Lest it go unnoticed in the general media, I would like to point out that today, July 29th is the 100th Anniversary of the opening of the Cape Cod Canal – in its day an engineering marvel: the widest sea-level canal and the longest railroad lift bridge in the world. In the depths of the Great Depression, it generated thousands of jobs and economic stimulus. It was begun by a private investor, who bit off a bit more than he could handle. But recognizing the economic and strategic importance of the project, the Federal Government stepped-in to finish and enhance it. The Army Corps of Engineers maintains it today.
Railroad lift bridge
The Canal, like so many achievements of that age, was emblematic of an optimism, and can-do attitude supported by engineering excellence. It was about more than economics. President Woodrow Wilson recognized this investment in our national infrastructure would yield benefits for a hundred years to come. So we’ve coasted…our energies, attention and resources turned to other things while our infrastructure languishes. I wonder if we can find leadership with sufficient vision and fortitude to identify, plan and execute those projects that will carry us through the 21st century? What will Americans look on with pride 100 years from today…
We came to New England feeling footloose and fancy free…no itinerary, no real schedule….and have been roundly disabused of that notion! We have discovered the obvious…the waters of New England are host to the greatest concentration of the US population….and it’s a short, intensive boating season. Mosey On and crew are mere transients passing through. In consequence of this simple reality, cruising here requires no small amount of diligent research and advance planning…not so much to identify the charming seaside villages, but rather to find a viable place to stop! Many attractive locations have no real harbor – so shallow that we would surely run and stay aground, really accessible only to shallow draft outboard powered vessels. The storied harbors of Cuttyhunk, Mystic, Pocasset, Plymouth, Scituate and Gloucester (and likely most others) are literally taken-over with ‘mooring fields’ [designated floating balls secured to the bottom for boats to tie up to.)
Mooring Ball & Tether
Some are owned by the local municipality, some by yacht clubs, and yet others by a commercial marina licensee. In every case, stopping for the night in a mooring field involves the exchange of cash…sometimes highway robbery. But the bigger problem is finding one available at all in popular harbors over the weekend.
The rub is that we have a reliable anchor and chain to secure Mosey On…but precious few places we can use it – impossible midst a mooring field…spontaneity in where we go and choose to stay is, sadly, not in the cards. So we plan our cruise with weather, distance, calendar, and a safe ‘place to stay’ worked-out ahead of time…..Not so different than everyone else’s summer travel plans.
New York City, when viewed from the deck of a boat, gives a vastly different impression than the one formed by flying-over or driving through on the highways. From the water, you don’t really sense the vast megalopolis of its many burroughs and the endless suburbia. You come upon Manhattan through the Verrazano Narrows and there it is…the skyscrapers and office towers on the Battery monumental in scale. From this perspective it inspires a collective awe that just can’t be appreciated from the street.
The Statue of Liberty presiding of the hustle and clamor of the frenzied traffic in the harbor….pleasure craft like ours, dodging and weaving to avoid the barges, ferries, container ships, tour boats and cruise ships. And whoever said New Yorkers aren’t friendly…just look at the welcome we got!
We had timed our transit of the harbor and up the East River to be at Hell’s Gate (aptly named for its ferocious current) at slack tide. Past the ‘Gate’ we came upon Riker’s Island (the city jail for New York), a forbidding place where the jailed can watch the rest of the world come and go continuously through La Guardia…
Some squally weather encouraged us to seek shelter in Oyster Bay (site of Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill) not far up the Long Island shore and then again (same weather reason) in Port Jefferson. We had a destination in our sights (our gateway to New England) – the Great Salt Pond on Block Island. Not an original idea, we anticipated the need to find a good spot to anchor before the crowd showed up for the weekend. We pulled-in on Thursday afternoon and dropped anchor in this well protected lagoon. With its gingerbread cottages, sandy beaches, clean water, fun eateries and spectacular sunsets, the appeal of Block Island is undeniable. And they know how to make a buck.
ALDO’s Bakery Boat
Not our normal breakfast
You know how when you’re driving along, especially late at night, how it’s nice to have the radio on to keep you company? Well, boats are usually equipped with more than one radio. One might be a standard radio like you have at home for music, news, talk-radio or whatever. But the other is a two-way VHF radio for communicating directly with another vessel, the Coast Guard or a marina, etc.. And if you have one of these installed, the FCC requires that you must maintain a listening watch on channel 16 (156.800 MHz) whenever the radio is operating and not being used to communicate. None of this is new to me, we did the same sort of thing in the flying business. The idea being that we could hear calls addressed to us (if by no other means) and/or relay distress messages if required. It’s a good idea. I’ve heard a few distress calls in my flying career.
In the last couple of days, Mosey On & Crew have made some long passages (down the Delaware Bay and up the New Jersey shore) where we just had to roll along, as the anchorages were scarce. But while the cruising was straight-forward and predictable, our listening watch on Channel 16 was both a revelation and tragicomic! Within our reception range we heard the following calls to the Coast Guard:
- sailboat’s engine quit, unable to make way
- powerboat ran over sailboat in Manasquan River with injuries
- unattended small sailboat adrift in the upper Chesapeake
- center-console runabout on fire
- cruiser powerboat with bilge full of gasoline off Cape May
- bow-rider powerboat ran across jetty and lost steering
- boat tied to dock…taking on water
- twin engine sport-fisherman 50 miles off Nantucket lost 1 engine – insufficient fuel to get back to port
- sailboat skipper knowingly left channel and ran aground. Tide going out. Boat on her side.
- man looking for wife and children – he had left them on sand bar for clamming, not there now!
