Friday, December 29, 2017

America The Beautiful/Sequel

The North Atlantic Ocean offers endless possibilities for apprehension. When cruising on the western shore of Lake Michigan the fact that Michigan is 50 to 90 miles away is a cause of anxiety. But once in the Atlantic the miles morph from the tens to the thousands. This increase in distance is palpable in the way Carrie Rose rides the waves. Unseen or even unheard of storms affect the day’s passage.

Six to eight miles off shore the swell, which in my Atlantic experience has been from the SE, begins to pick up the boat’s rear and send it rushing down an extra knot or so. The wave’s peak eventually catches up to the boat and with a whoosh, passes under the keel. Now the boat’s forward motion is slowed as the aft sinks into the trough, and then the process begins again.

Waves develop in patterns. About every seventh wave on the Great Lakes is larger with an occasional one being totally out of proportion. Think minuscule rogue wave. It is impressive, and elicits a hoot and a holler from the crew. These waves are the exclamation point of the journey.

At one moment we are amongst the waves and then suddenly the waves are amongst us: either on the crest with distant views of breaking white caps, or below in the troughs surrounded by walls of dark blue water.

At some point, it is time to head for shore. With the push of a couple of buttons, the autopilot alters course. The boat’s motion takes on a different feel, and several times this year the combination of wind and waves conspired to make me queasy. It does not last long though, because the sea state is in constant change as Maine’s jagged coast manipulates the surface of the ocean.

It is not a simple task to approach the final destination. Many waypoints need to be meticulously followed since for the most part, over the last seven years of cruising, every destination is unique. Islands (both seen and unseen), bays, reefs, mountains, and tides and currents influence Carrie Rose’s path to a slip, mooring, or anchorage.

Each destination requires a different mindset. Different switches, lines, fenders, and gear need to be readied. Different tomes need to be reviewed. And different levels of trepidation inform the procedure. Charlotte and I have become adept at this needing few words to set the plan in motion. Of course, the plan is in constant review. Even after the boat is secured and the engine turned off the process continues.

If we are anchored I will take the next half hour to listen to the weather radio, observe landmarks, enter the Lat/Long into the log, set the GPS on anchor watch, and second guess myself as to where I chose to drop the hook. This can be exhausting.

If on a slip, I adjust the lines and walk the docks to observe how the locals are attached. If they have extra lines, I will come back and do the same, for every harbor has its own idiosyncrasy only known to the natives. This saved us much grief.

Moorings are a different story. Though easier than both of the above, they require faith in the unknown. A mooring is made up of numerous fittings, all prone to failure if not maintained properly. It is a calculated risk, as most cruising is after all. We trust that all will be well. This saved us many sleepless nights.

I started to write about the different Americas we encountered in the thousand miles from Kent Island, Maryland to Herrick Bay, Maine. About the people we met, the food and the culture we experienced, the nature and city landscapes we glided by — that is, about America the beautiful, but I was swept up in the details . . . so be it.

To our family & friends, Happy Holidays from Charlotte & Dean


It only took 1000 nautical miles to go from shallow mud and heat to deep granite and cold. Somewhere in those miles, we crossed the crustacean differentiation line passing from blue crabs to green lobsters. The boats morphed from skinny to wide, and the buoys from a hodgepodge to a constant presence. Carrie Rose went from heading north to heading down east. The language changed but I am not a good enough writer to describe it. The geography aged, the further north (with a few exceptions) the older and more interesting. Flat salt marshes barely holding their heads out of the rising sea slowly transformed into a tree lined rocky coast covered in moss and lichen, and unlike the southern realms, this northern mountainous landscape will require millions of years to erode. South in the heat folk were polite if not a bit edgy. Mid trip in the lands of New Jersey and southern New York an infectious nervous energy developed. We basked in the instant familiarity and joy that was exhibited to us for the fact of having enough nerve to show up in a boat from Chicago. Maine has a more reserved population. They are going along how they have always gone along, and will continue to with or without us. It seems they would be just as happy to be left alone, as long as the world continues to buy their lobsters. Carrie Rose floats through these communities untethered. It is a liberating feeling. When we pack up and head home for another winter of family, friends, and culture it is usually about time and brings no regret.

Deacember 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

Living with Lobsters

A friend asked for more detail about lobsters and considering the number of buoys I dodged, I agreed. So, here are a few pictures with comments about living with lobsters in Maine…

A fine example of a lobster boat weighed down with all the gear needed.

Lobster pot buoys on the Sheepscot River...remember we are navigating through these.

Pulling up pots.

Buoys get tangled.

Boats appear out of the fog.

Sailing through the "mine field", as Charlotte is fond of calling the conglomeration of buoys.

Stonington, Maine on Deer Island is a working lobstermen town hidden away on Deer Isle Thoroughfare.

A fellow Nordic Tug negotiating another "mine field".

A distinctive boat loaded for bear.

A sense of humor on Islebourgh Isle.

The working part of the boat with the pulley...looks dangerous!

The table complete with bait bags and rubberbands for the claws.

Beautiful aren't they...


The lobster fishing community is a parallel universe in Maine, impenetrable by us from “away”. It is hunkered down on island hideaways or in cubbyholes tucked into the mainland’s jagged coast. Cruising guides that usually error on the side of optimism, are blunt in their description of certain bastions of lobsterdom as being unwelcoming to recreational boaters.

Lobstermen and women seem the perfect foils for country western songs. Many are scruffy with cigarettes dangling from their mouths. They exude the machismo of total disregard for their health. But this cannot be the total truth, for many come from deeply religious backgrounds and have a legacy of fishing that goes back to great grandfathers.

For the indigenous, training can start as early as five years old. Knowledge handed down from grandfathers and fathers is priceless. In a local bookstore, I asked if there was a lobster fishing textbook that would be used in a community college course titled Lobstering 101. I received a puzzled look and was directed to the shelf labeled Maine.

There I found a skinny book written by a young woman who fished with her father and grandfather, and then went on to earn a higher degree. She does a good job of explaining a life spent on the water, particular customs and superstitions, the biology of lobsters, and the rational behind many of the practices we watched as we cruised through miles of lobster buoys.

