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.

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