Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nemasket River, Saturday, September 21st

We launched on the Nemasket where it crosses the east-west road on the bottom right.  The Nemasket runs 5 miles further, then empties into the Taunton River at upper left.

I've been thinking about the Nemasket River ever since, on a float trip two winters ago, I passed its mouth where it enters the Taunton River.  But on Google Earth it meanders wildly before it enters, and I doubted it had enough water to be navigated all the way by kayak.  Just recently I came across a web page advocating kayaking in the Namasket, beginning with a nice put-in at Oliver Mills Park.  That was all the push I needed.   

I didn't have either time or energy enough for another overnight, so Stephen and I decided on a long day-trip: paddle the five miles downstream to the Taunton, and then an additional fourteen miles to where the Taunton paralleled a major road, and where we could take out.  Since preparing for the earlier Taunton float, I had made a chart of other possible bail-out points--mostly bridges--so I didn't worry too much about our speed.  If the river had anything like its rate of flow that winter, we would easily maintain two knots with only the occasional paddle-stroke.

We were late getting off at Oliver Mills on Saturday, September twenty-first, partly because it was so pretty that we spent time wandering on shore before pushing off--Stephen in our 1--foot plastic kayak, Speedbump, me in my 12-foot skin-on-frame kayak, Musketaquid*.  At 10:30 we were in motion, and the Nemasket quickly proved its worth as a beautiful and relaxing trip.  The water was at least a foot down, judging from all the exposed banks growing grass, the flotsam stuck in overhanging tree branches, and the appearance of the exposed banks.  I too LOTS of photos, only a third of which I will inflict on you.

We encountered a lot of trees fallen across the stream, and negotiating them slowed us, including two brief portages.  Shallow rocks as well as underwater snags took a toll on the fabric skin of my skin-on-frame kayak, eventually filling my boat with a goodly amount of water.  More water in the river would probably have saved my bottom, but the fallen trees might have caused even more trouble, since we wouldn't be able to get under as many of them.

From where the Nemasket enters at top right, we paddled the Taunton River another 6 miles to where it crosses the big east-west road at bottom left.

We hit the Taunton right where we expected to.  As we paddled down this larger river, it was clear that less water meant slower flow, which meant more work for us.  In fact, the swift stream of two winters ago had become mostly a very long, very skinny pond.  It was equally clear that we wouldn't make our original pull-out before dark.  Another consequence of the low water was that the rocks under several bridges gave us significant trouble--bridges I had drifted carelessly under in the larger boat, Bebe, I had taken two winters before.  The first of these was the worst: we actually wedged the kayaks between rocks in the current, climbed out, and tried to work the lighter boats through the shoot without (a) further damage, (b) losing them to the current, or (c) falling in ourselves. 

We paddled only five or six more miles before we were ready to call it a day at the next available bridge, which we reached a little after 5pm.  My wife Beatrice was kind enough to pick us up even as she had dropped us off in the morning.
In its heyday, the Oliver Mill was the biggest employer in the area,
and operated many water wheels simultaneously for different purposes.

Embarking on our little adventure.

The grassy flats are, I think, usually underwater.

Our first obstacle was only a warm-up for what lay ahead.

A few stretches were as straight as canals.

What killed this tree after it had gotten so big?  (Swamps are often full of such trees:
do their roots drown as they sink under their own growing weight?)

Our first bridge was a picturesque one.

The adirondack chair hints, "here live some who appreciate the water."



This was narrower than it looked; left some paint behind here.

Even though we are in eastern Massachusetts, we float for miles with only a few homes visible.


A screened gazebo is a pretty cool way to make the river bank
a place for three-season relaxation.

Stephen is still learning that it's better to hit a gap in line with the current. 

Another obstacle ahead.

High-tension lines follow the river for quite a way;
I found the cracking hum they emitted a little alarming.

Sometimes the water could be pretty weedy.

It's beautiful--but why did this red maple turn so far ahead of its neighbors?

More power lines.

More weeds.

I had not mapped bridges on the Nemasket, but expected
we would get well into the Taunton before we could possibly need rescue.

About to enter the last meanders.

Finally in the Taunton: Stephen is just entering the river,
while I am looking upsteam in the Taunton.  Few pictures after this.

The Titicut Street bridge was a challenge: too much current for so little depth.

