Our plan C cruise turned out to be just fine

At Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. Photo courtesy Roger Karlebach

May 2022

By Roger Karlebach

Unlike our cruise in the little state of Rhode Island (“The Mouse That Roars,” July 2020), we did not plan to visit every port in Massachusetts. There were far too many of them for my wife Lene and I, with our Saga 43 ILENE, to visit on a 10-week cruise.

The 71 days included sailing from the Harlem Yacht Club, at City Island in the Bronx, N.Y., to our first Massachusetts port, Padanaram, which consumed 14 days. It also incorporated a five-day hiatus from Massachusetts for a visit to Portsmouth, N.H., in the Piscataqua River, the boundary between New Hampshire and Maine, with a walk across the bridge under which we were docked into Kittery Maine to visit a chandlery there. And we used five passage days from our last stop in the Bay State, Cuttyhunk, to get to our home mooring. The going, the returning, and the New Hampshire excursion added up to 23 of the 71 days, leaving us only 48 days in our target state.

But, alas, that does not mean 48 ports because we do not venture out in hurricanes; because we had four lay days in lovely Scituate (while an expert mechanic noodled out our unique fuel blockage); and because we enjoy the pleasures of the land as well as the joys of the sea, with lay days planned to hang with friends, enjoy daysails with them, and see the sights. Bottom line: We visited only 24 Massachusetts ports, one of them – New Bedford with its hurricane barrier – twice.

Enough with the statistics already: You guys want to know if we had fun? Yes, we did, but with 24 ports, I can’t describe all of the pleasures, just some glorious highlights. Those who seek the full blow-by-blow of each or any passage or port will find them on our website, ilenetheboat.com.

I’m always thrilled by the pleasurable tension of entering a port that is new to me. There were only six of these this year, all in the greater Boston Harbor area. In prior years, we twice took moorings off Boston’s Waterboat Marina. This is right by the ferry dock in downtown Boston, thus providing excellent access to the heart of the city by dink. The only downside is that the MBTA tunnel from the airport to the city runs directly under the moorings, and we heard the rumble of trains as they passed under our keel.

This time, we stayed at several Boston Harbor Islands and in the southern suburbs we visited Quincy, Dorchester, and Boston by public land transportation and by foot.

Outbound, we took a mooring at the Wessagussett Yacht Club in North Weymouth and walked to the former Hingham Shipyard, where numerous warships came off the ways during World War II. Now a massive marina and ferry stop, it provides mixed-use, but mostly a shopping center with restaurants. After lunch, we loaded up with provisions, and Uber took us back to the boat.

Homebound, we went into Boston Harbor again. Our first Harbor Island was Peddocks, where we anchored, with lots of room, off its infrequently used south side.

Calling the mooring rental agent when we could not find the field there, we were told that we were on the “wrong” side of the island, and that the moorings were off its north side. But mooring on that side would have put us by a lee shore, so we stayed where we were anchored and canceled our reservation.

The next day, we landed our dink on the steeply sloping beach and explored, as amateur archeologists, the island’s decaying fortifications, but we did not dig.

A daysail out of Hull with our friend Hugh on a brilliantly clear and windy day was next. Hull is the southeastern cape of Boston Harbor, and the sail was followed by a car tour of Hull’s highlands and Nantasket Beach, facing the Atlantic. Hugh, a proper Bostonian, replaced me as the Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer of the USS Hammerberg DE-1015, a Dealey-class destroyer escort, back in 1967. During this cruise, we hooked up with Hugh and his family in Newport, Scituate and Boston Harbor. Hugh is also an excellent sailor who knows his harbor’s rock-strewn waters.

Our daysail was around Boston Light and the Brewster Islands and back through Hypocrite Channel. Rarely have I so confidently given the helm of my boat to another. I would have been anxiously viewing the depth sounder. A century ago, Nantasket Beach was the Cape Cod-like escape destination before the Cape became so accessible to Bostonians.

I accidentally left my cell phone in Hugh’s car. While Lene and I were figuring how to get into Boston to retrieve it, Hugh called with a better idea. We drove ILENE from Hull to Georges Island, and Hugh met us there via ferry from Boston. There, we took the Park Ranger’s tour of the well-preserved Fort Warren, and Hugh took us to other scenic places on the island before we bid him our final farewell of 2021.

Spectacle Island, formerly industrial, is the most scenic Harbor Island we visited, sculpted with landfill and grassy, with a nice walk around its perimeter and good views from the tops of its twin hills. After the final ferry left, we were the only boat in the mooring field on a quiet evening except for occasional wakes from large ships moving through the harbor.

