Covid Cruise – Testing the Waters in Early Spring 2020

In this totally weird world, we decided we needed to get back out and “test the waters”. What is cruising life like during the COVID pandemic?

June 8 – 15, 2020
Portsmouth, RI – Cuttyhunk, MA – Nantucket, MA
Days 6 – 13 on board (since we returned from our winter ICW trip on April 5)
Preview: COVID Shuts us down – Quarantine and Release

Just to catch up a little bit… (I plan to fill in the website later with our COVID trip home from Forida, but for now, here’s what spring at home has delivered)

We arrived home to our slip in Portsmouth, RI on April 5 after a marathon sprint from Florida up the coast to try to stay ahead of the rapidly developing COVID shutdowns and restrictions. It was a very strange end to a very strange trip. After living aboard for more than six months, we unloaded the boat within two hours of arriving in our slip and drove home, just 8 miles away. By state mandate, we had to quarantine for 14 days.

We were glad to be home. On the boat, we were safe but we were also without any “protection” from mandates and restrictions that varied state-by-state and day-by-day. We never knew when we might have to shelter in place, or not find a place to shelter. Or find fuel. Once home, all that uncertainty went away. We decompressed and tried to find some new rhythm.

In a strange twist of common sense, it was my 87-year old mother who shopped for us at the local grocery store while we were quarantined. We stayed home, and thankfully didn’t get sick. And she didn’t get sick. We found ourselves in a very strange suspended state, like the rest of the world, but the reality is that we were very lucky and we knew it.

We didn’t have kids to home school. We didn’t have jobs that we lost. We didn’t have a business that was shut down. We were healthy. We had a house we could nest in, and we were in a rural, relatively low density area where we could still safely get outside for fresh air. We were grateful.

Quarantine wore thin after a couple of weeks. There was still nothing we could do outside our house except walk the dogs — and, of course, go to the boat. The latter was challenging at times as rules changed, definitions got tweaked, and the marina (Safe Harbor New England Boatworks) tried to implement a multitude of hoops we all had to jump through. But we were able to get to the boat.

Bruce took on a variety of projects which eventually mushroomed into a new shaft, a refinished propeller, new shaft coupler and new stuffing box. All this was a result of his tenacious effort to chase down and eliminate vibration that he did not believe we should have. It involved a diver, a haul, and three trips to AccuTech Marine Propeller in New Hampshire.

We sea-trialed all his work shortly after Memorial Day weekend. Huzzah! The vibrations that had plagued us had “magically” melted away. The boat was noticeable more smooth and measurably more quiet.

It took another month of hanging around, grounded by COVID, before we felt comfortable actually going off on the boat. There were a lot of factors. Many coastal towns were actively preventing visiting boats from stopping over by prohibiting marinas from taking transients for slips or moorings. Some towns were actively preventing anyone arriving by boat from setting foot ashore if they were not a resident of the town. It was so weird.

By early June, we detected some relaxation. We researched where we might stop, and what we could do. Cuttyhunk was “open”. Nantucket was “open”. There were possibilities in Buzzards Bay, on the Vineyard, and possibly Block Island. OK, we can work with that.

Monday, June 8 – Portsmouth, RI to Cuttyhunk, MA

Other than three sea trials during the month of May, this was our first trip on the boat since arriving home in April. It felt so good — so liberating — to be aboard again, stocked with food and adult beverages, and heading off to explore. The weather was drop-dead gorgeous for a boat ride: crystal clear, dry, cool, and a light northerly breeze. We breathed in deeply. Huge relief from the suffocating tension of the last few months.

We headed up the bay, under the Mount Hope and Sakonnet River Bridges, and down the Sakonnet River, bound for Cuttyhunk. It was glorious. The boat ran beautifully and the elimination of annoying vibration was huge. There were a few other boats out on the water, but it was very quiet.

I played with my new GoPro MAX 360 camera, a toy that was a result of being cooped up for two months when we all became victims of easy on-line shopping. Such a cool camera. It will take some time to figure out how to best use it’s power, but it’s really fun.

This run to Cuttyhunk is a milk run for us. We have done it so many times, on so many different boats. It’s different every time, but often beautiful. It’s an especially nice sail when the conditions are right. Today was one of those days. Lovely under power, but, with the building southerly, it would have been spectacular under sail. Either way: a wonderful ride.

As we entered the skinny channel into “the pond”, as it is called, I opened up AquaMaps just to see if there were any ACOE surveys, as the channel shifts and silts regularly. Yes, there are surveys, which was great. In all my years of visiting The Hunk I have always managed that channel by feel. Having the survey was great. And yes, it helped, when the Cuttyhunk ferry passed us headed out through the tight passage.

Entering Cuttyhunk Pond, video from my new GoPro Max 360.

