Homeward bound

December 2021

By Tom Joyce
For P0ints East

This Sunday morning, there were no taxis at Westchester Airport in White Plains, N.Y., and Uber was unresponsive. I needed to get to the marina in Mamaroneck, twenty minutes away, where the boat I had just bought was waiting. I planned to take the boat back home to Maine over the course of the next week or so, and I wanted to leave at the crack of dawn the next day. But first I had to get to the boat.

An independent and probably unlicensed limo driver named Stevie saved the day. I’d always avoided these guys at airports – with good reason. But I was out of options. Over the next two hours, Stevie drove me to the marina and a handful of stores. He was not a boater but fascinated by the idea of taking a sailboat from New York to Maine. He thought it was a crazy adventure. He also said I should not do it alone. He was probably right on both counts.

Adagio is a sixteen-year-old 35-foot Beneteau. I had hoped to have an acquaintance join me for part of the trip and my son for another leg, but neither ended up being available due to work and school. I decided to go it alone. I’ve learned (on my previous boat) that there would probably be several system failures and other problems in the first few days, and I didn’t want to inflict those on other people.

As the day developed, the forecast called for thunderstorms, and I decided to wait a day and continue to get organized. On Tuesday morning, I left at 5:30 a.m. and headed into western Long Island Sound in the first light of day. An hour later, the batteries were exhausted, and all the electronics ceased to work. The alternator had failed – despite seemingly working the day before and during the survey. Fearing that I wouldn’t be able to restart the engine, I motored on, hand steering for nine hours. I had paper charts and Navionics on my phone and could see Connecticut to one side and Long Island on the other. When I arrived at Harry’s Marine in Westbrook, Conn., Craig, the mechanic, came right on board, and within the hour, they had ordered a new alternator. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t arrive for two days.

Two days turned into three when the remnants of Hurricane Ida passed directly overhead and snarled FedEx deliveries. Ida was just a tropical depression at the time, but the wind and rain were as bad as any hurricane I have experienced. At one point in the overnight storm, I thought the boat was blowing away and went up on deck. I did see a dinghy blow by, but I was tied securely to the dock, though now, completely soaked. The next day I walked all through Westbrook – a beautiful town. I grew up going to the Connecticut shore each summer but had not visited in many years and was reminded what a unique part of the New England coast it is.

Craig installed the new alternator. Somebody had spray-painted the old one to pretty it up, and the spray had gotten into the coils, causing the device to fail. Craig thought the batteries were probably OK. I was dubious. I was right.

That afternoon I took off as soon as the repair was done. We were now entering Labor Day weekend, and it was hard to find marina space on Dockwa, and I did not want to anchor in case of mechanical problems. I was able to find a mooring in Watch Hill, a relatively short hop away. En route, the voltmeter showed the alternator was working fine, but the house battery was not up to the job. I walked an hour and a half into Westerly the following day and found a marine deep cycle battery. Once again, no taxi or Uber service. I almost called Stevie! After a lot of phone work and waiting, I got a taxi ride back to the marina, got the battery into the boat, and was good to go once again. But I had lost another day.

The next day I left at dawn and had one of the nicest sailing days of my life. I went north of Fishers Island to avoid the notorious race current in the Long Island Sound and crossed Block Island Sound, past Newport. There were many boats on the water for Labor Day weekend. I ended the day at a mooring in Westport Point, Buzzards Bay.

After the race, Buzzards Bay and the Cape Cod Canal were my most significant navigational concerns for the entire trip. It was important to time the currents and the tides correctly, as sailboats must go through the canal with the current, and the current in the canal is often opposed by wind and waves in Buzzards Bay, causing difficult conditions. I studied both my “Eldridge Tide and Pilot” book as well as my Navionics and decided to enter the canal right at slack tide, 3:54 p.m. This gave me most of the day to get there, so I took my time and sailed the whole way with just the genoa, averaging a little over four knots, and arrived right on schedule.

Buzzards Bay is no joke. Near the entrance to the canal, the waves were big and seemed to be going in all directions. I listened to the canal traffic on VHF channels 14 and 16 as I approached, and it sounded like chaos – with boaters yelling at each other to stay out of the way, slow down or look out. In my anxiety, I imagined large commercial vessels crowding hapless sailboats and yahoos with no regard for the COLREGs or other people. But once I entered the canal that afternoon, everything settled down. Right at slack tide, the water was flat and slow, and I saw very few boats. It was the Saturday afternoon of Labor Day weekend, so it made sense that there were no commercial vessels, but there was almost nobody else either. I had a calm and sunny run through the canal, which took just over an hour, with the light current pushing me along at the speed limit of about eight-and-a-half knots. I pulled into Sandwich Marina, where I spent the night. I got dinner at the restaurant bar next to the marina and had a large plate of sushi. It was tremendous. We have the best seafood at home in mid-coast Maine, but good sushi is hard to come by.

On Sunday morning, it was a straight shot from Sandwich to Salem, Mass. I started the day under sail but soon managed to jam my “new-to-me” in-mast furling mainsail. As I am getting older, I wanted to try a furling main on my new boat so that I might avoid going on deck as frequently, but they are notorious for jamming. So, there I was, on deck, trying to sort things out. I could not fix the jam after about forty-five minutes of effort and realized it would have to wait until I got in. In the scuffle, I managed to release the headsail halyard as well, and part of it popped out of the track. I motored the rest of the way to Salem and docked at Hawthorne Cove Marina. I was able to solve both problems reasonably quickly. I jammed the furling twice that week but have since learned how to handle it: It’s all about the angle of the boom when furling. I’ve had no further problems. My wife drove down from Maine with the dog, and the three of us spent the night at a beautiful hotel in historic Salem.

The next morning, I went out past Manchester-By-The-Sea, Marblehead, Lands End, and on up to Portsmouth. The second big storm of this trip, Hurricane Larry, was well out to sea, but small craft warnings threatened rip currents and waves of six to eight feet. I kept the boat at the excellent Wentworth Marina in Portsmouth for three days waiting for the weather to settle down. The following day, after all the warnings were over, I headed out again. Unfortunately, the surf and swell were still huge. I motored up to Portland with large waves on the beam. I tend to overestimate wave height, but I am confident that many of the waves were 10-feet high. It was an exhausting day steering back and forth to avoid taking the largest waves in the worst possible position. Initially, I thought perhaps I should turn back, but I was confident in what the boat could handle by this point. I made it to Portland and went to sleep. Everything hurt.

The final day of my delivery trip was a short ride home to the Sheepscot River and Robinhood Marina in Georgetown, Maine. The conditions were gentle with little wind, and I was grateful because I was still mentally exhausted and physically beat up from the day before. When I pulled into the dock and tied up, my wife was there to meet me. I had a sense of accomplishment. Some people circumnavigate the world, sail to Antarctica and accomplish other much more remarkable feats at sea. But this was enough for me, and I was happy to be home.

Tom Joyce lives with his wife in Wiscasset, Maine. He is a retired former technology executive who worked at Hewlett-Packard, Dell and other companies in New England and California. Tom has a lifelong passion for boating and serves as Commodore of the Wiscasset Yacht Club.