These are only the ones that come immediately to mind as I write this. Midst all this chaos, the ‘Coasties’ seemed to take the calls calmly and professionally…help was dispatched, sometimes in time….sometimes probably not (we passed the sailboat hard aground on her side and abandoned some hours later). It’s an amazing combined effort by the Coast Guard, State Marine Patrols, Sheriff’s Depts., Fire and Rescue and local police. Some of these calls reflect real tragedies, others make you want to laugh. I suspect that it’s pretty much the same every day…perhaps worse on the weekends. And you hear it all unfolding on your radio.
No….not that kind (I can’t even cha-cha without counting!) I’m talking about the challenges of the sun, moon, winds, tides and storms. Either we learn to live with them or deal with the frustrations. Mosey On is well-found, secure and with ample amenities to keep Colleen and me more than comfortable. But a hurricane, wind-driven steep seas, thunderstorms and tides (and current flow) are what really determine the when and where we go…and it’s not all a bad thing! Since I wrote last, we’ve had to slow the pace up the Chesapeake and duck into some harbors of refuge (up narrow and shallow creeks) due to afternoon thunderstorms. Such storms aren’t really a surprise…they’re just a part of summer when it gets hot and humid.
Chesapeake Bay ‘Deadrise’ crab boat
We made it through the C&D Canal (connecting the north end of Chesapeake Bay with the top of the Delaware Bay) in a half day, but with not near enough daylight remaining to make another anchorage down the bay. The incoming tide (and associated current) would be running at almost 3 knots on our bow.
Traffic on the C&D
So…we tied-up and poked around the little burg of Delaware City. Kind’a 1950’s …and no apologies. One main commercial street; barber, bakery, crab house and a ‘smithy’ (ok…forged iron artiste). We had a fine dinner of crabs and then a comfortable walk back home. In a town this size, you suspect that everyone knows each other, doesn’t lock their doors, and chats from the steps of their front porches in the evenings when it cools-off. I recognize that places like this have probably missed the train of economic opportunity (much as when the railroad made passenger traffic on the Canal obsolete). But some folks clearly love the place and have adapted to the pace of life here.
I’m trying to get into this rhythm of taking our adventure as it unfolds. For years I worked with a flight plan, a route and an ETA. A “ground delay” was added aggravation. Last night’s ‘delay’ at the top of Delaware Bay was good. It may take me more time to drop the frustrations, but this pace suits Mosey On, Colleen and me.
Mosey On’s crew had another of those ‘learning experiences’ yesterday. You know the kind “…that make you stronger.” We left the Little Wicomico Rver and headed north under clear skies and the following marine forecast for our area of the Chesapeake:
SW WINDS 10 TO 15 KT WITH GUSTS TO 20 KT. WAVES 1 TO 2 FT. A CHANCE OF SHOWERS AND TSTMS.
In the interest of full disclosure, the above came with the following disclaimer:
FORECASTS OF WAVE HEIGHTS DO NOT INCLUDE EFFECTS OF WIND DIRECTION
RELATIVE TO TIDAL CURRENTS. EXPECT HIGHER WAVES WHEN WINDS ARE
BLOWING AGAINST THE TIDAL FLOW.
About 2PM, the National Weather Service put out the following:
SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY IN EFFECT UNTIL 9 PM EDT THIS EVENING.
[A Small Craft Advisory means that wind speeds of 25 to 33 knots and/or seas of 5 feet or greater are anticipated.]
So what should this mean to our stout little ship and hardy crew? Two things, really. First, we should have taken more note of the wave heights disclaimer. As the wind piped-up in the afternoon and the tide turned, the adjustment to wave heights came clearly into focus! They now pushed us along reaching more than 5 feet with a very short period between. And second, though our pride in Mosey On would deny her “Small Craft” status, she is. Our limited experience in such seas made her all the more so. The crew was not scared, but not happy. The skipper had his hands full. Forty-six feet, sixty thousand pounds….and we were surfin’ (dude!).
After a couple hours of this ‘character building’, we took the first available exit and nestled into a secure cove near St. Michaels, MD.
Passing through Norfolk, Portsmouth and Hampton Roads, Mosey On and crew were treated to the undeniably impressive sight of just a small portion of the US Atlantic Fleet tied-up to the piers. I had seen this line-up several years before, but things have changed. This awesome display of maritime might is neatly penned-up behind what amounts to a chain link fence. Not to keep gawking tourists at bay but rather, I think, to prevent a repeat of the USS Cole incident here in American waters. The juxtaposition of such power and vulnerability is startling and symbolic.
We turned north up the Chesapeake and enjoyed a beautiful day of cruising up the Virginia shore as the residue of winds and chop died-down as the day progressed. To our surprise, there were very few pleasure craft out on this sunny Saturday. Arthur had obviously put a damper on things. But as the Bay smoothed-out, we caught the tide flowing northward…almost a knot & a half – no small thing when you normally cruise at 6.5 knots…..so we just went with it. We turned-in for the evening at the Great Wicomico River (Reedville,VA) and anchored in a beautiful bay surrounded by farms and a few weekend retreats. Very idyllic. As it grew dark, the fireworks began – not from the town, but from homes scattered along the shore. Colleen & I sat out on the deck to watch! A light breeze, low humidity and temp in the low 70s and no bugs made it just about perfect. The neighbors seemed almost to be competing with each other, which made it all the more fun. Our memories recalled firework displays of too many years ago. The show went on for over two hours when sleep and depleted munitions brought it all to an end…
It was the best 5th of July I can ever remember!