Cruising to Cranston

Besides a half a day at the Convention Center last winter, Providence, the biggest city in the smallest state has eluded me. When planning for the trip, Edgewood Yacht Club in Cranston piqued my interest because of its close, 3-mile proximity to the city and its many attractions, ranging from Italian restaurants to museums and shows.

So at 0700 the Karen Marie left East Greenwich and headed farther north. Slowly navigating out the narrow channel and into the bay, we found ourselves completely alone, a stark and almost eerie contrast to our often-overcrowded home water off Newport. Light and shifty winds made sailing difficult. Constant sail trimming and wheel turning had us making a knot and a half of speed, and that was only when Karen and I blew into the sails at same time!

After 30 minutes of staring at the same house on the coast, I felt that sufficient time had passed to meet the requirements of “the old college try.” We doused the sails and motored on. Lighthouses and mansions passed just beyond our lifelines, providing hours of entertainment. Before we knew it, the Providence skyline had appeared before our bow . A few unanswered calls from the VHF and cell phone to Edgewood went unanswered, which had us looking out for a plan B but as we approached the mooring field, a very excited launch operator waved us down and greeted us.

Lighthouses dot the rocky shores of Narragansett Bay.
Lighthouses dot the rocky shores of Narragansett Bay.

Taking the dinghy to shore to check in, we immediate got the impression that Edgewood Yacht Club doesn’t get many transient visitors. For example, where I come from, people can often be heard greeting one another by saying: “How’s it going?” “Good, you?” “Good thanks.” And then both parties go on with their day. Greet someone in Edgewood with that same greeting, and you better be prepared to hear exactly how “it” is going.

Asking the dockmaster for a couple bags of ice at most marinas is met with a nod towards the ice chest and the quick exchange of $7. The dockmaster here listened, genuinely interested about where we came from, why we decided to stop here, and where we were headed next before relinquishing a bag of the cold stuff. This level of friendliness was a surprise, but a welcome one.

It would only take a short trek into town to realize why guests here get looked at like green Martians; the only attraction seemed to be its proximity to the capital city. The temperature at this point had risen to a hot and sticky 90-degrees, which had Karen and myself exploring the air-conditioned aisles of convenience stores instead of hunting down any real points of interest. We decided to leave Providence for another (cooler) day. Maybe in the fall.

We opted instead to join my parents, who were in Cranston with us, on a dinghy ride. Loaded down with the four of us, a 55 lb black lab and a cooler filled with drinks had the 8 hp Yamaha working harder than usual to push us towards the city. Puttering past a major shipping port called Waterson Terminal Service was an impressive part of the ride. Mountains of coal and salt towered above us as foreign container ships filled with cars and other goods casted shadows over the Providence River. After exploring the shore of this facility, we decided to turn back to the marina.

Now, a good sailor knows to always pay attention to the wind direction and speed. Whoops. We quickly learned that we blissfully had our backs to a building south wind that now hit our raft like a right hook. My parent’s lab, Zoe went from sitting up on the bow, tail wagging at a mile a minute to hiding her head between the bench seat and the portable gas tank. Karen and my mom, acting as unwilling human shields, took the brunt of the salt-spray.

My parent's usually peppy puppy was glad to return dockside after a rough ride in the raft.
My parent’s usually peppy puppy was glad to return dockside after a rough ride in the dinghy.

Some much needed showers, and a few glasses of wine warmed everyone up and we all enjoyed dinner on my parent’s boat. Three games of cards, and a couple hours of smack talk capped off an otherwise pleasant and relaxing evening.

If you’re looking for a quiet marina, hidden in the shadows of bustling city, where friendly folks make even the most cynical guests feel right at home, I highly recommend a visit to Edgewood Yacht Club. Be sure to tell them Dan sent you.

The Truth about Boat Trips

Most vacations begin with a few clicks of a mouse. Find a flight, hotel, punch in your credit card number, agonize over the tough choices, like choosing between a couple’s massage or a tee time, pack an extra pair of pants and a bathing suit, maybe a shirt with some flowers on it and you’re on your way! The details will work themselves out as the excitement for your trip begins to boil.

Preparing for a weeklong vacation aboard the Karen Marie was not as simple.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain


 

Most vacations begin with a few clicks of a mouse. Find a flight, hotel, punch in your credit card number, agonize over the tough choices, like choosing between a couple’s massage or a tee time, pack an extra pair of pants and a bathing suit, maybe a shirt with some flowers on it and you’re on your way! The details will work themselves out as the excitement for your trip begins to boil.

Preparing for a weeklong vacation aboard the Karen Marie was not as simple. Try to imagine preparing and packing all the food and drinks you’ll need for a week, your fuel, water, clothes, and sheets. Then there is the need to get the boat ready. There are tanks to fill, rigging to inspect, cleaning, obtaining spare parts and more. Last, but certainly not least, you need to plan your route and watch the weather like a hawk stalking prey.

