Messing about with . . . goats!

Thibadeau and Magnolia at their finest. Photo by Ron Weiss

July, 2021

By Ron Weiss
For Points East

As a boat owner, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Mr. Water Rat, and an even fonder place for his cousin, Mr. Sea Rat. Yes, he is also in Kenneth Grahame’s book. Messing about in boats is a fine thing, but, upon closer inspection of this story’s headline, the astute reader will note that there appears to be a typographical error: “goats” instead of “boats.” But I do mean “goats,” although this story itself involves both.

The Thimbles, off Branford, Conn., in Long Island Sound, are a collection of pink-granite rocks and islands. Depending on the tide – and what you consider a large rock, as opposed to a small island – there are between 100 and 365 of them.

The largest is 17 acres; the smallest, about the size of a manhole cover. The smooth, pink granite that comprises the Thimbles was used to build the Lincoln Memorial, Grant’s Tomb, the Brooklyn Bridge and the base of the Statue of Liberty, so you know that is some high-quality stone. Many of the islands are private, 26 have homes built on them, and a goodly number of them have several names for some reason . . . perhaps to confuse and dissuade unwanted interlopers.

My wife Marty and I have cruised The Thimbles a number of times to admire their beauty, but we have always been leery of anchoring there. The guidebooks and cruising forums offer cautionary tales of the difficulty in riding on a hook in these parts. Granite makes for a great monument, but it provides monumentally bad holding ground.

That said, we have a couple of friends who have anchored overnight in the right conditions and had no issues. But I know myself, and if I’m at anchor with anything less than 110-percent confidence in the ground tackle, I will not sleep well. And that makes me cranky the next morning. And me being cranky makes Marty cranky. And that results in a miserable cruise.

The Cruising Club of America, of which I am a member, has a directory that lists docks and moorings that members offer to other members when they are available. In planning last summer’s cruise aboard our Little Harbor 46, Rocinante, I happened to notice a CCA-member mooring available in The Thimbles. We weren’t sure if, or when, we would get there, but we kept it in mind.

Near the end of the cruise, as we were working our way back west from Buzzard’s Bay to our homeport in Stamford, I texted the owner. She was in South Carolina, but her daughter lived in Connecticut, and split her time between the mainland and the family home on one of the islands. Of course, she gave me the family’s name of the island, not the name on the charts, so it took a bit of a back-and-forth to determine where the mooring was.

The mother warned us about two pet goats they have on the island. “They’re both very friendly, and curious, and just love people,” she reported. “Thibadeau is the larger, mostly brown goat, and Magnolia is the smaller, black-and-white one. She’s a little shyer, Thibadeau is more daring. He might even try to get into the dinghy with you.”

The image of a sharp-hooved goat jumping into our high-pressure inflatable gave me pause, but she assured me they were much like friendly dogs. Marty, and I love dogs, and she has a thing for animals of all kinds – goats in particular – so we decided to visit the island of goats once we got to the mooring.

“Oh, by the way, our house on the island is open so feel free to come over and visit, and if you want to take a shower, be our guest. Mi casa es tu casa.” She also mentioned a fridge chock-full of cold beers, so that settled that.

We arrived at low tide, which meant every possible rock was visible, and the not-visible rocks were even closer to our keel. So, we inched our way in and found the mooring snugly tucked between two islands with five names between them. There was just enough swing room/deep water to keep us about two boat lengths from each outcropping.

It was late afternoon, so we remained on the boat for the evening; we’d go exploring in the morning. As the sun settled in the west, we broke out the adult beverages and watched the orange sunglow bathe the pink granite in soft light.

Off to starboard, we heard a goat bleating, followed by the baying of a large dog, which turned out to be a Weimaraner chasing Thibadeau and Magnolia. The goats were leaping about the smooth rocks, and it was apparent they were teasing the poor hound by staying just ahead of him. Not only were they more agile, they were smarter and more devious than man’s best friend.

After about 20 minutes, the dog became so frustrated that it attempted to leap, evidently, just out of its flight range. It fell, bouncing off a couple of rounded rocks and heading for the water. Between the smooth high rocks at the waterline, and the ebbing tide, we realized that if it fell in, there was no way for the poor pooch to get out. Alarmed, we moved toward our dinghy to affect a rescue.

At that very moment the dog’s owner appeared. The dog had regained its footing but was now stranded on a low rock. We shouted over to the owner and asked if he needed help. “Oh, thanks, but no. This happens all the time.” This confirmed that the dog was a few clowns short of a circus. The wheel was spinning, but the hamster was dead.

The owner climbed down, picked up the dog, and pushed it by the hindquarters to the next level of rocks, where the dog was able to clamber back up to the top of the outcropping. The goats celebrated their victory with a happy dance, and, with their job done, went off to eat some poison ivy. Yes, they love it. In fact, it’s one reason to own a goat there – the islands are covered with it.

After a blessedly calm night on the mooring, I awoke and went to the cockpit with a cup a’ joe in hand to greet the day. Almost within reach of me, the largest blue heron I had ever seen was standing atop a rock on the other (non-goated) island framed in the rising sun. It was a magnificent way to start the day.

We explored a couple of nearby islands on which the public is allowed, including Outer Island, a nature preserve with some nice hiking and good views. It was a hot day, so, after all that “’sploring,” I decided I would avail myself of our remote hosts’ offer to visit her island and take a hot shower.