Our final Boston stop was at the Savon Hill Yacht Club in Dorchester, which had been suggested to us by Hugh. A complimentary guest mooring was one of the attractions.

The friendly club was our base for sightseeing. One day we walked more than five miles on the Boston Harborwalk. We rambled past the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum (sadly closed due to COVID) on the UMass Boston campus, past a large public beach, past several historic yacht clubs, and ate fried fish at Sullivan’s Castle Island, in South Boston, with an Uber back to the club.

Another day we took the MBTA, first to Quincy to see John Adams’s birthplace and crypt; then to Boston, where I visited the Institute of Contemporary Art in the new bustling Seaport District while Lene took in Faneuil Hall. Then we reconnected for Italian food in the North End and took our third MBTA ride of the day back to Savon Hill. Boston has several other ports to visit: large marinas in town and Charlestown and the anchorage south of Nahant.

Manchester-by-the-Sea, on Boston’s North Shore, was another highlight, again due to friends there. We first met Jamie and Lori of Sea Quester when they rowed their dink past us at Jewel Island in Maine’s Casco Bay a few seasons ago, and we visited with them at the Manchester Yacht Club on the way home. The town is great, with everything a sailor could want within two blocks of the public dinghy dock.

The club’s mooring field has two parts: The Outer Harbor and the Inner Harbor. The Outer Harbor is only protected from the Atlantic Ocean by a few islands, so it can get rolly. The Inner Harbor is extremely well protected, but it is so tightly packed that boats can touch each other when drifting on their rodes. We were granted a free mooring in the Outer Harbor and met our hosts, first at the beautiful home of new friends Jim and Ann that abuts the yacht club, and, the next night, on Harry and Kali’s Circe, a sister ship to ILENE. So we only had lunches in the town, while dinners consisted of the “nibbles” our hosts provided.

In Salem, we hooked up with Jeff, who keeps his Saga 35 Irazu there when not cruising far and wide. We had never met, but I’d promised Jeff a drink after he had mailed me a spare plastic instrument cover the year before. After a day in the Essex-Peabody Museum, which had a special show of American sea paintings, we connected instead for a delicious breakfast after a dinghy ride into town.

On the way south and west toward our home, we also enjoyed our anchorage in Tarpaulin Cove, a wide indentation on the south side of largely uninhabited, privately owned Naushon Island in the Elizabeth Islands. We were one of only four boats there at night and, dinking ashore, were greeted by folks who had come out for the day on the long beach that forms the shore of the cove. Out of Vineyard Haven, on Martha’s Vineyard, we took acquaintances Mark and Kyle, who were planning to buy a boat, on a brilliant daysail across Vineyard Sound before enjoying dinner at their new home.

We love sleeping on ILENE and usually do so throughout our cruises, but this year we slept aboard only 45 of the 48 nights in Massachusetts. When Hurricane Henri threatened landfall near us, we hightailed it from Vineyard Haven back to a mooring at the Pope’s Island Marina in hurricane-barrier-protected New Bedford. There, after thoroughly lashing down everything as best we could, we took our crew on the marina’s launch to a hotel in Fairhaven – a very maritime town on the east side of the Acushnet River – while the storm raged.

We dine aboard for the most part. Of the 48 days, we had three breakfasts, ten lunches, and 14 dinners ashore or, better yet, on other people’s boats or homes. Almost all of our breakfasts and three-fourths of our lunches and dinners were taken aboard.

All told, we moved the boat on 26 days (24 passages and two daysails with friends) and enjoyed 22 lay days in Massachusetts. And, noting that the accumulated mileage was 495, this means we averaged 19 miles per sailing day.

These passages ranged from the shortest (three miles from Hull to Georges Island) to the longest (49 miles from Cohasset, to and through the Cape Cod Canal, to Redbrook, in Cataumet, at the east end of Buzzards Bay). We plan on making slightly better than six knots, so the average sailing day is only about three hours. And sadly, while our sails are usually up while underway, only slightly more than a third of the time is the Yanmar off. Ardent racers may accuse me of not sailing enough, and I sometimes think that way myself, but at 78, our leisurely pace is what we have both come to love.

But for the consumption of four days in New Bedford due to the hurricane, we could have visited countless other spots. Massachusetts has a lot to offer, and despite being our third choice for the summer’s adventure, the Bay State coast qualifies as a Plan A in any cruiser’s logbook.

When not sailing, retired attorney and frequent contributor Roger Karlebach lives in New York City with his wife Lene and their two cats. All four have also sailed their Saga 43, ILENE, from the Harlem Yacht Club, on City Island in Long Island Sound south to Grenada, in the West Indies. Details of their adventures can be found at ILENEtheboat.blogspot.com.