I hadn't been sailing in almost two years--a far cry from my regular adventures of a few years ago. The itch had been growing, so I decided upon a trip during the April school vacation. My fifteen-foot, full-cabin Jewelbox Jr, Surprise, would keep me comfortable in the cool weather, since she is sailed from inside the (relatively) roomy cabin. It would also enable me to carry my bicycle: five-mile-long Prudence Island a whale-shaped island in the middle of Narragansett Bay--I had found a little too big for comfortable walking. This would be a welcome trip for Surprise, as well--she had spent three years quietly rotting in the backyard under various inadequate tarps--in fact since the last time I'd made this very trip.
The first order of business was to make Surprise seaworthy. This trip would be entirely in protected waters, so I hoped that wasn't asking too much. A rotten wale was cut out, and the aft deck reinforce with inside bracing. Decks and roof were scraped and painted just in time to cure for the trip. I ran out of time and had to leave with a sail in need of patching.
The trip would take me from Fall River, MA down Mount Hope Bay, under the Mt. Hope Bridge, across the entrance to Bristol Harbor and finally to Potter Cove on Prudence Island, RI--a modest ten nautical miles altogether.
The trailer was the next obstacle. When I built Surprise I bought a Harbor Freight utility trailer to carry her with. Right after I finished recent boat work, I discovered that--true to her low cost--the trailer had rusted into brown crud leaving only a pair of wheels on either side of a half-inch plywood bed. With the Fall River launch ramp twenty-five miles away, I wasn't willing to blow more money on another Harbor Freight trailer. Craigslist had nothing appropriate close by, even at twice the price. I was nearly in despair.
But U-Haul came to the rescue, sort of. Renting a trailer was a reasonable expense for my rare sailing trips. But none of the trailers were simple flat bed affairs that I could load the boat onto with both ends overhanging. I had to rent a massive, two-axle 6X12 foot trailer and even then leave the tailgate open to accommodate Surprise's fifteen feet. The trailer was so wide I could get it down my narrow driveway only by running one pair of tires atop a curb. (Leaving the driveway to return the trailer at the end of the voyage, I accidentally allowed both pairs of wheels to slip down, wedging the trailer so effectively that the car's wheels spun and skidded trying to move it.)
The only problem with a rented trailer--and it's a big one--is the time it requires. I picked up the trailer from UHaul on the summer-ish Monday morning at 8:30, got the boat loaded onto it with the help of my son, loaded the boat (cool weather gear for an expected temperature drop), got it down to Fall River and left it on a dock, and returned the trailer to UHaul at 4pm. I was finally able to go aboard just before six pm.
I went aboard then...and waited. NOAA's marine forecast had five to ten knots out of the south with gusts to twenty, but the wind was blowing a steady fifteen from the northwest. Much better direction, but too much wind for me, and maybe too much for my torn sail and weakened boat. I determined to anchor a little way off the ramp and spend the night, sailing in the morning. Because the wind was on the ramp, I couldn't drift off the dock but had to rig and actually sail off close-hauled--even though I only wanted to go a few dozen yards.
You can't make these colors up.
Except when I hooked up the lights, they didn't work. Unable even find my flashlight in the dark cabin, I had to trust to the fact that few boats were in the water this early in the year, and even fewer were dumb enough to be out at night. (Hopefully none so dumb as to be out at night unlit.)
Passing under Mt. Hope Bridge and by Hog Island light, I paralleled the south shore of the island, judging the distance to trees silhouetted against the night sky. But the shore simultaneously curved and the water shallowed, and the leeboard hit bottom as I approached my turn into the lee of the island. I accomplished the rest of that trip splashing through the water in galoshes, pulling the boat by her painter, and finally dropped anchor just a few yards from shore in shallow water. I had done nearly the entire sail on one tack, but the failing wind meant I only dropped anchor about ten pm. Too tired to light the stove, I had a snack and a little wine and turned in.
--only to wake up a few hours later with gravel crunching under the bottom. The wind had shifted from nw to ne (not predicted by NOAA) and put me on the beach. Back into galoshes to move the boat once more, and finally to bed for good at 1:30am. Slept very little after: the leeboard rattles when it is not locked down, and I'd forgotten how much this boat pounds in even the slightest sea.
Hog Island anchorage. (I goofed--start at 52 seconds in.)
On Hog Island.
Black-backed gulls on Hog Island headed for safety as I approached.
Osprey platform on Hog Island.
Surprise riding to a batwing gunter mizzen and a shore anchor on Hog I.
Sailing from Hog Island to Prudence.
