Unlike last year when one week out I really had no idea what my two-week summer vacation was going to look like, this year I got on the ball early and made a firm commitment to once again sail Chase n’ Grace, a Jeanneau 53 from Annapolis to New England for her owner, Glenn Winter of Riverside Yachts in New Jersey. Initially, this would be an all boys trip consisting of my 13-year-old son Will, 9-year-old son Graham, my friend Matt Reed and his 10-year-old son Mitch. Normally a crew like this might be headed for an adventure more conservative like an overnight camping trip to a nearby state park but we were looking for something bolder and thankfully the mothers on both sides had confidence in Matt’s and my abilities to let us go so like all good adventurers, we went for it.
Getting off the dock is always the hardest part of any voyage, there always seems to be one more thing to load aboard or one more thing to do before casting off. At some point you just have to look at the clock and say, “C’mon we have to go, untie that line.” Such was the case when leaving Annapolis. We finally got underway about 2pm.
For the first leg up the Chesapeake it would just be Will and me. The other boys would meet us first thing in the morning in the C&D Canal after the local swim meet finished up. There was a bit of a breeze as Will and I slipped under the Bay Bridge and sailed north. I’ve always treasured my one on one time with my children and today was no exception. At 13 years of age, Will is no longer a kid, he’s a young man with ideas of his own. Girls are now important along with a host of other things that come with growing up. I felt fortunate that it was just the two of us for this first day underway, even if he did spend a good deal of it playing on his iPhone. I hate those things!
Our initial plan was to make it all the way to the Canal but because of the late start we decided to toss the hook at the beginning of the Elk River and spend the night there. It had been a good first day and we would be in no rush in the morning since the rest of the troops would not be ready to be picked up until 12:00 or 1:00 in the afternoon and Summit North Marina where we arranged to meet, was only a short distance away.
Chase n’ Grace was well provisioned with a ton of food including a bunch of Omaha steaks, burgers, wine and a couple of bottles of the all essential Mount Gay Rum. Will and I opted for a couple of burgers which we grilled up on the back of the boat and enjoyed eating in the cockpit as the sun sank slowly into the west. It had been a good first day.
My wife Kim along with my daughter Mollie delivered Matt, Mitch and Graham right on schedule and after topping off the diesel tank, we said our farewells and off we went. Our plan after leaving the C&D was to head straight down the Delaware Bay hitting the entrance just before midnight. Last year when we did this trip we spent the night in Cape May but this year we would keep on moving and head straight offshore to Block Island, about 210 nautical miles to the northeast of Cape May.
We hit the mouth of the Delaware about on schedule and as soon as we felt we were a safe distance offshore, we turned left and settled in on our course of 60 degrees magnetic. Matt and I decided that I would take the first watch while he stretched out in the cockpit. Graham did his best to join me but it had been a long day for a 9-year-old and once he slid into his sleeping bag he was toast. Mitch, age 10, lasted a bit longer but soon he too was off sailing with the Sandman instead of with yours truly.
I should stop right here and state clearly that sailing offshore is not something that should be taken lightly. As long as the weather is calm everything normally goes smoothly. But things can go south quickly when the weather worsens and when it does, it’s always nice to have a solid and substantial craft under your feet to keep you safe when the wind decides to blow and the sea begins to boil. At 53 feet and 39,000 pounds, the Jeanneau 53 is a big, solid boat that provides plenty of security but is not so big that it’s difficult to manage by a small crew. For me, the Jeanneau 53 is the perfect sized boat for my family of 5.
Somewhere around 3am, Matt opened one eye and said “ready for a break?” For which I promptly replied, “thought you’d never ask.” So Matt roused himself up and took over the duties of keeping us safe and headed in the right direction. The boat is on autopilot most of the time so actually steering the boat isn’t necessary but it’s important to keep a sharp lookout for other boats to make sure they don’t run into us and us them; hence the use of the word “watch” as in “be sure to watch where you’re going.” We were trying to stay on a watch schedule of 3 hours on and 3 hours off. Matt’s watch from 3-6 is a nice one because you have the great joy of watching the morning sunrise which for me is always a great treat when at sea.
