Crossing the Gulf on Maine - Lengthwise

Posted Oct. 9, 2008 at 16:52

Wind Whisper and us had a similar desire, being so late in the season, to get as far west as possible for our Gulf of Main crossing.  The standard crossings people do take one northward into Maine accross the high-tide, high-current Bay of Fundy area. Those crossings are much shorter, they can be done in a number of day hops, always having to consider the strong tidal currents.  Going westward avoids most of the high current areas and the going in and out of many ports over a number of days, at the expense of a more challenging  and tiring two-night offshore passage.

So in the end, all we saw of Maine is the Gulf, which is... well, a lot of water, some kelp, almost islands of it, in the middle, and lots of  fishing gear pieces floating free.  Upon looking over the charts and the weather forecast (+ grib file with wind strength/direction predictions for every three hours for three days), it seemed prudent not to do a straight-line passage, but an arc-like passage to the north.  If we had gone straight for Cape Cod from Brazil Rock, the forecast strong west-north-westerlies would have been too close and we would have had to motor-beat against 30kn wind gusts for more than 100nm... The front coming from south of Boston was predicted to cause strong north-westerly winds that, according to the NOAA grib models were stronger as you got further south in the Gulf of Maine.  Now, if you can't take a straight line, you have to be aware of the Cashes Ledge with Kelp indicated around Antmen Rock (with a least depth of 4 1/2 fathoms), so hence we had to pass well north of that area.

That approach (taking a northerly arc), and our timing proved quite helpful (we left around 7pm from Shelburne Yach Club to be at Brazil Rock 2 hours before low tide at Saint Johns, to cross the strongest current area with it in our favour).  This timing also allowed us to estimate our arrival to a Boston-area port sometimes mid-day after two nigths and a day at sea (arriving in daylight is essential, as there are lots on fishing floats/bouys everywhere, even in the middle of channels leading into ports).

We were helped off the docks at the Shelburne Yacht Club by Milan (single-handling the sloop "Adena") and Richard and Connie of "Active Assets" (a handsome US trawler) both having similar travel plans like us (going "south") in general.  Wind Whisper left first, we followed an hour later. The first night was calm, we rounded Brazil Rock in the evening, and headed west-north-westerly motor-sailing all the way with 5-10kn northwesterlies.

The first bit of excitement happened somewhere around midnight: a Canadian Coast Guard cutter towing a disabled fishing boat was crossing our path and asked us to provide more "clearance".  Dora just woke me as she heard the hail from the Coast Guard Vessel, and of course I agreed to change our course.  The Coast Guard Vessel gave me their course and in addition I could track them on my radar.  That would have been it, if I hadn't continued to watch them approach using binoculars and trying to confirm their course and orientation.  At one point, the combined lights of the cutter and the towed fishing boat gave me a real scare, so we tacked and I continued to watch with growing concern the growing width of the lights...  I soon realized that the red and green lights tangle was due to the visual combination of the cutter and towed fishing boat, so we tacked back and everything was fine. The lady in charge of the cutter must have thought we were a confused lot, which was true, but she didn't say anything (on the air - I can imagine a few things said on the cutter bridge... :-).   We never got closer to each other than a mile and a half or so.

In the morning the wind turned north as predicted and we started sailing.  After a nice sunrise and sunny morning and lunch I went down to try and sleep for the second time (didn't have such luck in the morning - the coffee ruined it, couldn't fall asleep despite a long tiring night).  I woke up to rain and Dora drenched in full foul weather gear, but she stoically said she's ok.  While I was checking our navigation and plan for our destination for next day, she called out with excitement - "look - are those waterspouts?!".  I bolted out, and even though the rain has stopped, the strong, dark front coming from the south-west had the low cones hanging deep from the bottom of the dark clouds...  Indeed the waterspout (a tornado over water) was forming and getting closer.  The bottom half of it was almost clear, but at the water level you could see the inverted cone of water being whipped around in a circle and sucked up.  I estimated a one to two mile distance, it could have been more...   In a jiffy our double-reefed main was down and tied, continuing only with the partially reefed jib for stability and the engine running, focused on the waterspout trying to figure out which way it was going (and which direction to run away).  Low light gray clouds were coming our way from the front, the dark-blue front itself was going northeast crossing our track behind us... We warned Wind Whisper behind us to watch out...  Fortunately, ten minutes later, the inverted cone of water at the bottom of the waterspout disappeared, and the waterspout again became just one of the deep funnels hanging menacingly from the dark clouds...

