St Martin to Newport, Day 10

Bill’s friend Toby joined and the three of them, Bill, Dana and Toby ,continued on. Toby has many offshore miles under his belt.  He is from Marblehead, Mass.  Dana tells me that last night Toby made a one pot stew for dinner using odds and ends from the pantry. It was delicious.  The rainbow appeared behind them after they left Bermuda.  They hope to make Newport by Wednesday afternoon.  Winds have been behaving.  Good luck crew!

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Stunning Rainbow, taken by Dana

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Toby joined in Bermuda for the last leg

ck crew!

Backstory, Chapter 4

Chapter Four – Mañana

After eight years and many wonderful coastal miles the beautiful Blue Moon began to feel small. It wasn’t her fault at all, it was that our easily stowable small kids had gotten bigger, and Annie had come along. The main saloon, or living room, felt like a New York City sidewalk at Christmastime with the gang below. Time to move up, so we called Alan. After some search we found a lovely Swan 48 named Feng. She had been nicely outfitted and sailed across the Atlantic by her Japanese owner. We again flaunted superstitious convention and re-named her. We also again had her hull repainted from white to flag blue, Mary’s only condition of ownership.

The name Blue Moon was meant to answer the question, how often do you get your dreamboat? Once in a blue moon. Now we were faced with naming another boat. The year we were doing this was 2003, the same year my father passed away. We wanted to honor his life. My father was the most wholly un-egotistical person I ever knew. This was wonderful but also made for more than a few embarrassing moments. One time he picked me up from high school in a 17-year-old musty-green 1960 Plymouth station wagon with fins and with three tires bailing-wired to its roof rack.

In his years of semi-retirement my father did a fair amount of business in Mexico. He ran an auto business wherein he purchased damaged automobiles from an insurance auction, towed them the 450 miles down I-35 to Nuevo Laredo, had them fixed up like new at one-fifth of the USA repair shop cost, and returned them to Dallas for sale, hopefully at a modest profit. The catch to this business was that the proprietors of the repair shops across the border had an entirely different concept of time. They would give Dad an estimate of cost and time of delivery, some two or three months away. They always, amazingly, delivered the repairs at the agreed cost. The timing was another matter altogether. I have personally witnessed my father drive all the way from Dallas to Nuevo Laredo to pick up a car at the appointed date, only to arrive at the dusty outdoor shop and have the car in a complete state of disassembly, two more months away from completion. My father was uniquely suited for this particular endeavor, because he was never, ever in a hurry. The friendly repair shop owners would always tell my Dad mañana, come back mañana. They would then go off happily together, have a hearty lunch, and agree on a new date for pickup. My father was always relaxed about these encounters, never unsettled. For years we thought mañana meant tomorrow; only after a long while did we discover that the word translates into sometime after today.

So in homage to my father we named the Swan 48 Mañana. The name carried with it the connotation that, once aboard, it was perfectly fine to slow down from the frenetic pace that consumes our lives and just enjoy the journey, like Dad.

Moving up eight feet in length with the same brand turned out to be a good step. The cockpit and controls were similar, just a stretch version. The 48-foot boat was an ideal size; big enough for everybody but uncomplicated enough in systems to be self-maintained. My Newport-Nantucket sails with co-workers continued. I now ran a banking group and I would reward the most junior bankers with the two-day sail. We would depart mid-day from Jamestown on the Friday before Memorial Day and pick up a mooring in Vineyard Haven that evening. We would dinghy in for dinner at the wonderful Black Dog Tavern, followed by beer and pool at Oak Bluffs. We slept on the boat and sailed the next morning to Nantucket, where I would join my family.

These Jamestown-Nantucket trips were fun sails with adequate libations on board. I was the boss so the youngsters usually showed restraint. On one of these trips, however, I noticed a young analyst stumble up from below with an overfull red plastic cup containing mostly Jack Daniels. He was cross-eyed, not three hours out of Jamestown. Whoa there, I said, enough fun for you. I was too late. Acting with an incomprehensible lack of judgment, he proceeded to go below and vomit all over the forward head, or bathroom. Not over the side, an act which had been deftly performed by plenty of respectable people, but inside the boat. It should be noted that I am an absolute stickler for cleanliness on a sailboat. I am a Nazi about crumbs and have taught all of my children that there is no reason whatsoever to bite a chip in half, needlessly spilling crumbs, when you can almost always fit the entire chip into your mouth. So the news of his rude defilement of the insides of our lovely new Mañana came as something of a shock. To top it off, he ripped the built-in forward hatch screen, wonderfully custom built by the finest of Finnish craftsmen, in a deranged attempt to birth his bloated body from the craft.

