21 September 2016

Training Run: Off Shore to Cape May NJ

Argon's anchor was weighed in the dark, pre-dawn hours on Thursday 15 September in a windy Great Salt Pond Block Island and to a spectacular full moon setting on the western horizon. As we carefully motored our way out of the skinny inlet in to the choppy seas, the sky became pitch black but speckled with stars as the moonlight diminished. Then, as if waiting for the moon to depart before appearing, we were greeted by first light and a brilliant rising sun behind as we sailed a broad reach in choppy seas and18kts of wind towards Cape May.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

We had two routes to chose from as we sought to make our way further south pulling away from New England. The more common route for recreational cruisers is to stay in the relatively protected waters of Long Island Sound between Long Island and the Connecticut shore heading to New York City; then hug the coast of New Jersey to its southern tip, Cape May. We desired more off-shore experience and chose the direct route to Cape May traveling south of Long Island in the exposed Atlantic waters. As our trip was only 220nm, and not directly away from shore, this was like a training run, a mini off-shore, helping to prepare for the main events that will come later in our trip (650nm to Bermuda followed by 900nm to Antigua).

This is our route from Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island to the southern tip of New Jersey:

The winds had been high and out of the southwest for a couple of days earlier in the week; we were waiting for a shift to a better direction to avoid having to beat heavily up wind. The winds quickly altered about 180 degrees, exactly as forecasted, shortly after midnight a few hours before our early morning departure. And the seas were confused and choppy, exactly as predicted. But we were rested, bundled up, and prepared.  Another thing we did for this trip was enlist our (very) trusty weather router Ken McKinley at Locus weather. We wanted to go through the process of getting forecasts and recommendations and making decisions based on that. Once again, everything Ken said would happen... happened.

We practiced our 3 hours on and 3 hours off shifts which was needed during the initial 24 hours especially as the heavy seas and winds low downwind required diligence and active steering. I had some anxiety going in to this off shore leg anticipating a long, dark, windy night in potentially difficult seas and reflecting on the challenging night we experienced on the way to Nova Scotia back in July. But I also knew it was important to face this unease and get more practice in the open ocean. 

Bundled up for the chilly, windy morning before dawn. Full main and genoa were hoisted just outside Great Salt Pond. The seas were initially confused and chaotic but then fell in to more of a pattern of generous waves in the 18kt northerly winds. (I do not feel as horrified as my face looks in this picture.)
Bob helming as we welcome first light a few hours in to the first day.
Actively navigating the following waves while enjoying the fast speeds. Argon maintained well over 7kts the first 140 nm.

The first 24 hours of this mini off shore passage were in 3 to 5 foot seas with many 6 footers. However, with the winds mostly 18-22 kts (gusts to 26), this was very manageable with diligence.

Brief video midday of Day 1 after the sun had risen, temperatures had warmed and the seas had calmed a bit:

In anticipation of the large following waves and swells, we decided the prior night to not travel with the dinghy on the davits (as is standard for coastal sailing), but rather to tie the dinghy to the fore deck. This requires some rather arduous maneuvering to lift the outboard motor from the dinghy and attach it to a mount on the stern rail (we have practiced a method several times now which minimizes the chance that the outboard, or Bob, will fall in the water); and, using the main halyard with a lifting sling, hoist the dinghy on to the fore deck securing upside down with several dock lines.

Securing the dinghy on the fore deck the prior evening in anticipation of generous following seas. Normally the dinghy hangs off the stern on davits for coastal cruising but it is safer on the fore deck for off shore as large waves may hit up against the bottom of the dinghy causing damage to the davits or come up over and in to the dinghy adding dangerous weight.

The rhumb line from markers near Block Island to Cape May indicated we were to aim for a course of 227 degrees true and the total distance was expected to be 220nm if sailing a straight line. But with the wind blowing precisely the direction we were going, we stayed north of the rhumb line the first 30nm to maintain a broad reach, then jybed over to starboard tracking a bit south of the rhumb line. However, as predicted the wind slowly veered and we were able to gradually curve our way back towards the desired heading as the wind veered more easterly over the ensuing 15 hours. Sailing directly down wind wing on wing was impossible due to the consistently zealous seas and winds reaching 25kts at times. The boom preventer was secured virtually the entire trip as we worked to sail very low and keep the rolling waters from causing us to accidentally jybe.