But I imagine much of what is done is instinctual. I gained an understanding of cruising on the Great Lakes: the weather, the waves, the lee and weather coasts, and the peculiarities of harbors by putting in thousands of hours. From what I have witnessed here, these lobstermen earn a lifetime of experience before they are thirty.

Despite what I have stated above many of the harbors are both working and recreational. Lobster boats intermingle with cruising boats and in many places distinctive one design sailboats raced by the local yacht club. If there is a dock at all, there are often working and recreational sides.

Lobster boats come in many sizes. Most are in the mid 30 foot range. They have powerful engines and large four bladed props that enable the captains to muscle the boats around. I sat in the pilothouse and watched them maneuver to and from the docks. They did it with aplomb.

If I cut off Carrie Rose’s salon, she could certainly go fishing, so watching them is instructive. The only thing I lack is the self confidence to use the power available to me. But that said piloting Carrie Rose is becoming instinctive. I end up in tight places without much thought and only afterwards try to dissect how I got there.

I compartmentalize my fears and in doing so keep my options open. For me it is the only way to keep cruising. To keep throwing us into new situations and not fall back on familiar territory, this requires a certain recklessness and a willingness to take risks. And with that comes the responsibility to minimize those risks.

That is the fine art of cruising, which I suppose, for superstitious reasons it is not talked about much. Each person has their own perception of these risks and that perspective changes, one way or another, with experience. This is the foundation for an interesting life, even if not recognized.

It is a valuable lesson to learn at the helm of a cruising or lobster boat, and maybe it will create a wormhole between the two. I’ll be thinking of this next year while steering through the multitude of buoys placed by those lobstermen from the other universe, and hope that the experience gained will keep a buoy from wrapping around the prop!

September 2017

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


A cormorant rests on a mooring ball. Another flies deliberately, just off the water with rapid steady wing beats.

Nature is so close but we have done a magnificent job of isolating ourselves. A vast paper trail — little understood — protects us from it.

Carrie Rose will support us for a month if we are frugal: Fuel, water, waste, diesel, propane, electrons, and food. If it all functions, we are like a duck in the water, up with the sun and down not much after twilight.

Solar panels, a generator, a small refrigerator, and 200 gallons of diesel; an old radio and books for entertainment; a flute, art supplies, pen and paper for artistic pursuits. Cameras help preserve the moment but I am not sure for who.

The sun passes behind the trees. On the horizon, the sky clears for the first time today. Orange rays light up the remaining cloudbank. The wind dies so we float with the current, flipping 180 degrees every 6 hours.

There is not a sound other than the clock ticking. A duck floats by leaving a surprisingly large wake. A pair of porpoises reveals their presence by punctuating the water’s surface with their dorsal fins as a flock of storm petrels flies out.

Though the sun is long gone, its image is reflected in the clouds and from there, the water. Carrie Rose gently sways on her last night of floating.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Thousand Miles

A nautical mile is 1.2 times the length of its cousin, the statue mile. It is a minute of latitude and since latitude is read off the side of a chart, it is a convenient mile marker. Latitude is the horizontal marker of the world. The lines run parallel east to west, and are measured north to south from the equator.

All this is to say that Carrie Rose passed the thousand nautical mile mark this year. Chesapeake Bay, where we began, is but a distant memory. To date we have anchored, moored, or docked in 35 different harbors, coves, rivers, cities, etc. If all goes well the final number will be 36 when the fine folks at Atlantic Boatyard pull Carrie Rose out of Herrick Bay.

Herrick Bay is as far out of the way as any place we have stayed. The bay dries out at low tide revealing many extra feet of the bottom. There is a dock but it is only for the dinghies of everyone out on moorings where it is easier to deal with the 11 foot tides. When the tide is out the ramp from the dock is at about 45 degrees. The walk up shortens my breath and the walk down is dangerous.

Before we left on our present cruise to Northeast Harbor on Mt. Desert Island, I hung over the rail at low tide and had an enlightening conversation with the boatyard’s manager. He is a big strapping guy who looks comfortable in his ever present Hawaiian shirt. I fired off one question after another trying to familiarize myself with this newfound place.

I asked about lobster fishing and he spoke of being a lobsterman. I asked about all of the critters that came up with the mooring line and he named them with their biological names, the knowledge of which he had gathered during gaining a degree in marine biology. I self diagnosed my engine problems, and he quietly listened much as I did with my know-it-all patients, and then steered me confidently in the correct direction.

Once on the hard we will spend another few days tidying up, which is to say change the oil, wash, wax and buff the hull and deck, oil the wood inside and out, try to repair the poor dinghy’s varnish, and replace the weeping fiberglass exhaust tube. There is more but I won’t bore you with the details.

Of course, Carrie Rose is an inanimate object but objects can have personalities. And those personalities, whether we like it or not, become part of our psyche either driving us forward to explore, or to seek shelter and lick our wounds.

This all comes with this year’s thousand mile cruise, which began south and finished Down East. Carrie Rose is a striking boat but also an aging one that has been crossing the parallels of latitude and the meridians of longitude for 27 years, and hopes to continue doing so.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Castine, on the Bagaduce River, is ghostly this morning, shrouded in fog. Carrie Rose faces East Penobscot Bay in a strong flood tide. The incoming current overcomes the rivers outflow causing the surface of the water to swirl. Boats jockey back and forth on their moorings. Not far from our port bow the red “2” buoy is tilted upstream by the flow. Many aquatic plants pass by along with an occasional log.

The humidity is 100% and the world is white. Carrie Rose is covered in dew. I take advantage of the fresh water to wipe the salt off the deck, rails, and windows. I want to hear a foghorn if for no other reason than to confirm the view in front of me but none sound.

Though the sun is obscured behind the thick haze, it rises and with that so does the hope that the fog will dissipate. When it does, it does so incrementally. The town, where we are, clears first. It is a common mistake to mistake this for a sign to head out only to find that the fog is thicker on the bay.