His served his penance the next morning by re-pristining the forward head despite his head-splitting pain. He effected a repair of the screen using what little tools he had available. Despite my enormous anger, I forgave him and told him I would not use this incident against him when he came up for promotion, so long as he promised to fly straight thereafter. I kept my end, as did the wayward youth. I reasoned that one mistake, no matter how horrendous, should not define his professional life.

Mañana took us on many fine sails. We took a family trip through the delightful and impressive Cape Cod Canal and all the way up to Portland, Maine. The Canal was like a Disney river, winding, green and deep, with hand-laid rocky shores. We traveled with the swift tidal current, wind from behind and water flat as a pond. Flat water brings smiles, every time. We crossed under the Bourne and Saginaw Bridges that connect Cape Cod to the mainland. We passed southbound tankers whose bulk would raise the water level several feet as they passed. After this we sailed to Plymouth and docked not 200 feet from the Mayflower replica. The next day I pushed too long and sailed about 9 hours to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I have since learned an immutable rule of family cruising – that is, to keep the sailing to at most four hours per day, preferably in flat, protected waters, and to make the trip all about the destination. As we approached the lovely dock in Portsmouth I could feel the boating fatigue coursing through the veins of my entire family, so once again we opted to treat them to a hotel room. The announcement of the hotel room decision brought a rousing cheer from my weary crew, and further cemented the importance of short, happy hops. We sailed to Portland, Maine the next day and left the boat there, just as we were about to enter some of the finest cruising grounds in the world. This trip was memorable but very poorly planned on my part. Our next Maine trip, years later on Moondance, was the logistical opposite of the first and remains to this day a favorite family vacation.

Each time a visitor came to Nantucket we took them on a daysail in the Sound. We would often anchor out by Great Point and have lunch. I would free up a spare spinnaker halyard, which went right up to the top of the mast, for the kids to swing on. They would stand on the bow pulpit, tightly gripping the line, then launch away from the boat and towards the stern. Out they would swing, grinning, then the arc would begin to swing them inward, right back towards the looming hull. Inevitably Mary would panic and say “let go!” just as they did exactly that, plunging feet-first into the cold, clear Nantucket waters. We would don swim masks and swim to the bottom, 15 feet down, where we would look up and see the keel of Mañana, magically suspended above the sandy bottom. We had great trips to Edgartown, where we would moor in the harbor and pick up ice cream after dinner before taking the launch back to the boat. We ferried the Nantucket Yacht Club dinghy sailors to a few off-Island regattas, where one of our boys would often compete in Opti’s or 420s.

 

Mañana now allowed for something we had not thought practical on Blue Moon – true blue water, open ocean sailing. Since reading the Buckley books, I had longed to sail on the open ocean. Mañana was a highly capable and comfortable ocean sailor, sleek and fast but with ample creature comforts. We proceeded to sail her to Bermuda on three different occasions.

The first Bermuda trip was memorable for its major failing and lack of wind. I thought to procure the services of an expert for this first open ocean trip, and so hired the affable and accomplished Chris, a delivery skipper whom we had met in Nantucket. Chris brought as a mate Thorfin, another veteran delivery skipper. Sarah (our oldest daughter) and her friend Henry joined, as well as Matt (our oldest son) and Dave, a close friend of mine. The seven of us departed from Nantucket harbor in June of 2006, riding a gentle southwest breeze through a typical Nantucket fog. After the first chilly day in the cool northeastern waters, with delightful dolphin sightings, we entered the glorious Gulf Stream with its crystal deep-blue waters and flying fish.

Halfway across the 60-mile Gulf Stream the wind expired completely. We were becalmed. As we were cruising, not racing, we fired up the 90 horsepower diesel inboard and proceeded along by motor. We were baking in the hot sun with no escape. Going below was to step into a furnace. Compounding the pain was the sunburn we had all gotten on the first foggy day, where the cool damp wind betrayed us into thinking the sun’s rays had been obscured, when in fact they had been magnified. We fashioned a crude bimini, or shady cover, out of one of our blankets. Then our major failure hit.