Broad reaching towards Cape May with full main and genoa enjoying brisk winds, clear skies, and warming temperatures.

Coffee break. Side cockpit panels were attached on the windward side helping us stay warm.

Preparing for nightfall still moving along nicely at 7+kts.

The skies were clear and beautiful for the entire transit and we were swiftly following a current averaging well over 7 kts for the majority of the trip.

Initial glimpses of Atlantic City with the full moon setting the morning of Day 2.

Welcoming first light the morning of Day 2. Seas have calmed quite a bit since departing Block Island nearly 30 hours ago.
Atlantic City skyline. Another 40nm to Cape May.

We hoisted the spinnaker as the winds lighted up.
Our initial brisk average speed (yes, 7.5kts is fast for a sailboat such as Argon!) was thwarted during the final 30nm. But we still made the transit in a respectable 35 hours. And although this was just a mini off-shore trip, it was good to practice our helming and another overnight in the open seas. The trip to Bermuda will be much longer:  4 1/2 days and 650nm. I guess this is like a another training run for the real event.

Until next time.... we AReGONe!!

14 September 2016

Block Island and My Friend Hank

The hustle and bustle of the mainland is behind us and the regular social engagements abruptly ceased after leaving Newport. Argon's hook is set in Great Salt Pond among only a handful of other boats in the anchorage.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Block Island

Most people traveling to Block Island are familiar with the small, downtown inlet for ferry traffic. A short walk to the northwest leads to Great Salt Pond which is normally packed with hundreds of occupied moorings and a crowded anchorage where one, if arriving by boat, risks not finding space during a summer weekend. But upon Argon's arrival more than a week after the end of summer Labor Day Holiday, there are less than a dozen sailboats in this vast anchorage and the majority of moorings are off duty.

Keeping a close lookout in the narrow entrance channel of Great Salt Pond.
Entrance to Great Salt Pond is lined with people fishing. There is a sharp drop off in depth along the channel.

Snubbing the anchor chain. Winds were light on the first day but kicked up to 25+kts later in our stay. The anchor held tightly.

Sparse anchorage peering westward at dusk.

Off Shore Wind Farms

Off shore wind farms have stirred much controversy in the US with several projects in the northeast being stalled for years. Many New Englanders are familiar with the Cape Wind project that has been in the planning and permitting stage for 15 years finally to apparently die last year. Cape Wind aimed to build 170 (then decreased to 130) wind turbines in Nantucket Sound but had been blocked repeatedly due to opposition stating safety (heavy boating area) but also aesthetics. There were rich and famous among the outspoken opposition. Interestingly, in Europe, wind farms are quite plentiful (more than 25) with the UK boasting the two largest in the world: London Array (630 MW) and Gwynt y Môr (576 MW). Overall, Europe has more than 3,000 wind turbines across 84 farms producing electricity to power more than 7 million homes! Come on, America, get with the program.

Sailing southwest from Newport to Block Island one can see the five wind turbines from the first wind farm to be build in the US.

Block Island Wind Farm is the first wind farm in the US and will initially consist of only five turbines but may expand to 15 in the coming years. Each turbine is 270 feet and weights 440 tons. This pilot program is lead by the company Deepwater Wind. Construction began almost a year ago and the turbines will begin producing electricity for Block Island by end of this year.

View of the wind farm from the Southeast Lighthouse. Score is Europe: 3000, US: 5.

New Normal

I have fallen in to a routine of daily swims (even if for a just a quick swim and salt water bath followed by a fresh water cockpit rinse), practicing my stand up paddle board, and reading and writing in the cockpit. The warmer waters south of Cape Cod Bay are welcoming and I am hoping that as we travel more southward and explore the Chesapeake Bay in the coming weeks, the waters will remain inviting.

