance from which good, hard blues music is escaping. This draws me in to the Newport Blues Cafe where Big Mike Griffiths' Band is getting down with all the old blues favorites. The small dance floor is flexing to the gyrations of some women who all know each other and are having a smashing time. There are no men on the floor, and I stay off it for as long as I can resist. Eventually, though, temptation gets the better of me.
Newport (St. Ann's Wharf): 41* 28.999' N / 71* 18.958' W
Distance: 32 miles
Total Distance: 6,382
Friday, October 5, 2007
There's some moisture in the air this morning--not precipitation but suspended mini-droplets. The fog moves in and then retreats, advances and retreats. During the clearer periods the sun shines coyly but whenever the fog returns the streets of Newport look somber and lonesome. Generally, though, Newport is a gay town with lots of traffic on its sidewalks and a constant stream of slow-moving vehicles on its one-way streets. Shops are many and varied and small. Wharf-based malls stud the waterfront. From ice cream to jewelry to nautical supplies to taverns--Newport seems to have all the conceivable kinds of commercial establishments sustainable in a city of this size. The stimulus of it all is enough to keep me here for the day.
Newport is of course famous for its mansions and its money. Although I don't usually go in for celebrity worship, Bike Friday is keen to see the former summer retreats of the Astors and the Vanderbilts, and so on this unsettled day we take a little tour together. All the grandest estates are arrayed along the southeast end of _____ Island, a few miles removed from downtown Newport over on the western side. The mansions look out across Narragansett Bay from the crest of a bluff that drops precipitously to the sea. Naturally, these estates were erected on extensive plots of waterfront land, but Rhode Island law guarantees public access to all shoreline and so public authorities have been able to install a winding pathway along the upper edge of the bluffs, a well-used trail called Cliff Walk.
I bike slowly along this scenic route and Bike Friday has a chance to see some truly extraordinary mansions. They are really castles, American style. Massive and towering, they sport cornices and turrets and complex shapes. They have outbuildings larger than your own home and their front yards are big enough to play polo on. These are, for the most part, stone buildings. Not brick and not the kind of stone used to build country cottages. This is stone as in "marble" or "limestone" and stone as in "courthouse" or "national mint." Elegant and well-proportioned, each estate is distinctly different from all the others. What they all have in common, though, is that they are paragons of the best taste money can buy. When later we have an opportunity to traverse the street behind the mansions, we can see that the next tier of houses--those on the inland side of the street--are very substantial as well. Some, however, are constructed of wood--which in this neighborhood makes them look as insubstantial as paper mache.
The Cliff Walk has access points wherever streets perpendicular to the bluff deadend at overlooks. Eventually, though, we get down towards the south end of the island where access points become scarcer and the surface of the walk is occasionally unpaved. Finally, we pass a street entry with a sign saying "Next Public Access Two Miles." I consider bailing out at this point, but the decline in mansion population is more than offset by improvement in oceanside scenery, so we carry on. Fantastically harsh, dark rock outcroppings face towards the open ocean, washed by lumbering swells that douse them in foamy suds and then rinse them with sluiceway vigor. The farther out along the trail we go, the more the path becomes a trek across rugged bedrock until eventually I have to shoulder Bike Friday and rock-hop the remainder.
Back in Newport, I cycle up and down some of the side streets to get a better feel for the town. Everywhere I go there houses and churches and corner stores that look as if they must be at least a hundred years old. The jarring encounter with an architecturally impoverished contemporary structure is a rare occurrence; buildings by the dozen slide by looking historical and well-used. All in all, Newport's building stock appeals to those of us who pine for the past. Of course, down by the waterfront is a different matter. There, the general tenor of preservation is occasionally violated by the presence of some large hotel or shopping mall that is sinfully large and uninteresting. This is especially true at the north end of the harbor and over on Goat Island.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
From here, it is only about twenty five miles out to Block Island, and then twenty miles more to Montauk at the far eastern end of Long Island. I have plans to cross over these open water stretches, but of course it shouldn't be done if the weather is not right. I arise before dawn to get an early start, but the harbor is thick in a fog that the marine forecast maintains will probably burn off later in the day. Rather than setting out in such conditions, I opt to wait a few hours for improvement and then leave closer to midday. If the wind and waves permit, we will be able to get to Montauk by using the Mazda for an hour or two. If conditions are rough, then we will have to motor with the Yamaha and call it quits at Block Island. With this decision made, I walk into town to have breakfast and do some work.