On of the fan belts on the engine began to screech like a cat in a dishwasher.   To me it sounded like the belt was slipping on its pulley, an innocuous and fixable problem. To Chris and Thorfin, our experts, it sounded like the pulley bearing was failing, which they deemed to create a potential fire hazard. A fire on a boat is truly a disastrous affair, like a tiger loose in a children’s zoo. To avoid any possible chance of an engine fire, against my own less-informed judgment, they cut off the offending fan belt. Although this action stopped the infernal screeching, it had the wholly unfortunate side effect of completely shutting down our ability to make fresh water and our ability to charge the batteries. We now continued on, 400 miles to go, Apollo-13 style. We had to conserve water to use for drinking, ergo no showers. The lack of showers coupled with the 84-degree Gulf Stream waters and the fact that Mañana had no air conditioning made for some very sticky, unpleasant nights. The remainder of the journey had a constant are-we-there-yet feel. We also had to preserve our depleting battery bank for the critical tasks of radio and running lights, so we could call for help if needed and also avoid being run into by other vessels. This restriction meant we shut down the handy-dandy chartplotter, which is like a GPS in a car, and reverted to paper navigation charts and a hand-held GPS, which gave us our latitude and longitude position.

So we continued on, sweaty and sticky, marking on the chart a series of “X”s, the progression of which made clear our slow and steady progress toward Bermuda. Our ship’s batteries finally died altogether, about 8 hours from Bermuda. We limped into St. Georges, lining up the navigation lights to make it through the narrow cut into the harbor, Matthew on the bow with a flashlight, our human bow light. We dropped anchor, raised our quarantine flag and took a swim, glad to have completed the journey.

 

The second Bermuda trip was more, well, interesting.

“Um, we should watch the fries before we hit the ocean, they are supposedly bad for your stomach,” I said to the crew. We had stopped at a Wendy’s on our way to Newport.

“Nah, I have a stomach of steel,” said John, infamously. “I will be the last one to get sick.”

There were five of us, preparing for our second sailing trip to Bermuda, this time from Newport, aboard Mañana. Sarah was with us, trooper that she is. Never let her tell you she is not a real sailor. I have seen her hand-steering in a gale in the Gulf Stream. Matt was with us, just finishing his senior year in high school. He had sailed competitively all through his youth, and would continue to do so for four years in college, including twice at Collegiate Nationals. We made a “May-Term” school project out of the Newport to Bermuda trip, with the proviso that the students would prepare a presentation afterward. We were joined by two of Matt’s buddies, along for the adventure.

I had tried to get Captain Chris to join us, but he was unavailable. So this was to be our adventure.   Matt’s friends John and Tom had no sailing experience.

John was hideously, famously, breathtakingly seasick. We were not 45 minutes off the dock at Jamestown when he heaved over the side, his friends cackling with glee. They took his picture in the act, with the Newport Bridge looming in the background. That is like driving from New York to LA and getting carsick in New Jersey. I hasten to add that he was not in physical danger. We were able to keep him hydrated with Gatorade and sparsely fed with saltines. He did, however, lose eleven pounds in under four days, a diet plan he would surely not recommend.

The trip had only three high points for John. The first night out I was steering and John was in his favored spot, supine on the leeward (comfortably downhill) side of the cockpit. Suddenly we were in the company of two very large glow-in-the-dark dolphins, darting back and forth under the hull. They were entirely covered with phosphorescent jellyfish. It was a fabulous site, one I have never witnessed again.

“John, you have got to see this,” I said.

He stood shakily and took in the spectacle. This movement, as did any movement, caused him to be ill, yet again. Afterward, he looked up from his bag and flashed a minor grin.

“It was worth it,” he croaked.

The second high point for John was sighting Bermuda. It is a maxim of sailing that the time between sighting land and reaching land seems interminably long. Indeed it can easily be four or five hours. Despite our explanations to John and our entreaties begging him to rest, he would neither sit nor take his eyes off of the blessed terra firma until our arrival.

The third high point for John was reaching the hotel. This natural hotel-high is a little-known but much beloved side effect of sailing, or at least of sailing with me.

I had asked John before our trip if he suffered from seasickness. No, he had replied. About halfway to Bermuda, I inquired as to what experience he had based this assertion upon. His uncle had a ski boat, he said, and he never got sick on that.