Getting the hang of the SUP in calm waters and light winds. I also ventured out the following morning in 15+kts of chop staying on the board but only barely being able to stay stationary against the wind and current; it was good balancing practice even though I made no geographical progress.

Morning swims remind me of 0500 meetings with Taisa at Miller's Pond.
We are enjoying the 70-75 degree waters.

A new toy that I brought along on this trip is an inflatable stand up paddle board (SUP). We have rented the hard / solid boards a couple of times in the past and were pleasantly surprised at how quickly we learned to balance and paddle in (smooth) waters. My inflatable, however, has proven to be more challenging. It is a little shorter and a bit squishy compared to the solid boards and I have experimented with estimating the appropriate pressure (15 psi) to stiffen it up enough as I have no gauge on my pump. After several attempts on the water I am getting acclimated and feeling more confident.

Exploring by Land

Block Island is wonderful for biking as long as one is prepared to handle some hills. We have enjoyed sailing to Block Island most summers for the past several years and I was sparked to looked up blog posts from prior visits here: July 2015 and August 2014

Scene from Southeast Lighthouse towards Mohegan Bluff.

The Oliver Hazzard Perry (aka The Perry) pulled in to Great Salt Pond. She is a civilian sailing school vessel named after the US Naval officer from Rhode Island. The building of this 196 foot long steel hulled ship was just completed two years ago.

My Friend Hank

Turning abruptly on to the dirt patch by the ramshackle fishing hut, careful to avoid the three sleepy hounds of varying mixed breeds, I dismount my rickety rental bike. I asked the obviously approachable, heavily bearded man in the doorway "I stink at fishing... can you help me?" Hank kindly but sternly replied "Nobody stinks at fishin'. Ya just need some guidance, a few pieces of gear, and to get out there in the water." Hank's enthusiasm for fishing gushed immediately as we struck up a conversation and I agreed to return with my two poles for some advice, instruction, and of course, some tackle. My return visit with Hank later that evening was worth way more than the $92 of gear he sold me as he also examined and tweaked my rods, confirmed their lines were good, taught me how to feed the hook through the slugs for both weedless surface jigging and deeper casting. In addition, Hank walked me through how to catch squid at night to use as Striper bait or to clean it for calamari.

A true fishing enthusiast! Hank was generous with his time, knowledge and advice from this little side road fishing shack.

Hank showed me how to rig these common bubblegum slugs for both surface / weedless skimming and slightly deeper reeling. The small bright green piece on the combing is for jigging for squid. We also now have trolling lures for Stripers and, when further south and off shore, for Mahi. (By the way, I have no idea how we would clean a big fish out under sail should one be caught but will cross that bridge when/if we come to it.)

Stay tuned to see if any of the instruction pays off in the coming weeks. If any readers have fishing suggestions and feedback for me, please send along your comments - I need to make Hank proud.

Preparing for a Mini Off Shore to Cape May, New Jersey

New Jersey does not sound like a particularly sexy or adventurous destination. However, our next transit to the southern tip of the Garden State will mark our foray in to waters new to us and provide an opportunity for more off shore practice.

We have been keeping an eye out on the near and mid range forecast and have started to check in with our trusty weather router, Ken McKinley from Locus Weather, as we prepare for this relatively short off shore trip (~220 nm heading southwest south of Long Island Sound). If we average 5.5kts, the trip will take 40 hours; based on conditions I am optimistic that our average speed will be a bit faster.

Currently we are nearing the end of a couple days of moderate to high southwesterly winds and are waiting for the shift from the north and northeast. Departing while the winds were still out of the SW would make the transit both very uncomfortable and long (nose to wind in high chop and waves with lots of tacking adding to the distance and time). We will time our departure to be several hours after the shift from SW to N/NE likely providing for some moderate seas (3-5 feet) for our first few hours but steadily calming as day 1 progresses. The plan is maintain a broad reach port tack heading a bit south of the rumb line initially but pulling back to the line as the wind clocks from N to NE. We expect to have our hands full with active steering and moderate following seas especially the first 12-18 hours but safe conditions under clear skies with a full moon.

