As a historical landmark, Plymouth falls pretty short. We have probably all spent years of our childhoods learning about the pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620 and building their colony there. Apparently, however, the pilgrims initially landed at Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, before making their way to Plymouth. Furthermore, we actually have no record of any “Plymouth Rock” until 121 years after the Mayflower landed, although the story was allegedly passed down orally until then. Either way, the rock itself was fairly underwhelming to look at. We walked up, just before leaving on Friday morning (after taking Pieter to Dunkin’ Donuts for his first time, a momentous occasion in everyone’s life), looked at it for approximately 6.49 seconds, and left.
We departed that morning (the 21st, for those keeping count) with some small amount of disappointment in the dispelling of the Plymouth Rock myth, but not without some affection for the town of Plymouth itself. It is quite a cute little town with some beautiful scenery and a wonderfully protected harbor, and we’re all glad that we made it a destination and at least managed to witness the dismantling of our historical knowledge in the flesh.
We had to motor-sail up to Boston in order to arrive before dark. One of John’s best friends from Saugatuck, Andrew helped us out royally by getting us a spot at the Boston Yacht Club in Marblehead, just north of Boston. We would all like to thank Andrew and the Boston Yacht Club for welcoming us so graciously. As with New York, we all split up upon arrival, so any coherent narrative of our time in Boston would be somewhat disjointed and far too long. However, we plan on leaving tomorrow and actually heading back south toward Nantucket and Martha’s Vinyard. What this means is that our blog has actually caught up with us for the first (and probably last) time ever!
We moved very slowly the following morning, picking our way through breakfast until Pieter’s friend, Kyle, from the University of Puget Sound, arrived. He’s with us for a week, and we’re very happy to have him. Upon his arrival, we immediately took the bus back to the boat, stopping only for Burger King and groceries, and celebrated Kyle’s arrival with a bottle of (bargain) port and Domino’s Pizza.
Have you ever consumed Burger King AND Domino’s, 4 hours apart and washed it down with port that bears only a passing resemblance to an FDA approved beverage before waking up at 6am? If (as is likely) not, it may behoove you to know that they seem to congeal into an irritable block of cement, halfway down your digestive tract that then sends little spasms of pain rippling up into your heart, which is reassuring in its own way, as it confirms that you are, in fact, still alive.
The reason for our early awakening was, of course, tides. We had to ensure that we could hit Wood’s Hole with the tide, as well as make it up to the Cape Cod Canal to catch the tide there in time. This timing was crucial, as the tides tend to change at between 4 and 6 knots, and since we tend to motor at the speed of cold snot sliding down a mossy oak, fighting the current was really not an option. Fortunately we hit both tides perfectly, and in fact rocketed (relatively speaking) up the Cape Cod Canal at around 9 kts, 9.8 at the fastest, and I’m fairly certain, crushing the highest speed ever set by that boat. We had to beat through some very rough water on our way out of the canal, but then found ourselves with a fairly leisurely sail up to Plymouth, the town with a history that is both storied and wildly untrue.
Our first day out of Newport on September 17th was decidedly quick and uneventful. The only true event of note was that we happened to pass a couple friends of ours, Scott and Jennifer, who are sailing their boat, Pendragon on a very similar trip. They somehow recognized our boat from about half a mile away, so we had a lovely little chat as we sailed on to our anchorage about 12 miles west of Cape Cod. Ellen and I happened to draw the lucky cards(how we decide literally everything) and therefore found ourselves up at 6am to catch the tide through Wood’s Hole to Cape Cod. This was rather important to us, as we had learned the previous day of a minor storm cell, approaching the size of the entire East Coast, that was bearing down on us with winds gusting up to 50 kts. Enterprisingly reckless and downright stupid as we
sometimes often are, we do have our limits. We therefore shot quickly over to Falmouth, MA, a half mile up a twisty inlet that protected us quite satisfactorily from wind and waves.
After pulling ourselves together, we had to walk a mile and a half with our 60 pounds of (fragrant) laundry to the bus station, in order to catch a bus to John’s uncle’s place in Centerville. John’s uncle, Jock, whipped up a fabulous dinner, and we spent the evening in full relaxation, very deliberately not going out anywhere, probably burning out Jock’s washer and dryer, and watching Tombstone(awesome western, for those who care). To be honest, I’m pretty sure no one actually made it all the way through the movie, as we were all racked with exhaustion, and therefore all turned in for bed at a time usually reserved for the elderly and very small infants.
Newport, Rhode Island is an interesting place. I have never seen a more fervent bastion of preppyness and appreciation for all things sailing. Of course, as there was a boat show that weekend, my impression may have been somewhat skewed by the very large quantity of moneyed sailors in town, but from what I gathered about the place, it tends to retain that character throughout the summer. We spent our first night in town finding the nearest pizza joint for dinner, before checking out the local bar scene(which is so rare for us).