I then asked, somewhat gingerly, “John, do you get carsick?”

“Oh yes,” he replied.

I recounted this entire conversation to a genial woman from Georgia while waiting in the customs line at St. Gorges.

“Well does he get stupid-sick?” she drawled.

I could only grin.

 

This trip had two other memorable events. We were two days out and exhaustion was beginning to set in. Matt and I were the only two watch captains, so we split the night watches a disagreeable six-on, six off. Six hours on a watch is too long, way too long. We hot-bunked, collapsing into the forward lower bunk in turn after each watch. We normally were both on deck most of each day, but after two days of this I had relented and gone forward midday for a nap. I was deeply asleep when Matt came below to rouse me.

“Dad, dad, sorry to wake you.”

“Huh, what, Matt, is everything okay?”

“Well you might want to come up here, the wind just picked up, a lot.”

His tone put me on edge. He is by nature a non-complainer. I had two strident emotions – the fear of the unknown conditions and an overwhelming need to pee. I knew that once I got on deck I would be busy, probably for a while. I shook the cobwebs and looked up from my bunk.

“Okay, be right there, but I need to use the head first.”

“Oh, okay, see you in a minute, “ said Matt, before scampering off to return to the deck. When he got to the cockpit, the rest of the crew stared at him, then at the empty companionway.

“Where’s dad?” asked Sarah.

“He is using the bathroom,” replied Matt.

“He’s WHAT?” they all said in unison.

A few minutes later I appeared at the top of the stairs, still addled, and begin to look things over, trying to decipher our status.

“Well, what do we do?” asked Sarah.

“I need a minute. Just let me assess the situation,” I said. This phrase has become a family punch line for tense situations where the person in charge is ill tempered.

The wind had suddenly grown to 40 knots. Forty knots is a lot of wind. We had too much sail on for these conditions and the boat was uncontrollable. We were heeling over way too far, scary far. We took a deep breath, eased the sails and headed more downwind. This relaxed everything. We then formulated a plan, tucked a double reef in the main sail, rolled up most of the jib and returned to our course, balanced but shaken.

I had procured the services of a weather forecaster for our trip. I wanted to know how long these conditions were likely to last, and what was coming next. I went below and dialed him up on the satphone. I reached his wife, who said he was out mowing the lawn. Given the howling wind and frothy seas just outside my porthole, I found this dichotomy strangely disturbing. I pictured her waving for his attention and him coming inside, grass-green shoes and sweat-patterned gray shirt.   He checked on his computer.

“Wow,” he said, “that is some squall.”

“Squall?” I queried, “there’s no rain.”

“Yea, it’s a dry squall.”

This sounded more like a name for a scary sailing movie than a real thing. What the heck is a dry squall, and how about a little warning? I squelched this thought and stuck with the business at hand.

“Okay, how long will it last, and what is next?”

He filled us in on the next 24 hours. The wind had peaked and would continue in the 25-30 knot range for the next day. We sailed ahead, now well-balanced for the conditions. The next morning brought with it one of my favorite sailing memories.

The seas had built to giant but gently-shaped swells. I was steering, alone on deck, just after daybreak. The rig was balanced and the boat was sailing beautifully, the stern lifting smoothly as each wave slid past. We were flying along with no fuss, despite the turmoil around us. The wind had not dropped below 25 knots for a full 24 hours, so that wind speed had become routine. Behind us, each swell loomed large before lifting the stern. Looking downwind, the waves were streaming away as far as the eye could see, foam blowing across the wavetops. Sarah came up onto the deck. She looked behind us.

“That’s actually pretty terrifying.” She said this without a glint of fear.

She then turned to look ahead of us, at the trains of endless waves rolling away. She pondered these for a few minutes.

“I love it when the ocean is like this,” she said. She has always been tough and tender, pigtails and teacups and steely resolve.

The journal I kept for this trip has sparse entries, but after this interaction I had written:

I love it when my daughter is like this.

 

Our final Newport to Bermuda trip came in 2010, when we first participated in the storied Newport-Bermuda race. The qualification process to enter the race was, to put it mildly, arduous. The race has a stellar safety record and they maintain this through extensive safety training and inspection. For sailing experience, the race organizers care only about ocean sailing miles. So although I had sailed for thousands of miles over the years, the only experience that counted was that gained during the two Bermuda trips. Our crew consisted of me, Matt, Jackie, Sarah and MH, as well as two other ex-BU sailors, Max and Fiona. The average age of the crew other than me was about 21. Max and Fiona had some good big-boat experience and were excellent sailors, if young.

