N A N T U C K E T†† 1 9 8 1

 

© By Ellis Simon

 

It's been a long winter.† Our respective jobs have kept us busy -- too busy to get somewhere where itís warm and there are waves to swim in.† We considered (and even planned) a land trip to the Florida Keys but it never happened.† As usual, the weather and the demands of my job have limited progress on the endless maintenance on a good-sized wood boat.† The topsides still aren't done. On the positive side, the hull was wooded down and refinished.† Generally, from the gunnels down, the Amberjack is in good shape.† With a solid ten days of vacation in August, it didn't take long for ideas of a cruise to start popping.

 

If you're based in Barnegat Bay, as we are, you either go up the coast or down.† South lies some of the finest cruising in the world, Chesapeake Bay.† While we love the Chesapeake, we've also been there in August. We decide to head for cooler latitudes.† That leaves "up" the coast.† "Up" is something of a misnomer since one must go east past Long Island, some assorted islands, and the elbow of Cape Cod before one can turn north.† Of course, you can bypass some of the islands and most of Cape Cod by transiting the Cape Cod Canal and heading on up the coast.† We opted for the islands.† We've visited Cape Cod many times by land, and both the Cape and Martha's Vineyard by air, but we've never been to Nantucket.† Our itinerary is thus set.† We will cruise the 1210 chart waters, go on to Nantucket, and then make our way back home.†

 

The next question is how to do it.† We have a fair amount of data on how the Amberjack performs on plane for long hauls.† Fuel consumption is so high that legs longer than 70 nautical miles between refueling stops are pushing our limits.† We recalled a particularly pleasant cruise to Mystic that we had taken with Elliot and Thelma Reason aboard their 42' Elco trunk cabin cruiser, "Duchess."† She was powered by a single 200-hp V8 engine.† At 2000 rpm she would make a solid, smooth 8 knots.† A bit faster and more predictable than sailing and about half as fast as a typical planing hull cruiser.† But what a ride:† Quiet and comfortable.† We rode longer each day, but we arrived relaxed and happy.†

 

We decided to try the same thing with the Amberjack.† We would go to Nantucket at hull speed, which for us is about 7.4 knots.† That is precisely what we did, and what we expect to do many times again. The following is a log of our trip and our impressions. We invite you to travel with us.†

 

Our cruiser is a somewhat neglected 37' Colonial trunk cabin cruiser.† She was built in 1957.† She is powered by two 130-hp GM 4-53 diesel engines with 2:1 reduction gears swinging 24 x 24 props.† Top speed at 2700 rpms is 13 knots.† Tankage is 90 gallons of fuel and 50 gallons of water.† She has most of the electronics including radar but no loran (yet).†

 

Our crew for this trip numbers three.† Leigh Ann is off traveling in North Carolina.† Due to the uncertainties of cruising, we've placed the dog and cat with a "pet hotel."† That leaves Marilyn, Donald and me.† All three of us are experienced cruisers and all three are qualified scuba divers.† And now for the trip!†

 

8:00 AM FRIDAY.† Our trip starts today -- sometime. Last week the exhaust riser on the starboard engine gave out.† A new one, completed yesterday, (special order, $75.00) has to go in before we can leave.† After much sweat and strain, and considerable verbal encouragement, the job is done.† Marilyn and Don have spent most of the day shopping, loading and stowing.† At 7:00 pm (we're using conventional time so our readers who aren't up on 24-hour time won't have to get out conversion tables) we cast off the lines and head for Barnegat Inlet.†

 

At 7:50 pm we find that the fuel dock closed at 6:00 pm.† We had hoped to top off and head for Shinnecock Inlet on eastern Long Island.† This is an 85-mile run and we don't want to chance running low on fuel until we have some measure of our consumption.† A check shows the tanks 3/4 full.† We settle on a safer, shorter run from Barnegat Inlet to Fire Island Inlet.†

 