We awoke the following morning, prepared to leave, but discovered an unpleasant surprise. Opening up the bilge for a routine check, we discovered that it was absolutely full of water. It wasn’t just the bilge, either. As we checked all of our through-hull fittings, we discovered the the bilge water ad gotten so high, that it had managed to seep into several other compartments as well. This state of affairs was confusing and not a little distressing, as none of us could recall striking anything with enough force to spring a leak. Fortunately, John managed to locate the culprit, our seawater intake hose to the engine, which had been shorn through by its hose clamp and was dribbling profusely into the engine compartment, thence into the bilge. we immediately shut off water flow, stopping the leak and thanked our lucky stars that it was a hose leak rather than a hull problem, and that we had found it in time. Upon examining it, it was clear that the wire mesh within the reinforced hose was simply rusted out and disgusting, necessitating a replacement. What seemed so simple at first became a full-day process as disconnecting the end of the hose on the ocean side wound up taking about 4 hours as we pushed pulled, twisted, cajoled, chiseled and swore at it, before finally just cutting through the tube and its reinforcing metal bands(no easy task in itself).
After a great deal of sweat, beer, and surprisingly creative blasphemous profanity, we managed to both disconnect the old tube and attach the new one. John and I pretended for about 2 hours that we would reward ourselves by going to a bar to watch football, before admitting that we were in no way interested in even taking a shower, an extreme admission when we both smelled remarkably akin to that sweaty t-shirt that you forget under your bed until literal civilizations begin developing in its folds. Our preferred option was passing out at 9pm and sleeping like corpses until the following morning when we set out for Cape Cod, next on our tour of East Coast preppy sailing locations.
Sailing in the Long Island Sound was a fantastically new experience. With the exception of John, none of us have had extensive sailing experience on the ocean, and I in particular tend to have a very negative perspective on that particular 70% of the Earth’s surface. Although it isn’t particularly rational, most of my experience with salt water has involved watching “Jaws“, so I’ve never felt exactly fondly toward it. Nevertheless, as we started off along the Sound, I really couldn’t help but be impressed.
Although the Long Island Sound isn’t exactly huge, the power of the current pulling us inexorably out to the ocean was awesome to feel. Plus, there were dolphins. Seriously, I couldn’t believe it when I first saw them, having never seen any sort of interesting aquatic life in the wild, but a group of them swam past us our first morning, just an hour or two after leaving our anchorage. While that was cool, it was nothing compared to the following morning when Ellen and I were on shift, and what I assumed was the same group of dolphins (albeit with literally negative knowledge of marine biology) came up from behind us and swam with the boat for about 15 minutes. We tried to get a video of them alongside, but between Ellen’s and my technological prowess, we haven’t managed to locate said video yet. As soon as we find it, we’ll be throwing that up online. The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, and we sailed into Newport, Rhode Island, where we encountered a little issue that could have put us at the bottom of the harbor if we hadn’t found it in time.
On Wednesday, September 13th, we finally made it out of freshwater and into the salty Long Island Sound. It wasnt a simple path. We had to time our passage up the East River so that we didn’t hit Hell Gate (or Helm’s Deep, if you have seen Lord of the Rings too many times to pay attention to the real name) with a 5 knot current against us. As our top motoring speed is somewhere around 5 knots on a good day, trying to motor against said current all the way up the East River would have been about as much fun as circumcising an unanesthetized cheetah with hedge trimmers, so we had to wait until noon to depart.
We took a quick spin around the Statue of Liberty, figuring that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to do so in our own boat, and that the extra 300-odd yardsout of our way wouldn’t kill our incredibly tight schedule. Our trip up the East River was uneventful, and we made it out into the Long Island Sound in only a few hours. Because we had started so late, we had to find an anchorage almost immediately, and we ended up in Manhasset Bay by Port Washington, NY, a perfect anchorage, where even John didn’t think it necessary to post watches. We crashed early that night in preparation for for our two-day crossing of the Sound to Newport, RI.
Terribly sorry about the extreme dearth of posts recently. We ended up spending almost 2 weeks in New York City. Given the number of different directions we went, and the sheer quantity of activities available in NYC, it would require far more words than even I am willing to write to describe it all. Additionally, as this blog is about our trip for the most part, it seems excessive to post every day about New York, which was, essentially, a hiatus from the trip; a short vacation, if you will, from the more protracted vacation that is this trip.
It is, however, important to note that during our time in NYC, we all saw tons of people, and did lots of stuff. We picked up a new manual fuel pump from a Yanmar dealer in New Jersey, and John, Pieter, and Ellen went back up to Hop-O-Nose, installed the pump, and brought the boat back down to the 79th st Boat Basin in Manhattan, a comfortable, if pricey marina.