We had planned on anchoring in the small anchorage area inside, but there were already half a dozen boats anchored there, while the moorings were virtually empty. We decided we didn’t need the “crowd” so we picked up a morning. A number of the boats were familiar to us. The $45 fee was collected by a couple of ladies around supper time. They had purple hair!

We took the pups ashore and wandered around the island. It was very quiet. Cuttyhunk is always a trip back in time for me, as I came here throughout my childhood. It was different back then, but at times, especially off-season, images of fifty years ago flood my brain. I really do like the place.

We enjoyed a lovely evening, a nice simple supper on board, and a walk up to the top of the hill with the pups after dinner. It was a spectacular evening. I played some more with the GoPro. Fun!

The GoPro Max view from the top of the hill on Cuttyhunk. It’s a special spot.
June 9, Tuesday, Cuttyhunk – Nantucket

After a quiet night aboard, we woke up to a gray day, which surprised us. We expected sun. We took the pups ashore. Not a soul around. So quiet. We were back at the boat and off the mooring before 8:00 am, headed for Nantucket.

We had originally planned to stop somewhere on the Vineyard, but for whatever reason, we decided to go straight on through to Nantucket. We had a lovely, perfect ride. It was so glassy calm to start that our wake was giving returns on our radar.

You can see our wake on the radar. That’s how glassy calm it was.

Quicks Hole and Vineyard Sound were flat and fast. The current up the Sound turned with us after a few miles. We enjoyed a beautiful ride, and were swept quickly past West Chop and out into Nantucket Sound. A few ferries were running back and forth and there were numerous small center consoles out fishing, but it was pretty darn quiet considering the beautiful conditions.

We were entering Nantucket by noon. It was mostly gray, as it often is. That’s why she’s called “The Gray Lady.” And the harbor was empty. I mean EMPTY. We had our slip assignment at the Nantucket Boat Basin. The staff was at lunch, so we stuck our nose in and tied ourselves up. There were a few others there, but it was so very quiet. I did another little GoPro video of our arrival. I will test your patience with these clips until we all get sick of them!

Entering Nantucket Harbor, rounding the iconic Brant Point Lighthouse, marveling at how empty the place was, and tying up at the Nantucket Boat Basin.

We were quite happy to be in Nantucket. While this year is, of course, quite different, in normal years we love the island in early June before the mobs arrive. Life is more pleasant, temperatures are cool, there is little traffic, shops are not jammed, shop keepers are friendly, and it is easy to find a table at restaurants. And on top of that, rates at the Boat Basin are just a fraction of what they are in high season.

We were curious about what would be different this year in the midst of COVID-19. When we arrived, we were aware of most everyone wearing a mask. Sometimes over their face, sometimes not so much, but whenever in close proximity, pretty much everyone covered up.

The day after we arrived was the first day that Massachusetts was allowing outside dining. Otherwise, it was only takeout. Not many restaurants were prepared to open for outside dining. There were staffing reasons, some had no space to serve outside, and maximum capacity issues that led many (most?) restaurants to not open at all.

We had a lovely walk around town with the pups. Many storefronts were empty or closed. Just a few were opened, and most that were opened had restrictions for entry and sharply reduced hours. Some were open only for online ordering and curbside pickup. Definitely not the normal Nantucket commercial buzz.

We stopped in to see our good friend Kari at Kari England, just a few steps from our slip on Old South Wharf. We had gotten to know Kari on our first spring cruise to Nantucket a few years ago. Visiting with her — and shopping with her!! — is a highlight of our trip. We let down our social distancing fence to have a bit of fun with our masks.

How NOT to wear your mask during COVID-19. We both survived…

It turned out to be a perfect time for a classic Flybridge Evening. Bruce and I enjoyed the quiet scenery and contemplated the challenges of the COVID world, then wandered over to Straight Wharf to get a pizza at Oath Pizza. It was a very nice start to our visit to Nantucket.

Another great Flybridge Evening aboard ESMERALDE, looking out over the Nantucket Boat Basin and Straights Wharf.
June 10 – 13, Nantucket

We enjoyed a relatively lazy stay in Nantucket. Mostly, our days were a mix of long walks around town, out to Brant Point and Jetties Beach, poking in the few stores that were open, and projects on the boat. The island was very quiet. We enjoyed uncrowded streets and walked all over town and beyond, wandering along streets and in neighborhoods we had never visited before, enjoying the architecture and historic character that lurks in every building, on every street. We took the dogs everywhere: they loved to sniff and explore.

The main drag at 8:00 pm on a June evening. Not many people have ever seen it this quiet. COVID is having an impact.

Bruce did some cleaning and waxing, which the boat needed after her quarantine at NEB. He also installed new trim tabs on the dinghy which turned out to make a big, big difference in performance.

We chatted with our boat neighbors, many of whom we have seen in Nantucket before. We spent a delightful socially distanced cocktail hour with Susan and Greg aboard their Kadey Krogen 52 Privateer, enjoying lots of the cold, damp, windy fog that Nantucket is so good at serving up. And in the small world department, our slip neighbors at NEB, Sharon and Paul and their Jeanneau Velasco 42 Gleam appeared in the slip next to us late one night! They also invited us over for a socially distanced cocktail, which was good fun.