The Newport-Bermuda race is tough. It takes about three and a half days to sail the 635-mile race, with the Gulf Stream running through the middle of the course and wreaking havoc with the waves and currents. We performed passably for rank beginners. We were in the cruising division, the less-serious end of the spectrum, and ended up about mid-fleet.

We had our share of rough water on this trip.   On the second night out, I was off-watch and trying to get some sleep. MH was in the bunk above me. The boat has fresh air vents known as dorade boxes, a cleverly designed vent that allows fresh air to enter the cabins below decks while keeping ocean water out. The pipe-like scoops on deck face forward during all but the roughest conditions and do their job admirably. The trouble is, in really rough water, where mountainous waves are crashing across the deck, the dorade boxes must be turned around to face aft, lest they spew salt water into the cabins below. We had not turned the tops, so that about every 10 minutes, just as we had fallen into a desperate sleep in the muggy cabin, a huge wave would hit and spit about a pint of warm salt water onto MH and me. The level of physical discomfort created by the intermittent sticky-water dousing is difficult to convey. It was, needless to say, miserable and impossible to sleep, though it was after 2am.

After one of our splashings I explained the dorade function to MH.

“Well why don’t we go out and turn them?” he asked.

“Too dangerous to send anyone out to the foredeck in these pounding waves, “ I replied. “But, well, there might be another way.”

“What other way?” he asked.

“That hatch right above your head opens up not two feet from the dorade vent top. It might be possible to shimmy through the hatch and turn the pipe.”

“Let’s do it,” he said. “We cannot go on like this.”

“There is a catch,” I said. “We must time the opening of the hatch between waves, otherwise we could have a waterfall in here.”

So MH waited until just after a mountainous wave had passed, and deftly opened the small hatch. He squeezed his slender torso through the opening and reached for the dorade top. He got one turned, with some difficulty, then the other.

“Come on come on come on!” I urged.

He slipped his body through and reached up to pull the hatch closed, just as the bow dove into a wave. Water flooded the hatchway and doused him to the core.

“REALLY?” was all he could utter.

 

After we reached Bermuda we did one of our favorite things and checked into a hotel. In this case not just any hotel, but the beautiful and serene Coral Beach Club. I have a vivid memory of first walking into our larger room, feeling the startling refreshment of the air conditioning, and looking in turns at each of the smiling faces of the crew. We showered and scrubbed and met for dinner at the beachside restaurant, where we laughed and took pictures and ate fondue and reveled in our accomplishment.

 

St Martin to Newport, Day 7

My how things can change fast.  I am sitting at home in NJ, updating this blog.

We arrived Bermuda at daybreak.  Winds were 25-30 knots by dawn.  We checked in at the customs dock and then scored a prime docking spot in the well-protected nook behind Ordnance Island in St. Georges.  This is important because the system we avoided will blow over Bermuda on Friday and Saturday, bringing winds to 45 knots. We definitely did the right thing by diverting to Bermuda, the seas will be “dangerous” according to one forecaster.

Unfortunately with the weather delay lasting until Friday or Saturday both Tom and I had to abort our journey due to work and other commitments.  It was a great 1000 mile trip all the same.  Bill and Dana will pick up a third crew and finish the trip to Newport.  I know Moondance is in good hands.  The tracker is still on the boat, charged.  I leave you with more pictures.  Godspeed to my friends.

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Approaching Bermuda

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Bermuda Sunrise

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Bermuda, arrival at dawn

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Safely behind Ordnance Island, Bermuda

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Moondance in Bermuda

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Flying Fish

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Whale sighting, day 1

St Martin to Newport – day 6 update

Hold the guesses on arrival time!  We are diverting to Bermuda.  The latest forecast came in and it was worse.  Showing 45-50knots sustained with gusts above that, and seas building to 14-18 feet.  Prudence dictates that we let that system pass.  We have about a 12 hour beam reach to Bermuda and expect decent weather until we get there.  We will watch the weather and decide a Bermuda departure time, but not likely before Friday

I miss my family and want to see them soon, but that will just have to wait a few days more.

Thanks for your continuing comments and support.