House porn. I especially enjoy the decks and porches.
More house porn.
Broad Street crosses the island.
More houses of interest.
On the trail.
I rode the rock-strewn unpaved roads of the island most of the day, fascinated as always with how homes--large and small, palatial and modest--are designed to take advantage of their location. I took many photos of "house porn." I also spent a little time at the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve station near the south end of the island: the NBNERR holds a large fraction of the 85% of Prudence Island that is protected land, and is a site of long-term ecological research. My mother phoned that evening--knowing I was planning this trip--to tell me of a news article she had read about funding being cut for the NBNERR, which is one of a handful of such organizations that carry out long-term ecological research. I assume this was a Trump budget cut. I ended the day walking nature trails around a historical farm site in the middle of the island.
Bicycling back to the cove in the early evening, I found the boat high-and-dry with the tide coming in. This didn't worry me: a drying berth is a quiet berth--at least until the tide returns. But as the water rose after dinner, the wind was also shifting to blow the boat up the beach. Nothing for it but to pull the galoshes on once more and head up the curving coast until I could anchor safely once more. But as the wind continued to shift, it became clear there would be no accessible windward shore I could hang off from on the hook: I needed to get out into the cove. The wind was up again and I didn't want to rig to sail, so I finally managed to get a dozen or so yards off the beach by a combination of "sailing" the bare hull, wild paddling, and kedging with the big anchor. The job was the more frustrating because I was trying to control a boat with neither leeboard nor rudder fully deployed in the shallow water. I dropped the oversize claw over on a very short scope, and pulled off soaking wet socks at about ten pm. I went to bed wrapped in all my clothing: even out of the wind, it was hard to keep completely warm.
After another loud night, I awoke to find the boat riding snug in a reasonable depth: the wind had shifted once more, this time for the better. At this point I was due to head home, but Beatrice needed the van (tow vehicle) all day, so I'd decided to stay an extra day. The only wrinkle was that I'd failed to pack the customary extra day's coffee: I do not willingly go without my special morning java. I'd somehow managed not to pack even a few teabags. (I was also out of wine, but sacrifices must be made.) So after a relaxed morning, tucked half into my sleeping bag for warmth, dozing and reading, I went ashore in search of coffee.
A walk to the store.
The woman who runs the store is getting on in years and doesn't keep usual business hours; I arrived at the store to find it locked and with a sign announcing the re-opening three hours hence. Damn. I was not hanging around all that time, so began the trek back to the boat. The walk was not wasted, though: I took many photos of trees flowering and leafing-out, and walked some unfamiliar roads.
Back at the cove at midafternoon, I found the tide high and the boat inaccessible: somehow the amount of rode I'd left out was not enough to reach the shore at high tide. Unless I wanted to wade in hip-deep water, I'd need to wait for the tide to drop. I took up station on a convenient log out of the wind to wait, nodding off repeatedly, for almost two hours. Then I was able to get aboard by leaping from a hummock without wetting my feet.
I buttoned up the cabin against the cold wind and, after more reading and dozing and a dinner of stew and bread, I turned in wearing everything I had.
Ramp bow makes this seem something like a WWII "LST."
Line to shore allows boat to be pulled in to go aboard dryshod--in theory.
Potter Cove anchorage.
Mt. Hope Bridge.
Osprey perched on the 6A daymark by Mt. Hope Bridge.
Mt. Hope Bay.
I was up at before seven, got under way quickly in the light winds, and ate a breakfast of granola and milk at the tiller. NOAA's predicted moderate tailwind never materialized: the light wind died to bare steerageway by mid-morning, then became a strengthening headwind as the afternoon wore on. The return trip was uneventful if slow as I tacked up Mt. Hope Bay, but it became more exciting as I approached the Braga Bridge.
A strong current ran beneath the bridge--stronger than I'd ever experienced there. I judge the current to have been running at well over one knot. This might not seem like much of an impediment, but I was sailing close-hauled a tubby little boat, and trying to get under a bridge that baffled the wind in unpredictable ways. In the end, I finally got though after tacking twice directly under the bridge and fending off one of the bridge piers with a paddle. Once under the bridge, I still had to go up-current almost a mile to the ramp: the current was so strong that I could watch myself going downstream against the bank when sailing close-hauled--sometimes losing ground on both tacks. I finally landed on the ramp at about 6pm to find my middle son Trevor waiting to help me; the extra hands and muscle were very welcome.
As soon as the boat was unloaded and the trailer returned, it was time to get some sleep: we would leave the next morning for Washington, D.C. and the March for Science. More on the natural history of the trip can be found here.