When one journey ends, it’s natural to take a look back at how it began. And that can now be said about my time in Newport, RI and with Yachting magazine.
My Newport story began on a warm April morning, nearly two and a half years ago. It was zero dark thirty as I drove from Long Island to Newport for an interview with Yachting, an opportunity that seemed to materialize overnight. My mind raced faster than the headlights of my old Honda.
Do I really want to move to Newport? Is this job right for me? What if I bomb this interview? I thought to myself.
These questions snaked through my mind as my car weaved through the wooded single-lane roads of Rhode Island. Then the woods seemed to open up and I crossed the Jamestown Verrazano Bridge and saw Narragansett Bay for the first time. And an impressive sight it was. I followed the GPS a few miles further and came to the Pell Bridge, the same one I have talked about countless times in this blog, but for good reason. The view was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Sailboats (a foreign wind-powered craft) and sunlight danced a top the expansive blue water. The Newport skyline rose in front of my dashboard.
Like after a first kiss, sparks flew, I laughed and said aloud, “yeah, this is going to do just fine. New York, it’s been fun.”
As you can guess, I got the job and moved to the City by the Sea a week later and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then I’ve worked with some of the best people you could hope to meet, I’ve traveled the world, met people so interesting that they’d put the Dos Equis guy to shame. I ate at some great restaurants and drank at a few awful bars. I bought a boat. And broke a boat. And forged an unlikely friendship with an old carpenter who helped me fix it up.
Karen and I have raced around the bay enjoying incredible sailing and at times, sailed in circles, becoming frustrated nearly to the point of tears. We’ve watched mega yachts, schooners, America’s Cup yachts and cruise ships come and go while sitting on the back of our boat. Yes. Life in Newport for a 25-year-old dreamer has been damn good.
But I will be moving to another good home in Essex, Connecticut to become the senior managing editor of Power & Motoryacht magazine, one of the most respected marine magazines in the world. I feel that same type of excitement that I did two and a half years ago, the kind that you only get when you don’t know what the future has in store.
As I drive west over the Pell Bridge to Connecticut, I’ll look back in my rear-view mirror and see a town where I left nothing but good friends and great memories. I’ll hope that one day, years from now, I’ll drive back over that bridge and my future children will look up from their iPhone 20’s and become as mesmerized as I was when I first crossed it.
No matter what day of the week it is, whether its a warm and sunny day or if it’s bitter cold and raining, in the summer and fall, there will be boats out racing on Narragansett Bay. On this night, it was a fleet of J-24s that whipped up the water. Competition was fierce, it always is, and at the end of it there were no trophies to be had, no sponsorships waiting for them at the finishing mark; the only reward was wind burn on their faces and salt spray in their hair. After a race like that, there is a winner but there are no losers.
September is a special time here in New England. Fleets of tourists return to their homeports but there is still boating left to do. Last Sunday was a particularly picturesque day; a cool breeze lingered over the bay, sunshine reflected off the water as if it were a mirror.
It had been too long since Karen and I went sailing simply for the sake of sailing. With no destination in mind and no ETA to provide, we literally decided to go wherever the wind took us. We were healing over, skimming atop the water like a stone, making course corrections only to check out mansions on the coast or to take a closer look at a container ship anchored just outside the channel.
In the world of sailing, there are days that really require you to work. Shifty winds might require regular trimming and every turn of the bow feels labored; you have to earn every tenth of a knot. This was not one of those days. The varnished wheel felt like an extension of my arm and the boat responded with every gentle turn.
We decided to sail passed the Naval War College, an area with thin water and a narrow channel. It was a body of water that I normally would have opted to motor around. It was beyond scenic.
A grumbling stomach was the only reason we turned back towards Jamestown. The highlight of the day was still to come, and it sat in the cooler: A bacon-wrapped pork loin I bought that morning for a barbecue. That piece of meat, corn on the cob and a few cold beers were to be the pinnacle of an already perfect day.
For 40 minutes, I grilled the meat and the smell of bacon and pork wafted across the anchorage. We were the envy of the entire harbor.
Before digging into dinner, I gave the meat one last –over zealous– flip and the pork slipped through the tongs, off the side of the grill, falling, seemingly in slow motion, into the water below. The envy was over in an instant.
Karen, holding an empty plate, looked on in horror, knowing how much I was looking forward to that dinner. We sat in silence for some time; the loss of our dinner was hard to swallow.
It didn’t take long until we were able to laugh at the ridiculous turn of events. After all, it was a great day on the water, one that I’m sure we’ll laugh about on a cold winter day months from now.
I have to admit, after a week-long vacation aboard the Karen Marie, I was feeling pretty good about myself. Sporting a fresh tan, my shoulders were relaxed and my arms swung easily at my side; there was a strut in my step as I walked the docks. I was proud of my boat and the fact that we made it to three new destinations together, returning no worse for wear.
There would be no sailing the weekend after our trip, as Karen’s family was in town for their annual visit to Newport. Shoulder tension returned, just a bit, as we prepared an itinerary for their visit. An active family, we planned to spend Saturday afternoon exploring Jamestown’s tranquil Dutch Harbor via Stand-Up Paddleboards and kayaks. (This is in spite of the fact that I often scoff at the local “hippies” who practice yoga on the elongated surfboards near our marina.)