In late morning when I return, Kobuk is missing. Along the stretch of floating dock to which she was tied there is nothing but emptiness, and for the first time since my arrival the wharfmaster's office is open. Kobuk has been impounded by the authorities for lingering too long. From out in the harbor, I thought I had seen a sign saying that this Ann Street Wharf accomodated transients, but Ken the wharfmaster informs me that overnighting here is prohibited and that to get my boat back I will have to deal with the harbormaster. He gives me the harbormaster's phone number and some time later I am able to reach him. The harbormaster proves to be a most reasonable fellow: in spite of going to all the trouble of towing my boat to a city mooring across the bay, he decides not to charge me anything (and this in Newport!). He tells me the mooring location and directs me to use the commercial launch service to get to her.
There is an extended wait for the launch since it is end of season and only one of them is running. While waiting for it to arrive, I strike up a conversation with a woman on the dock who appears to be an old hand at this business of waiting for water taxis. She is retired and her husband has recently died, but she so loves their sailboat that she keeps the seasonal mooring here that they had been using for the past few decades. Although she lives in the Boston area, she comes down here for much of the summer and stays on her boat. Whenever she can find someone to crew she takes it out sailing. She has two sons who are pressuring her to get rid of the sailboat because they think it is too much trouble for her. I advise her not to listen to them, and she seems grateful for the advice. Then I ask whether they do not like to sail and she says, "Well, yes, they do. But they both married women who do not like boating." Hmmmm.
It has taken some time to retrieve Kobuk from debtor's prison so I am not able to set out for Block Island until early afternoon. By now, the fog has ameliorated somewhat, but the wind is up and grotesque little waves are falling all over each other, crowding their way up into the mouth of Narragansett Bay in their effort to be first to the beach. Kobuk shudders and staggers under the constant onslaught and our progress is slowed to a crawl. Point Judith is the final headland that must be cleared before escaping from Narragansett Bay, and it is a discouraging ten miles out beyond the exit from Newport Harbor. After that, the waters will be deeper and less constrained--and that will give the waves a better shape. Even so, today is too rough for crossing to Montauk and our destination will have to be Block Island.
The fog comes rolling in a couple miles before we reach Point Judith, and that puts paid to the idea of getting out to Block Island. With rough water and fog we need to find haven as directly as possible. Nothing drives this home more forcefully than the apparitional appearance of a sport fishing boat directly ahead, a mere tens of feet away. We both are going slowly and it is easy to avoid collision, but what if one of us were not going slowly? Fortunately, just beyond Point Judith is the Harbor of Refuge, a small, shallow bay that back in the 1800's was artificially converted into a harbor by constructing a series of three long breakwaters, two of which pincer out from the sides of the bay and one of which runs across the exposed stretch of open water between them. In the days of sailing ships, this was a haven for them in bad weather.
By entering onto the GPS waypoints for buoys, we are able to round Point Judith and pass through one of the entrances through the breakwaters. During this blind entry, neither Point Judith nor the harbor breakwater ever become visible, but I know we are close to them by the way the incoming swells heap up in the shallow water near the point, and by the way the rough water disappears when we get inside the breakwater.
Once inside the breakwater, I can shut down the Yamaha for a few minutes and plot strategy in peace. A stream enters into the bay over next to the breakwater on the far side, and a couple miles upstream there are wharfs and docks shown on the nautical chart. After entering the appropriate buoy locations on the GPS, I take Kobuk on a blindfolded search for a place to overnight. All goes well and we find our way to a protected floating dock in Snug Harbor, just upstream from Galilee and across the estuary from Jerusalem. In the fog, I can see neither holy place. Frankly, though, I am perfectly happy with a place that has the more mundane name of "Snug Harbor."
Snug Harbor: 41* 23.178' N / 71* 30.973' W
Distance: 18 miles
Total Distance: 6, 400 miles
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Who could resist a nightspot called the Mews Tavern? It is located in the little town of Wakefield up at the north end of Judith Pond. This is some distance from Snug Harbor, but last night I decided to cycle there. When I arrived, it was as if the entire social world of southwestern Rhode Island revolves around this rambling pub. People were out the door waiting for tables and only by good luck was I able to nail down a seat at the bar. Dark paneled rooms jutted off in all directions and all of them were filled with tables that in turn were filled with people. For the next couple hours I watched customers come and go and marveled at the frenetic pace of all the young waitresses. At the same time, through the doorway into the kitchen I could see two young men pounding flour into pizza crusts and spinning them skyward with the adept ease of practiced professionals. All the while, baseball playoffs flickered across the television screens and boisterous parties of two and three and four held forth on topics ranging from family crises to business theory.