The fog retreats over several hours and when the mooring line is finally let loose a thin mist barely obscures Turtle Head, Islesboro Island’s northern most point. The wind freshens dispersing the hazy remnants of the fog. The ghost gives up the day to the blue.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Another Nice Boat

For someone who has spent an inordinate amount of his life looking at boats, Maine is a treasure. It is like finding Eldorado. In Pulpit Harbor, North Haven Island, one of the premier anchorages on Maine, one sailboat after another came to roost. Most were larger than Carrie Rose, some close to 100 feet.

Now Carrie Rose is further Down East and the boats are no less classic but of a more manageable scale. Of course, this excludes the schooner fleet we just left behind at Camden. We swing in a mooring field surrounded by a multitude of Herreshoff 12 ½’s, Concordia yawls, and other beauties of unknown design but all of wood with varnished topsides and painted white hulls.

The fiberglass boats are also vintage good old boats. There is even a boat Charlotte and I coveted before turning to power, a Hallberg-Rassy 32. Our beloved Lenore was of an older vintage from this Swedish builder of wood lined ocean ready sailboats.

It was a twenty mile cruise today from Camden to Castine. The seas were calm and though cloudy, the rain held off until almost into the harbor. It was turning into an uneventful day (if that can ever be said about a day spent on the waters of Maine) when I noticed the bilge pump’s red light flicker on and off.

Of course, this light should not be flickering. Charlotte took the helm and slowed us a bit. We informed our cruising companions of what was taking place and I began to investigate. First, I looked at the engine gauges. All was well, nothing overheating. Then, with flashlight in hand, I skipped down the three stairs into the saloon and took the floor panel off.

The bilge pump was cycling on and off as the water rose and fell. The propeller shaft was turning and its seal was intact. The various other potential leaks were also intact, so I replaced the floor and focused my attention to the engine room.

Back up the stairs, I removed the port side pilothouse floor. Noise and heat and crankcase fumes filled the space. Clear water was lapping under the main engine. I pointed the flashlight around, stopping at each possible water source. All looked undamaged. The search was narrowing. The water was clear so it was not engine coolant. The raw water valves and hoses that bring in cooling water for both engines were dry. I quickly moved to the starboard side.

Charlotte had to move to the far right, so I could slide that floor panel over. Using the high beam, I started the next inventory when I saw it. The cold water hose for the water heater was spewing like a garden hose. I turned the water pressure pump switch off and the leak ceased.

Now imagine if you can a 6 cylinder 220 HP turbo diesel and a 2 cylinder 23 HP diesel running side by side in a narrow compartment in a boat mid channel on East Penobscot Bay with Islesboro Island on one side and Resolute Island on the other with the heat, noise, noxious fumes, and the intermingled fumes that reside in the bilge despite all my attempts to eradicate them . . . well, it is not the kind of place to lightly crawl into.

I procured the few tools I needed and lowered myself on to the battery box, wedged into a space confined by the thumping main engine and the waste holding tank. Careful not to scorch my right arm and shoulder, I reconnected the hose. It was not complicated, just loosening and tightening a hose clamp.

By now, the bilge was dry and we informed Sir Tugley Blue that we were coming back up to speed. Forty five minutes later at the dock of the Castine Yacht Club, we replaced the seventy gallons of water that had emptied into the bilge. In another thirty minutes we were attached to mooring “3” in 68 feet of water at low tide on the Bagaduce River.

Charlotte made lunch and I did something I rarely do, took a nap. As I lay across the pilothouse bench, covered in a cotton blanket I took a last glance at the nice boats Carrie Rose was privilege to be part of on this rainy eventful day, and faded off with dreams of varnish and wood shavings, expectant of the next Eldorado.

Castine, ME

Thursday, August 17, 2017


How does one find inspiration . . . Is inspiration necessary . . . Is inspiration or the search for it an excuse for not doing the work? I find myself contemplating these questions while Carrie Rose swings on her anchor just offshore of an inspirational friend’s home island, North Haven.

The sun rose behind Pulpit Harbor’s inner harbor, and I was, as usual, awake to witness it. Several of the larger lobster boats left for a days work as the sun cleared the horizon. I suppose for lack of dock space on land, much of the lobster fishing gear resides on piers anchored to the harbors bottom.

I saw a similar thing on Tangiers Island in Chesapeake Bay, though those were more like man caves complete with electricity to keep the bay’s water flowing over molting crabs which had been handpicked to spend their final days becoming soft shell crabs.

Here I watched unique lobster boats with backward slanting pilothouse windshields tie up to the floating pier and shovel small silvery bait fish from barrels into receptacles on their decks. Most of the lobster boats in Pulpit Harbor are of the smaller variety, half the size of the boats we saw miles offshore when first entering Maine.

These boats have to contend with Penobscot Bay and not the North Atlantic, so that may have something to do with it. Or maybe it is the lack of capital available to folk coming from such tiny islands.

At the islands only grocery there were two 8 1/2 by 11 sheets listing phone numbers, one blue and the other yellow. The former listed the full time residents and businesses; the latter consisted of summer residents only. A hand full of surnames filled the roster of the full timer’s roster.

Once the sun was 45 degrees above the horizon, the solar panels begin to replace the electricity used to keep the refrigerator and the anchor light functioning at night. Each morning since crossing into Maine, the propane cabin heater has been put to good use taking the cool damp air out of the saloon and out of our bones.

Now that the lobster boats have departed, the sailboats began to stir. Sleepy figures appear on their decks coiling lines, taking sail covers off and warming up engines. Despite all the activity around us, Carrie Rose is going nowhere. She will witness the comings and goings as the tide rises and falls ten feet every 6.25 hours. In the meantime, inspiration may come . . . or not.

Situational Awareness

If there is anything that dictates life on the water, it is the weather. For a boat our size and for its crew’s preference for comfort, this can mean leaving a harbor early or extending a stay. We have done both since starting the cruise with Nentoa, the North East Nordic Tug Association. We stayed a day longer at Block Island, skipped Cuttyhunk Island altogether, and left Provincetown after only one day.