I played through the afternoon multiple times in my head. We would enjoy a leisurely paddle out to Dutch Island then take a short walk to the lighthouse on the southern end. We’d get just enough exercise to burn off breakfast and not feel guilty about fresh fish tacos from The Shack afterwards.
And it started off just like I had hoped. I snapped pictures from my WaterShot submersible cell-phone case of happy smiles and shared laughter. I even let myself smile as we reached the lighthouse. Everything was going according to plan and I could practically taste the celebratory tacos. I walked along the shoreline, perfecting my rock skipping technique as Karen and her older sister embarked on a “short race.”
Busy counting skips, I lost track of them until a passing boater and his son mentioned that the sisters were fighting against a strong current and might need help. He was right; they were paddling and paddling but being pushed farther north away from their intended destination. Like the tough guy I fancy myself, I took off after them to help guide them out of the channel and away from the incoming current.
Tough guy decision, yes. Smart, not so much.
After reaching them and trying to coach them out of the channel, I found myself being swept up in the current at the same speed I could paddle.
“Some lifeguard I’d make,” I thought to myself.
After much labored paddling, we eventually did get out of the channel and away from danger but not before ending up nearly a mile away from the rental shop.”What was the full day rental fee,” I wondered, as we crawled desperately towards home. Resorting to paddling from a seated position to rest our legs, we were not a pretty sight.
I waved down a passing boat and asked for a lift. The “captain” informed me that he didn’t want to bring the boards on his boat, pushed his throttles to the pins and left me spitting mad and struggling to stand in his wake. I was furious.
“He’s lucky he wasn’t within an oars reach,” I grumbled.
Later (much later) I realize I wasn’t mad at him, I was mad at myself (OK, and him too a little) for not paying attention to what Sailing for Dummies tells you on page one: be aware of the wind direction and current. I ignored both of those things.
The boater who warned me of the current earlier, watched the whole episode unfold and he, along with his young son, came to our aid, towing us on our boards almost the whole way back to the rental shop, saving us from having to dish out the overtime rental fee. I never did catch our new friend’s name but he epitomized the character that most boaters possess. They’re the kind of people that jump to help someone in need without a moment’s thought of reward. The young boy in the boat was learning from one heck of a role model while the not-so-young boy being dragged behind him on a paddle board ate a big slice of humble pie.
Returning to shore with tired shoulders and wobbly legs, we were a tired bunch. Too tired even for fish tacos; all we wanted was water. It took some time, but we we eventually found ourselves rehydrated and able to laugh about the events of the day. It may not have gone according to plan, but it was a day on the water that I know we’ll all remember for a long time.
The mooring line dropped to the water below, the engine hummed and our bow was pointed north up Narragansett Bay like it has many times before. But this time it felt special, maybe it was the relief of knowing that all the trip preparation was finally in our wake. This was day one of a week-long sailing vacation and our longest trip aboard the Karen Marie to date.
Hurricane Arthur rudely positioned itself off the coast of Rhode Island, forcing us north into the protected waters of the Bay. Stiff 20-30 knot winds made for a sporty trip to East Greenwich, a small and historic port about 20 miles away.
Raising only the mainsail sent us skipping along to our destination at 5-6 knots, so we opted to stick with this arrangement. (Raising the jib would put us at risk for becoming overpowered, especially with the occasional gusts above 30-knots.) During one particularly breezy stretch of the bay, Karen and I decided to reef the mainsail, (a practice where a portion of the sail is lowered and wrapped up, thus reducing the boat’ sail area and speed but increasing control). Our plan worked too well and we were reduced to two measly knots. We raised our sail back up minutes later.
In total, it took about 5 hours for us to reach the forest-lined East Greenwich Bay, where fleets of dinghy sailors swarmed us like pestering mosquitos. We ducked and dodged our way through the narrow channel until we found an open mooring at the East Greenwich Yacht Club. Our location boasted views of numerous marinas to our right and the 480-acre Goddard State Park to our left, where you could occasionally spot horseback riders trotting along the shore.
After settling in, we took a quad-burning walk up a steep hill to the center of town. It was hard not to fall in love with this place immediately. It was quaint and charming yet lively at the same time. Restaurants, bars, boutiques and the always-important ice cream shop lined clean and quiet streets.
With temperatures in the 90’s, we cut our walk short, opting instead to swim in the cool clear water before an alfresco dinner of chicken, rice and grilled carrots. Besides the carrots, which somehow ended up being both under and overcooked at the same time, it was a great meal. With just a bit of room left in our stomachs, we ventured to an Irish pub that we passed earlier called Fat Bellys. A bar with a name that funny is hard to pass up. We toasted to a good start of the vacation and talked about our hopes for the rest of trip.
Only a short car ride away from our home port; as Karen and I walked through quiet streets back to the boat, we both felt like we were in some far off place, a world apart from the daily grind we left behind. I guess the worth of nautical adventures can’t be measured in miles traveled.
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.
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.
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.