“the briny sea”

written 21 June 2008
Dutch Island Harbor
Narragansett Bay, RI
“All that ninth day passed in a trance of light.”

The Telling
Ursula Le Guin
p. 34, 2000

It was a pleasure to read Sutty’s phenomenological sentiment as an answer to my dad’s question (“How is the briny sea?”) in between escape attempts from Point Judith Pond, on this tenth (!) day of our voyage and the coincidence of a major planetary event, the Summer Solstice. We were up at 5:30 am, hoping to ride out the slight north wind that typically (if not reliably) arises most mornings. We had three miles to go; we’d come that far in to find a secure anchorage last night. “I don’t know if she’s gonna make it, Cap’n!” Scotty informed us well before the crucial breakwater. Once there . . . alas. “No more dilithium crystals.” Sigh – we pulled up to Jim’s Dock and hung out for three hours, awaiting the tide’s turn and more favorable conditions. I got to have a cup of coffee and read. 🙂
Shore support (only three days ago!) at the Great Island Boat Ramp was enhanced by a Vessel Safety Check courtesy of the Power Squadron. John Robinson passed us with flying colors – the solar panel to recharge the electric motor totally impressed him. “Now I’ve seen everything,” he exclaimed, running through his checklist and being satisfied by the Captain on each and every item. “You know what you’re doing!” Reassuring (although hardly a surprise), as the sea was finally within reach.
the open sea.JPG.jpg
A few hours later we were in the mouth of Connecticut River with its awesome, western-feeling big sky, heading for the Long Island Sound. I was delighted when, some casual glance down into the water, I realized a gorgeous translucent green had replaced the river’s perpetual brown.
We rendezvoused – as planned – with Captain Judy of Joelara
the Joelara.JPG.jpg
and proceeded east into the Sound – hoping to reach Fisher’s Island. We had prepared, dutifully, the day before, setting up a chart with location-specific times for the tide (premised on times for The Race) and careful listening to the weather radio (a twice-thrice daily event, usually) as to wind direction, wind speed, height of the seas, and the forecast. We encountered the tideline, which seemed determined to hold us fast for hours . . . the wind was just not enough for our fourteen-foot hardy craft to keep pace with the sleek Joelara. A thunderstorm was building off our stern, so the two Captains consulted and decided to head for some protection off Giant’s Neck (scene of my entry onto the boat last year).
Emphasis on “some” protection – we got hammered! Again, we were fortunate to have enough time to get all the rain gear in place before the storm broke, and in fact we were doubly lucky because during the previous thunderstorm in Hamburg Cove (the ideal protected spot to be during a storm) we had worked out the kinks and secured unforeseen gaps. Oh yea, we still had to scramble a few times to keep everything tight but we cleared the storm with an essentially dry boat – pretty impressive when over half the boat is an open cockpit! After the first half-hour of storm burst, the wind calmed down and the rain mellowed. We did get jounced around a bit more than we’d hoped; every time the seas got still something whipped ’em up again. Oh well!
Captain Judy visited in the morning before heading back home, and I got to go over to her Cape Dory for a tour. Yessem, I like that boat! The fluffed milk coffee is a treat I might have to borrow, too. 😉
We set out, slowly at first – Captain has a penchant to sniff the slightest bit of favorable wind and decide it’s worth fighting the dregs of tide (ebb or flow – whichever is against us at the moment) – and then we were off for quite the satisfying day of sailing – all the way to Mystic, CT. We had another visit from our helicopter friends just as we neared the Seaflower Reef. I think they thought we were way too close, as they hovered down closer than before, nearly knocking us over! Well, that’s an exaggeration, but they came down between us and the warning tower close enough to lean us over and gust the back awning all over the place! Twice! It’s ok – the Captain and I were both goofy with exhilaration at being found again (!) – and we knew we were safe: Serenity has such a shallow draw (12″). I was steering but within the range Captain had advised after careful consultation of the chart. The thought was sweet, though – someone cares! 🙂
