September 26-29, 2009... Sitting in Atlantic City

Well. We weren’t even supposed to stop here, but our bailout position has become home. The SW winds of 15-20 knots with gusts to 25 and 30 have kept us from moving on to Cape May. Some brave fellow cruisers left a couple of days ago to make the trek and they came back a few hours later. The winds were fierce and the waves worse. One of them sacrificed his dinghy engine to Poseidon -- it was ripped right off the transom by a wicked wave. Kammerman’s Marina helped us out with laundry facilities and a sense that we aren’t in such a bad place after all. Today we stole some slack tide time and kayaked over to the cove opposite our anchorage. For the past two days we have been talking about whether it would be better to be in there and out of the current and fetch. After our close to the water research, we figured it is better to be where we are. So here we sit, next to the Coast Guard station, patiently hoping they take down the small craft advisory flag. We listen to the marine weather forecast twice a day, get GRIB files over the SSB and wait. Looks like Thursday (the 1st of OCTOBER!!!) is our go day...

September 24-25, 2009... First Overnight Ocean Passage

We left Block Island late morning Thursday after planning our voyage to Cape May, New Jersey. We figured it would take about 40 hours to do the 200-mile trip. And we planned and planned. We researched the weather forecast, plotted it against our trip itinerary, and waited till the winds would be right. Then we left. And as John always says, no plan ever survives contact with the enemy -- read, the weather. In retrospect, the passage was like three separate events.

Thursday, the winds were still from the SW and west, but light, so we were able to make some distance under motor, awaiting the promised NW and north winds. We got as far as south of Long Island when the sun went down. The winds did shift after dark, and we were able to pull out the jib and motor sail, sort of downwind. And we flew. It was really an exhilarating ride, between 6-7 knots all night. We just had to watch for other boats as we were passing the shipping lanes in and out of New York. Not too much traffic though - that was good.

When dawn broke on Friday morning, we were about 100 miles from our goal. But the old saying is true, “red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” The skies were red hot. The clouds were going in all directions. And the seas woke up like lions. They were fierce. The waves were huge, looking to us like 8-10 foot swells. “The tiny ship was tossed.” We had too much sail for the winds, so the jib came down and the staysail went up. (Note: Hank on the staysail before leaving port! Our hero, John, almost fell off the boat, almost broke a rib, and took quite a beating getting that sail out of the bag and flying.) Keeping the boat on course was harder than we ever imagined. The waves just had their way with us. Everything below deck that wasn’t nailed down was on the cabin sole before the day was over. However, miraculously, nothing broke. We altered our destination to Atlantic City, to get into port before dark. We just didn’t think we would make it to Cape May and were changing duty at the helm every half hour because it was so tiring. And, being out in the ocean with land at least 45 miles away, we had no reference points to view to congratulate ourselves on our progress. Blips on the GPS just don’t do it. We had sailed previously on the Chesapeake Bay in winds as high as we encountered (15-20 with gusts to 25+), but had no appreciation for what those winds would do to the ocean waves (even though the forecast was for 2-4 foot seas). Live and learn.

Weird wildlife note: If you didn’t have to be out on the ocean yesterday, you wouldn’t have been. So why were there land birds 50 miles from shore? A yellow-shafted flicker circled our boat, then finally landed on a backstay and seemed to think it was a tree. It left and came back about a half hour later. Then some small, perhaps 3-inch brown birds came by, landed, then left. Birdwatchers, let us know what this means.

Would we do this again? Yes. But we would be more careful about the wind/wave forecast and try for something a bit tamer. It would have been nice to have some leisure time on the passage, which we weren’t allowed because we had to work so hard to keep going. And it was so cold! We had all our foulie gear on, hats, gloves, and neoprene booties. It is definitely time to go south. Where are those turquoise waters?

Atlantic City, NJ: +39° 22' 53.46", -74° 25' 18.72"

September 16-20, 2009... Waiting for the Weather Window, Again

We are spending lots of quality time on Block Island, waiting for a good wind to start our voyage south. Yesterday, our first Saturday here, we saw our anchorage increase from 5 to 25 boats. We were getting really used to being sort of alone out here and it was a shock to have so much company. But, you can see why people want to come to this beautiful place. And, it was the first not-crazy-windy day since Wednesday. We had become caricatures, walking stooped over into the wind as the gusts went up to 30 knots. We’ve been re-provisioning, taking long walks to town, visited the Island Cemetery -- another place with 250 year-old graves -- and just relaxing. Today, Sunday, was a gorgeous day with no wind, so we took the opportunity to kayak out of the Great Salt Pond and into the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. It takes your breath away to be in those rolling waves. We kayaked up the west side of island to the northern point and back again to the Pond. Tonight, the anchorage is settling back into the weekday numbers (just 7 boats) and then a BIG surprise. Its always a little intimidating to have a yacht with a helicopter pull up alongside...

September 15, 2009... Block Island, RI

We started the day again with a paddle on the Great Salt Pond. Part of it is a wildlife refuge, and we enjoyed seeing the birds feeding at low tide this morning -- especially the oyster catchers with their huge orange bills. On another wildlife note, a couple of fish have adopted us and swim around our anchor chain. Research in our fish books and on the internet seem to indicate that they are juvenile black drum. Cool, huh? Today we decided to walk north to the Block Island North Light. On our kayak trek we figured out where to beach our dinghy so that we could save a couple of miles of walking. The road north, like the road south yesterday, has lots of wonderful houses along the way. It is pretty unusual to be a walker here -- most of the other tourists seem to favor the rental mopeds, screaming up and down the hills. The brave visitors that rent bikes are huffing and puffing as the roads can be pretty steep at times. Yet, for a place that is supposed to attract hikers, we find we are the only ones walking around. The northern shore of island was also gorgeous, though the beach was much rockier than the eastern shore. Interesting new sound of the water ‘crackling’ as it returns to the sea after breaking on the rocky shore. Wish there was a way to bottle that sound.