On the 60 mile run from Block Island to Onset, MA, we passed across a stretch of the North Atlantic into Buzzards Bay. These are storied water, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard lie to the east, Wood’s Hole to the north, and the whaling capital and famed boat building town of New Bedford to the west. It was a shame to blow through it at 8 knots but we were on a mission.

Buzzards Bay begins miles wide and narrows into a few hundred feet at the beginning of the Cape Cod Canal. The destination for the night, Onset, is just passed the canal’s entrance. While motoring up the bay, Carrie Rose stayed north of the shipping channel but as the bay narrowed, was drawn into it. A long earthen wall delineates the canal from the rest of the bay.

A mile or so before the above and now 6 hours into the cruise, though I did not think so, I was on cruise control. I had lost situational awareness. With my foot propped up near the throttle, I was scanning the gauges, chartplotters, and the radar but not analyzing the data. I take pride in my piloting skills but not this day.

Into my right peripheral vision (the side that has the right of way) came a large white object reminding me I was on the water, in a boat going 8 knots, in the vicinity of a large ship’s channel and probably more recreational boats than most places in the world.

The captain of the sailboat which was quickly coming into full view would reasonably assume — or maybe not — that I would give way and passed about ½ block ahead. I snapped to attention, stood behind the wheel, and saw another object to the right. This one was black and orange and stood about five stories high, it was the Coast Guard Cutter… It was in the channel that we would soon be entering, but it still gave me a start. I checked its speed on AIS and slowed just enough to let it pass by.

I pulled in far behind the cutter and began to make preparations for the 90 degree turn into the channel that lead to Onset. Cape Cod Canal is known for its swift current and it was flowing across the entrance, which is marked by an incongruous two green markers. Waiting until just at the north buoy, I turned hard left, buried the throttle, and plowed into the disturbed water passed the no wake sign and into the skinny channel.

Minutes later Charlotte attached the mooring line to Carrie Rose and we were swinging in a beautiful little bay with the charming, well preserved village of Onset, MA beckoning us. We bought beer, had a slice of pizza at Marc Anthony’s and met up with our fellow cruisers for a drink and debriefing on the day’s journey . . . situational foibles and all.


Okay, skip my reference to the heart of darkness in the last post. I am of Italian heritage and prone to the occasional histrionics. Maine is beautiful, blessed with picturesque towns, finely designed and built boats, and friendly people. The tidal range has increased the farther down east we have travelled, as has the number of lobster buoys.

The Chesapeake was good training grounds for avoiding the colorful jellybean like objects that carpet the surface of the waters here in Maine. Charlotte regularly informs me that our next destination has the highest concentration of buoys, which is hard to imagine as where we are floating now averages a buoy per square foot.

Carrie Rose has encountered them as far as 4 miles offshore in 200 feet of water and packed into bustling harbors. One long time Mainer told us to “Go right through ‘em!” in a similar vein to Admiral Nelson’s famous cry before decimating the French fleet. Not possessing Nelson’s hutspa, I’ve demurred.

We have encountered them in flat calm, in dense fog, in current strong enough to pull them under the water, and on the North Atlantic in wind and waves that obscure their presence until the last moment. Since crossing into Maine the autopilot has been more off than on.

I have made a study of lobster boats intricate dance amongst the buoys. They race from buoy to buoy barely slowing as the fisherman gaffs the line that attaches the buoy to lobster trap . Through a series of deft moves, the line is hung on an overhead pulley as the buoy is deposited on the gunwale. The line is wrapped around a hydraulic spool that pulls the trap up. When the line tautens it stops the boats momentum, swinging it broadside and then the trap appears hanging on the side of the boat.

In another set of choreographed moves, often involving the help of a deck mate, it is pulled up flat on the rail, opened, cleaned, restocked with bait, and picked clean of its lobsters. Some are haphazardly thrown back into the sea, some into a waiting large white wet well, and others carefully measured . . . a few millimeters deciding their fate.

The boat accelerates as the trap is let loose, its line careening down the side of the boat and off the back. This is done with a studied grace that I would not expect from the usual beefy crew. But I do a disservice here: men, women, children both svelte and rotund perform the task with equal ease whether in a bay’s oily calm or the roiling North Atlantic swell. It is impressive and well worth the occasional change of course to avoid becoming entangled.

A lobster boat is a fine craft: pointy, its knife like bow steeply plunges into the water with a slight backward curve. The beam quickly widens and is carried to the flat stern. After an initial rise, the shear flattens to a working height a couple of feet off the waters surface. A cutty cabin seamlessly blends into the pilothouse’s slightly stern tilted windshield and ends amidships. Seen from the port a lobster boat looks almost recreational but from the starboard, it is eviscerated revealing the inner workings.

They rumble by with dry exhaust stacks pointed to the sky. Small midline boxes conceal the many hundreds of horsepower gulping either gasoline or diesel. I’d say these lobstermen are the last to carry on the tradition of the muscle car.

Maine is carpeted with colorful buoys, with every inch of its water (both above and below) patrolled on a daily basis. Maine is rocks and breaking surf on tree lined coasts. Maine is sea birds — petrels, gannets, and guillemots —never seen before. And Maine is sea creatures that pop up have a look around and a breath and disappear into the depths. Carrie Rose will see what else Maine is in the coming months as it comes out of the darkness into the light.

Saturday, August 5, 2017


Portland has been home for four days. Due to visits from friends we stayed longer then expected, and in the mean time saw a bit of the city. Carrie Rose is docked in South Portland, a community, as you would assume, just south of Portland proper. The marina is tucked into deserted freighter piers, so the entrance absorbs the swell from each boat that passes out on Casco Bay.

The north pier protrudes out into the bay. It is a long dock for unloading crude oil. The oil unloaded here is pumped to Montreal’s refineries. A tanker appeared one afternoon accompanied by three classic red and black tugs. It rose higher and higher as its cargo was discharged. The bulk of it, seen at such close quarters is arresting. Early this morning it let out a long low wavering horn blast to signal its departure. Half of Portland must have woken up.