A lot of people are impressed. It’s quite charming, really. In the Noank Shipyard (Mystic), one of the workers came over to say hi. “This is quite a boat,” he shared his first impression: “The people who sail this must be cool!” 🙂 There’s no doubt about it, we are the smallest sailboat we’ve seen; and the only one actually relying upon sails! Possibly ten percent of the sailboats we’ve seen were actually in use; ok – it is still early in the season (our benefit!), but even when they are actually being “sailed” the motors are on, too. Or there isn’t even a pretense – the sails are not even raised! When people figure out where we’ve come from, and where we’re trying to go . . . ha. Look at me – writing “we” as if I’ve got any say in the matter! 🙂 Captain reads the wind and makes up her mind.
For instance, from Mystic we were going to head to Block Island. All the conditions seemed right: tide, weather, wind. We set out. Captain established time targets to assess progress and determine course changes if necessary. At the crucial moment, the reality was south winds were not going to give us the angle we needed to reach Block Island – we needed the forecasted southwest winds, and they weren’t there. That’s how we got to Point Judith.
Before we set out yesterday, though, we’d met some really nice people. The Noank people put us on their facedock – not a great rental slip (we took some battering as motorboaters periodically ignored the No Wake zone) but it positioned us to meet Marc and Kati when they pulled up behind us in their forty-two foot behemoth. I thought they might be deaf as they came into dock and one of the Yard’s staff met them, asking questions about what they sought, and the woman on the bow responded with a gesture. Turns out they’re French! Captain was able to engage them for quite a while, and Marc and I hammered out a bit of a conversation with his English and a French-English dictionary. Opposite us, in a real slip, we met Ben and his parents – they came over because they heard French . . . they’re from Quebec. In a funny way I thought the universe is nudging me on to those French lessons that I’ll want for Belgium, but my head is (sortof) learning sailing now. I just was not ready to take a new language plunge, too!
sunrise at Mystic Seaport.JPG.jpg
Leaving Mystic we passed by the famous Latimer Lighthouse – that’s the one that adorns thousands of paintings of the New England coast. We enjoyed a concerto of bells, gongs, and Aolian harp – various sound alerts to keep sailors somewhat apprised of their location in fog and warn them off dangers in all kinds of weather. The day was bright and clear and – music with or without sound to a sailor – windy! Holy cow we went twenty-four miles! Beat our first day on the Connecticut by a long shot. After the decision to let Block Island go (for now), we headed toward Watch Hill with an eye to somewhere to tuck in for the night and give Block Island a go the next day. But the wind! She was something! We were leaving quite a wake behind us, and then the seas began to turn a bit rough.
wake.JPG.jpg
At one point, Captain said, “This is what they [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association‘s weather channel] would describe as one to two foot seas.” She broke out the GPS and discovered we were zipping along at five knots! Some indeterminate amount of time later, we blasted by a boat of fishermen floating with their lines deep in. “The African Queen lives!” hollered one of them – a comment we’ve heard a number of times as folks associate the Captain with Katherine Hepburn. I thought it was hilarious that our tiny rig blew by their powerful motorboat as if they were at a standstill. 🙂
Soon thereafter, the Captain said we were in “two to three foot seas” and it was time to put in a reef. Oh boy!
I had been doing fine. No seasickness – well, nothing serious. We’d been on alert, my body had been talking to me, periodically, just enough to let me know not to slack off on either the homoepathics or the steady equilbrium of a more, rather than less, full tummy. I’ll tell you though, getting whipped around at that speed on those waves triggered a visceral memory. It was as if my body said, “Oh, the last time we were doing this under these conditions we were puking!” I carried on quite the conversation with myself all the way until we arrived at the Point Judith Harbor of Refuge. Regardless of history (see NYTIME Aug 2, 1893 re Pt Judith.pdf) – or perhaps somehow coincidentally because of it! – a harbor hasn’t felt so good yet this voyage!
Captain consoled me with compliments on the reef job itself; I was dreaming of steaks when it seemed I was out of danger, then Captain mentioned a second reef – oh the power of suggestion!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *