A Travellerspoint blog

Newport Isn't So Bad, Really

storm 73 °F

When getting ready to get underway, I decided to do the necessary, but recently useless, radio check. Sea Tow has an automated system that works in many areas. I had checked with them earlier and was told that channel 24 was at some remove from Provincetown but that it might work. Tried it .... got a response. So, maybe, the time, effort and money that went into replacing the VHF radio system was worth the investment, a rare nautical ROI.

Neither one of us was feeling very perky, both tired, both worn out. Carol had been understandably stressed for the three or four weeks since her sister's operation, something that takes a toll on her system. But, neither one of us was interested in hanging around Provincetown another day. The simple idea of being in motion, regardless of direction and destination, seemed therapeutic in itself.

So, we were underway that sunny Monday at 0730 for the Cape Cod Canal. The cormorants were lining the breakwater to see us off as we passed out of the harbor ..... maybe to wish us well, maybe to wish us gone. It's hard to tell with birds and cormorants are very tricky that way.



If Cape Cod is a fishhook, then a brace of identical lighthouses mark both the ends of the barb, this one being the easternmost of the two. We passed both exiting the harbor and heading south.

I had thought that these square, not round, lighthouses were a modern addition to the Cape. Not so! They date to the 1870's. I'm not sure if they still work; I do not recall seeing this light in the harbor, although it may only show to the open water. I could check the chart, but some mystery is better.

They both sit near the beach by the open water, backed by natural dunes, uncluttered by any development. The land here is pretty low, the dunes, maybe, topping 20-ft. above mean low water; the rest much less. This portion of Cape Cod must certainly be awash when there is a storm surge of any note.

For all of the original art that we saw on display in town, I do not recall any devoted to this pair, which seems an oversight given their natural and beautiful surroundings.


It was a simple plan: time the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal for a westward current, starting at 1043, go about another 25 nm from the canal, anchor for the night near New Bedford, then get to Block Island on Tuesday.

The plan was working, too. We hit the canal a little after 1100, zipped through in not much time, and then the frustration began. The wind forecast for the day was under 10 knots, a lousy day for sailing but a good day for motoring and making time, which we needed to do to get to New Bedford. We knew that the exit from the canal would be about like the entrance two weeks earlier: rough as a year old cob. This didn't disappoint. The wind in Buzzards Bay was a shock; once we left the canal it rarely was less than 25 knots, three times the prediction of eight knots. 25 knots directly on the bow is not good for motoring and making time. In fact, at the rate we were going it was problematic as to whether we could get to New Bedford before dark since we were generally running less than 4 knots into the wind and waves. I think that I may start to use kilometers instead of knots. 4 knots is very slow but 7.4 kilometers per hour is much faster.

About the waves .... they were breaking over the bow with such force that water was coming in through the canvas surround at the back stays, probably 33-ft. behind the bow of our 36-ft. boat. Haven't had that happen before. Not an easy day. There was another sailboat in front of us, less than 1/2 mile. It was larger, probably 44-ft., and, as a consequence, much heavier. It was amazing to watch that boat get tossed around, at times looking like it was going airborne, some inconsequential toy being enjoyed by a cosmic 3-year old. I could not imagine how we might have looked from a distance. We've been through gales on the open water and these waves were trifling by comparison. What is always the issue is not the size of the waves but the period between them. In the open water in bad weather there may be 10 seconds between waves and the boat can ride over them as it was designed to do. The period that day was, maybe, 2~3 seconds, just impossible for the boat, just impossible for the captain and the crew wasn't having any fun either.

When I had originally planned the transit from Provincetown to Block Island, I had broken it up into three days. I was cursing fate, and every named boating deity, while looking at the chart when I noticed that we were very close to Mattapoisett, MA, the place I had originally thought to stay at the end of day one of the three. We were both physically tired, the planned anchorages were OK for not much wind but would have been marginal for these winds, so we retired from Buzzards Bay for the shelter of a safe harbor in Mattapoisett. That's not quitting .... it's being a practical captain, the only kind that there is at 66 years of age. A warm shower, a cold drink and a hot dinner seemed like a good end to a difficult day. On my way to the warm shower I met another couple who also decided that Mattapoisett seemed like a better deal than getting beat up out on the Bay. So, maybe it wasn't a total wimp out.