On Thursday, one of our favorite restaurants opened up for outdoor dining. While we normally like to sit at the bar, our only option this time was to sit outside on the dock, which we happily agreed to. Cru has the best lobster roll I have ever had. And the best Blue Crab cocktail. And excellent oysters. And a great burger. The weather was foggy, typically Nantucket. Perfect, really. We enjoyed ourselves immensely. In fact, we enjoyed ourselves so immensely that we went twice. Don’t tell anyone.

We decided to extend our stay an extra day or two beyond our original plan, and used the wettest, foggiest day of our visit to rent a Jeep and explore the island. We covered pretty much everything from tip-to-toe, enjoying the contrasting countryside, oogling ocean views, exploring countless neighborhoods, riding by extraordinary real estate, popping in to the Sconset Market, and appreciating the dramatic spread between ramshackle gray fishing shacks and lifestyles of the rich-and-famous (some of whom might be in those small shacks, because you never know).

The best part of the day was wandering around on the sandy trails along the rugged, windblown, foggy south shore of the island. It could have been 200 years ago (except for the Jeep).

We rented a Jeep to explore the island on a very foggy, drizzly day.

During our stay I managed to spend some quality time with Kari at Kari England. She’s really so much fun, and has beautiful, beautiful clothing. I highly recommend a visit. Make sure to stop by Slip 14 for a bite to eat first. Or just grab one of their cocktails. You won’t regret it. Also on Old South Wharf near Kari is the Peter England shop (started by Kari’s parents, and now run by Kari and her brother), and of course Bar Yoshi, with great sushi and, as I saw but have not indulged, fresh hot made-to-order donuts in the morning. How could you go wrong?

June 14, Sunday, Nantucket – Cuttyhunk

After five days in Nantucket, it was time to head out. My one last requirement before leaving was to stop in to Lemon Press to grab a bite for breakfast-lunch-dinner. I follow their Instagram feed and am constantly salivating over the fresh, local, creative food they put together. So on our last morning, while taking the dogs for a nice walk, we called in an order to Lemon Press, COVID-19 style, to pick curbside up on our way back to the boat. We arrived just as they opened, grabbed our goodies, and headed to the Boat Basin to cast off.

It was a gray, damp, breezy morning. We knew we would have a bumpy wet ride across Nantucket Sound, and it was. Much easier, though, than it would have been on our little Able Whistler 32, 20 years ago. Somehow it is always gray, cool, and blowing out of the north when we leave Nantucket. Fifteen to 20 knots and choppy. No problem for Esmeralde. We ran fast to keep things steady.

By the time we rounded West Chop and worked down Vineyard Sound, the sun came out and the ride turned really lovely. Back through Quicks Hole, and Buzzards Bay was its classic feisty self. We made the last stretch into Cuttyhunk without fuss, and picked up a mooring for the night.

It was still quiet in Cuttyhunk: ten boats on moorings, and two anchored. One of the moored boats was a little Morris, Katy, out of Pemaquid, Maine, that we had passed on the ICW in Florida as we made our way north. A lovely little boat. Small world.

This is a photo I took of Katy near Cocoa Beach, FL. We passed her on our way north on March 10, and recognized her again in Cuttyhunk. Small world.

Cuttyhunk was quiet by any measure other than Covid. Bruce launched the dinghy and gave the new trim tabs a test drive. What a difference! The dinghy now launches itself onto a plane, makes less wake, and holds a plan at a much lower speed. Great addition.

It was chilly and breezy, but still good for a Flybridge evening. We had a simple supper on board: grilled steak for Bruce, and the yummy salad from Lemon Press for me.

Cuttyhunk was gray and chilly in the north wind. The marina was empty, but there were about 10 boats on moorings and another two anchored. We are happy with it this way.
June 15, Monday, Cuttyhunk, MA – Portsmouth, RI

We had talked about going on to Block Island for a few days, but in the end, we decided to skip BI and head home. It was gray, cool and windy, the northerly was brisk. It would have been a rolly ride to the Block, and the forecast for the following few days wasn’t great. We headed home.

The family heads ashore for the morning business. Gray, cool, blustery. And everyone needing a COVID-19 haircut.

We had a bumpy ride across the entrance to Buzzards Bay, but once into the Sakonnet River the skies began to clear. The breeze was still feisty, but the river was flat and we made good time with a fair current. We were back in our slip before 1:00 pm. It was a fun trip. Simple and satisfying, good just to be back out on the boat and doing stuff.

We are home for a bit, managing our way through the ongoing COVID-19 mandates, and keeping our hopes high. What comes for the rest of the summer remains uncertain, but one way or another, the boat will be a good way to escape from time to time.

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