It is instantly obvious the Taunton is different from the Nemasket:
no more shallow edges and grassy flats.

Spoke a little too soon: there was no simple path among these rocks,
and Musketiquid grounded on several submerged rocks.

I loved the reflections.  It was a breezy day, but we were usually protected.

Lunch stop on a 90 degree bend in the river.  The gallon of water
I thought Musketaquid had taken on was more like six gallons!

Gentle bend.

We inadvertently alarmed a family of mallards.


Just past these rocks, we would end our trip on the upstream side of route 44.

Fair-weather clouds.

Route 44 is a busy, fast-moving road,
but there was a wide grassy verge to make loading the boats safer.


*Musketaquid or "grass-grown river" was the indian name for the Concord River, as well as the name of Henry David Thoreau's boat.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Point Judith, RI to Montauk, Long Island

A line shows the course from Point Judith Harbor of Refuge to the entrance to Montauk Harbor.

I've often been struck by how close the eastern end of Long Island is to Block Island on the chart.  The twenty-six nautical miles from Point Judith on the mainland to Montauk, LI isn't much more than twice the distance to Block Island.  Gotta do it.  But when?  The summer was busy with teaching in Upward Bound, church camp and scout camp and family travel for Stephen, school camp for Trevor, a week-long stay for the whole family at the AMC Ponkapoag Camp, and then all at once the school year was upon us.  Though the trip was planned, and waiting for the right opportunity, I began to decide that the relaxing week by Ponkapoag Pond would just have to substitute for a boat trip this year. 

But then the Jewish holidays (traditionally no-school days) fell on Thursday-Friday, leaving 4 contiguous days to play with--a bit more if we could get away after school on Wednesday!  And the weather looked promising, if a bit gusty.

I normally only take Trevor on trips this long; the Beatrice Ann is too crowded with three, and Trevor is the better sailor of the two boys.  But Beatrice couldn't supervise kids with her work schedule that week, so Stephen went as Second Officer, shoe-horned between us in the bunks.  With some careful planning we all fit pretty well. 

We rolled out of the driveway on Wednesday just after 6pm--late, as usual.  Beatrice came along, so she could take the car and trailer home rather than chance leaving them 3 nights in a distant parking lot.  We arrived at the Great Island ramp on Point Judith Pond before 8pm, and pushed off in the darkness before 9 with Speedbump, our little plastic kayak, in tow.

The launch ramp is very near to the opening of the Pond, but shallow water and a low wooden bridge force a two-mile detour around Great Island to arrive nearly at our starting point--but on the correct side of the bridge.  In the process, we got lost for some time in the darkness in the irregular, island-studded pond.  Finally nearing the opening, decision was needed.

The Pond leads to the open waters of the Atlantic via a breachway hosting tidal currents of two knots or more--The wind usually foul.   I would not contemplate going against such a current with no motor.  The current as favorable at that moment, and wouldn't be again until 9am next morning.   On the one hand, anchoring overnight in the Pond would give us a quiet night, but force us to wait until 9am to head for open water.  On the other hand, we could go straight out on the night's favorable tide and anchor safely--if not so comfortably--in mile-long Point Judith Harbor of Refuge, guarded from most wave action by artificial stone breakwaters.  That done, we could leave as early in the morning as we liked--important with so many miles to go, in potentially unfavorable winds.  Decision made: we headed out the breachway in the starry darkness, dropping anchor safely outside the channel at about 10pm.  After shoe-horning ourselves into bed, we read for an hour, then shut off the lantern and tried to sleep.

Point Judith Harbor of Refuge.  You see the problem?

I was already awake at 3am when I heard the sound of an approaching engine.  Alarmed, I popped my head out the hatch to find a fishing boat bearing down on us.  Almost before I could summon a rational plan, the boat swept past only a few yards away, leaving me gape-mouthed and rocking in her wake.  Although we were not anchored too close to the channel, nor to the western entrance to the Harbor, the most sensible path leading to a second, eastern entrance to the harbor.  I had been foolish to allow the all-important lantern to be used for reading, and only dumb luck had kept us alive.  I tied the lantern to the cabin top and turned on both mantles,  then returned to my bunk, ears tuned nervously to the regular sounds of fishermen venturing forth, keeping me awake most of the night.

Our anchorage in Pt. Judith Harbor-of-Refuge.  Above: the breachway. 
Below: the distant rock breakwater that makes the harbor possible.

