The anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks evoke different emotions in people. Some get angry, justifiably so. Others mourn and ache for the lives taken too soon. Patriotism and pride for what our country stood, and still stands for, seems to soar, if only for the day. Myself, I can’t help but feel a bit thankful.
I’m thankful to live in a country where heroes still walk among us. I’m thankful for the police who removed miles of rubble from ground zero and are still a phone call away in case of emergency. I’m thankful for the firefighters who ran into burning towers in 2001 and those who continue to run into burning homes today. I’m thankful to live in a place where my biggest fear is breaking a wooden mast, and not a suicide bomber. A place where I can spend my weekends on the water surrounded by family and friends because our troops, many of who are younger than me, have sacrificed time with their friends and family to go fight overseas.
In closing, I would like to say thank you to those who put themselves in harms way to keep the rest of us safe. (In particular to my friends, John and John … thanks, gentlemen.)
It’s known as the Sailing Capital of the World, America’s First Resort and the City by the Sea; for the last two years I have simply called it: home. Since moving here from Long Island to begin my journey with Yachting magazine I have walked the cobblestone streets with flocks of tourists, slurped clam chowder at it’s many seafood spots, and frequented its many salty pubs. What I hadn’t done, at least until the other weekend, was visit by boat.
It’s known as the Sailing Capital of the World, America’s First Resort and the City by the Sea; for the last two years I have simply called it: home. Since moving here from Long Island to begin my journey with Yachting magazine, I have walked the cobblestone streets with flocks of tourists, slurped clam chowder at its many seafood spots and frequented the many salty pubs. I thought I knew Newport pretty well but the one thing I haven’t done, at least until the other weekend, was visit by boat.
Just a ten minute trip from Jamestown, we cruised past Fort Adams, a garrison originally built in 1799 and revamped in 1841, and were met by perhaps the most eclectic fleet of yachts found in the United States. Schooners under a full wardrobe of sails silently swept by monstrous megayachts, and families in rubber dinghies dodged rust-laden fishing vessels. Simply put, it was a boat nut’s dream.
The Karen Marie anchored in one of the more quiet (a relative term) corners of the harbor, in the shadow of the New York Yacht Club’s summer location, Harbour Court. Long hours of yacht watching ensued, as did multiple dinghy rides around the harbor, which yielded some of the amazing sights I hope you enjoy below.
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.
Our alarm clock blared at the all too early hour of 5:00. Groggy, yet excited for our 26-mile leg to Cuttyhunk, I sat up and peered out our portlight to watch the first rays of sun crest the horizon. What I saw surprised me … nothing. A blanket of fog smothered Jamestown Harbor. It wasn’t until 7:00 that the sunlight permeated the low-lying cloud cover and we set out. A piping-hot cup of coffee was a welcome start to our delayed trip. Rolling 4-foot swells in the inlet, not so much. We were headed west, in the direction of the wind, requiring us to run the engine the entire trip.
The relentless barrage of seas on our starboard side made for a rolly trip. After four hours of bracing ourselves in the cockpit, the southern end of the southernmost Elizabethan Island appeared off our bow; we were finally approaching Cuttyhunk. The hilly Ireland-like landscape is a feast for your eyes, but the narrow approach to Cuttyhunk Harbor demanded concentration. A few silent Hail Marys later and we were tied to a mooring. I opted to celebrate our successful trip by diving into the cool-clear water, which the island is known for. The stress and apprehension of the day washed off before I could surface.
I had been to Cuttyhunk before, but as a young lad, and the clear water was something I remembered well. The other thing I remembered was a World War II bunker on the highest point of the island that served as a U-boat lookout. Filled with equal parts energy and imagination, my brother and I climbed through it for what seemed like hours. It was disappointing to see that the fort has since been boarded up; the view of Martha’s Vineyard from it however was incredible, especially through adult eyes.
This walk was followed by a lazy afternoon of swimming, sipping cold beer and checkers. A dinner of ribs aboard my parent’s boat was a delicious way to end the day. We cleared our plates and were content to sit in silence and watch the sun set behind the hills of Cuttyhunk. First a shade of yellow, it morphed into a brilliant orange before turning into a deep red that illuminated the sky and mirror-calm water around us.
Waking up with sun pouring through our overhead hatch and fresh air wafting through the boat refreshed and energized Karen and I and we immediately set out to explore Cuttyhunk. A small bakery, just feet from the dinghy dock attracted mooring dwellers like mice to cheese. Breakfast of pastries and coffee was a simple, yet satisfying start of the day.
The first stop on our island hike was a small non-denominational church with nautical décor that hasn’t changed much in its 100-plus years of service. A one room schoolhouse and library were both closed, but peeking through the windows, you couldn’t help but marvel at the quaint way of life here.
A well-worn trail took us from the highest point of the island, and the bunker I remembered from my childhood, to additional World War II era observation bunkers that were still open for kids, like myself, to climb into. Dreams of being a U-Boat spotter flooded my consciousness. We tried to get to the southern-most point of the island but a flooded trail stood in our way. Maybe next year.
An afternoon dinghy ride took us past a 3-mile long stretch of land owned by the Forbes family called Nashawena Island. We were shocked to see a wild herd of Scottish Highland Cattle strolling the beach. Set against a backdrop of rolling green hills, it’s easy to believe we were somehow transported to northern Europe. And that was before a curious seal poked its head out of the water just a couple hundred feet from our raft.
Our attention-starved puppy entertained us, when we stopped at the beach, with her impressive swimming abilities and seemingly endless energy. A respectable runner myself, Zoe seemed to be smiling as she smoked me in a series of beach races. Another alfresco dinner and drop-dead gorgeous sunset wrapped up our short time on the island.
Cuttyhunk Island has a way of forcing a simple lifestyle on you. It’s a place that makes you face life’s tough questions like: “Do I go swimming then hike, or hike then go swimming?” Like a pair of boys running around an empty bunker, my two days here reminded me that sometimes it’s the simplest things that leave you with the sweetest memories.
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.