Gullivers travails, Part II

Fabric can be seen tearing away from the genoa. More deferred maintenance that was not spotted before the journey began. Photo courtesy Peter Bullock

October 2021

By Peter Bullock

Part 1, in the September 2021 issue, brought the liveaboard – but not so much “cruise-aboard” – Bristol 27, Gulliver, from her former homeport of Boston to the west end of a boisterous Cape Cod Canal, bound for a new home in Rhode Island. With some kinks worked out and challenges met; Gulliver found herself at the gateway to mercurial Buzzards Bay.

The Cape Cod Canal was behind us, and we were bound for Kingman Yacht Center in Red Brook Harbor, where we’d reserved a mooring. Off to starboard was Stony Point Dike, a massive rock wall. This manmade peninsula, which stretches a mile out into Buzzards Bay, was created by dredging the canal.

Here, Buzzards Bay quickly became shallow, and we found ourselves in large standing waves that set up in the precise direction we were heading. We battled this stretch of water for about an hour, making little headway. Then, because the sun was setting, we altered course to port toward nearby Wings Neck. The cloud ceiling lowered and provided a dark counterpoint to the sea of whitecaps. I was seriously considering turning back to Onset when I realized we were making steady progress.

Rounding Wings Neck, we found calmer water, and, with his sharp eyes, Capt. Vic guided us through the channel into Red Brook Harbor. The Kingman launch pointed out our mooring just as the sun was setting. We were too exhausted to cook, so dinner was cold boxed wine, a sausage, and a bag of chips. Now it was dark, and neither of us was in a mood to reminisce about our canal passage. Instead, the Perseid meteor shower treated us to shooting stars while staring out into space.

Before getting into my bunk, I found that my handheld VHF radio had run out of power. Taking that latest setback in stride, I lay down and focused on the “Beaufort Force 6” that was now coursing through the forward hatch. As I dozed off, I realized that it had been so rough since entering the canal I hadn’t taken any photographs. What a day!

The following day our destination was Cuttyhunk, at the end of the Elizabeth Island chain, some 15 miles away. After listening to the forecast, we knew the wind would be strong and out of the south, the direction we wanted to go. Capt. Vic argued that since the Elizabeth Islands run to the southwest, we would find smaller waves in the lee of the islands. Therefore, we decided to run the length of Buzzards Bay, staying close to the island’s shores. We quickly passed Cleveland Ledge Light to starboard, then Woods Hole passage to port.

After lunch, it was hot, and the winds picked up. As a result we were struggling against two- to four-foot seas. Several hours later, Vic suggested we use the autopilot. I found it in the forward compartment, made the necessary connections, and soon discovered that it, too, did not work – time to continue holding onto the tiller.

After reaching Pasque Island around 3 p.m., we passed Quicks Hole, between Pasque and Nashawena, as a stunning gaff-rigged sailboat came out of the cut and sped by us under sail, while Gulliver’s 9.9 Yamaha ran at nearly full speed to get her to windward. We switched to the second gas tank on the eastern side of the Cape Cod Canal and continued to use it down the length of the Elizabeths.

Since the distance covered was approximately 30 miles, far shorter than between Boston and the eastern end of the Canal, I was astounded when the engine quit, just outside the entrance to Cuttyhunk Harbor. I quickly switched tanks but could feel my blood pressure spike. Capt. Vic told me that while the distance was shorter, we had plowed through much higher seas since entering the canal. This explained why the tank ran dry sooner than expected. Before long, we were inside Cuttyhunk Pond.

We knew that Cuttyhunk moorings were available on a first-come, first-serve basis. We did not recall that you must supply your mooring pendants. Vic soon realized the problem and scrambled to find a suitable mooring line. Approaching the ball we wanted to tie up to, Vic’s hat blew off into the water. Once tied to the mooring, I scrambled into the dinghy and retrieved his soggy chapeau. The splendid gaff-rigger we’d seen at Quicks Hole was now moored directly next to us, ostensibly enjoying the show.

The harbormaster swung by to collect the rental fee. After I paid him the $45, I asked, “What time does the gas dock open?” He replied that gas was no longer sold on Cuttyhunk, which meant we had a little over three gallons to cross Buzzards Bay and run the length of the Sakonnet River and Mount Hope Bay. If ever there was a time for a drink, it was now.

Discussing the gas situation, Vic suggested that if the wind held, we could sail across Buzzards Bay and then, if necessary, try to find gas. He did, however, also note that: “The prudent mariner would have filled the tank up at Kingman Yacht Center and not have purchased just three gallons.”