I was up before 7am for a variation of my usual routine: set water to boil for coffee while I brush my teeth and wash my face, then ready the boat to sail as the boys got out of bed.  Conservative in the face of predicted 20kt gusts on blue water, I began by dropping the mainmast, and with Stephen’s help lashed it alongside and moved the mizzen to the reefing step.  This was the safer of my two reefing options.  the other was to roll part of each sail around the mast, but this left a baggy mess forward and limited the boat's effectiveness to sail to weather.  Moving the mast instead had the advantage of preserving the boat's ability to sail to weather, but the disadvantage of needing to be done at anchor in calm seas.  I knew the predicted winds might not materialize, but wanted to err on the side of safety. 

Interesting traffic.  I think this a very practical-looking power cruiser with character. 
The barge below was being towed by a tug from a looong way away.
 
We had the anchor up and were under sail at 8am—an hour ahead of a favorable current in the breachway--and had a breakfast of donuts and cold cereal underway.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the compass steadied on our course to Montauk only moderately close-hauled: I had expected to tack upwind all the way, and had prepared for that eventuality.  This was the good news because it shortened the trip from a zig-zag to a straight line.  The other good news was that we never had 20kt gusts.  The bad news was that we also never reached the 10-15kt winds predicted.  It was a loooong day, sailing 26+nm over about 14 hours at an average of a little over 2kt.  In retrospect, trading a good night's sleep for an hour's head-start may have been penny-wise but pound-foolish.

I don't do much blue water sailing, and have always been struck by the immensity of the horizon when I have.  This trip I almost didn't notice.

Our course didn't take us very close to our old friend, Block Island.

Besides the light winds and reduced sail, two other things slowed our progress: first, I handed over the tiller to Trevor so I could get a nap after an exhausting hour in which winds were so light as to barely give steerageway.  Winds filled in a bit while I lay down, and when I came back into the cockpit an hour-and-a-half later I found the boat close to Block Island and far off course, with the wind abaft the beam but sail sheeted in pretty tight; second and much later, the mismatch between evident speed through the water and the much slower gps speed over the ground sent me to Eldredge, there to discover that we were fighting a current that may have exceeded 2kt in some places.

On the other hand, it was a really beautiful day, comfortably cool and cloudy, with the most amazing clouds.  I took many cloud photos.
 

I love looking at clouds.  Most people hardly ever look up.


On the other other hand, our slow progress meant we neared Montauk Point in twilight (after a gorgeous sunset), and would have to enter Montauk Harbor in full darkness.  I spent time studying the chart to fix the positions and patterns of several lights and lighted buoys in my head, put a headlamp in my pocket, and readied the spotlight in case we had to get someone’s attention.  Clued in that dinner would be a diy affair, the boys rummaged the aft locker while I switched on the running lights.

Our first clear look at Montauk Point.
Montauk Light at left, a giant radar antenna right of center.

With the winds fairly light, I had time to do some justice to the sunset.


An interesting experience as I neared the buoy I had watched for hours on the gps at the end of a long day: as we neared it in the dark I began to shave the buoy more and more closely.  Finally passing it only a dozen or so yards off, I suddenly notice the wind behind us, then looked up to find Montauk Point—left behind more than an hour ago—dead ahead.  Without realizing it, I had spiraled around the light in the darkness, making a complete course reversal by the time I’d left it astern!  I was very tired.

Lake Montauk was the largest freshwater lake on Long Island until a developer opened it to the sea in the 1920s.  Imagine blindly perpetrating such ecological destruction!  Times have changed for the better.

After that, things went smoothly.  Returning powerboats showed us that the water was deep close inshore, and led us to the harbor entrance.  The entrance lights were clearly visible.  The moderate current was with us.  Traffic was light.  Stephen phoned Beatrice to announce our arrival as we sailed into the harbor.  My only confusion was finding the narrow passage out of the harbor and into Montauk Lake proper, amid the visually busy and brightly-lit scene.  I finally dropped anchor near the southern end of the lake, and joined the boys in sleep at perhaps 11pm.