At the table next to me, a couple with a baby took dinner with a friend and while eating left their infant in one of those tilted seats that has a rocker on the bottom. They left her (him?), however, on the top of a low wall that dropped away on the far side to a floor level that was at least six feet lower. The wall was wide and the rocking seat easily fit, but all I could think about was leaving my infant son in a similar seat in the middle of a dining room table. While preoccupied with conversation and meal making, my wife and I paid him little attention until he jumped and bounced, jumped and bounced, and managed to jiggle his seat over to the table edge. He was attached in the chair, so when he and the chair fell they went together, and David landed on the stone floor face down. He bawled alot but otherwise escaped unscathed. Watching this little baby on top of the wall, however, kept reminding me of that fiasco and made me into the anxious parent that I never really was when actually living that role.
As risky as was the infant's precarious perch, it was no more so than mine when in the middle of the night I bicycled back to Kobuk on the shoulder of the main highway. Cars were flying by at freeway speed and I had no light or reflectors on the bike. Whenever a car would approach, I could see the shoulder well in the loom of the headlights and would maneuver as far to the edge as possible. Once the car had passed, however, it would be too dark to see anything but the painted white line separating the right lane from the shoulder and I would move over to it to avoid any potential potholes or breaks in the shoulder. This was foolish behavior, but my assessment of risk was so distorted that I found it to be less of a concern than the plight of that little baby.
Although I planned to leave early this morning, the wind was making tin plate of the flags and putting rockabilly chop on these protected waters. Even though the wind was out of the north, and should therefore leave us in a position to avoid big waves by staying close to shore, I thought it simply too strong to go out and resolved to wait until the middle of the day, by which time it might blow itself out. A thirty foot catamaran was tied off next to Kobuk overnight, and during the morning I had a chance to look at it more closely. The more I looked the more I was impressed. It was completely fiberglass with no wood trim and it was obviously a contemporary design. It had sleek lines but was also functional and sensible. Living accommodations were confined to the hulls, insuring good clearance between the connecting wing and the water. It was a simple sloop with straightforward automatic furling gear. The wing section was a shallow, protected cockpit with a hardtop cover shading its entirety. One of the two hulls had a simple daggerboard that could be manually set or lifted and the forward trampoline between the hulls was a very taut and fine mesh webbing. This is a sailboat that one person could handle and that, if treated properly, could be taken anywhere in the world, excepting perhaps the most extreme regions like the southern hemisphere roaring forties or the high North Atlantic. In the back of my mind, I have been toying with the idea of one last boatbuilding project--a cruising catamaran that I would be able to handle alone. This clean hull, however, was so perfect that it tempted me to consider getting rich instead of building my own.
I spoke briefly with the owner as he was preparing for departure, and he told me that it was a Maine Cat, produced by a man named Dick ______, and that this recently purchased hull was the fiftieth produced. As the object of my admiration was cast off from the dock, the owner had trouble dealing with the current and began to drift towards the Yamaha. By then I was back aboard Kobuk and scrambled to get up onto the dock where I would be better positioned to fend off. Stepping onto Kobuk's narrow deck outboard of the carling, my right foot slipped off as it had done in Kennebunkport and I fell forward, bashing my left knee against the carling. An injury that was still in the process of healing got aggravated and I spent the next couple of minutes staggering around on the dock trying to catch my breath while the Maine Cat slipped off downstream.
I wait and wait . . . and wait, and finally around one in the afternoon the wind begins to run out of breath from so much exertion. It is time to seize the day and sneak on down to Fishers Island in the lee of the coastline. We power half the distance before the waves get too big and then use the Yamaha the rest of the way. Fishers Island is just across the border in Connecticut, so this stretch is the last of little Rhode Island. It is a coastline of running beaches with strings of cottages behind them. The wind is still forceful and the waves considerable, but we are running more with them than against them and the ride is quite tolerable. The sun, furthermore, is putting a shine on everything and giving it a most agreeable look. Rough water never seems so bad when the sun is shining.
A few miles out from West Harbor on Fishers Island, a large powerboat approaches off the starboard bow. He has the right of way, but we are only traveling at sailboat speed whereas he must be making at least twenty knots. I put off changing course until he is a couple hundred yards away, but since he seems bent on going straight--and has the right to do so--I toggle the remote troll to redirect us so that we might pass port-to-port. He, at the same time, veers to his left, still at high speed. Once the Yamaha is committed to a turn, it is very slow to reverse direction, so I overdo it and put Kobuk into a dog-chasing-its-tail routine. I hear a pop back at the stern and, can no longer steer with the remote troll. The powerboat veers over to the right and passes us by as we sit dead in the water. When I take a look aft, the wire cable on which the Remote Troll depends appears to have snapped. I head into harbor thinking about how I am going to replace it.