Preparing for a short two day (~40 hours) off shore passage with a pre-dawn departure Thursday 15 September. As we leave Block Island, we will be in waters that are naive to Argon and her crew as we venture further along our journey.

Off line until after we settle in at Cape May.
Until then...   we ARe GONe!

11 September 2016

we ARe GONe: The First Few Days

Sitting in the cockpit, sipping thick brown coffee softened with warmed milk, enjoying the tapering fog having just exited the Cape Cod Canal only 24 hours into our journey... wondrous. Sails are trimmed, autopilot is on, Bob is down below working. I can just think, listen, feel and write a bit.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Buzzards Bay is uncharacteristically flat and welcoming - yes really. Normally when one exits the southern opening of this 7 mile long canal that connects Cape Cod Bay with Buzzards Bay there is a ferocious salutation of choppy waves and headstrong winds from the culmination of the vast volume of water in Rhode Island Sound and Buzzards Bay being forced northeast by the prevailing southwesterly winds. But today we benefit from the many days of more northerly winds from tropical storm Hermine and the bay is wonderfully serene. Argon is pointed 220T traveling at 5kts, in 11kts of a northwesterly breeze.
Healthy breakfast purring along Buzzards Bay.


We have transited this canal dozens of times and although one must motor (no sailing allowed regardless of wind direction) we always enjoy the scene of fishermen, cyclists, joggers, other boats, bridges, passing barges, and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

There was a cheerful yet intimidating overlay of emotion as this canal transit is representing a gateway of sorts; a demarcation between the routine and novel, the familiar and mysterious, the safe and adventurous.

My life has had several demarcations (strangely that seem to occur approximately every decade or so) that I normally identify only in retrospect. Some of these demarcations have been punctuated by blessed events, and some have been marked by tragic events; each demarcation represented a meaningful transformation of sorts. I presuppose that this is both a prospective and spirited demarcation. A clear division between phases of life. What will lie ahead?

Good Bye Boston And Life as We Knew It

As we prepared to pull out of slip D17 at Constitution Marina for the last time, the Sluice Gates of the Charles River opened to our dismay. This brings an ugly sludge of algae byproducts down the marina fairway soiling the waterline of boats and, most relevant to us this morning, churning up quite an aggressive current in the opposite direction of our exit.

Because of the strong current from the release of the locks, instead of turning hard to starboard to pull forward out of the fairway, I did not fight the current and instead let it take the bow while helpful hands on the finger pier held in my stern to ensure we did not get pushed in to our neighbor. I then hard reversed out of the fairway pushing against the rushing water to make a final successful exit. Must admit it was a bit nerve-wracking to have such a challenging final departure.
Constitution Marina and Zachim Bridge as we pull away in the thinning fog.

Lifting clouds revealing the familiar and beautiful Boston skyline as we tack gently out of the harbor and up the small boat channel.

Ok, Linda... enough with the sentimental good bye pictures! Nix's Mate with the veiled, receding Boston skyline as we pull away.

Milestones and Deliverables No More

Our only time-dependent obligation currently is to be docked in Portsmouth or Norfolk Virginia by (about) mid October. Wow. After so many years of heavily scheduled lives with endless multi-tasking, we are unencumbered by deliverables, milestones, and schedules. Well, Bob still has 25-30% of a job so I guess he's not off the hook. Will this be an uncomfortable transition or effortless? I suspect the later. Of course there are various mini time considerations such as meeting up with friends, knowing when happy hour is, being aware of timing of wind shifts, tides and currents (btw... we missed in the Cape Cod Canal current Day 1 - but, hey, that was just fine with us; we are in cruising mode!).

Skies cleared as we pulled away from the Boston Harbor Islands. Approaching Minot light sailing close haul in 11kts of breeze on flat seas.
Enjoying easy sailing...

... while Bob gets some work done below.