The next morning was a late one after repeatedly being awakened in the night by powerboat wakes, and no one stirred much before 8am.  We ate a leisurely breakfast, and then got the anchor up and began sailing the lake shore looking for a place where we could go ashore and get to a road without going through someone's yard.  (This is ever the quest of the cheapskate small boat traveler.)  Giving up on the south end of the lake, which had seemed promising on a map, we headed for Star Island and its convenient causeway.  Oddly enough, the south side of the causeway was totally empty of boats, even though the north side was chock-a-block.  We soon learned why: a row of floating markers forbade anchoring (among other crimes) anywhere inside their limits. 

We did find one landing place with access to a road, but it turned out to be in the boonies. 

After a tour of the harbor, and a fruitless attempt to contact the harbormaster for advice, we found a public boat ramp at the top of the lake.  A local fisherman there advised that we probably wouldn't be bothered if we anchored just off the ramp.  In the end, we got ashore without unlimbering the inflatable boat: a minor coup, since repacking the thing tightly enough to fit in its place under the starboard berth has always been a challenge.

 We accidentally shared the public landing with a crew taking photographs for (I suppose) some ad campaign.  They posed the model like he was a mannequin.  If the car needed to be moved, a driver did it.  I overheard one say it was time to get back to NYC.  He even said, "Ciao."

Here is where my uneven trip preparation told: I had prepared well for the passage itself, but--owing to the last-minute decision to go--had not finished laying the groundwork for our stay in East Hampton, of which Montauk is one village.  I'd had an idea we would hike nature trails, and maybe visit Montauk Light, but we didn't even have a street map when we arrived.  When we had changed into our dry shoes, we began trooping south in my mistaken belief that any kind of "downtown" lay that way.

Instead of becoming Main Street, our road instead became more and more of a highway--without even a sidewalk.  We trooped for miles as cars whizzed past.  We gradually developed the idea that East Hamptonites were always in a hurry (probably to make enough money to keep their big yachts afloat), and too frenetic ever to walk anywhere.  The boys followed their foolish dad nearly five fruitless miles before we found ourselves back at the ramp in the fading afternoon.  Our time ashore was fast approaching its end.

 First Trevor, then Stephen, gets a turn in the kayak.
The Beatrice Ann is below, upper right.

While the boys played with the kayak, I decided to go north toward the harbor entrance, and stumbled upon the tourist life of the harbor: restaurants, a modest food market, and the fishermen, yachtsmen and tourists the town caters to.  The three of us returned north in the early evening, watched the sun set over Gardiner's Island, walked the rock breakwaters that protected the harbor entrance, bought ice for the cooler, and then--when cheaper fare was unavailable--went to the Hideaway for a meal of Mexican food.  It wasn't the stay I'd intended, but it would do. 

 Looking east at the harbor entrance, then west down Long Island.

This restaurant looked like a nice place to sit and watch the water traffic
--until I saw the menu prices.

Though I gave them only a few minutes, the boys determine to run to the end of the west breakwater.
In only a few moments, they are on their way back.
 
A Wharram Polynesian catamaran is an odd sight around here.
 

Sunset over Gardner Island, Long Island

 
We got back aboard well after dark, and sailed back to the south end of the lake to be close to the windward shore.  It worked: absent a few wakes, the boat was as still as our beds at home, and I got the best night's sleep of the trip.

This is how the crew of the Beatrice Ann spends their evenings.
(I have my book too, and a glass of wine as well.)

Thoreau said, "only that day dawns to which we are awake."  Taking his words to heart, I rose shortly before dawn to see the sun rise as I sipped my coffee.  Then I got the boys up and they helped me return masts to their places: I decided we would begin under full sail.  Strong and gusty winds were again predicted, but with this difference: with the wind abaft the beam the whole way, I would not need to worry about windward performance if I reefed by rolling the sails around the masts.

"Only that day dawns to which we are awake." -H.D.Thoreau
And I am watching that day dawn, coffee cup in hand.

We got the anchor up just after 7am, and headed for the harbor mouth.  Winds were moderate and I felt confident enough to make instant oatmeal for breakfast with the hot water I'd reserved in a thermos.  The boys had just finished their second helpings when we began passing out the breakwaters.  Two things happened within a minute of each other: the wind, earlier baffled by buildings, increased to full strength; then as we left the breakwater behind the boat was rocked by big, steep seas sending us scrambling for balance. 

Montauk Harbor hosts a Coast Guard Station with a armed cutter.

Headed for the harbor mouth.

Stephen has the con while I mix the oatmeal.

I was surprised to see the shore lined with RVs.  
I don't know how they got there, nor how far they are above the high tide mark. 

