Sunday, August 27, 2006

An authentic New England clambake

Chowing down on some clams. You can see corn, sausages, potatoes, butter, and a big ole basket o' clams.
Karl takes the biggest bite of clams ever.

The clams coming out of the bake.

Steam pours from the rocks, and from the huge heaps of seaweed. You can see some on the left.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A big scare, followed by paradise

I’m in the boat right now. It’s about two pm, and the light’s sliding its way across the companionway hatch. Karl rigged up an awning for us out of a hunter green bed-sheet left for us by the previous owner. It’s like a boy-scout tent over our cockpit, rigged over the boom and tied to either lifeline stanchion. We sailed out here yesterday, to Quissett Harbor. I think we’re taking a zero day today, like we took so many on the trail. Our hike was really about the zero days.

That’s what blows me away out here. It’s absolutely free out here, once we’ve set the anchor and we have everything we need on the boat. We made each other eggs and bacon this morning—Karl fried the bacon, I made the eggs—and ate out of little wooden bowls while we drank ice-cold water and warm soy milk, that we forgot to put in the icebox. This is perfect. This is exactly what we’ve spent all this time waiting and working for.

We had a scare a couple of weeks ago, a big scare. It made both of us question, really, what we’re doing. Last week we didn’t even go sailing on my days off, which is the first time we’ve done that since I started having days off. The week before we sailed out to Cutty Hunk. Our goal was Newport, but the prevailing southwest wind in Buzzard’s Bay has been our bane. We beat across the Bay all day long and ended up giving up at the far end of our last tack and heading into Cutty Hunk, the last of the Elizabethan Islands. The Elizabethan Islands stretch out between our side of Cape Cod and what they call here “the Islands”—Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Cutty Hunk has a great harbor, a little tiny pond nestled in the heart of the island, with a twenty-foot channel cutting into it from the Bay. We anchored there, next to some other like-minded cheapskates. I don’t understand why anyone would pay $40 a night for a mooring when you can anchor for free right next-door. We wandered around the little island town that next morning, bought coffees, watched the island community zip around on their golf carts and electric scooters.

The sail back was choppy, but fast—we sailed before the wind in about three hours what it had taken us to tack against eight. We didn’t have to be back to Marion until the next day, so we decided to anchor in Mattapoisett, the next town over, for a change in scenery. When we came into the harbor, our engine wouldn’t start. We had pushed sailing longer than we really should have for safety, just because we always try to sail as long as possible. And then went Karl when to turn the engine over, it chug-chug-chugged but wouldn’t start.

We panicked. Our immediate reaction was to stop our motion, and we dropped the mainsail. In hindsight that was our biggest mistake, because we completely lost control of the boat. We drifted in the harbor, across the channel, to where all these boats on our moorings were. We tried to set anchor, what we felt was our only option for stopping the boat so we could work on the engine, but we couldn’t control the motion of the boat to set the anchor, and it dragged with us as we drifted towards the Ned Point lighthouse, that marked some nasty-looking rocks. Finally we decided our only choice was to pull anchor and sail away, so Karl yanked up the 35-pound anchor, while I unfurled the jib and tried to sail us the hell out of there. Our goal at this point was still to try to anchor, but we’ve never set anchor under sail before, and we had no idea how to do it. We sailed successfully back across the channel to where the anchorage was supposed to be and again tried to set our anchor, which again dragged. It dragged us right into the mooring field, where at least a hundred giant boats lurked, menacingly. We were panicking this whole time, screaming at each other, running back and forth across deck, heaving at lines, gouging ourselves on pieces of deck hardware, leaving streaks of blood and mud from the anchor, poring over our chart, ripping our hands open on lines. The anchor kept dragging and dragging, relentlessly, towards the boats. It felt like slow-motion. I noticed how the boats were closer, then closer, then closer. I thought, we’re not going to hit them. I thought, nothing’s going to happen. And then I saw our anchor come dragging up the mooring line of this other boat, catch on the mooring ball, and our boat swing towards it, in slow motion. Karl did a crazy action-movie super-hero leap over to the other boat, which probably cost at least a quarter-million dollars. I started frantically throwing fenders over the side, and Karl wedged his body between our boat and theirs. They say never endanger your body at the expense of your boat, but if we damaged that boat, our bodies wouldn’t be worth squat. We don’t have a quarter-million dollars lying around anywhere. Just the paint job on that boat cost twice as much as our entire boat.