September 14, 2009... Block Island, RI

Block Island is beautiful and the weather has been summery. We started the day with a kayak trek around the Great Salt Pond, which is not as big as we thought, and has clear water and provides a fairly protected area. In the afternoon we walked to town at the Old Harbor, then along the beach on the east side of island, and onward to the southern end where the Block Island Southeast Light is located on the Mohegan bluffs. Along the way we saw beautiful old Victorian hotels, houses with incredible views, and gorgeous scenery everywhere we looked. We returned (exhausted) to the boat to barbeque.

September 12-13, 2009... Back to the Atlantic Ocean

Saturday morning we finally left Cutchogue for Sag Harbor. Great sail through the Little Peconic Bay, judged the tacks right and made it back like we knew what we were doing. Anchored between three megayachts and headed into town to see what the annual HarborFest was like. We had hoped to thank the team from WLNG (local radio station) for providing hours and hours of entertainment. Great oldies format, excellent local information, lots of fun -- and we had hours to listen while confined to the boat by weather! Unfortunately we didn’t see them. Hope they see this ‘shout out’ anyway.

Early start Sunday (Patti loves those 5:30am wake ups) and motored out of Sag Harbor to Gardiners Bay. Excellent sailing across the Bay to Gardiners Island. But, once out past the marker into Block Island Sound, the wind died!! (Why does this always happen??) Anyway, we were able to motorsail to Block Island reveling in the SUN and warmer weather. It was terrific being on the ocean again - nice rolling waves, beautiful water color, and that great sense of going somewhere new. Anchor down in Block Island’s Great Salt Pond among other cruising sailboats. Tomorrow the exploration begins. Glad to finally be here.

Great Salt Pond: +41° 11' 29.22", -71° 34' 42.54"

September 8-11, 2009... Waiting for the Weather Window

We are still in Cutchogue Harbor hunkering down through a stalled weather system. The weather forecast this week was and proved to be for strong winds from the east and northeast. So we moved to the NE corner of the harbor to get into the lee of the land and reduce the rolliness of the anchorage. The storm system is pushing steady winds of 20-25 knots with gusts to 30+ through here. Today, that was coupled with a huge downpour. Every 12 hours we hope that the weather forecast improves so that we may move to Sag Harbor - which will be our jumping off point for Block Island. At this point, looks like a possible local move tomorrow, with the big sail to Block on Sunday when there are supposed to be NW and west winds - favorable to the trip. The worst part of this waiting is the COLD weather. Where has summer gone!

September 5-7, 2009... Labor Day Weekend

Cutchogue Harbor has been a great place to spend Labor Day Weekend. There is plenty of sightseeing by kayak to do with all the creeks and coves off of the harbor, so we took full advantage of that on Saturday and Monday. Saturday night we ate at a local restaurant in New Suffolk, Legends, that was a great surprise. We ate at the bar as there wasn’t room at a table, and met a couple from another boat in the anchorage. They were local, from Sag Harbor, and gave us some good tips about sailing around here. We were also able to figure out how the land geography intersects with the water so that we could find our way to the Peconic Bay Winery on Sunday. The winery had a Latin band, Mambo Loco, entertaining on the patio, which sounded like a terrific land activity. We walked there (about a mile and a half from where we left our dinghy) and spent the afternoon sitting in the sun, tasting wines, and dancing to the music. Perfect!

September 4, 2009... Little Peconic Bay Crossing

We left Sag Harbor today headed for Cutchogue Harbor on the North Fork of Long Island. There isn’t much written about it in the cruising guide, so we hoped that indicated it would be a little more low key than megayacht city at Sag Harbor. The clincher this morning was when one of those yachts anchored next to us and immediately some yahoo got off and onto a jetski and started boring holes in the water. How pleasant! We made the best of the light winds in the Peconic (which never registered at all on the anemometer) and sailed most of the way. Very slow but very pleasant. We found a nice place to anchor just off New Suffolk and spent the first hour watching 25 sailboats go by to race off Nassau Point. Looking forward to tomorrow’s exploration of the Harbor, and the towns of New Suffolk and Cutchogue.

Cutchogue Harbor: +40° 59' 39.12", -72° 28' 0.48"

August 31-September 2, 2009... Summer’s Last Week

We are still in Sag Harbor enjoying this town, though we were challenged by one night’s high winds and swells in the anchorage, and then by the cold! We have worn long pants and long sleeves this week (Patti even wore neoprene to kayak one day.) But we have had a great time doing touristy things like visiting the Whaling Museum and other things like buying tomatoes from the lady at the end of Main Street. But the most unique activity was attending the last Sag Harbor Community Band concert outside the American Legion Hall. This band has been playing outdoor free concerts for 52 summers. We took our beach chairs in the dinghy and set up like the rest of town to listen. Cold, but fun! Today (a warmer day) we did a marathon kayak from our boat to the nature preserve at Mashomack Point on Shelter Island, over to the abandoned lighthouse at Cedar Point, circumnavigated Northwest Harbor for some mansion gawking, around the sand cliff at Barcelona Point, and finally back to Anhinga - a good 7-8 miles. Tonight we barbeque again as we watch all the crewed mega-sailboats come into the anchorage. Most of them seem to be flagged in the Cayman Islands. Hmmmm.