Love to all, MJ (the other MJ is Matt)

 

St. Martin to Newport, day 6

“Mares tails and haddock scales, means its time to shorten sails”, says Bill.  We are about 100 miles west of Bermuda and a bit over 600 miles from Newport.  We have been making about 180-190 miles per day.

Bill, among his many other talents, was at one time a professional weather router for ocean racing.  So it is uncanny to watch him parse through the data and the outside-provided forecasts and read the situation.  Yesterday before dark we set the preventer for a gybe to port tack.  Sure enough, at 11:00 pm the wind shifted from SSE to SSW and we gybed.  He now predicts that the wind will increase tonight, into the 30s, still from the SW.  This good news, as it is from the right direction.  The wind strength is not a concern, but Bill’s experience says better to overprepare.  So we have tucked a triple reef into the main and poled out the jib to port. This took a while to get the rig set just right, but when we were done Bill nodded with satisfaction and said “This rig is good to about 60 knots.”  Remember, this is from someone who has sailed in 60 knots of wind, and more, on many occasions.  The wind we expect over the next two days is NOT 60 knots, but rather much like that of the first few days of the Atlantic Crossing – when we were whooping and laughing and surfing down waves.  Don’t worry!

The seas are still flat though the wind is up to 18 knots or so.  We have overshortened sail so we are motorsailing, Tom on watch at the helm. I slept until 8 am so missed the entire fuel transfer operation.We are well-fed and well rested and wholly content.  The sea is vast and there are no ships in sight.  The tracker is charging now.  Time to go make some fresh water.IMG_0595 IMG_1701 IMG_1699

Love to all, MJ.

Backstory, Chapter 3

Chapter Three – Blue Moon

You may very well wonder, after the Caneel Bay fiasco, why I would ever think myself capable of owning a large sailboat. Easy. Time melted away the humiliation and the incident became a comical circus event suffered by my naïve younger self. Also, I became a prodigious reader of books about sailing. As it turns out, many sailing books skip the description of endless perfect days and instead regale the reader with misadventures. Poor Tania Aebi, in her enthralling book Maiden Voyage, knew almost nothing about sailing when she embarked upon a round-the-world solo journey. My antics by comparison to those I read about seemed pedestrian. I also believed I could book-smart myself into avoiding the usual pitfalls.

In 1992 I read the brilliant book Windfall by William F. Buckley. It is a captivating and often whimsical account of a trans-Atlantic sail with a close group of friends. It served as my inspiration for my next twenty years of sailing, up to and including my own Crossing and indeed this account. Buckley, one of my great heroes, back in the day when conservatives were found to be intellectual giants, instead of the opposite, had written three other books on sailing. I tracked them down and devoured them, each brilliant and charming.

By the mid nineties we were tossing our then four kids (pre-Annie days) into the back of our Suburban and trundling off to boat shows in Annapolis and Newport. We met at one of these a gentleman named Alan Baines, a convivial and experienced broker of Nautor Swans. As I pored through the glorious pages of Ferenc Mate’s The World’s Best Sailboats I kept returning to the description of the Finnish-built Swans and their electric blend of high performance sailing and bullet-proof construction. Alan called one day to say that a doctor had ordered a brand new Swan 40 but was unable to fulfill the contract due to business difficulties. If we were inclined to move quickly we could secure this lovely craft at a meaningful discount. We took the plunge. Blue Moon, as she was to be named, was shipped over from Finland and trucked up the Eastern coast to the redoubtable Jamestown Boat Yard. She was re-rigged and we had one test sail before taking possession. We had her white hull painted a beautiful flag blue. She had teak decks and a cherry interior and was a beauty to behold.

To say I was nervous about sailing this boat would be a colossal understatement. My prior boat ownership had consisted of the 50-pound Scamper. I had sailed on the ocean only once, in forgiving Virgin Island waters, to ill acclaim. Compounding the matter, I decided that my maiden voyage would be with a handful of business colleagues, none sailors, from Jamestown, Rhode Island to Nantucket. This 70-mile voyage, which I was to repeat over 40 times through the years, was through some tricky currents, invisible shoals and dense fog banks. This was before they had chart plotters, the GPS maps now found in so many cars, so we actually had to do a bit of navigation. The first voyage had no disasters and only one near miss. I had gone below and left a colleague at the helm, steering toward Vineyard Sound with the wind more or less from behind. Suddenly I heard a CRASH, as the boom slammed across the boat. I scampered on deck and shouted at him “Do you realize what you just did? That was an accidental gybe, one of the most dangerous things you can do in sailing!” I cringe as I recall the mishap – in truth it was every bit my fault and none of his. I should have never left him at the helm. More to the point, I should have never been sailing off the wind without rigging a “preventer”, or a line from forward securing the boom from exactly this maneuver.