For the next half hour, we didn't dare to reopen our mainsail... Finally, it became clear that this front will not reach us as we were already seeing clear skies in front of us - a high pressure area pushing the front away from us - it felt like a savior even though I knew it was the reason for the forecast strong northwest winds about to engulf us for the evening and into the wee hours of the morning...   And the winds came... For the first couple of hours it blew steady 15-20kn, then 20-25 for the rest of the night with gusts to 30kn.

I have to mention here Dora's statement: "I am actually enjoying sailing in the waves for the first time" - she put an anti-seasickness patch behind her ear the previous night, before we left Shelburne and it was working.

Just as the wind was strengthening, we felt the boat slow down temporarily, then move again... Looking behind, I noticed two line ends streaming aft below the water.   That's just what we needed as we were readying to turn the engine on...catching and dragging a line.  The line looked like a standard 3/8" three-strand nylon, and I could make out the frayed end and the nicely whipped/finished end too.  It looked like it was wrapped around the rudder only, so I risked turning the engine on and gently placing it into forward... It worked!  I The line was wrapped around the rudder only, it appeared.   I couldn't reach it with a boathook, the boat was moving fast enough even though we hove-too (backwinded our jib and floated sideways).  I didn't dare go backwards with the engine fearing that the line would get sucked back right onto the prop.   Motoring forward into the wind and then shift into neutral to drift backward and get rid of the line didn't work.   For about two hours we had to employ the engine to help us sail beating at slow speed into growing waves to go around the central shoal and kelp area... Then came a rolly ride in the southwesterly direction with the wind and waves coming from north-northwest, aft of abeam.  By this time some of the waves had reached a height above my head standing in the cockpit, so in the dark I could just  make out  rows of whitecaps coming and lifting-heeling the boat over... Up and heel over to port (left), down and heel over to starboard (right) we went.  Every minute or so there would be a bang, splash sweeping over the forward deck.  Once in a while the cockpit would get a splash too.  Fortunately, the auto-pilot did a great job at steering, I just had to keep a lookout around to detect any approaching ship lights in case the radar guard zone would miss them.  No contacts occurred until dawn, by then the wind and waves lightened a bit, and tracking a couple of fishing boats was not a problem.   Unfortunately, Dora did got very seasick again - she went out in the night and not having a visual reference made her worse (this was about 36hours with the patch).  She had to go back down and me back up...  By 4am she got better enough to allow me to sleep for an hour or two.

As we were crossing into US territorial waters east of Cape Ann in the morning, a little dark grey bird flew right down into the cabin - and hopped all the way into the v-berth.  We took pictures of it, really cute, exploring our berth....We found its traces too... little marks it left behind.  We also found a zucchini hanging in a small hammock half eaten/pecked... all by this little pirate bird.

It was so emboldened by our warm welcome that ten minutes later it flew back accompanied by a smaller one of its kind, a yellow-breasted one and more shy...  This one tried to fly down our companionway in search of promised good food, but it alway veered off in the last moment and ended up on the top of the hatch cover, then back down to its starting point in front of the companionway... it just couldn't get its courage to go down into a no-exit situation like its bold cousin (or spouse).

By noon I had called US Customs and Border Protection and arranged a visit by them at the Jubilee Yacht Club, Beverly, MA as we arrived.  The officers were very nice, got all our information, checked over our passports and chatted with us about our passage and plans for the US part of our trip.  They delivered a cruising permit by the next morning, so we were officially checked in.  One thing that surprised us is the requirement to phone in to CBP at every port of call in the US as we move south...  It is not a great inconvenience, but just one of those things we shouldn't forget to do, plus, if I didn't have a great mobile AT&T long distance flat rate plan across US and Canada, it could cost extra dollars too.

At the docks of the Jubilee Yacht Club our two boats (Wind Whisper and us) we were received very nicely by the members. There are few boats at the club preparing to leave for "south" this weekend and one of the skippers, Eugene provided us with a number of helpful pointers, places to hide if the blow gets rough.  Another couple, Judy and her husband offered their 7-times experience of going south and back and told us about a number of great, safe, anchorages along the way that are not advertised much in the guides and helpful hints about things to watch our for (like canals where there is significant current that needs to be timed).   They gave us their 2008 Reed's Nautical Almanac as a gift to help us with the tides and currents and other miscellaneous navigation information, that we will share with Wind Whisper.  They also offered us their mooring to use as their boat was already hauled out  (they are driving south this time).

The plan now is to go visit Marblehead, MA (mostly for a quick visit to a West Marine store, but also to see "the" harbor), then into Boston harbor, Constitution Wharf (recommended again by club members) where one can take a ferry downtown or walk across the bridge...

P.S.: We have lots of photos (LaHave, Port Mouton, Shelburne) yet to be posted in the gallery... but that takes time and good wifi - we didn't have enough of that yet.  Will do asap.
-- Z --