Cape Cod Canal

We were being proudly purist sailors leaving Boston Harbor tacking in to light winds against a flooding tide, hence our initial couple of hours had a very lean velocity made good (VMG). But that was just fine. We are sailors, damn it!, and sailors sail, we do not motor (well, unless we have to, and boy that diesel comes in handy sometimes) and although we were planning to transit the Cape Cod Canal catching the progression of the water southward that evening, arriving late simply meant that we could drop anchor on the near side of the canal, get some sleep, and continue on in the morning when the flow was in our favor again.

We dropped anchor on the northern side of the Cape Cod Canal off Sagamore Beach at about 2030 the first night of our trip. The canal tide would be in our favor again in the morning. A scrumptious dinner of chili rellenos ended our evening. I think that look in Bob's eyes is famished sleepiness.

Another foggy morning as Bob directions me on where to steer Argon so we can haul up the anchor and continue on through the opening of the canal just a  mile or so away through the lifting fog.

The Cape Cod Canal is 500 foot wide, 7 mile long, 40 foot deep man-made waterway allowing mariners to avoid the often challenging waters around the outer eastern arm of Massachusetts's lovely Cape Cod and shortening the trade route from New York City to Boston by 100km. Interestingly, especially to my many genealogy-loving Perry family members, the idea of constructing a canal here was first discussed by our Perry great, great, great... grandfather, Miles Standish, in the early 1600's. Several waves of planning and evaluations took place over the ensuing 250 years until finally construction began in the early 1900's via a privately funded and owned effort. The initial canal was only one fifth the current width, more shallow, and had a slightly different southerly footprint through Phinney Harbor. The canal experienced several accidents during it's first several years of operation damaging its reputation and limiting revenue. Many boats chose to risk the longer, more difficult passage around Cape Cod until, during World War I, a tug boat with four barges was torpedoed by a German U Boat east of Cape Cod with several crew perishing. This triggered the US government to take control of the canal leading to a swift expansion of the width and depth and altering of the southern entrance by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Interestingly before the modifications in construction, engineers from MIT constructed a large scale model (one mile long!) to study the hydraulic effects of the tidal currents on the new design. The Cape Cod Canal was then able to provide more swift and safe transit north and southward in New England to all commercial and recreational boaters. Now it is very uncommon to travel around the outer Cape and only the largest vessels such as enormous cruise ships and tankers avoid the canal.

We decided to tackle the challenge of sailing around the outer Cape once (so far) a couple of years ago. We made it so I suppose it can be considered an achievement, but it nearly ended in disaster. Our experience is shared in a the blog post from August 2014 A Tale of Two Extremes: Argon Sails the Outer Cape. Suffice it to say we are very grateful for the safe (and swift) passage option offered by the Cape Cod Canal. And I like to think we are wiser sailors today for the experience.

The familiar entrance to the Cape Cod Canal with the fixed FL R 5s 43ft/15M "6" at the end of the breakwater to the right, and the R "4" at the entrance for clear guidance. The current rips strongly at here at peak ebbing and flooding.
Passing under the Sagamore Bridge. I have probably driven over this bridge only 4 or 5 times (very unusual for someone that has lived in New England so long given the popularity of the Cape) but I have transited under it with my sailboat (motoring) dozens of time. I much prefer by boat.
Bourne Bridge in the foreground congested with traffic. Rail road bridge in the background. One must keep an ear to the VHF and a watch on the RR bridge height to be alert for it dropping to allow a train to pass.
Our displays show the effects of the strong tidal current. The 9.0 is our speed over ground (SOG) while the 7.9 is our speed through water (STW). Argon is traveling faster over ground than through the water due to the approximately one and half kt current going in our direction helping to push us along.

The Cape Cod Canal has the largest tidal differential of all canals without the use of locks. The strong tidal flow results in up to a 5kt current. Most mariners will time canal transit as not to oppose this strong current for efficiency. Vessels with modest propulsion such as small power boats and sailboats (Argon has just a 55hp diesel) should always transit at slack or positive current.

