28 August, 2009

Big Bad Bill

Location: Port Jefferson, New York
Position: N 40 57.830 W 073 04.909

Hurricanes are a big deal wherever you live. But if you live on a boat, they can easily (and quite literally) become life changing experiences. We haven’t lived through one on Rachel and have no desire to do so.

So here we are sailing down to Harpswell in Casco Bay, Maine and keeping a close eye on the tropical storm system forming to the east of the Windward Islands in the Caribbean. There’s a family gathering scheduled at which Mark’s dad’s ashes will be sprinkled at his favorite fishing spot in Maine. The prediction is showing that Bill will skirt the coast of Maine within the next few days. Even if the storm passes 50 miles offshore we can look forward to high winds and huge waves. We study the charts and find a potential hurricane hole just inland from Harpswell where we think we can hide if necessary.

A good hurricane hole has all around protection, preferably with high sides (so the winds will skip over you), good water depth (in case huge waves come in and try to bonk you on the bottom), and most of all, good holding for your anchors. When we arrive at Harpswell the first thing we do is go a bit further inland to check out Long Cove. Apart from it not being as deep as we’d like we’re confident it’ll make a fine hurricane hole, so we head back to Harpswell Sound.

When we express our concerns to the locals we’re told “Hurricanes don’t usually hit Maine”. Oh. Okay. Well, our experience further south says that if a hurricane even so much as threatens landfall anywhere near, all the available hurricane holes get filled to (or most often beyond) capacity. When this happens, there’s “no room at the inn” and you could be caught out at the worst possible time. We want to be proactive and make sure Rachel is safe, so we check the updated weather at least twice a day, ready to make tracks for our chosen spot if the worst should appear imminent. So far, the forecasts still show Hurricane Bill skirting right by or over us.

We do not let our worries prevent us from having a great time at the spot in Maine where Mark spent some of the happiest times of his life. (Editors note: that would, of course, be before he met Julie!!). We enjoy many wonderful, happy hours with his family, chatting and reminiscing.

The scattering ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, but unfortunately Bill is scheduled to arrive early Sunday morning. The forecast is for high winds and building seas on Saturday - not the most conducive forecast for a family heading out to a rocky island on a small boat. Still we wait, hoping that, at the last minute, the storm will veer further out to sea and give us a miss.

The Friday forecast shows the storm weakening slightly and heading a little further offshore. Huge sighs of relief all round. After much discussion we decide that the hook of land behind which we lie, just off the old family cottage, will give us enough protection from the predicted 40 mph winds and 10 foot seas - so Rachel stays put.

On Saturday morning Bill slows down a little; enough so that we decide to go on out and say a last goodbye to Mark’s dad, Ken. The rain holds off long enough for us to have a lovely outside gathering and remembrance of Ken’s ‘pretty good life’. Our ride out to the island and back on Mark’s cousin’s son’s lobster boat (wow, that’s a mouthful) is another highlight for Mark – he hasn’t been on one since he was a teenager lobstering with his uncle Ned and the memories come flooding back. Thanks, Chip.

Finally, on Sunday, the rain comes. Fairly high winds and big seas pound the islands to the south and east of us, but Rachel is safe and secure in her anchorage seeing almost no storm-related weather other than the rain. By Tuesday the seas are down and we head further south into Casco Bay to meet our friends on Barefootin’ at Jewell Island, having decided to head back south together.

We have a lovely sail down to Kittery, Maine. When we arrive our friends tell us “Just in case you haven’t had enough excitement yet, another tropical storm named ‘Danny’ has formed and it’s also forecast to head our way.” Crikies.

Danny is predicted to increase to class 2 hurricane strength and clip Cape Cod a glancing blow. Like Bill before him, Danny will run up the coast of New England and also clip the coast of Maine. How close is anybody’s guess. We decide to get moving again to both get south and to minimize our exposure to the storm. Since we’re only 75 miles north of Cape Cod, we decide that if we leave immediately we can get down to Cape Cod, through the canal, and then as far west as we can into Long Island Sound before Danny makes landfall. The further the better, since further west is more out of Danny’s predicted path.

So we haul anchor at 4am and start heading south. We’ve been looking forward to enjoying a nice, relaxing trip south. Yea right!! Not so much. It ain’t gonna happen. Instead, feeling the stress to make good time and stay one step ahead of the storm, we forge ahead. It’s expected to hit Cape Cod head on in three days and we only travel at 6 mph. Yikes!