West Harbor, Fisher Island, NY: 41* 15.972' N / 72* 00.586' W
Distance: 31 miles
Total Distance: 6,431 miles
Monday, October 8, 2007
I had heard and read nice things about Fishers Island, but I did not feel comfortable when I arrived last night. It appears to be a place where the rich have bought all the good land and put up summer homes. I think they have the mentality that it is a gated community--one in which erected gates and walls are unnecessary because it is an island. Outsiders may not be welcome, outsiders being those who do not have real estate there. This impression was reinforced by the way I was treated when I maneuvered Kobuk up to a floating dock not far from the fuel dock in West Harbor. A man named Ron came down from the nearby gas station and told me that this was not a place where I could tie off and that the spot belonged to another boat that would be returning to port shortly. I explained my situation and and asked if there was any place in the area where a transient boater could either anchor or take a slip. He emphasized the fact that this is a private island and that there are no facilities for passers-by. I behaved in an appropriately humble way, and he quickly softened his stand, first telling me that there was a yacht club nearby that sometimes made arrangements for transients and then pointing out a nearby dock that is actually a public one. He told me that boats were only allowed to be tied there for a maximum of two hours, but then--astonishingly--said that it was so late in the season that leaving Kobuk there for the night would be alright. I thanked him sincerely, for I was grateful, and immediately made plans on how to move Kobuk there. When he saw I was set on moving, he immediately protested that that dock was less well protected and that I should leave Kobuk right where she was. When I asked about the other boat that would be returning soon, he said it may not come in after all and if it did it would prefer the other side of the dock.
This was when Ron stopped being the guardian of the estate and suddenly turned into my co-conspirator. He furtively unlocked the men's bathroom for me (it had been closed down for the season). He spent a half hour discussing with me the problem with the Remote Troll cable. He filled me in on what to expect in the way of hazards and currents in the upcoming leg of the voyage. Now this morning he gives me a cup of the coffee that he made for himself when he opened the garage.
The Remote Troll cable did not actually break: it attaches to a hook on the end of a spring and somehow managed to slip off. I fiddled with it until it got dark last night, but couldn't manage to stretch the spring enough to reattach the cable to the hook. I had worked out an efficient system for doing this job before, but now that the pulley arrangement has been modified to create greater power by inserting additional blocks, the re-rigging of the cable is a more complicated task. I am going to have to work out a new system. While lying in bed last night I thought about the problem and eventually struck upon a solution that works well when I try it this morning. It involves threading small dimension line from the spring through the swivel attachment for the block and then running it up to the winch mounted on the top of the stern plate. By winching in the line I can stretch the spring and still have a hand free to pass the eye of the cable over the hook. The last time that winch was used was over two years ago when I was trying to Pull Kobuk off groundings on Wyoming's Big Horn River. Since then it has sat idle, so I am pleased to now know that there will be a regular use for it.
The wind has come around to where it will be heading us today, but I do not care to stay at Fishers Island and decide to push off in spite of the rough ride that I know will be our fate. It turns out to be rougher than I expected, though--three to four foot waves into which Kobuk's bow must constantly charge and surmount. It creates more motion than Kobuk has ever known before. It is sufficiently extreme that we cannot make way with the Yamaha; the Remote Troll cannot steer well enough when we are being knocked about like this. I use the Mazda and we power into the fray at a speed that is even less than the Yamaha could do. After a couple hours of this, Kobuk and I are thoroughly beat up and I am beginning to consider alternatives to the plan of proceeding all the way to Guilford.
The matter is settled when a set of particularly gruesome waves charges us and Kobuk has to stick her bow into one of them. She carves off a slab of the wave and sends it sweeping back, across the deck, over the engine box, up the windshield, and right along the top of the cabin to dissipate aft by draining off the sides of the canvas Bimini. The cabin top is dogged down but the water pours in all along its seam at the top of the windshield. It is solid water coming in and it wets most everything in the cabin. When the water strikes the back of the cabin top, it drives in under the leading edge of the Bimini canvas to wet much of the back of the boat as well. This is enough to convince me that we are not intended to go to Guilford today and I immediately start looking for protection. The nearest place is Niantic a few miles ahead, and that is where we end up for the night.