To prepare for our time aboard, I began making to-do lists. I had grocery lists, engine part lists, lists of things to get from West Marine. I even had a list telling me what other lists I needed to make! It was maddening.

One task on one such list stood out like a cardinal on a snowy day: Replace the mainsail halyard. This would require me to pull Karen to the top of the mast, a chore that we both dreaded. It took some serious negotiations but Karen finally agreed (read: relented) to be pulled to the top. Borrowing a bosun’s chair from our friends at Clark Boat Yard, Karen climbed into the harness and got clipped in. If ever she was going to contemplate getting rid of the boat, or me … or both, this was the time.

I cranked on our mast’s old bronze winches, pulling her up the 35-foot mast a few inches at a time until my shoulders screamed uncle. While catching my breath, I channeled my inner Lombardi and coached Karen to the top. Despite her bravery, the new halyard wouldn’t fit through the masthead. The new line was softer, and expanded when pushed through the tight space, making it impossible to pass through the pulley at the top. Frustrated and tired, our efforts were in vain. Thankfully, we were able to replace the halyard on attempt number two.

“We’re going to need a vacation from this vacation,” said Karen while catching her breath after climbing the mast.

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She wasn’t wrong. Boat trips are unlike any others. They require long hours of planning. But when you cast off, and all that preparation is in your wake, that stress is replaced with something else, something that makes this crazy hobby worth it: the pride in knowing that you and your boat are prepared for the adventures ahead.

And that to-do list, now it only reads: explore, dream, discover.

Unplugged and Recharging

Gonna put the the world away for a minute 

Pretend I don’t live in it 

Sunshine gonna wash my blues away

Zac Brown


I would like to take a few minutes to talk about nomophobia – an epidemic that studies show affect 2 out of 3 Americans. Nomophobia is the fear of being without your cell phone. And for full discretion, I suffer from this disorder (the first step is acknowledging you have a problem, right?). From the time I wake up until my head returns to the pillow at night, I carry my phone with me. I’m on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (follow me @dharding89!). I read emails and texts from my cell throughout the day, and plug headphones into it while working out.

The other day I saw the dark side of this addiction. Karen and I were enjoying dinner at a local Irish bar and listening to an awesome and authentic Irish band. I glanced over at the tables around us where 5 people, all about our age, sat with their heads in their laps, staring down at small cellphone screens.

Good God, what has this world come to that a bustling bar with live music isn’t enough to entertain us?” I pondered over a pint of Smithwick’s.

There is one place where I can find sanctuary from my cellphone addiction, and that is on the water. The peacefulness drives me to turn off the phone and unplug from the 24/7 world around me. Listening to waves gently lapping against a hull as a boat gently rocks from side to side and watching the sun paint the sky with shades of orange and red, is better than any email or YouTube video. It’s a place where I can get lost in a book or in my own meandering mind.

It was on one such peaceful night, capped off with cheap red wine and some board game that Karen forced on me that I glanced over at the boats around us where, couples sat quietly talking, untethered from the digital world, proving what I have long suspected: The cure for nomophobia is saltwater.

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Reflection

With the Karen Marie now resting on the hard and the first season of sailing in my wake, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder, “where the heck has the time gone?” It feels like only the other day I was stumbling around the deck trying to raise the mainsail. OK, maybe that did happen the other day, but you know what I mean.

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We splashed the Karen Marie just before the 4th of July and 13 weeks later she was back on stands at Clark Boat Yard. During the time in-between there were some days with no wind for sailing and others where strong gusts sent Karen and I crawling back to the mooring with our tails between our legs. Then there were times it took half a dozen tries until we were even able to tie up to the mooring. There were failed attempts at docking, fuel leaks, banged heads, stubbed toes, cut arms, a pair of hospital trips and enough curse words to make even the saltiest sailor blush. Downpours, thunderstorms and fog often filled our forecast. We faced a number of fights and a few well-deserved near mutinies. Prone to stalling, our dinghy outboard almost ended up in Davie Jones’ locker more times than I care to admit. There were leaks, sleepless nights, and a war of attrition with a mooring ball.

I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

When I share those stories with friends, I have been asked a reasonable question: Why do you put yourself through that?

It’s difficult to explain to non-boaters the thrill that comes when your sails are trimmed just right and the starboard rail of your little Rhodes kisses the water, slicing through waves at six knots; the peacefulness of watching the sunrise illuminate the sleepy town of Wickford from your cockpit or the pride that fills you as glide into Block Island’s Great Salt Pond. Moments like that make all the previous trials and tribulations worth it.

This past season may have been short but it sure was sweet

Only 168 days until next boating season. 

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Not just around the block to Block Island

I drive in the right lane over the Pell Bridge when traveling from Jamestown to Newport, not because I like following behind a parade of mini vans but because from the top of the bridge on a clear day you can spot the coast of Block Island (http://bit.ly/OQsnvY) peaking over the horizon. Having been to Block multiple times growing up, the small island holds a special place in my heart. Peering out across the ocean, it beckoned me, daring me to point the bow of the Karen Marie southwest and make a visit.