We get through the Cape Cod Canal in the late afternoon and are thinking we’ll stop and spend the night then continue on the next day.

Once again this will not be so. We check the storm track again and have a discussion with our friends. Danny’s still on track to smash into Cape Cod. It’s 75 miles down Buzzards Bay to the entrance of Long Island Sound and an additional 50 miles to Port Jefferson, New York. That’s 20 hours at 6 knots - and we only have 48 hours left. There’s no time to stop and sleep; we need to keep on moving. We travel through the night, now feeling good that we are making miles west and away from danger. We enter Long Island Sound at first light and make it to Port Jefferson by 5pm. An awesome run! We had the current in our favor the entire 214 mile trip except for the last 6 hours – 6.74 knots average speed for the entire trip! This is a record for us on Rachel. Now all we can do is set the anchor with a lot of chain and try to get some sleep before Danny arrives tomorrow.

As it turns out, Danny loses strength and heads a little further offshore than originally predicted and, once again, we only get some rain and not much wind. We could get frustrated that we’ve made all this effort and the storm has once again changed course, but we don’t. Instead, we’re grateful because it could easily have headed further west and hit us hard. We feel that we have made it to a safe haven and, as we all know, you don’t want to fool around with Mother Nature.

After spending a day resting up and waiting for the winds to die down we reflect on our passage. We‘ve had a lot of stress and a long, fast trip, but the good part is, we’ve also made lots of progress! Now it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump (a mere 250 miles) to get us back to the Chesapeake Bay!

As Mark’s Dad used to sing “Big Bad Bill is Sweet William now.”

Wishing Sweet Williams to us all,

15 August, 2009

A gem …. or three

Location: Isle of Springs, Maine
Position: N 43 51.830 W 069 40.717

During our sailing about, we like to try and visit places that are a bit off the beaten path. Sometimes these are disappointing, but more often than not it’s been our experience that these spots often have something unique and wonderful to offer us. And every once in a while we come across a real gem. Or three.

We left the Penobscot Bay and headed toward East Boothbay to visit Mark’s cousin – she had lined up a free mooring for us for a few days. As we pulled in to pick up the mooring we noticed a pretty little wooden day sailor on the mooring next to us.

Mark’s cousin’s daughter’s boyfriend (Eben) rows out to welcome us. His dad, Nat Wilson, has loaned us the mooring. Nat is known world-wide as a traditional sail maker. He made the sails for the USS Constitution and many of the old Hereschoff boats (the 3 remaining Buzzards Bay 30s for example) among others. The little boat on the mooring next to us was a 1912 Hereschoff 12.5 they were working on.

typical Maine islandAnyway, back to the story. Eben asked us if there was anything we needed and Julie sort of joked that we’d been thinking about putting a third reef in the main sail. He said “Oh. Let’s take a look.” So we raised the sail to the second reef. Then he said “Let’s take it off – I can take it up to the loft, cut the patches this afternoon and sew it up in the morning. It’ll be done tomorrow afternoon.” Wow! We were stunned! We finally found a sail loft that wasn’t going to make us wait three weeks or a month to do the job!

And he was true to his word – the next day we had a third reef in the main – and the quality of the work is top notch. When we went in to pick up the sail Nat showed us around the loft and told us “Feel free to pick up that mooring anytime if it’s open.” What gracious and helpful hosts, and what a gem the Wilson sail loft turned out to be.

After a wonderful visit with Mark’s cousin and family, we left East Boothbay and headed briefly north to the Muscungous Bay and spent the night at Harbor Island. This is yet another beautiful spot in the long string of beautiful spots we’ve discovered in Maine. Another lovely hike around the shore, across the cliffs, and through the woods followed by another delicious dinner on Rachel. We sat in the cockpit having a glass of wine and decided that Harbor Island qualified as another gem. These islands are very similar, pine trees, rocky shores to pick your way around hopping from rock to rock, they are also very different and each enchanting in it’s own way. We have only touched on a few but will save others for another trip.

Outward Bound boatWhile we watched the sun set and the sky begin to darken, we noticed two open boats rowing in. Four pairs of oars each, eight people rowing in synch (because there’s not a breath of wind), one on the tiller, one working the lead line, and a few more milling about, they came in and dropped their anchors near us. Upon questioning, we learned that they were Outward Bound boats out for the 4th night of a 12 day voyage. After they settled in they stretched a tarp over a boom and bedded down for the night. The big question we had was “how do they work the toilet issue?”, since there are both girls and boys on each boat, and there’s obviously no room for a proper head. Unfortunately, that question was left unasked, so we may never know.