The same tugs appeared, and amidst their toots and whistles the now more orange than black ship was quietly backed out of the pier. While I was monitoring the VHF radio channel13 (the channel designated for communication between ships) I heard the pilot announce that they were heading to sea and New York Harbor, bringing back memories of our recent trip through those very same waters.

We have been privy to several conversations here at Spring Point Marina concerning what to expect the farther north we venture. And though there seems to be agreement that mid and northern Maine are beautiful, its praises are spoken with a few caveats. The two most often cited are the number of lobster buoys and the fog with the peculiarities of the more isolated inhabitants coming in a strong third, and oh, I forgot about the rocks.

This caused me to temper my enthusiasm for the next portion of our cruise. The talk has a gnarled edge that can’t help but be reminiscent of Captain Willard preparing to enter the heart of darkness after Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Just like the movie, there is no turning back from riding the swell into the unknown.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Seven hundred miles ago, in the back of my mind, I thought how will Carrie Rose ever get to Maine. It seemed a world away and as it turned out, it was. From a rudimentary study of Zen and a 30 year practice of Chado, I knew that life is lived one step at a time, one failure or success, one plan at a time. And so, in the back of my mind I forgot about Maine and focused on the next day’s destination.

First, the boat needed care on land and after a couple of intense days the bottom got wet. Then we had to say goodbye to George and Lisa, our caretakers in the Chesapeake. It is difficult to break free from stability. Next were the hurtles: Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, Delaware Bay, New Jersey coast, New York Harbor, The East River and Hell Gate, and Long Island Sound. Each presented the challenges of open water, tides and currents, weather and just plain geography. The waypoints on the chart represented Carrie Rose’s hull moving across the water.

I am thinking of this as I sit in the pilothouse, facing east into a spectacular crimson sunrise. It is not yet six o’clock and the lobstermen are the only thing moving on the water, the rest is calm. A buoy’s bell clangs lethargically in the distance. Seagulls mouth off as a flight of geese nosily cuts across the view of Wood Island and the rising sun.

Wood Island Harbor is only a harbor in the least of terms. It is mainly open water with some protection from the south and east but open to the north and west. Carrie Rose is attached to the bottom via mooring 81, which offers some peace of mind. This is not a place to linger and just as well, we have a coast to explore now that we are a world away.

Portland, ME

Monday, July 31, 2017

Situational Awareness

If there is anything that dictates life on the water, it is the weather. For a boat our size and for its crew’s preference for comfort, this can mean leaving a harbor early or extending a stay. We have done both since starting the cruise with Nentoa, the North East Nordic Tug Association. We stayed a day longer at Block Island, skipped Cuttyhunk Island altogether, and left Provincetown after only one day.

On the 60 mile run from Block Island to Onset, MA, we passed across a stretch of the North Atlantic into Buzzards Bay. These are storied waters: Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard lie to the east, Wood’s Hole to the north, and the whaling capital and famed boat building town of New Bedford to the west. It was a shame to blow through it at 8 knots but we were on a mission.

Buzzards Bay begins miles wide and narrows into a few hundred feet at the beginning of the Cape Cod Canal. The destination for the night, Onset, is just passed the canal’s entrance. While motoring up the bay, Carrie Rose stayed north of the shipping channel but as the bay narrowed was drawn into it. A long earthen wall delineates the canal from the rest of the bay.

A mile or so before the above and now 6 hours into the cruise, though I did not think so, I was on cruise control. I had lost situational awareness. With my foot propped up near the throttle, I was scanning the gauges, chartplotters, and the radar but not analyzing the data. I take pride in my piloting skills but not this day.

Into my right peripheral vision (the side that has the right of way) came a large white object reminding me I was on the water, in a boat going 8 knots, in the vicinity of a large ship’s channel, and probably more recreational boats than most places in the world.

The captain of the sailboat which was quickly coming into full view would reasonably assume — or maybe not — that I would give way and passed about ½ block ahead. I snapped to attention, stood behind the wheel, and saw another object to the right. This one was black and orange and stood about five stories high. It was a Coast Guard Cutter, and it was in the channel that we would soon be entering, but still it gave me a start. I checked its speed on AIS and slowed just enough to let it pass by.

I pulled in far behind the cutter and began to make preparations for the 90 degree turn into the channel that lead to Onset. Cape Cod Canal is known for its swift current, and it was flowing across the entrance, which is marked by an incongruous two green markers. Waiting until just at the north buoy, I turned hard left, buried the throttle, plowed through the disturbed water, and passed the no wake sign into the skinny channel.

Minutes later Charlotte attached the mooring line to Carrie Rose's bollard and we were swinging in a beautiful little bay with the charming, well preserved village of Onset, MA beckoning us. We bought beer, had a slice of pizza at Marc Anthony’s and met up with our fellow cruisers for a drink and debriefing on the day’s journey . . . situational foibles and all.

Monday, July 24, 2017


The moon designated that Carrie Rose push off from the dock at Great Kills Yacht Club at 8:10 AM to cruise 32 nautical miles to Port Washington on Long Island Sound. To get there we would pass under the Verrazano Narrows bridge, hug the eastern shore of New York Harbor, and head north on the East River through Hell Gate into Long Island sound.

Since we are Great Lakes born and bred the concept of tides and currents is a foreign one. We have been on a crash course since being lowered into the Hudson River by the Federal lock north of Albany, NY. The Hudson is tidal, and waxes and wanes with the moon and sun even though the ocean is 200 miles away.

At several points along the way, it has been imperative that Carrie Rose’s movements sync with the current: transiting up and down the Chesapeake and Delaware bays, entering and leaving the inlets on the New Jersey coast, and crossing the lower tip of Manhattan and heading up the East River through Hell Gate.

NYC is multifaceted: arts, food, people, and history. There are the five boroughs of Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Not to sound conceited (though I probably am), the fact that NYC is a major port and has a maritime heritage dating back to the 17th century is lost for most tourist.

