Cruising to Cuttyhunk Island

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.

Even Karen jumped in for a swim.
Even Karen jumped in for a swim.

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.

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.

Going Ashore in East Greenwich

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.