We departed September 12th(having decided, for prudence’s sake, that sailing around lower Manhattan on 9/11 would be unadvisable), and motored only a short way down to anchor between Ellis Island, Liberty Island, and the friendly neighborhood Coastguard boat that was anchored out with us all night. We did not exactly spend a relaxing night, as we had to remain on watches, having discovered early on that changing tides and currents have an unpleasant habit of pulling the anchor up. Our watches nevertheless passed without incident and we were treated all night to the beautiful New York City skyline, as well as the spectacularly lit Statue of Liberty, which served as our neighbor and (we like to think) watchful guardian for the night.
We spent about a week at the delightfully named Hop-O-Nose Marina, although sadly not by choice. While the staff at the marina were incredibly charming and helpful, we would really have preferred to be able to move on after two days. We put our mast up our second day there, with the help of the marina and their enormous, mechanical, and thoroughly ancient crane (last used in the construction of Big Ben). Having planned on leaving the next morning, I got up early and decided to change the fuel filter. The engine had been sputtering and dying at slow speeds, and it seemed as though the fuel filter might be the cause.
Unfortunately, while replacing the (astonishingly clean) fuel filter went off without a hitch, bleeding the engine of air turned into a tedious, multi-day process. We spent two entire days trying to bleed the engine, asking literally anyone within shouting distance on the docks whether they had any advice, but we ultimately had to suppress our egos (not for the first time, and certainly not for the last) and called a mechanic. He came by and within about 3 minutes told us that our manual fuel pump was broken, so we might as well have tried to suck the air out of the engine with our mouths as keep working the pump.
As John had an important flight to catch the following morning, we decided to rent a car and drive down to New York City, leaving the boat behind. New Jersey was the nearest dealer with a Yanmar fuel pump (apparently they don’t stock them at the local Walmart) so we had to pick one up before we could go anywhere anyway. It was a bit of a wrench leaving the boat behind. The 120 miles to New York City was the furthest distance any of us had traveled from the boat since we’d gotten it, and it felt very strange to be so far away from it, and so disconnected from the boating lifestyle. New York City is many things, but a Sailor’s Town isn’t one of them.
Leaving Frankfort, we had no conception of where we would go. Fortunately,the Erie Canal decided that for us, as we reached Canajoharie (next in a long list of tiny American towns that we had never heard of before this trip) and felt very little compulsion to travel 8 miles to the next lock. This lack of motivation may have stemmed from how late in the day it was, the cleaning that we needed to do on the boat, or, just maybe, the McDonald’s that caught our eye as we passed provided too much temptation for our weak resistance to pass up. You can decide. At any rate, we discovered upon arrival a. the McDonald’s had wifi, which was awesome, and b. our hot water heater was leaking, which wasn’t. Reacting to these stimuli in order of importance, John fixed up the hot water heater, which only took about half an hour, and we spent the next four in McDonald’s, enjoying the fruits of high speed internet, and stopping only when we were kicked out at closing time.
We spent the next two days, as so many before, motoring down the canal, scraping the varnish off the deck woodwork in preparation for the next layer, generally baking in the sun as we did so. We stopped the first night just before the Niskayuna lock (lock 7) and the next day finally made our way out of the Erie Canal and onto the Hudson River, arriving at Hop-O-Nose Marina, where our mast was waiting for us. Although we expected to only remain two days, our time at Hop-O-Nose was one of the more drawn out stays of our trip, resulting from a great deal of boneheadedness on the part of yours truly.
Departing from Sylvan Beach on the morning of August 23rd, we expected a fairly short motor over to Utica, New York. We had heard a lot about the brewery there, and heard also that one tended to find a lot of deals on Thursday nights. Unfortunately, what we didn’t realize was that our day should have been significantly shorter than it was. Heads down and motoring, we discovered upon reaching lock 19 that Utica had in fact been at lock 20, 10 or so miles back the way we had just come. Not exactly wanting to backtrack, we pulled into the first place we could find after lock 19, Frankfort, NY.
Now, Utica, though not exactly a bustling metropolis, is a town that I’ve certainly heard of, and has certain colleges and businesses that people tend to recognize. Frankfort, NY is a village that I’m fairly certain no one has ever heard of. We couldn’t even see it from the canal until we had motored a good way up this little tributary to find the dock, surrounded by a residential area that looked like it had been abandoned since 1954. We made our way up to the municipal building to pay for the night, and to our good fortune, happened to find the mayor there, who told us that we certainly didn’t have to pay for the night, and if anyone told us to leave the dock, to inform them that he had said we were fine there.
This enjoyable exchange under our belts, we walked into town to find a charming little library, as well as a pleasant small-town grocery store, and learned of a couple bars with pool tables, a combination that neither Pieter nor I has been able to turn down yet. We patronized both very empty bars for an hour or two that night, but had to get back on the water early the next day to keep plugging away at the Canal.