Sailing back to the simple life

Light brown, red and yellow leaves cartwheeled down the sides of the roads. Signs for pumpkin-spiced this and pumpkin-spiced that invaded the supermarket and there was a crisp bite to the air.

Neither a fan of pumpkin-spiced products or autumn, which signifies the end of boating season in New England; I yearned for one last short boat trip, to cap off a successful season in style. Both mine and Karen’ schedules aligned just right for us to escape for a three-day weekend. We pulled up activecaptain.com and discussed all the places we could go before ultimately decided we would return to where our season started: Bristol, RI.

While headed north something strange happened. The leaves that once caused me anxiety had transformed in a pleasant backdrop and the crisp autumn air didn’t seem to have as much of a bite as it filled our sails. The daily noise of printers, coffee makers and conference calls were suddenly gone, replaced instead by the sound of water rushing passed our hull.

We grabbed a mooring off the Herreshoff Marine Museum and settled into a comfortable pace of rest and relaxation. And unlike many trips aboard the Karen Marie, there were no large hurdles to overcome. Nothing broke and there were no rough seas to push through. Our normally busy schedules were, temporarily, put on pause. A long hike in the park replaced the treadmill at the gym, and the top item on our to-do list was to find an open ice cream store (not an easy feat during October in a tourist town). There was no television to watch, allowing us to turn our attention towards long sunsets.

It was a simple yet sweet weekend that reminded Karen and I the importance of putting the stress and chaos of everyday life on the shelf for a while. It will always be there when you get back.

Visiting Bristol by Boat

Before my feet touch the floor in the morning, I begin wondering what the day ahead of me has in store. Most days I’m pretty accurate. Start with coffee or maybe a protein shake, prepare for a 10 o’clock meeting, blah, blah, go back to bed.

I had big hopes for this day though. After spending the previous day preparing the boat to be underway, (attached the main sail, filled the fuel tanks, etc.) my goal was to spend the night in a secluded cove somewhere. The daily grind had been wearing on both Karen and I, and the thought of waking up to the sunrise surrounded by water was exactly what the doctor ordered.

So with the cooler packed and the sunscreen applied, we drove over to the boat yard. Mother nature —a cruel temptress— sent drizzle and low-lying clouds to dampen our plans. A quick check of the weather revealed that the forecast had changed from the night before, and was now dreary at best.

“Alright, let’s leave the cooler and just go for a ride around Newport,” I said.

The short drive around our neighboring port only whetted my desire to stay away from land. It didn’t hurt that the sun was now peaking its head out from under the clouds.

“You know what?” I asked, glancing at Karen.

“Raise the sails?” she responded in an unsurprised tone.

“Yeah, just for a little while.”

The next thing I knew, we were eating PB&Js and the Pell Bridge was disappearing in our wake at 5.2 knots. We were heading north towards Potter Cove. My only regret was leaving that damn cooler in the car. “Rookie mistake,” I thought to myself.

It was 7 long months but the sails once climbed to the top of the mast.
It was 7 long months but the sails once again climbed to the top of the mast.

A little panning on the GPS showed that Bristol, RI was not much further than our intended destination. With winds growing to near 20 knots, we both agreed it might be nice to tie up to a mooring for the night. We opted to stay at the Herreshoff Marine Museum because, well, it was the only place I had heard of.

We checked in at the Herreshoff Museum, which is, I would learn, a Disney World of sorts for boat lovers. It’s namesake, Nathaniel “Nat” Herreshoff was and still is known as one of the greatest boat designers, having penned the designs for half a dozen America’s Cup contending yachts. His talent has earned him the nickname the Wizard of Bristol, which is an accolade in and of itself.

A short stroll from the museum down Hope Street and you’ll fall under the town’s spell. Colonial homes line the shaded streets; many homeowners sat perched on their porches enjoying the sunny Sunday evening. Karen and I followed our stomachs past immaculately maintained parks, schools and local shops. From a small post office to family-owned bakeries, the allure of small town America was present in Bristol.

Donning salt-covered Sperrys and sunglasses, we didn’t fit the bill at the many upscale restaurants in town, that is until we found a small bustling corner shop named Papa Joe’s Wrap Shack. It was filled with young people wearing t-shirts and it served food, so it fit our requirements.

The Wrap Shack is a must-try eatery in town.
The Wrap Shack is a must-try eatery in town.

A quick scan of the menu revealed specialties like a meatball hero wrap, a fish and chip wrap and all sorts of strange foods that you would never think to stick inside a rollup. We decided to share a fried calamari and lasagna wrap, which I’ll admit, now that I’m no longer starving, sounds like a questionable decision. Not for the faint of heart, or those on Atkins, the pasta and squid-filled sandwiches were downright delicious. The unique flavor combinations are a must-try for all those who visit Bristol by boat. On a quest to burn off the mini-mountains of calories we continued down Hope Street (the main road in town) and people watched.

The demographic seemed especially eclectic; with older yachtsman with tan-weathered skin and saltwater-filled veins living amongst young families with children. Grown kids ourselves, we cancelled out our walk with ice cream from A Daily Scoop. The girl behind the counter was new, and fulfilled every child’s unspoken dream by serving way too much. Watching youngsters struggle to eat their cones, then try to scale the walls when the sugar rush hit was amusing from a far.

Now completely full, we retreated back to the boat for the remainder of the evening, resting up for what the weatherman had promised would be a “beautiful” Memorial Day.

It came as a surprise to awake to the sound of rain pattering on the hatch above. We decided to wait out the rain, or so we hoped, at a local breakfast joint called the Sip and Dip (think home town coffee and donut shop). We charged up, literally Karen brought her cellphone charger, enjoyed a hot cup of coffee before coming to the conclusion that the weather was not going to change. Our two-hour return under power would be a wet anticlimactic end to our short adventure.

From the weather to our destination, this past weekend’s adventure is not what we had planned but that’s one of the great things about boating. One minute you’re searching for nothing more than an escape and the next you’re discovering legendary yacht designs and that you really can put lasagna in a wrap. You just have to be willing to cast off.