I don’t know how, but the anchor pulled free of the mooring. That’s the most miraculous part of the whole story. I tried to pull the anchor up, terrified of whacking a hole in the other boat, but couldn’t pull it over the side. Eventually Karl leapt back over to our boat and hauled it up while I unfurled our jib again and fled the scene of the crime.

We ended up returning to Marion and successfully anchoring under sail just past Silvershell Beach five minutes before Karl’s brother and Ralph showed up in their powerboat to rescue us. We left the boat there and spent the night at Karl’s brother’s house, eating much-deserved Chinese food.

The whole ordeal spooked us. We ended up relatively unscathed, aside from the gouge in Karl’s shin, and a slightly splintered toe-rail. We haven’t been arrested for damages yet. But we took last week off, and now we’re taking today off. We need to be reminded of why we want to live this way, what the end goal is. The end goal is this: me, sitting feet up, typing away, Karl out on deck, chatting with the neighbors and brainstorming ideas for the boat, a little row across the harbor to a lookout point and a swim planned for this afternoon, and BLT sandwiches for supper.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Psychedelic undersea growth

Crazy things grew on the bottom of our dinghy, after it had been in the water for only a month! We've since painted the bottom with bottom paint, so no more crazy fungi.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The second sail

We went sailing again this week. It was a little trickier this time, not because it was more difficult, but because we were aiming higher. Rather than simply moving the boat, we wanted to sail well, and we’re still missing some of the finer points of the art. Believe it or not, after sailing twice, we’re not the world’s best sailors.

For me, the major point of dispute is the heeling. For you landlubbers out there, heeling is when the boat dips away from the wind, sometimes so much that the sides of the boat, the gunwales, are actually touching the water. Our boat, a 1971 Ranger 33, is a racing cruiser, but according to those who know, it’s actually a racing hull. This means it heels. A lot. I’m beginning to understand why cruising sorts want thicker, heavier, wider boats—trying to live in a house that’s always tilting on its axis is a little tricky. Even getting sandwiches out of the icebox when we’re up on our sides is tricky. It’s more a matter of pulling yourself, hand over hand, below deck, and then pulling yourself back out again.

I’m convinced we’ll get used to it. We’re not trading this one in on a cruising cruiser, no matter what, at least for the next five years. It’s not really that uncomfortable, either. It’s exhilarating, bracing yourself against the power of the wind. It’s just confusing because I’m never sure, when at the helm, if the boat’s actually supposed to heel that much. Am I doing something wrong? Should I be heading more into the wind, or farther away from the wind? Should our sails be pulled in tighter, or let out looser? These are the questions we ask ourselves every minute that we’re out there, with no one to answer them. It will all come with experience, but it would be nice to have something else to rely on other than our own trial and error. Not that we’ve relied on anything else the whole rest of the way.

It’s an amazing feeling, though, standing at the tiller, feeling the water beneath you pull against the rudder. Feeling the wind resist you and then give in, as you push the boat towards it. Feeling the vast power you have filling the sails as you attempt to sheet them in. It’s amazing, controlling this huge half-alive machine, using an ancient art. I feel like we’ve resurrected her, our boat, and she’s as thrilled as we are to be out there, pulling against the wind, coasting down the side of each wave. Sure, she has some pockmarks, some scars, but we already love her warts and all. I can only imagine how people feel about boats they build themselves.

We zigzagged back and forth across the bay a couple of times on Tuesday. We finally exhausted ourselves and decided to take a break by taking down the main. The boat sails so fast and heels so much with both sails up that we sometimes feel a little out of control. Taking the jib down is a way to slow down without having to stop sailing.

We finally came into Pocasset Harbor, almost directly across Buzzard’s Bay from Marion, and anchored somewhere in Red Brook Harbor. We don’t have our anchor light hooked up yet, and I’m not really sure where exactly we’re supposed to be anchoring, but we’ve done it successfully twice now. We can call it stealth anchoring, like we used to stealth camp. As far as we know we’re doing nothing illegal, but we haven’t exactly studied up on the rules, either. We had a delightful evening, jumping in the water to escape the sun, then meeting Karl’s friend Dave at the Chart Room in Cataumet for a lovely dinner of shrimp and swordfish. On the way back, rowing our dinghy across the harbor, we could see thousands upon thousands of tiny jellyfish, each one glowing as the stroke of our oars hit it.