26-plus nautical miles away from our mooring, it was more than twice the distance of any of our previous weekend destinations. And the Atlantic Ocean is a completely different animal than Narragansett Bay. The logical thing to do would be to wait another year, get more sailing experience and then make the trip. It should come as no surprise that at the crack of dawn one Thursday morning in September, Karen and I dropped our mooring line and off we went, sailing south by southwest.

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Headed south by southwest.

With only 10 knots of wind, the ocean was flat calm. My only gripe would be with the brisk 50-degree temperature. With an average speed of four and a half knots, we weren’t setting any course records but we were moving along. Watching the sunrise from out at sea on my first real trip was an experience I won’t soon forget. A smile stayed fixed on my face as we sailed passed the Point Judith lighthouse and across the ocean to Block. The sun was shining, Billy Joel was playing through the stereo, my first mate even managed to take a nap in the cockpit; life was good. I had intended to sail the entire way, door-to-door on this trip but when the wind died down and our speed decreased to one measly knot, we had to fire up the engine and motor into the harbor.

Like I said earlier, I had been to Block many times before but as a kid, my face usually buried in either a Hardy Boys book or my Gameboy for most of the trip. Arriving in my own boat was a very rewarding experience.

Our time on the island was everything Karen and I could have hoped for. We stopped by the famous restaurant called The Oar and enjoyed celebratory cocktails. We rented mopeds (I had turned my nose up at that activity in the past, regarding it as too touristy. I was wrong.) and drove around the entire island, taking in its naturally beauty, which with rolling green hills and stone fences reminds me of Ireland. We enjoyed multiple alfresco meals on the back of the boat and enjoyed ample amounts of R&R.

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With live music and a fully stocked beach-side bar, Crescent Beach is a fun place to spend an afternoon.

Another element that made this trip unique was that at four days long, it would be the longest amount of consecutive time we spent aboard the boat. Thanks to a solar powered phone charger and the small miracle that is instant coffee, we fared pretty well.

One aspect that kind of stunk was the shower situation. We had assumed that we would be able to use the showers at the nearby Boat Basin marina despite the fact that we were on a town-owned mooring. “We’ll walk up there with our towels and they’ll never know we’re not staying there,” I remember saying.

It turns out the Boat Basin in an attempt to foil our ingenious plot uses a token system to operate the showers. Thinking that she would have better luck than myself, I sent Karen off to ask the dock master if we could purchase a few tokens. That plan succeeded as Karen returned with two tokens and a warning from the dock master not to ask for any more. We had to make that one count! (We did have a solar shower onboard but with temperatures in the low 50’s we opted against using it.)

We would face a technical difficulty at the strangest time. On the afternoon of the last day of our trip the harbor master pulled up alongside our boat to collect the $20 mooring fee and tied a line from his 25-foot center console to our shroud (the piece that connects the mast supports to the boat itself). The force of the boat on a windy day was enough to snap the shroud. It definitely should not have broken from that amount of force, exposing a weakness in my rigging, but never the less, I flashed him a death stare before relinquishing my $20.

Sailing home with a broken shroud would be out of the question because doing so could cause the mast to fall over. Not something I was willing to risk. Using the halyards and a half dozen super-sized zip ties I supported the mast the best I could for our trip home, which is where the story gets interesting.

Leaving Block Island at 5 am we would be introduced to 20-plus knots of wind and three to four foot seas on the nose. It became quickly apparent that there would be no naps or Billy Joel on this trip. Waves were three or four feet in height but there were also a few five to six foot suckers hiding in the mix. I’ve been in seas like this before but from the flybridge of an Egg Harbor some 15 feet above the water line. Now, at a foot off the water, the seas were much more intimidating. With white knuckles on the wheel, I did my best to hit the waves diagonally instead of head on to make the ride smoother. Still, debris from waves often broke over our bow and landed in the cockpit. Only able to do four knots in the rough stuff made for a long battle with the angry seas, but it was a battle I’m happy to report we won.  As we neared Newport the seas laid down and we were able to have something for breakfast. We would tie up to our mooring around 10:30, only five and a half hours after departing but I felt like I aged a year.

Bruised, beaten and covered in more salt than a large order of fries, Karen and I limped to our car and headed for home and a shower! Crossing over the bridge, I again took the right lane and through bleary eyes glanced out towards Block. No longer antagonizing me, it made me proud to look off and see the shadow of the island. I could finally drive in the left lane I thought to myself, until…wait…is that Cuttyhunk out there to the southeast!?

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The Karen Marie rests after a long trip over to Block Island.
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Block Island’s Southeast lighthouse is a must see when visiting here. Besides possessing a rich history it also offers a stunning view of the Atlantic.
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Learning how to cook meals aboard has sometimes been a struggle for us but when faced with no other option, we started to get the hang of it.
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The Coast Guard station is the first thing to great you upon arrival.