Along the way, Carol, who had been feeling poorly, got full time sick .... stomach, intestinal, the whole magilla. Getting sick on the boat is ugly, any way, any day. The afternoon was so rough that it could only have made an already bad deal even worse. How sick was she? No interest in leaving the boat that evening for dinner. Poor baby!!!!


I wasn't sure where we would stop on Tuesday; it might have been possible to get to Block Island from Mattapoisett, but that was not a given. What is usually a given is that I will have a firm navigation plan before we get underway, just not that day. Regardless, the earlier we started, the better the odds of reaching Block Island. Up at 0430, I was confronted with (a) a heavy fog, (b) the entire crew was very sick. I checked the weather forecast ... fog burns off by 0800; I can handle anything by myself for two hours.

When the light had gotten better I cast us off and headed out with the radar going. The question for the day was: what kind of fool would believe a weather forecast about fog burning off when the prior forecast did not even predict fog? Answer: one that looks a lot like me! 0800 came and went; the fog remained. Ditto 1000, 1100 and 1200 and 1300. Not much good in that situation except for this: I was concerned about a very empty radar screen so I started messing with settings and found a bunch of stuff that I had not much used. Changed the gain, changed some other stuff, changed the fine tuning settings and, voila, lots of stuff about which to be nervous, so I was. After having been surprised by four sailboats appearing like some Romulan warbird uncloaking next to us, all within 1/4 mile, i.e. very close, I had the eureka moment: very few sailboats up here have radar reflectors to improve their radar signatures. They spend hundreds of thousands on boats to sail, spend thousands on radar to see, but don't spend $50 to be seen. I would say that that makes them dangerous to themselves and to others, an abrogation of captains' fundamental responsibilities. But, I'm old and stupid, so what do I know?

Given the fog I decided that another stop in Newport, RI, seemed like a good idea. If Nantucket was my BA in fog, this trip was my graduate degree, well over 40 nm in a heavy fog. It wasn't until we were well into the main channel, approaching the inner harbor that things thinned out, maybe the last 2 nm. It was less fun than it sounds.

The other reason to stop in Newport was to get the bottom cleaned. In Provincetown we had picked up a hula skirt of bright green aquatic grass along the water line and I was concerned that the bottom might be getting covered too; plus the zinc needed to be replaced by this time. And, I knew it was about time for an oil change. To my disappointment when I checked my maintenance schedule, it was also time for the 250 hour engine service, a long and complicated list. The general boat maintenance list was 50 hours overdue. The two night stay in Newport became three nights to accommodate all the work to be done. I didn't know it at the time but the other "other reason" to stop in Newport was to get some Yanmar parts which we normally carry but had used the entire supply. There is a Yanmar dealer about three minutes away by dinghy and that business had all that we required.

I am truly getting to hate boat maintenance; on August 1st I will have been doing it for six years. It's ironic, I suppose, that at this point I actually mostly know what I am doing and can do it well enough having the right tools, the right parts and enough repetitious experience. But I'd rather take a whipping than change the alternator belt again.

I considered blowing off the list and just doing a minimum, like the oil. But, the sad fact is that there are untimed bombs on the list that can explode at any time. Having seen some of those bombs go off I get nervous when I break discipline. To wit, I always check fairleads and running rigging. For 5 years and 49 weeks, always the same thing: all is well, except during this inspection I found a fairlead that was badly deteriorated and, as a result, was sawing the main sheet in two, a situation most sailors would try to avoid. I carry spare fairleads but had to work to find a store that could replace the 70-ft. long 7/16-in line. All the running rigging is now as it should be.


There is weather coming through, again; Carol is still feeling poorly, better but weak. So, rather than travel to Block Island as planned, we'll spend the weekend in Newport. Hopefully, she'll feel better. But, once again, we're sitting somewhere we don't want to be .... not moving, burning away the month of July to no particular end. Maine is gone, and it feels as if everything else is slipping away, too. Life on the boat, I guess.

Posted by sailziveli 14:25 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating lighthouse

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