Stephen: timoneer.
 
A closer look at the radar dish.

Trevor, more comfortable with the tiller, got a long turn as helmsman.

Within a few seconds I had the boat under control and headed downwind along the coast.  Once we had passed Montauk Point seas moderated, and the boys began taking their turns steering.  It seems the steep seas were the result of currents opposing the strong winds.  These currents diminished when we had cleared the Point.


Now began the long sleigh-ride home.  We got used to creaming along on wave tops--a few times surfing the same wave long enough to get the gps up to 10kt: a record.  Since we sailed with the wind, it was easy to forget what the true wind speed was.  But the little yellow kayak got loose not once but twice, the second time without being noticed right away, sending us tacking back to retrieve it.  Beating against the strong wind and waves brought home the true conditions.

Report from the half-way point.

As we got farther from land, I decided we had better reef for safety.  We hove to, and the boys kept the mainsheet running free while I went on the foredeck to rotate the mainmast and wrap up 20% of the sail area. Having forgotten to rig the new mast for reefing, I had to jury-rig it a bit, but after one abortive attempt, the reef held.  I did not reef the mizzen, which would have to have been done while lying ahull.  With the main reduced a little, the motion became a little less "edgy," a little safer.  (I told Stephen that if I didn't name our next boat "42," then perhaps it would be called "Edge of Disaster," since that is the way we sometimes seem to sail.)  [Forty-two is, of course, the Answer to the Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, according to Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.]

The only other adventure to befall us on the 8-hour ride across Block Island Sound was the capsizing of the little kayak--twice.  This apparently resulted from our attempts to get the little boat to tow more easily, rather than alternately dancing in semicircles, bringing up with a jerk as the slack came out of the towline, and surfing down waves to ram the bigger boat.  Riding on a shortened tow line, the little boat would sometimes flip over, rapidly filling with water until all but the aft end was sunk.  In such a position, the kayak was nearly impossible to rescue: too low in the water to bail out, and too heavy to lift.  After taking a half hour of strenuous to rescue the first time, I got smarter; the next time it flipped I acted much more quickly so the boat wouldn't have time to fill.  All three of us would manhandle the loggy thing across the cockpit and carefully dump out enough water so that the bailer could do the rest.  After two such rescues, I entertained the idea of simply cutting the tow if it happened again.  (Coming through the gap in the breakwater into the Harbor of Refuge, I actually had Trevor standing by with a sharp knife, since I wasn't willing to risk the big boat near these rocks if the kayak should suddenly become a sea anchor.)

One mile to Point Judith.

The Harbor of Refuge is over a mile long.

We came into the Harbor of Refuge at about 3pm--well ahead of the turning of the tide that would allow us to sail into Point Judith Pond.  We dropped anchor at the south end of the Harbor (where we should have spent that first night), and I enjoyed an hour and a half of bird-watching.  Flocks of birds that may have been storm petrels flew and floated over the nearby harbor the whole of this time.  I was fascinated by their beauty, and the nonchalant way they had of landing: floating down the wind and reaching the water, they simply began floating on the water without apparent transition. 

Bird- an sky-watching in the Harbor of Refuge. 

About 4:30pm we headed up the breachway with the early flood tide.  I phoned Beatrice to tell her we were entering the Pond, and she prepared to make the trip down with the trailer.  Since the water in most of Point Judith Pond is thin to nonexistent even at high tide, we stuck religiously to the channel until it was time for the turn at the north end of Great Island.  With careful study of the chart and a sharp lookout forward, we managed not to touch bottom until we were on our way up the western side of the island.  Then we faced a problem: the wind was ahead of us, and so were depths that seldom exceeded three feet at low tide.  To make matters worse, the muddy bottom was choked with a dense mat of algae that fouled the centerboard even before we touched.  The wind was still significant, resisting all other options: neither trolling motor nor oars were equal to it.  We would anchor repeatedly to try different things, then lift the extravagantly-slimed anchor and see if the rising tide would allow any further progress.  Hours of struggle to go only about a half mile.  We finally arrived at the ramp to find patient Beatrice with the trailer and some fresh clamcakes and chowder.  She waved away my apologies, saying, "of course you're late: it's a BOAT."

This trip put a fitting and memorable end to the sailing season, nearly equal to last year's August trip around Cape Cod