We dinghied over and within a minute of landing, Thibadeau and Magnolia came to greet us. Marty had anticipated this and brought the closest thing to goat treats that she could think of: Triscuits; after all, who doesn’t love Triscuits? Plus, they must taste better than poison ivy. The goats loved them and started following her around. I found my way up the stairs to the porch and looked around.

The house was designed and built by an ocean-racing owner, who passed away several years ago, and was built to be reminiscent of a yacht. The octagonal abode was built around, and supported by, a towering wooden mast. This was actually a steel column sheathed in mahogany to look like a Tall Ship’s spar, rising through the middle of the home. The flooring was teak-and-holly sole.

There were magnificent 270-degree views of Eastern Long Island Sound and The Thimbles as well as our boat on the mooring. The deck projected over the water, much like the proud bow of a clipper ship. Apparently, we were on the wrong end of the nomenclature, as the family refers to it as the “fantail.” It was a very cool concept, but something was amiss.

All over the floor, and on the kitchen counters, there was half-eaten food, some of it still partially in wrappers. Housekeeping was clearly not a priority on the island. I went upstairs to locate the shower and returned to find Thibadeau waiting as I turned the corner toward the kitchen. I blinked. He blinked. I shouted, “Marty, do you think the goats are supposed to be in the house?”

Meanwhile, Thibadeau occupied himself with consuming an over-ripe tomato soon to be a pulp-grenade when he bit into it. I texted the owner and her daughter and ascertained that the goats were NOT supposed to be in the house. Apparently, Thibadeau had gotten through the doggy door which had been barricaded with a large Hoover upright and some stools, that were clearly no match for determined goat-power.

Some of you may have heard the term “goat rodeo.” According to Dictionary.com, it’s “a slang term for something going totally, unbelievably, disastrously wrong, and there’s nothing left to do but to sit back and watch the train wreck.” Yes, dear friends, we were about to participate in a real live goat rodeo.

We started chasing Thibadeau around the house, when I suddenly realized that I had a lot in common with the not-so-bright Weimaraner we had been entertained by the night before. Mr. T knew how to stay just out of reach, all the while staring back at me intently with big, intelligent yellow-brown eyes, flecked with little bits of pure evil. Magnolia, in keeping with her ladylike reputation, hung back demurely, just outside the fray, and watched the show.

Suddenly, I saw I had a chance when Thibadeau was distracted by a brownie on the counter. Without delay, from a standing start, he gymnastically sprang four feet straight into the air and stuck the landing on the granite countertop. After all, granite is a substance that the goats are very used to.

I grabbed Thibadeau by his collar, but I had no idea how he’d react. Being head-butted by a 120-pound goat, who’d been fattening up of late, could really put a damper on our cruise. I was, however, surprised by his mild reaction, so I picked him up, put him down on the floor, and pushed him right out the front door. I heard his hoofbeats on the wrap-around porch as he headed straight to the doggy door. I barely beat him to the punch and “re-Hoovered” the door, reinforcing the blockade with the stools and an assortment of other handy, heavy objects.

Seconds later, Thibadeau appeared behind me again. He had leapt through an open window that was several feet above the porch, and beelined to the remains of the brownie. By this time, I was a little more confident in my goat-handling skills, so I intercepted him and gave him the bum’s rush out the door once more.

In the blink of a goat’s eye, he was back. I looked around the house and noticed there were open windows and sliding glass doors all over the place. This time, Marty and I closed every possible point of entry before I ushered him out, hoping the third time would be the charm. I felt sorry for him, though, so I threw him the rest of the brownie. In gratitude, he tried mugging Marty for more Triscuits, but she evaded him and we closed off the rest of the porch gates.

In surveying the scene around the house, it was apparent the goats had the run of the place for at least a couple of days. All the houseplants were eaten, the flowers munched down to stubby stalks. I texted the owner to give her an update and a damage report. “Oh,” she said, “He usually likes to jump on top of the refrigerator because that’s where we keep the bananas. Did he get into the cheeseballs? He loves those too.” There was a giant Costco-size plastic container of cheeseballs on the counter, but they remained unsullied.

She thanked us profusely and reminded me that the beer fridge was still fair game, so Marty and I grabbed a couple, sat out on the now goat-purged porch and enjoyed a post-goat-rodeo cool-down. The goats had retreated into the woods, presumably to torture the unfortunate Weimaraner, as it was that time of the afternoon again.

We enjoyed the view looking east toward Falkner Island, off Guilford, and south over the Thimbles. Rocinante was sitting serenely in the little cut between the islands, a barely discernible wake behind her as the current moved past her transom. Marty joked that today’s entry in the logbook would be quite unusual. Somewhere in the distance, we heard the hound’s plaintive wail. We took that as the cue to head back to the boat, where we may see tonight’s Weimaraner/goat exhibition match.

Yes, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about with goats . . . er, boats. We’ve encountered any number of unusual experiences during our many cruises, but this one really takes the brownie.

Ron Weiss is a marketing consultant, author, copywriter, avid ocean racer and coastal cruiser. He and his wife, Marty live in Stamford, Conn. He is also the sponsorship and communications committee chair of the Storm Trysail Club.