The sea has kindly taught me these lessons slowly and patiently, with no real injuries. Over the years we had many family adventures on Blue Moon, exploring the waters around Nantucket and Cape Cod. The failings and scrapes came in small digestible doses and taught me, gradually, how to be a sailor. Michael Henry was just under two years old when he first set foot on her. I had convinced Mary he would be safe because we would confine him to the aft cockpit, always within reach. This lasted almost two minutes, whereupon he stubbornly clambered up the side deck. At least he was tethered to the boat. Sarah, Matthew and William were eight, six and four at their first sail and developed sea legs almost immediately. I have vivid memories of them sitting on the tiny bow seat, like a dunking chair, as we crashed through the “big waves” left by the ferry in the Nantucket channel.

Annie took her first sailing trip as a fetus. We sailed from Nantucket to Block Island, stopping over at the tiny island of Cuttyhunk on the way. As we left the relative protection of Vineyard Sound and headed to Block Island, we encountered gentle-but-giant ocean swells. The kids thought these to be great fun. Mary, who tends towards seasickness in the best of circumstances, was pregnant with Annie. She lay prone on the side-deck, moaning. Somehow the teak deck against her cheek made the conditions tolerable, if barely. To reward her composure we booked a hotel room in Block Island, with air conditioning. My family has never been so delighted with a hotel room. We lined up roll-aways across the room to form one continuous bed and cranked the AC and delighted in our creature comforts. It was a lesson I was to learn again and again, that sailing must be interrupted by other activities to be fully enjoyed by the crew, conscripted as they were.

I keep a mental top-ten list of best-ever sails. One of my favorites occurred during another Newport-to-Nantucket trip aboard Blue Moon. This particular Spring I had five friends on board. Only one had any sailing experience. We had a pleasant first day featuring beers and gentle breezes en route to Vineyard Haven harbor, where we picked up a mooring for the night. The next morning I was awakened at six by the wind positively howling in the rigging. I gingerly stuck my head out of the main hatch to survey the seascape. The tiny harbor was whipped into a frenzy of whitecaps. I promptly retreated to my berth and fell back to sleep, scotching the plans for an early Nantucket arrival. Several hours later, wind still a-howl, we donned our foul-weather gear and chugged our way to the dock in our dinghy. The forecast was for gale-force winds and intermittent rain, diminishing in the late afternoon. I explained over breakfast to the crew that we were in in the protected waters of Nantucket Sound with a worthy vessel. The sail to Nantucket, while not expected to be dangerous, might not be everyone’s idea of fun. Two of the crew opted out and took a ferry to Woods Hole. This was a good choice for them, and for me. Sailing in trying conditions is markedly more stressful with anxious, unhappy or seasick crew.

The remaining four of us returned to Blue Moon and readied for action. We had some very tense moments getting under way. The wind was blowing 35 knots and gusting to 40. As we dropped the mooring a gust caught the bow and thrust her over towards the boat on the adjacent mooring, exposing more of our hull to the searing wind. Turning a rudder, it needs to be said, does no good at all unless there is water moving across the rudder. This can be effected by moving the boat or by spinning the propeller, located as it is just forward of the rudder. I gunned the throttle of the 90 horsepower diesel and turned the rudder all the way to our left, upwind and away from our neighbor. For a moment it looked like we would simply crash, our bow swinging dangerously in the direction of the next boat, but gradually the force of the water over the rudder asserted itself and the bow turned slowly windward, battling back the wind and away from trouble. We cleared the mooring field and headed out.