Our young crew who had the luxury of being in their bunks all night, began arriving on deck somewhere around 7am in search of breakfast. We had made good headway during the night consistently averaging 7 knots since making the turn at Cape May and were now a solid 50 nautical miles along our track which was taking us farther and farther away from land. Some people get very freaked out when they can’t see land but this was not the case with our crew. For these boys, being at sea surrounded by nothing but salty water seemed as natural as walking down the street. It was a nice thing to see and be a part of.
One might think it’s boring being at sea but there is always something to do to occupy your time such as reading or navigating or playing cards or having conversations or simply scanning the horizon to see what’s out there. One of the most exciting things that can happen is spotting a pod of whales or dolphins which we were lucky enough to do. More than once, we were visited by dolphins who road our bow wave for several minutes allowing us to get a really good look at them and shoot a little video as well.
One of the benefits to having started our ocean passage at night was that it allowed us to begin crossing the busy shipping lanes that run in and out of New York during the day. Last year when we made this trip, we headed out of Cap May in the morning which meant that by the time we were off New York it was dark, making the trip across the shipping channels more difficult and more tense simply because things are not as clear at night as they are during daylight hours.
We hadn’t done much sailing so far but we were making great time thanks to our nice big diesel engine. The 110hp engine can easily push Chase n’ Grace at 9 knots but at this speed it burns a lot of fuel, probably 3 gallons per hour. Since the fuel tank wasn’t overly large, we opted to slow things down and run at just 7 knots which we figured allowed us to burn more like 2 gallons per hour or perhaps a little less. The trip from Cape May to Block Island would take us roughly 30 hours and hence about 60 gallons of fuel. At this rate we wouldn’t have a lot of fuel left over but we would make it.
Before the sun dropped out of sight we decided we would take advantage of the calm weather and grill up a few of those prime Omaha steaks we had on board. And since a good steak is simply not the same without some mashed potatoes to go along with it, we whomped up some in a pot as well as some fresh broccoli. Dinner was served in the cockpit under the setting sun surrounded by the salty Atlantic Ocean. Decadence at sea suddenly took on a whole new meaning.
By nightfall, our GPS was telling us that we were only 56 miles from the entrance to Block Island. At this rate, we would be in with our anchor down before dawn. Somewhere around midnight, we picked up the lighthouse on the tip of Montauk. and while it appeared to be close enough to practically touch, it took us a good three hours to actually reach it. The boys had long ago succumbed to a long day spent at sea and were all below happily sleeping the night away as we slid past Montauk Point in the predawn hours of our second night at sea.
Growing up sailing on Long Island Sound, I have made tons of trips to Block Island over the years so navigating the channel into Great Salt Pond at night was not a problem. I had rousted Will out of bed just before making our final approach. I did this for two reasons; first, I wanted him to help with the anchor but more importantly, I wanted him to appreciate what it was like to have to haul yourself out of a warm bed and onto a cold deck when there was work to do. It was still dark and the air heavy with dew as we made our way down the channel and into the harbor. As soon as we cleared green can #11, we swung ourselves to port and into the back of the anchorage. Once we found a spot with plenty of swinging room, I gave a thumbs-up to Will to drop the anchor. Anchoring in Block Island is always a little dicey because the water is deep and the holding ground can be poor if you don’t get the anchor really set. Luckily, Chase and Grace carries something like 300 feet of chain plus another 100 feet of nylon rode so anchoring is rarely a problem. Once we were confident that we were set for the night, we shut the engine down, gave ourselves a quick pat on the back and headed below for some sleep. Tomorrow was going to be a big day… after all, we were in Block Island :)
To be continued…