The water south of the Statue of Liberty is teeming with car carriers, tankers, tows, and fuel and stone barges. Large tugs roam at will and ferries relentlessly plow the same fields. Small sturdy boats race to drop off or pick up the pilots that guide the ships to and from the Atlantic Ocean. The NYPD, Coast Guard, NY Conservation police, and I am sure other stealth federal and state agencies patrol every nook and cranny. The shoreline is a mixture of heavy industry and gentrification.

Two years ago coming down the Hudson, we stayed in a rough but homey marina in Jersey City, and then ventured east into the North Atlantic for Chesapeake Bay. This year we reversed our course and visited several new harbors. I wrote of our faithful encounter with Barnegat Bay previously, now I would like to mention Great Kills.

Great Kills is an oval harbor that on the chart looks like it was scooped out of Staten Island. Staten Island, one of the five boroughs of NYC, has residences that seem reluctant to admit that they are part of the whole. Carrie Rose was docked at the Great Kills Yacht Club for a week and it was an incongruous mix of dense city and country.

The X1 bus connected us to ($6.50, the non senior fare) Manhattan, 20 miles distance across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and under the East River via the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel. Of course, there is the not-to-be-missed Staten Island Ferry: miraculously free and a miraculous tour of New York’s watery world. But after the first ferry ride the rattling bus proved more convenient.

The usual frantic Manhattan pace was kept despite the commute: jazz clubs, visiting friends, shopping, and dealing with electronic foibles. The dock master commented that he never talked with us since we were always gone.

We even managed a scare while walking back to the yacht club after seeing the Heath Brothers (minus one brother) at the Village Vanguard. The Great Kills Yacht Club is down a dark dead end road. It was 11:30pm when three young men deliberately turned around after we passed them. Suddenly, no longer weary from the day’s activity, our pace quickened and so it seemed did theirs. Without looking back, I punched the code into the club’s door . . . maybe we were just tried and paranoid but we promised to get home earlier next time.

At times, while wandering around New York I wish I were a Russian oligarch with a condo overlooking Central Park or a small get away in the Village. And then I think would it be worth the world’s contempt — absolutely!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Three Long Days

Great Kills to Port Washington
Port Washington to Port Jefferson
Port Jefferson to Orient Harbor, NY

Sometimes it pays to hustle. A combination of weather, geography, and scheduling demands it. Often it is not evident when it is happening until the final destination is reached and a collective sigh of relief goes out. Carrie Rose has done this twice this year . . . so far.

The first was from Cape May, NJ to Great Kills on Staten Island. It was done by two legs: 71.2 nm and 60 nm respectively. I have written about Barnegat Bay earlier, and of the leg from the bay to Great Kills, the most that can be said is the NYC skyline overwhelmed other concerns. The NYC environs while heavily trafficked are occupied by professional mariners and though this does not make me any less diligent, for all their bulk and horsepower, they do their best to keep pleasure boaters out of harms way.

The currents through NYC harbor and the East River are a concern. There is much written about when to make a favorable transit and we followed the recommendations almost to the minute. Carrie Rose pulled along with the current from Battery Park through the East River, Hells Gate (13.8knots) and into Long Island Sound. Talk about a bridge over trouble waters, the bridge over Hells Gate has seen a lot. We were thankful we picked the correct time to pass through.

Long Island is justly named. Great Kills, NY to Orient Harbor on the east end of Long Island took 3 days and 123 nm. The stretch from Port Jefferson to Plum Gut, the passage into Gardiner Bay on the North Fork of Long Island, is 50 miles of under inhabited beach.

Port Washington, the first stop out of NYC, offered free moorings. This is a busy recreational harbor and a noisy one with a nonstop stream of helicopters flying the moneyed class to idyllic summer retreats. After extended stays at Cape May and Great Kills we did not bother to explore the town, preferring Carrie Rose’s wood lined interior to gather strength for the trek north.

Port Jefferson is an industrial harbor with an oil fired power plant and a repository of crushed stone being pushed around by large yellow machines. Impressive tug and barge combinations restocked both while we swung on a mooring across the canal from the action. A succession of three towering car ferries overwhelmed us into the night. Town provided wine, used books (Khrushchev Remembers), pastries, bread, and ice cream — all staples of our cruising lifestyle.

The morning departure was delayed waiting for the fuel dock to open at 8AM. 120 gallons of diesel via a high speed pump designed for the insatiable mega yachts scattered around the marina filled our puny tank. Seven hours later, delaying our passage through Plum Gut to avoid two ferries, Carrie Rose raced through the understated “tide rip” written in numerous places on the chart.

We backtracked four miles, cut around a sandy spit with a beautiful old lighthouse perched on stilts, passed the skinny poles of a fishing weir, and anchored in boisterous Orient Harbor. A stabilizer was deployed over the side (pulling it out the next day would give me the wrenched back that I had thus far avoided) and a sound sleep was had under the Milky Way while the deserted lighthouse flashed white once a second.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

How To . . .

A young man on the Internet asked the question, “How do I learn to write?” The website this was posted on has a way to respond to the question. In fact, that is the reason the site exists: post a question, answer a question. I have done neither. This time I considered participating; after all, I have asked the same question — mostly to myself — numerous times.

The appropriate buttons were touched, the answer written, and then I hit a snag. Username and password, sign in with Google or Facebook, a deep yawn surfaced. I retreated, turned off the iPhone, and went in search of a physical project, one that eventually required a trip to the engine room.

There is comfort in tinkering with the substance of the earth. That is not to say that bits and bytes aren’t made up of substance, electrons have mass after all. But I am thinking on a gross level: wood, metal, plastic, oil, and grease. The world cannot do without them.

And I am thinking of the tools needed to mess with the above: screwdrivers and drills, hammers and saws, wrenches, pilers and knives. The kind of tools that end up crushing, scraping or cutting me despite my familiarity with them.

Now to my question, will the projects on Carrie Rose ever be complete, I think not. To complete them would mean what; it would mean that it is time to move on to another venue. Time to join a Zen monastery, a cloistered order, or retreat into the deep forest and live the life of a hermit masquerading as a wise man. No, remaining entwined to this world requires projects.