Once clear of all other boats, we headed into the wind and raised the mainsail. With so much wind, we needed to raise a smaller mainsail, lest we become hopelessly overpowered. This entails putting in a reef, or on this case a double reef. The reef is accomplished by simply attaching the sail to the boom at alternate tie-rings, located five or ten feet up on the mainsail at the front and the back (or tack and clew). The sail then makes a smaller triangle, with the top of the sail only two-thirds of the way up the mast, or less. In this way one mainsail can be used full-sized, reefed, or double reefed, effectively giving you large, medium and small sails all in one.   Boats use different types of systems for attaching the tack and clew at reef points. Blue Moon deployed a single line system, supposedly simple to engage but in reality extremely difficult in that it never got the tension just right at both attachment points. We had a stressful time securing these points, and I sheepishly admit to yelling at John, the other sailor on board who was tasked with getting the sail up. The operation was rendered more arduous still by the horrific and deafening flogging of the mainsail as we headed dead upwind to get the sail up.

Once properly double-reefed, we headed gently downwind (or bore off). The dastardly flogging ceased altogether and we began magically sailing in the Sound. We unrolled about three feet of the jib to balance out the rig and spirited away, beaming with pride. There were absolutely no other boats on the sound. Because we had the sails properly sized for the wind, Blue Moon scooted along at hull speed with nary a complaint. Even in the sheltered Sound, we had waves breaking over the bow and washing all the way back on the deck to the spray dodger, which diverted the water to the side decks and kept us safe and dry. We felt like we had both conquered nature and become one with her. As the day wore on the winds diminished. We shook out the double reef and made the final turn around Tuckernuck Shoal with sunny skies and 15 knots of breeze and a genuine glow of accomplishment.

St Martin to Newport – Day 5

Our peaceful part of the journey continues.   Calm seas and light winds.  We are motorsailing now, enjoying the scenery.  Tom and Dana and I are on the deck, sitting in the shade of the mainsail and marveling at the blue expanse.  Bill made crepes for breakfast; Jackie would have been proud.  We are banking rest, as tomorrow night the winds are going to pick up to the 30 knot range, but from a good direction, so we should make some speedy progress.

Dana took the picture of the passing cruise ship, about 2 miles away.

Love to all.  MJ

 

 

St. Martin to Newport, Day 4

Another stunning day on the ocean.  Yesterday was nicely windy, 15-17 knots, so we made great progress.  The sea was unusually flat, the motion pleasant.  We kept saying, “what a great day to be on the water.”

We are now about 550 miles north of St. Martin, so over a third of the way there.  Our plan is to leave Bermuda 200 miles to starboard and continue straight to Newport.  Right now we are 325 miles south of Bermuda and 900 miles from Newport.  I am happy to report that we made it through the ‘Atlantic Fleet Weapons Range North 21B” without incident.  This area was ominously marked on our chart, but the fish and birds seemed not to mind, so we took our cue from them.

I had the 3:20am-6:00am watch this morning.  Stars were stupendously beautiful.  I heard a thud at 4:30 am, yet another flying fish landing on deck, only 3 feet behind me.  They are endearing little fellows.  Usually you find them dead on deck in the morning, dull gray and glossy-eyed.  This fine fellow was very much alive, and was an incredible cobalt blue, like the water he inhabits.  It is fascinating how color can drain with life.  I thought to take his picture before tossing him back, but he looked at me with a terror in his bulging little eye and somersaulted himself over the rail to safety.

Just before dawn broke I began to see ship lights, but no corresponding AIS signature.  Often this means fishing boats, guarding their secret spots.  Indeed, soon I was weaving through a small fleet of identical rusty Japanese fishing boats.  One dodged me, then I dodged a second one.  Closest we came was about a half mile, so no worries.  They did, however, chat excitedly on the VHF radio in their staccato Japanese.  Not sure if they were talking about us or the fishing, but they were most animated.

The remarkable thing about this encounter was that we have gone all day long without a speck of anything on the horizon.  We were visited by a beautiful white-tailed tropicbird, the national bird of Bermuda.  Dana likes to know things, so he took its picture and researched it.  It had a distinctive long white tail and eyed us suspiciously as it hovered nearby.  We then spooked up a flying fish and the longtail dove in neatly to nab it.  Hopefully not my little buddy.

We paused from our course today to rig a messenger line to the third reef point as well as to fly the storm jib.  These are requirements for the upcoming Newport-Bermuda Race, so we though to knock them out on a calm day.  Bill, as always, is simply amazing in his knowledge of all things nautical and his patience in teaching.

Dinner tonight is tortellini.  The winds have clocked to the East and cooled things a bit, so sleeping conditions are improved.

Rest well, love to all.  MJ