The thank-you passage

Logbooks for Chimo, meticulously kept by the author’s mother.

March/April 2022

By David Stanwood

When clearing out her home on West Falmouth (Mass.) Harbor, we came across all the logbooks from our family sailboat cruises from the 1960s -1990s. I found myself fact-checking my memories of childhood sailing adventures against her written accounts. Memories can subtly mutate over time, and I can say that my memories line up pretty well with her facts, albeit with some interesting differences.

In 1961, I took my first of many cruises from West Falmouth to Maine with my intrepid father, mother, and two older brothers. I was just ten years old. In the logbook, she writes about it being “Foggy, then foggier, then the foggiest!” running a compass course from Seguin to The Cuckolds off Boothbay. We were keeping a sharp eye out for a low pile of rocks called The Sisters.

Suddenly, we saw a dark form emerge close to port with water breaking over it. In a flash, we thought we would be shipwrecked. Then an explosion of misty spray rained over us. It was a whale blowing. What she left out, and what I remember very distinctly, was how bad the breath of that whale smelled.

In a like manner, I enjoy keeping a narrative-style logbook of our own sailing experiences on our 30-foot sloop, Prelude, designed by A. Sidney DeWolf Herreshoff. She’s a 1985 Blue Chip, the last of 20 that Cape Cod Shipbuilding produced. Back in 1965, we’d bought an early Blue Chip, aboard which we’d enjoyed four years of summer sailing adventures. My Mom always loved that boat and would have loved reading my most recent Prelude logbook entry, which I am happy to share.

Sept. 23, 2021: Solo sail from Cataumet to Lake Tashmoo, Martha’s Vineyard, 19 nautical miles with all the tacks. Prelude’s new engine installation by Kingman Marine is finally finished. What a funny, wonderfully normal sensation to have a real inboard motor again after many years without. Very gusty day, with strong winds out of the southeast. I decided to motor from the dock at Kingman Marine to the outer harbor and anchor in the lee of Scraggy Neck, close in by the shore, to bend on newly repaired roller jib and main.

I tied in a double reef, raised the main, and headed out around the neck into the strong wind and waves of Buzzards Bay. I was able to point to West Falmouth with the engine on and close-hauled mainsail, just filling for stability and a little extra drive. The diesel slogged along confidently through the rough water, with a slight lee along the bay shore, at 1800 rpm, and Prelude made six knots. Off Barn Rock (Great Sippewisset Rock on the charts), just beyond West Falmouth, the seas became calmer from the shape and increased the height of the land. Now I had a good angle to head off the wind on a direct course to Woods Hole. Perfect sailing conditions.

It was still quite windy, so I rolled out the jib only halfway, turned off the engine, and sailed along the Quissett shore, around Penzance Point, and into Hadley’s outer harbor. Then I came around and took a long starboard tack, straight through Woods Hole Passage. Current in the Hole was against me at full ebb. The wind angle was perfect for a close reach, with sufficient boat speed to get through the main channel called The Strait.

I passed to windward of Hadley Rock and sailed up into the lee of the current, close in behind the lighted rock pile in the middle of the Hole. I came out from behind that and into the full force of the current on the windward side of the channel. The difference in height between Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay averages two feet at maximum ebb. So, the water was moving from the sound into the lower tidewater of the bay at close to four knots. I was sailing at close to six knots as I pulled ahead through the weird rivulets and unusual wave actions in the Hole, like sailing up a wild river. I took a picture of the big green can buoy “5” in mid-channel as I sailed close by. Today, this normally busy thoroughfare was empty of speeding boat traffic and confused wakes, and I had the pure wonder of it all to myself.

Once out of The Strait, I tacked off Juniper Point, over Parker Flats by the ferry dock. As I sailed back across the opening of the Hole, the current set me back in a bit, so I tacked around to port to get back out toward the ferry channel. A freight boat had just left the ferry slip and was heading out, so I came around again just short of green flashing buoy “5” to stay clear. This put me close to the eastern shore of Nonamesset Island as I headed into Vineyard Sound with a pretty good current ebbing to the southwest.

I got well offshore and came around onto a starboard tack, then turned on the diesel to assist for a better line and time made against wind and current. I also wanted to get home before dark. I was close-hauled and unable to point high enough to line up on my windward destination of the Tashmoo entrance (on Martha’s Vineyard), but it was a perfect angle to take advantage of the so-called lee-bow effect. My bow was now 45 degrees to the oncoming current, which had the effect of pushing me sideways, or crabbing, upwind over the long run, and I would make the entrance handily.

My companion, Otto, the tiller autohelm, is very good at steering for me so that I could sit in the companionway with my head above the hatch slide. I was able to keep an eye out, duck under as needed from blowing spray, and catch a bite to eat. Otto steered across Middle Ground shoal very nicely, through a calm spot between sets of breaking standing waves.

About three-quarters of a mile off the Tashmoo entrance, the new engine quit. I tried starting it again, but no go. This later turned out to be a blockage where fuel exits the tank. Blowing air back out the fuel line into the tank cleared it. So, I had to sail up into Lake Tashmoo with the southeast wind on the nose and maximum tide ebbing out. I had worked well up into the lee of the Vineyard now, so I rolled out the full jib for best sail shape and ability to point high for what was to come.

Prelude beautifully handled the 20 or so quick tacks between the breakwaters and up the long narrow channel, between clam flats, into the interior of Lake Tashmoo. A smooth bottom with spanking new paint helped significantly. Twelve more tacks brought me up to the calm lee at the bitter end of the harbor, known as the Water Works.

When making the final turn to shoot up to my mooring, I looked ahead and saw Sally Hambrecht swimming near her dock. I yelled out, “I see you,” so she wouldn’t worry. She yelled back, waving from the water: “Welcome back, Prelude.” It had been a lusty and exhilarating passage.

Resting on the mooring, in the peaceful stillness of the Water Works, I heard the squawk of a great blue heron, along with the faint sounds of piano music drifting through the autumnal air in the dimming light. I headed for shore. Salty and weather-beaten, I walked out of the woods path from the harbor into a well-dressed party on the old Water Works building grounds.

There was Jeremy Berlin, smiling at me from his piano keyboard. George Brush hailed me, and I went over for a gam. “I thought that might be you; I saw you sail in,” he said, and he told me about his wonderful new sailboat with two steering wheels. It was a birthday party for Jamie Hamlin. Lots of friends, and a nice finish to an intensely wonderful day.

Thank you, Prelude, and thank you, Mom, for your inspiration.

David Stanwood and his galley mate Eleanor live in Lamberts Cove, West Tisbury, on Martha’s Vineyard. David spent his childhood summers sailing in and around West Falmouth, Buzzards Bay, and down to Maine, as did his father Fred in his youth. While working as a rigger for Burr Brothers Boats in Marion, Mass., he attended a two-year course in Piano Technology in Boston and established a piano tuning and rebuilding business on Martha’s Vineyard in 1981. Stanwood is known as a fine photographer and a performing/recording pianist known for his soothing and original improvisational style. He says he gets his best relaxation and ideas while out sailing.