Esmeralde is on the move. So are the fall gales, just like last year.
October 12 – 15, 2019, Days 0 – 3
Portsmouth, RI – Stonington, CT – Mamaroneck, NY
Thus begins our Winter Cruise 2019 – 2020. It will generally be a re-run of last year’s trip down the ICW to Florida, across Lake Okeechobee, along the Gulf Coast then down the the Keys. We will stop at some of our favorite spots from last time, and also add as many new destinations as we can. There is plenty to see and do. And, of course, it is a great way to get away from the New England winter cold, ice and snow.
This is the trip that almost didn’t happen. Pepper, one of our Scottish Terriers, has had ongoing health issues for the last few years and he gave us another scare this summer when the vet found a large amount of fluid in his chest cavity and lungs that were almost collapsed. Pepper, being our miracle dog, has somehow and mysteriously managed his way through this latest crisis and the vet gave him an almost clean bill of health last week. We wouldn’t have taken him on this trip if he wasn’t up to it; and we would not have gone without him. We are thankful for our wonderful vets, Portsmouth Veterinary Clinic and Ocean State Veterinary Specialists.
So with Pepper on-board, we launched into manic prep last Thursday, targeting a Monday, October 14 departure. Last year we left on Monday, October 15, so this was pretty much identical timing.
Bruce had the boat well tuned up for the trip — as many of you know, he likes to keep it that way, so she was ready to roll. I launched into the myriad of details that needed to be managed for our departure. We suffered through three days of gale force winds and torrential flooding rain as we prepared, hoping that no wind or rain would be left to bother us after we left (yeah, right?).
By Saturday, the weather cleared up beautifully but the emerging forecast included — you guessed it — more gales. Such is life in New England in October. We held to our departure schedule and planned to roll with whatever the weather Gods dealt us.
On Saturday and Sunday we piled all our gear and supplies on board. On Sunday, we closed up the house, set the alarm, checked the security cameras and headed out with Mom as chauffeur for the last trip to the boat. Pepper and Mattie assumed it was just another fun ride around the block with Gammo. Oh, to be a dog!
We hugged Mom goodbye and stashed the last of our stuff, then retired to the bar at The Gulf Stream Bar and Grill for One Last Cold One. It was a gorgeous evening and we soaked it up.
I, of course, was anxious about what I forgot. By bedtime I figured out that I was missing a key jacket, as well as our second set of towels which I knew I had put in the car but couldn’t find anywhere aboard the boat. Ugh. I rolled around all night trying to imagine what happened. Eventually I figured it out.
Since I was wide awake, I got up at 3:00 a.m., made coffee, and started looking for an Uber ride for a run home. It was raining. Eventually I secured a taxi at 6:30 a.m. Apparently Uber doesn’t run in Portsmouth in October. I got home, grabbed the forgotten jacket, and found the towels where I realized I had left them: on the rear deck shelf in my car, where I had tossed them while I loaded the cart at the boatyard. Being too short to see over the shelf, I forgot they were there and they stayed there. How convenient. Oh, and I also grabbed some beer that we had left in the fridge. The taxi driver, who heard the bottles clinking around, loved that. I think he wanted one.
Back to the boat by 7:30, my little pre-dawn adventure cost me a lot of sleep but didn’t cost us any time. Bruce gave the boat one last scrubbing to try to clean up the construction grime from all the dredging and earth-moving going on at New England Boatworks (new facilities are being built for hauling and storing 100+ foot yachts). We fueled up. Under way by 9:20 a.m.. Glassy calm, and gray skies.
We enjoyed a pleasant ride down the bay. Leaving is always a good time to reflect on and appreciate the beauty of our home state. Bustling Newport to the east, and quiet[er] Jamestown to the west. Very nice.
We just about got away clean, but as we approached the Newport Bridge a Coast Guard crew came buzzing up behind us, blue lights flashing. You’re kidding, right? We pulled up, and the Coasties pulled alongside. One last safety check. We are good at this, having been pulled over twice before. We had our paperwork (and everything else) in order. The Coasties were extremely polite and friendly. The wanted to know all about our trip, Bruce showed them all around the boat, and then they started talking cars. Really?? I didn’t think we were ever going to get moving again. By the time they left we were all Facebook friends!
We pulled in close under the Fort Getty shoreline on Jamestown. My Mom was there, waving goodbye, standing on the bench that was installed in memory of my Dad. We lost him suddenly last January, and life has changed for all of us as a result. He was a good man and we are grateful for everything he did – for us, for his community, for open space preservation, and for the animals he loved. We are lucky.