Niantic Fish Market, CT: 41* 19.515' N / 72* 10.610' W
Distance: 14 miles
Total Distance: 6,445 miles
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Niantic Bay itself offered some respite from the troublesome headwinds yesterday, but the real haven was a stream issuing into the head of the bay. To get up it required us to power against a strong current and pass under two bridges, but this was only for a short distance since the waters quickly opened into a broad lagoon. Close by the bridges and at the downstream pinch in the lagoon, I found an arrangement for the night at a rustic wooden pier out in front of the Niantic Fish Market. It was a quiet place, for the season is late, and Kobuk rested comfortably on lines adjusted for the three-foot tidal range. I cycled away from Kobuk in the afternoon, crossed over the bridge we had just passed under, and spent the rest of the day exploring the unremarkable little bayside town of Niantic.
Now this morning we are on our way to Guilford where Dick Fucci and his wife Ilona live. The gentle headwinds are benign and Kobuk's forward motion is not much deflected by the oncoming waves. The steering is easier than usual on this sunsoaked day, and I find my attention drifting off to times past. During my college days, Dick was a close compadre, a brother in spirit who sustained me with his strange and endearing ways. He was fastidious to a degree unusual for a red-blooded American lad of the sixties. Always well-groomed and always well clothed in carefully chosen casual dress, he had the look of a male model who didn't realize he was leaving an impression. If there was even a touch of cold outside, he would wrap a scarf around his neck before going out, and he is the only young man I ever knew who could do this without raising an eyebrow. To all his friends, he was known as "Fooch."
Fooch, I remember, would talk in complex, multi-phrased sentences that explored nuances and inserted qualifications--and yet his language was as vigorous and as funny as his laugh was ready. And ready was his laugh for there was much in life that delighted him. He was quick-witted and humorous, but his laugh was always twice as strong for someone else's joke. He was the consummate gentleman and in retrospect I thank the god of good fortune for having cast the two of us together. Last fall, I saw Dick briefly--not long enough to reestablish the link of our youth but more than long enough to confirm that his essential character remains unchanged.
This is the sign of a strong character indeed, for Dick has had to deal with more grievous adversity than most of us will ever know. He finished university in the days of Vietnam, and his choice was to join the navy to become a fighter pilot. When his training was done, his carrier was posted to the Med and he served out his time in that arena. He did not make a career out of the military, but flying became a passion for him and when he was once again a civilian he sought out ways to stay in the sky. His rendezvous with destiny occurred on a day when he took off in a small aircraft that developed engine trouble just as it became airborne. Dick tried to execute a 180 degree turn and land where he had just taken off, but the lack of time and lack of elevation forced him to land on the grass beside the actual tarmac. A ditch was hidden in the grass. It abruptly pitched the aircraft on its nose and Dick sustained a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him from the waist down. No young man I ever knew was more careful, more attentive to detail, than Dick. That he should be the one to draw the short straw was in this instance the height of irony. As Robert Frost put it: "Lord forgive my little jokes on thee / And I'll forgive thy great big one on me."
When he was college age, Dick engaged in his share of risky shenanigans, and some of them I can fondly recall. I do remember, for example, taking him skiing in New Hampshire when he had never been on skis before. As was the custom amongst good friends in those days, I saw no reason to help him or protect him from injury, and so he learned the sport unassisted, launching himself down the mountain with no idea whatsoever of how to turn or how to stop. On his very first descent, I can still recall his howl of dismay as his straight track across the trail disappeared off into the trees. Later in the day when he was still only marginally capable of any sort of directional change on skis, I can remember seeing both him and my other friend, Mike Grey, appear over the crest of the final pitch on the ski slope. Both of them utterly out of control, they swept down that last descent with alarming speed, directly toward the long line of people that was strung across the bottom of the hill waiting to ride the t-bar lift back to the top. The line rapidly parted as the two missiles approached and wide-eyed people looked over their fleeing shoulders to watch them flashed by and into a tall snow bank plowed up when the parking lot was cleared in the morning. Side by side, the two of them embedded in the snow bank. People were fortunate not to have been struck. The two of them were fortunate not to have been launched. Safety was less of a societal preoccupation in those days.
Fooch never had enough time on skis to become captured by the sport, but flying . . . well, that's a different story. He is now a licensed glider pilot and, except in the winter, spends one or two days each week testing himself in the air. To go higher, to stay up longer, to travel farther--these are still the primitive urges flowing in his veins.
When I get to Guilford, Fooch drives down to pick me up and takes me home for dinner and for blissful sleep in a real bed. I will spend a couple days with Dick and Ilona and then fly back to Utah for a week to take care of personal matters. After that, I will return to Connecticut and spend a week or so visiting my daughter and son-in-law and two grandchildren. It will be a grand time for us, but on one of those days, Dick will come to get me and take me gliding.
Guilford Yacht Club: 41* 16.186' N / 72* 40.686' W
Distance: 33 miles
Total Distance: 6,478 miles