What describes a project; we each have our own definition. Today mine is typing this, which I wrote with green ink in a Moleskin notebook, into Word. This morning’s was to attach the new letters C-H-I-C-A-G-O to the bottom of the dinghy, fill the fresh water tanks, settle the marina’s bill, and whisk Charlotte and I several bowls of matcha.

Once done, I sat in the pilothouse as a squall blew through and remembered the young man’s question, “How do I learn to write?”


Tuesday, July 11, 2017


There are breakers in the distance. It is obvious they are coming across the inlet’s bar that we are about to turn into. There are also many small fishing boats (most with hundreds of horsepower strapped to their sterns) negotiating the passage. This makes me feel better about piloting Carrie Rose through, for you see this is Barnegat Inlet. An inlet infamous up and down the Atlantic coast for being the most treacherous of a treacherous group of inlets that makes up the New Jersey coast.

We left Cape May, NJ in the early morning’s calm, and the wind and waves have slowly increased. So now, Carrie Rose has to contend with a SE facing inlet, 15 knot NE wind waves, and the 3 foot swell that has been pushing us along for the last few hours. Though I did not realize this, Charlotte has been quietly studying the tide and current app on her iPhone. She quietly mentions that at this moment, minutes away from turning into the fray, there is a full ebb tidal current racing out of the inlet’s opening and running head first into the above wind and waves.

I hear this above the din and bile rises into my throat. This is a good time to take a few deep breaths. I turn into the inlet and push the throttle up a few extra hundred RPMs. Suddenly we are in a weird combination of broadside breakers, a following swell, 4 to 5 foot vertical waves standing straight up in the air, their curly little edges defying gravity.

The next moment the sea is oily flat with various eddies and whirlpools, then it erupts into sharp little wavelets that remind me of the meringue on a lemon cream pie. I can feel the stern rise as a trough opens up before me. The swell twists the hull to the port, so I turn the rudder starboard. Of course, I over correct and struggle to spin wheel over to the port.

Remember the little boats transiting the inlet, well they are coming and going amongst the waves. Some obviously frolicking while others twist and turn trying to compensate for the melee. One completely disappears into the swell ahead and pops out within a second.

Since this is not the first time we have been through an inlet — though this is the most extreme — we quietly talk to each other and make sure that Carrie Rose is between the red and green markers. All 220hp are engaged. The extra power makes us more responsive and stable. It also has the added effect of creating an imposing bow wave that keeps the squirrely-ist power boaters thinking twice before getting in our way.

That said the Barnegat Bay boating community seems to be a full throttle all the time crowd. It does not matter how shallow, narrow, winding, or crowded it is, this is a take no prisoner boating environment. I was thinking of getting a “Baby Seal On Board” sign for Carrie Rose but realized that they would only go faster and get closer out of spite. The odd thing is once we are out of the inlet most of these boats are stopped about a mile off shore trying to catch whatever pelagic creature that wanders by.

We decided to ignore the maelstrom and keep on task, which once through the inlet is no less daunting. Since the inlet and the area a few miles west are always changing, the charts are unreliable. I looked ahead and saw boats everywhere but where I thought they should be. Granted there was a large red buoy to port, which I would have aimed for but it was close to the shore and lighthouse. I pulled back the throttle to idled.

The usually reliable cruising guide’s only comment on Barnegat Bay was, “Use Local Knowledge, call on channel 16”. I ponder this and wondered whom I would call when on our port side I saw a Sea Tow rescue towboat. I picked up the radio’s microphone and called, “Sea Tow, Sea Tow, Sea Tow this is Carrie Rose, the trawler behind you.” He responded and I tried to sound calm when I asked, “I am new to the bay and I am confused about how to proceed, can you help direct me”.

In a comforting voice, he instructed me to follow him and then mentioned a shortcut across what was land on our charts. Charlotte groaned, I kept quiet and turned in behind him. Boats streamed passed us both ways. At one point, one large speeding boat got so close to him that the spray flying off the bow splashed the Sea Tow captain. Five minutes into this the radio crackled, “Captain just follow the large markers on in and watch out at buoy 37, it gets shallow and tricky there”, and off he went.

I looked ahead, saw a nun (red) and a can (green) silhouetted in the sun and spray, and headed between them. In another 10 minutes we were out in the bay and in 15 minutes more Spencer at Spencer’s Marina caught our lines. He graciously welcomed us. I slowed my breathing and tried to answer the questions the crowd on the dock peppered us with: where did you come from; how long are you staying; do you need to borrow a car; Chicago, how the hell did you get here from Chicago.

For the first time in weeks I slept soundly, woke at five and nudged Charlotte, “We gotta get out of here, sooner is better”. Charlotte made coffee for the thermos, took quick showers, pumped the head, and then headed east to exit the inlet. It was obvious that most of the bay’s fishermen go to church on Saturday evening because they again streamed passed us. Other than the ruckus, it turned out to be helpful. We followed their wakes out and by 7:50 were on the North Atlantic. As a fitting send off, the largest boat thus far encounter blew passed us creating such a large wake that it spirited us out of the channel and pointed us north.

Autopilot on, heading 014 degrees, coffee, banana, and a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast, we settled in for the 7 hour cruise to Great Kills on Staten Island. The NYC skyline slowly emerged from the curvature of the earth. We rounded Sandy Hook and saw the first large grouping of sailboats since Annapolis, and what I assumed to be New Yorker’s sunning themselves on the beach. Carrie Rose cut across both St. Ambrose and Cherry Hill Ship Channels while heading into another ebb current. I spied a boat flying a “Don’t Thread On Me” flag and followed it into the large Great Kills Harbor basin. Ah, home, for a week . . .

Friday, July 7, 2017


In the you-can-never-have-enough-information category, I am including the newly purchased AIS. No, it’s not misspelt, it is AIS, as in Automated Identification System. It came packaged in a Standard Horizon VHF radio. The Matrix AIS/GPS GX2200 to be precise. This marvel of technology has a VHF radio, GPS, compass, rudimentary but quite useable navigation abilities, and AIS. There is more, like a foghorn and a hailer but I do not want to be a bore.