We hauled anchor in the morning and started south for the Sheepscot River. Julie wanted to see puffins, and puffins we were going to see. As she told some friends “I’m going to make Mark circle Eastern Egg Rock until I see one! However long it takes.” Needless to say, Mark was less than thrilled with this idea. The cruising guide tells us there were 23 nesting pairs there in 2003. We get there and begin our first circle. Wow. Those nesting pairs must have been really busy because there are puffins everywhere! Mark got away with circling the island once, Julie got all puffined up, and we all got to start heading south.
Island emerging from the fog
The anchorage off the Sheepscott River at Isle of Springs is on the northeast side of the island, providing excellent protection from the usual southwesterly winds. On the spur of the moment we decided to stop there and go for a walk. What a treat. It was like going back in time.

There’s one truck on the island and it’s only used to pick people up at the dock when they arrive with their luggage and groceries and to take them back when they leave. Other than that it sits idle. The rest of the time everyone uses dock carts. There’s a small ferry provided by the homeowners association, who also owns a lot on a nearby island that’s accessible to the mainland via a bridge. Everyone parks their cars at the lot and catches the ferry to the island. Then they walk. And smile when they pass. They know you’re not from there, because they know everyone who is. But they smile and are gracious, anyway.

The island is crisscrossed with paved paths, wooden boardwalks, gravel walks and woodland trails. It’s not too big, but it’s stunningly beautiful. Smaller, turn of the century cottages are scattered about and there’s a big community hall called “The Casino” next to the tennis courts at the top of the hill.

There was a list on the Casino of who was going to do the Sunday service. The residents take turns – last Sunday the kids did it. We’re sorry we missed that one – bet it was great! There were two pianos there – one was labeled “For General Use” and the other was covered by a sheet. There’s also a phone tree list – if an emergency occurs, everyone is responsible for calling two or three others so everyone gets notified quickly. There are even a fire pond, piping, and fire hose stations scattered around the island. But no stores. If you want to spend money you have to go to the mainland. Cottages are handed down from one generation to the next and only rarely will one be offered for sale.

There’s an honor system library – it used to be the post office until the USPS closed it a few years ago. When you want a book you check it out yourself. Then you’re responsible for returning it in a timely fashion.

seals sunning themselvesAfter spending an afternoon and the following morning walking around on all the trails, soaking up the sun and the smells and the sounds, we met a woman who was down at the dock with her daughter and her daughter’s friend. The kids were jumping off the dock (10 or 12 feet above the water!), swimming and having a ball. Our new friend told us that her parents own one of the cottages. Then she said something special. She said “My daughter’s experience here is almost identical to my mothers and to mine. It’s wonderful to have such continuity.” Time suddenly slowed. Mark was transported back to his childhood summers in Harpswell. What a wonderful place to be a kid!

Our new friend was intrigued that we live on Rachel and wanted to know all about it. We traded email addresses and she made us promise to come up to “The Farmhouse” for drinks next time we visit. We assured her we’d be back and are looking forward to returning the next time we come back to Maine. Having added this little gem to our collection, we take our leave, looking forward to discovering the next one.

Fair winds,

06 August, 2009


Location: Winter Harbor, Vinalhaven, Maine
Position: N 44 05.736 W 068 49.118

We love sailing. On Rachel we especially love reaching.

For you non-sailors: Imagine looking down at the boat from the top of the mast and thinking of it like a clock face. The bow is at 12 o’clock and the stern is at 6 o’clock. If the wind is coming from 2 o’clock (or 10 o’clock), it’s called a “close reach”. If it’s coming from 3 o’clock (or 9 o’clock) it’s called a “beam reach”, and if it’s coming from 4 o’clock (or 8 o’clock) it’s called a “broad reach”. These are Rachel’s fastest and most comfortable points of sail. We’ll sail on a reach every chance we get – even if it means going a bit out of our way.

There’s a well known channel between Deer Island and the mainland named the “Eggemoggin Reach”. It runs NW to SE and, since the prevailing winds are out of the SW, you are able to “reach” in either direction for a glorious sail. Mark has been wanting to sail the Eggemoggin Reach since we began sailing “just because”. It’s something we’ve really been looking forward to and we’re finally here!