Adding to my sense of foreboding was the fact that the teenagers running the famous Cuttyhunk “Raw Bar” launch elected to avoid Gulliver. Vic claimed that they did not stop because they did not see us waving. But I could not help but wonder if there was something about our appearance, including all our laundry hanging from the rails, that suggested little financial gain was to be had by stopping at Gulliver.

All I could offer for dinner was canned chili. Unfortunately, this did not help to take the edge off the “gas situation.” While heating “dinner,” Vic complained that AM/FM radio was not receiving and asked if there was anything else to listen to. I pulled out my iPod Nano, and we put on an old Van Morrison album. I’d recharged it before we left Boston, but it ran out of power after one song. So, after another glass of boxed wine, the supply of which was running low, we climbed into our bunks. One more day to go!

We listened to the marine weather channel early the following day while breakfasting on coffee and cereal, lubricated with warm milk. The good news was that we only had about 15 miles to get to the mouth of the Sakonnet River. The less-than-good news was that the southwest wind was forecast to build later in the morning, not the afternoon.

After Vic released the mooring, a gust of wind pushed the bow to port. Unless I could quickly put Gulliver in reverse, we would hit a beautiful yacht from Padanaram, whose skipper was sitting in the cockpit watching us. After a few seconds of backing down, we missed the yacht and her anxious skipper. However, the wind continued to push us so that we were heading in the opposite direction. We gained enough steerageway to regain control and soon were heading for the Cuttyhunk Pond Channel.

We put the sails up between Cuttyhunk and Penikese in 10 mph of wind and headed northwest. There were ideal sailing conditions for roughly an hour, but then the winds and the seas started to build, and, surprisingly, we were soon enveloped in a thick fog. Furthermore, we couldn’t point Gulliver high enough to make our destination. Instead, we were headed for Westport, Mass.

During the hard beat to windward, the sails flapped wildly, and high up on the genoa, a piece of fabric had torn away. What piece of the sail will go next? It was time to douse the sails and get under power. Capt. Vic manned the tiller while I started the engine, then attempted to bring in the genoa. At the first pull on the reefing line, the reefing block nearest me exploded. After collecting myself, I removed part of the block from the reefing line. Once it was cleared, I was able to pull the genoa most of the way in, went forward, and dropped the mainsail.

Now, we were several miles from our next destination, R “2A” Bell off Sakonnet Point. The fog was so thick that we couldn’t see land, and the seas had grown to three- to -five feet. Vic remained at the tiller, and since neither of us felt like talking, I stared at the chart plotter and the position of the bell buoy relative to us as I started to obsess about whether we’d run out of gas before reaching the buoy and listened for signs of the engine quitting.

Vic spotted the red bell as we slammed into three- to-five-foot waves at about two mph. Endless thoughts of dread continued during the slow crawl to the buoy. The sense of relief I felt while rounding “2A” and bearing off on a broad reach up the Sakonnet River is almost indescribable: The battle for Sakonnet Point had taken its toll and, for the next half-hour I tried to kick a mild case of seasickness and return to the present.

As we progressed upriver, the fog began to lift, and the seas became progressively calmer. As the river started to narrow, I began to hope that anyone seeing Gulliver from shore would mistake the torn fabric of the headsail for an unusually long and narrow yacht club burgee.

I called my final destination, Swansea Marina, at the mouth of the Cole River, in Mount Hope Bay, and was told that I was mooring number 23. When I asked where “23” was, I was told to simply use logic. Who was I to argue with such sound advice?

As we entered Mount Hope Bay, I picked up my GPS to check our boat speed and saw that AA batteries had expired. After returning the GPS to its case, I stood up, and the 25-mph wind blew my old Tilly hat off and into the water. If I had the time, I would’ve created an Excel file to catalog all the broken things on my boat. One more item for the file.

We approached Swansea Marina around 4 p.m. The wind was blowing even stronger. Near the mooring field, Vic spotted “23” with binoculars, which were remarkably still working. He went to the bow to find that the pendant was wrapped around the ball and tied in a knot. Untying a knot with one hand in wind 25 to 30 mph was a challenge, even for Capt. Vic. We both wanted off Gulliver and out of the heat. So, we covered the mainsail, collected our valuables, bailed out the dinghy, and headed for shore.

Ellen was waiting for us in the Swansea Marina parking lot. As we drove away, neither of us said much of anything; it was hard to succinctly summarize all the mundane, hair-raising events of the last four days. As Larry Pardey liked to say, “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” Still, we were glad that this adventure on Gulliver was over and we had somehow gotten the job done.

When not watching videos of people sailing in the South Pacific, the author conducts biomedical research and teaches biochemistry at Tufts Medical School.