For some background on AIS, working vessels are required to transmit their name, location, heading, and speed on a near constant time frame, and this is what AIS does using VHF frequencies. Depending on how a boat is equipped, it can transmit its own information and receive others, or just receive other transmitting boat’s data. The latter is what Carrie Rose chooses to do.

A VHF (very high frequency) radio is how boats communicate. There are specific channels for specific functions. Channel 16 is for emergencies and to be monitored at all times. Channel 9 is for calling other boats, though this often falls to 16. Channel 13 is for ship to ship or ship to bridge. The channels run into the 80’s and then there are 10 channels devoted to weather forecast.

In what I believe to be a remarkably simple solution for the government, they decided to use a radio signal, not some exotic space technology thus the price for an AIS devise is reasonable, and no complicated hardware is needed. For AIS to work all that is needed is power and an antenna.

Carrie Rose has always had two VHF radios that is until last year when the older of the two finally died. The AIS/GPS function added about 150 dollars to the cost of a plain radio, which in terms of “boat bucks” is a tolerable hit, that is if the AIS proves useful.

The first several cruises from Herrington Harbor South, where I installed it, to the Magothy and Chester Rivers and then to Rock Hall did not highlight its usefulness. I was beginning to doubt the expenditure. Then from Rock Hall to the Sassafras River, and onto Havre de Grace and the C&D Canal, the added information helped make the trips less demanding.

The northern portions of the Chesapeake are confined. We travelled closer, if not in, the large ship channel and crossed it several times once during a thunderstorm where the rain severely curtailed visibility. In the distance, I could see large tows (tugs pushing barges). Their speed and direction are the concern. If close enough, radar is a good way to keep track of them but now with the AIS, while many miles away I could see the little circle with a line pointing to their direction in relation to us.

I cued up the AIS screen and picked my target. There was the speed and direction. Though we were headed to the same place — the entrance of the C&D Canal — our speed was 7.1 knots and theirs was 6.8. I relaxed. Carrie Rose would slowly gain distance and be anchored in Chesapeake City without interference from the behemoth.

I would have easily dealt with this in pre AIS times, but by taking the guesswork out of the navigational question, it took the stress out. A simple thing this marvel, a couple of data points broadcast over Marconi’s wireless telegraphy.

Monday, July 3, 2017


The quietist place I have been, other than Mammoth Caves, is a narrow dead end cove in Canada’s North Channel. The only noise that interrupted my mild tinnitus and the clock’s soft tick was the abrupt surfacing of a large loon outside of Carrie Rose’s pilothouse door. It lingered long enough to give me the once over and then disappeared without a ripple only to surface a football field away.

It might be melodramatic to say this but it was a transcendental moment. I cannot say that in Cape May, NJ anything as inspirational has occurred but on this 4th of July weekend noise is plentiful. I think it would be an interesting exercise to try to describe my aural surroundings, so what follows is a somewhat disjointed “vision” of the sounds as they happened.

A small sport fishing boat just coasted by with hardly a sound, while on the pier across the canal (about 50 feet wide) a similar boat is having the sea’s salt power washed off. Back on our dock, two diesels quietly rumbled as a boat backs into its slip. There is an obvious void when they cease running.

Then a much quicker boat riles up the canal’s water. The waves it generates smack against the piers causing the pilings to squeal. Behind it, a spitting outboard heads for the fuel dock, and crunches in and out of reverse as it slows to make its approach. There is laughter and conversation in the background, and from our absent neighbor’s radio, a baseball game from Philly drones on.

In Copenhagen, a famous little boy tinkles into a fountain making a sound similar to the streams of water emanating from the sides of powerboat’s air conditioners, and a small plane struggles to keep its nose into the wind as it drags a long advertising banner overhead.

I would have commented on the wind had I written this yesterday, but today it is calm. With the wind silent, the ospreys were up early in the morning high above our heads peeping as they looked for food. And amongst the trees that line the northern bank of the marina, a few nest-robbing crows were chased by an assortment of smaller birds.

The road noise increased as the sun rose in the sky. When I took my bike ride across the bridge over the Cape May Canal to the marine supply store (where else!) the traffic was dense. A gaggle of Harleys hit all the base notes, each with their sound systems playing incompatible tunes.

On Carrie Rose’s aft deck, Charlotte flips through the pages of the Waterway Guide when suddenly the yelps of little boys and girls penetrate the din at the discovery of crabs in the traps their parents had set earlier in the day. And that brings me back, I start to focus on my other senses, and wonder how the loon is fairing in that cool quiet North Channel cove — a world away.

Saturday, July 1, 2017


It is blowing crazy out of the southwest; there is wind in the rigging for sure. Most of the transients both power and sail, stayed in port. A few large sailboats straggled in today with various levels of difficulty. Other than for the wind the weather is close to perfect. I can see why folk are drawn to Cape May. The air is clean and the light is fluorescent.

Cape May sits as the pinnacle with the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay teetering respectively to the east and west. Both have a bad reputation. Before we left Delaware City to venture onto Delaware Bay, Tim the owner of the marina provided us with a detailed analysis of wind and waves, and tides and currents. We sat for three days waiting for the correct condition to make the 52 NM trip south to go north.

We have crossed larger bodies of water but Delaware Bay has a certain mystic about it. It might be because it starts as a river and then widens into a bay. It might be because the many large ocean going ships and tows are syphoned into a small deep canal. It might be due to its large mouth open to the North Atlantic and how the bay’s water interacts with the tide, tidal current, and river and canals current. The bay is also shallow and this just adds to the complexity of transiting.

Charlotte and I have the luxury of time. This makes a tremendous difference in the amount of risk we are willing to take. Though we have a destination, there is no hurry to get there. A common refrain in recreational flying is that most accidents happen trying to get home and since Carrie Rose does not have one, we can wait.