Here are the log entries from our two trips (up west and down east) on the Eggemoggin Reach:

28 July – Finally on the Eggemoggin Reach. Unfortunately there’s no wind, so we’re motoring with just the main up.

3 August – No wind – motored the length of the Eggemogin Reach. Again.


It hasn’t been all fog and no wind, however. We’re sitting here in Rachel’s cockpit after a wonderful sunny day of sailing (yes, sailing!!) through Merchants Row and East Penobscott Bay. We look out at the world around us. Two schooners – the “Nathaniel Bowditch” and the “Liberty Chimes” are sharing the anchorage with us. They’re gorgeous.

One thing about Maine – there are a whole lot of really beautiful boats up here. Old wooden sailing dinghies, schooners, ketches, yawls, sloops, runabouts, trawlers, lobster boats, you name it. We figure with only a few months of sailing season, the rest of the year can be used for doing stuff like varnishing. Whatever the reason, it’s always fun to look at all the boats

There’s absolutely nothing like a sunny day in Maine – crisp and clear as far as the eye can see. Blue skies with small, fluffy white clouds, evergreen covered cliffs, green water, and waves breaking on the rocks. The smells of balsam and the sea. Warm sunlight drying out the dampness in the boat and making us drowsy. It just doesn’t get any better than this, and the foggy, rainy, windless days make the sunny ones like this all the more precious and wonderful.

Happy to be here,

04 August, 2009

Mainly Maine

Location: Frenchboro, Long Island, ME
Position: N 44 07.472 W 068 21.653

One of the wonderful things about Maine is you never know what to expect. When you wake up in Rachel in fogthe morning you could find a thick fog or, just as likely, a glorious sunny morning with the water twinkling and the trees backlit with the rising sun. You plan to travel and it could be thick fog, or it could be a glorious sunny day with perfect wind for sailing. You plan to go for a hike up a mountain and it could be such thick fog you can’t see the next tree or it could be a clear sunny day with miles of visibility overlooking small tree covered islands, mountains and seas covered with lobster buoys. That’s why people keep coming back because, like England, on a glorious summer day you just can’t beat it.

We have just spent three days in Long Island, only 6 miles around and 7 miles from the mainland. The only town on the island is named Frenchboro and it is purely a fishing village. People here are friendly, they really seem to like visitors but they do not cater to them. The harbour is small and full of moorings for lobster boats, with a few moorings for visiting cruisers. There was one left when we arrived but, since we prefer to anchor when we can, we left it for the friends we were traveling with. We anchored just outside the harbour in a protected but very currenty channel between two islands.

There is no grocery store. All the islanders must catch the ferry to the mainland for that. No quaint Frenchboro Harborlittle shops. There is a fuel dock and deli where you can buy from a minimal sandwich selection, lobster, of course, drinks, and deserts. A lovely museum and library, a post office and a one room school with 13 students ranging from kindergarten to 7th grade (5-13 years old). Almost everyone here is a lobster fisherman and the year round population is 43 at last count.

This year another business opened in competition with the sandwich shop. I’m sure that is a big deal and probably caused a little stress in the community. The new cafĂ© is called Offshore Store and More and is run by Tammy and her husband John, he’s also a lobsterman. The store also sells from a small menu but of course the popular items are the over-stuffed lobster roll (on a homemade roll) and lobster freshly cooked, which they will deliver to your boat, for $4 a pound. We can attest to the fact that both items are utterly delicious!
Wild Orchid
Frenchboro is like taking a step back in time, kids are all over the one street town playing on bikes, playing in the mud flats at low tide just generally having fun. The ferry only comes 3 times a week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. So if you want to go shopping you have to take the Tuesday ferry and stay overnight on the mainland, do all your shopping, and then return on the Wednesday ferry.

Tammy told us that when school is in the kids all come home for lunch. So whichever mom has not taken the trip to town is ‘the Mom for the Day’. All the kids come to her house for lunch, and again after school until the dads return from lobstering.

BeachWe have really enjoyed our time here, although it’s hard to imagine what life is like here in the winter. A few years ago they came up with an incentive programme to get more people to move here. A few families took the offer, but only one family has stayed. In recent years a large plot of land came up for sale and there was talk of subdividing and building houses. The town got together and managed to raise enough money to buy the land for a conservation programme and now over half of the island is in its natural state and covered with wonderful walking trails. The residents are happy with their small, sleepy village, they like tourists and cruisers to come over to visit and are happy to see them but they don’t want their island turned into a tourist mecca, they like it just the way it is…….and so do we!! We will definitely make another stop at Long Island next time we’re in Maine.