With a BLAST of our [Washington State Ferry-class compressed air] horn that must have scared the be-jeezus out of the two unsuspecting kayakers who thought we were waving at them, we pointed Esmeralde’s bow towards Point Judith and points west and south. We were on our way.
The calm morning was good for relaxing and reflecting. Pre-departure is full of stress; post-departure is a time to wind down and re-set. We were in familiar waters so there were no worries about the boat or navigation. We were headed to one of our favorite spots for a quick one-night stop before pushing on. The Dog Watch Cafe, at Dodson’s Boatyard in Stonington, CT is a warm and friendly refuge for us. Lisa at the bar would welcome us with a smile.
Meanwhile, weather was brewing. AGAIN. That GALE WARNING thing. AGAIN. Oiye. We had a couple of decent days ahead, but yes, we would be ducking another gale in Long Island Sound. So it goes…
We tucked in to Dodson’s in Stonington at about 2:00 p.m. The sun was out and the weather was warm. The dock hands were helpful and efficient, as usual here at Dodson’s. In most places we say, “Thanks, but we’ll handle our lines ourselves.” Not here: we trust the staff. We took the pups for a little walk, then wandered in to The Dog Watch Cafe for an early supper.
The place was Very Busy. We had forgotten that it was a long weekend, and these lovely fall days really bring folks out. We were lucky and did get two seats at the bar. Lisa took good care of us, but she was so busy-frazzled that we couldn’t chat.
It was a fun way to wind down and settle in to boat routine. After our early supper we took the pups for a long, lovely walk through town to the southern-most point, where folks were gathering to watch the sunset. Very pleasant town. We like it.
We wanted an early start the next morning. We had one day — maybe two, but definitely one — to get ourselves secured for the upcoming gale. Tuesday’s forecast was nice, but a southeasterly blow with torrential rain would arrive during the afternoon on Wednesday, then a post-frontal northwesterly gale would blow in after midnight on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. We needed to be ready.
We were up at 5:00 on Tuesday morning, Day 2, for coffee and breakfast. When we are going to have a long day on the water, I like to get the pups fed a full hour after eating before we take them for a walk. That gives them time to process the food, get their, um, systems moving, and get their bladders full. By the time we walk them, everything happens easily and fully so their tanks are nice and empty before we cast off.
We had a lovely dark walk, with the near-full moon hanging in the western sky as dawn approached. It was clear and cool, 49 degrees with a crisp but moderate northerly blowing through. Gorgeous fall morning.
Back at the boat, Bruce did the pre-flight in the ER while I stowed our breakfast stuff. The sun was still not up when we cast off our lines and pulled away from the dock at Dodson’s. The harbor was lovely and the fall colors were glowing in the early light. The fleet on the moorings is impressive: excellent boats well cared for, not really a common sight, but a special one.
As we turned west beyond the breakwater, the 15-knot northerly breeze was on our beam but the waves were calm and we made a nice 10-knot pace, with a fair current we expected to push us along until early afternoon. That is a special treat. It was too early to make phone calls to find a slip for the upcoming gale, so we simply enjoyed the morning for a few hours, with fishing boats about and a few other yachts pushing south. Very special.
After 8:00 a.m. we needed to make a plan. We decided, given the weather forecast, we would make as much progress as possible, so we set our sights on Mamaroneck. That would be a 90-mile run. After a bunch of phone calls and empty leads we ended up securing a slip in Mamaroneck at Nichols Yacht Yard. It is totally protected out of the the northwest, which was our primary concern. We need to be able to get the pups ashore regardless of conditions. Nichols met our needs.
With that done, we put the throttle down and settled into our fast cruise mode. Esmeralde can do 19 knots WOT (Wide Open Throttle), but she can cruise at 15 – 16 knots sustained, so that’s what we did. This would get us in to Mamaroneck by 2:00 p.m. with good conditions, but we were mildly concerned by the forecast that called for the winds to back into the west in the afternoon, which, in our experience, can be unpleasant in Long Island Sound. Thus the need for speed.
In the end, the northerly began to die by noon, and we enjoyed several hours of calm and sunny conditions. It really could not have been more perfect. A southerly began to develop by 1:00 p.m., but it was soft and mild. We approached the entrance to Mamaroneck, which we had never been to before, after a lovely fast ride.
The slip was easy. Robert met us and made us feel welcome. We tied up and settled in. Bruce hosed down the boat, which in spite of the nice travel conditions had become crusted with salt, while I walked the pups. That is our routine, and it works.
Our plan is to hang in Mamaroneck for three night nights while the storm blows through. Our goal was to be some place protected and secure, but also a place with stuff to do for the crew. It was looking good. We are content.