Hello Rhode Island

Having fun sailing wing on wing down Buzzards Bay galloping towards the Rhode Island coast guarding the main sheet should I accidentally jybe as the enormous main sail teeters slightly on  the lee.

Our second evening welcomed one of our favorite anchorages: Third Beach in Newport. Many are familiar with First and Second Beach in Newport that are easily seen driving along 138A. However, opposite and northeast to Second Beach, opening in to the southern out pouring of the Sakonnet River is the more secluded and pristine Third Beach with warm water and soft welcoming sand.

Pleasing anchor at Third Beach for our second night of our briny wanderlust.

And then there is Newport with All of Her Boat Porn

We love Newport. She is cocky and opulent but the huge percentage and variety of sailboats and the ingrained mariner charm weaved everywhere is intoxicating. And as we become even saltier sailors, it is wonderful to anchor for free in a place that easily gets a premium price of $220 to park a boat of our size for just one night.

Newport will get increasingly busy in the coming days as she prepares for the annual Newport Boat Show (NBS). Argon was featured in the NBS show last year as part of the Tartan display. See the former post Argon Does NBS September 2015. We will likely stay here in Newport a few days as I have filled our social calendar once again.

Lovely Narraganset Bay approaching Newport, RI.
Many sailing vessels that dwarf Argon in size and opulence.

Look closely... a cutter with a solent rig. Very unusual but cool.
Chillin' at anchor in Newport Harbor after a nice, very short work day.

Media Attention and More Socializing for Argon

Our lifestyle, sailboat and sailing plans have gotten a bit of attention recently. A couple of months ago we were interviewed for and mentioned in a Sunday Boston Globe article featuring living aboard: What is it like to live aboard in Boston? Unfortunately (or fortunately) we were sailing the lovely coastline of Maine during the photo shoot so no pictures of Argon.

Earlier this week Argon was in a movie shoot for an upcoming independent film being shot at many Boston locations: Argon on the Big Screen.

Most recently, we were visited and interviewed by the owner of Black Rock Sailing School, Brenton Lochridge. Black Rock is an award winning sailing school based in Boston MA, Warwick RI, and Tortola British Virgin Islands (BVI). Black Rock provided critical instruction for us including docking skills, ASA 104 Coastal Cruising in the BVI, and the especially highly recommended ASA 105 Navigation course.  

Flashback photo from March 2012 when I took ASA104 in the BVI with Brenton and three other students. Brenton's ASA 104 course was intense with constant sailing, drills, theory, and quizzing as we darted among beautiful islands. The live man overboard drills as well as all manual navigation (no electronics) were particularly instructive.
Brenton conducted a brief interview with Bob and I as part of his video profiling of Black Rock Sailing School graduates: Video interview by Brenton Lochridge from Black Rock Sailing School

Great visit and fun interview with Brenton and Paul of Black Rock Sailing School.

Brenton and Paul of Black Rock Sailing School visiting on Argon. We hope to meet up with them in Bermuda in November and the BVI in the winter as they lead more ASA 104 classes among the lovely Caribbean Islands.

We were able to get our final canvas project completed while anchored in Newport. Phil Kinder of Kinder Industries came aboard to finalize the screen to our companionway. Kinder Industries crafted all of Argon's canvas work including the dodger, bimini, solar panel attachments, side panel cockpit enclosures, etc.
Phil Kinder installing the snaps for our new companionway screen.  Bob calls this our "Zika Screen"

Bob's NY hometown friend has become quite the passionate sailor over the past several years. Bob and Greg Ruf enjoy exchanging sailing projects and stories. Greg documents his experiences sailing his O'Day 23 at s/v Piao and Ruf Seas sailing blog. .

Bob shuttling more guests to Argon.

Argon at her anchorage with Newport Bridge in the background.

Now it is time to communicate with our trusty weather router, Ken McKinley from Locus Weather, as we start to look for a good weather window for the ~240nm off shore passage to the southern tip of New Jersey, Cape May, marking our entrance in to new waters as we point southward. In the meantime, we are enjoying the absence of schedules!

Until next time.... we AReGONe!