At 8:00 pm we depart Barnegat Inlet with the sun setting in the west.† Course, 025T; seas, 2 ft; wind, SW at 10 KN.† A beautiful night for cruising.† Engines set at 1500 rpm, autopilot engaged, and trolling lines out.† We have decided to keep trolling lines in the water whenever underway, even though our speed is too fast for trolling. Just before dark, Don catches an 8-lb. bluefish, our only catch of the trip.†

 

Our course takes us obliquely out to sea and the lights of the Jersey shore slowly fade.† So does the autopilot, only it goes quickly.† No matter, it just means that the watch has to steer.† We set up two-hour watches for the night hours.† This works pretty well but we don't really stick to the exact timing.

 

At 2:00 am we spot the lights of the Long Island shore.† These waters give your piloting training a thorough workout.† There is a cloud cover and the night is very dark but the visibility is good.† We each quickly learn that any lights that appear and then rise off the horizon belong either to a ship or a seaplane and there are no seaplanes out here!† A red and a green with a white between them, all rising and spreading apart, means DO SOMETHING!

 

At 3:00 am we near the string of lights and find that it is not Long Island, but the party boat fleet fishing the Mud Hole.† We have verification from Ambrose Light flashing its 3 flashes every 7 seconds abeam to port.† At this point, we are furthest from shore.† It is about 15 miles to N.J. or Long Island.† Also at this point, we have the Jones Beach tower in sight.†

 

SATURDAY.† Finally, at 4:30 we are a couple of miles off the beach.† A check on fuel consumption shows that we've gone from 3/4 to 1/2 tank on this 55-mile leg. There are four inlets along the south shore of Long Island, Rockaway, Jones Beach, and Fire Island in the west and Shinnecock in the east.† (Moriches is closed and only used by local mariners.)† Of these, only Shinnecock has a short inside run to a diesel fuel dock.† Each of the others will cost us one or more hours of nonproductive running.† Our consumption on the first leg shows that we can make Shinnecock with ease.† So we set our course for 080T and start out.† The south shore of Long Island is easy to negotiate in good weather.† The bottom slopes off steadily from the beach to 20 fathoms.† You can just pick your depth and hold it, and you will parallel the coast. We used this technique on a previous trip with the Souders.† On that trip, fog, dense at times, surrounded us. We ran from Shinnecock to Fire Island by following the depth contour.†

 

As Saturday morning progresses, we find our visibility dropping and it starts to rain.† Seas are relatively calm, however, and we make Shinnecock at 10:30 am.† One half hour to refuel and we're back underway headed for Block Island.† The refueling allows us to get a fair estimate of fuel consumption.† We're delighted to find it running around 4 gallons per hour for both engines and this includes some higher speed runs before we left.† We won't get an accurate measure until our next fuel stop, but we are getting nearly 2 nautical MPG at 7.4 knots.†

 

Visibility lowers to 3 miles in rain and fog.† This gives us more practice in piloting.† It is one of those days when major items such as headlands, strong navaids, etc. can be seen at greater distances, but everything else disappears.† We round the "A" buoy off Montauk and head for the Great Salt Pond at Block Island.† As we do so, the light at Montauk Point winks at us every 5 seconds.

 

At 6:00 pm we transit the inlet to the Salt Pond.† Several crowded docks are seen at the south end, but the rest of the pond is occupied by scattered anchored boats.† We pick a spot and drop the hook.† For the first time in 24 hours, we are able to relax in beautiful silence.† We enjoy Friday's bluefish for dinner and collapse for the night.†

 

SUNDAY.† Sunday dawns bright and clear.† A look around the harbor shows better than 10 miles visibility. Back to bed for another hour's sleep.† When we arise the second time, there is dense fog all around.† This somewhat dampens our interest in exploring Block Island. Besides, we want to get on to Martha's Vineyard.† And so, at 8:00 am we depart, without having set foot on the Island.† The fog has lifted to half-mile visibility with denser patches; so all piloting is by means of timed courses with current vectors.† From the bell north of Block Island, we set a course for Buzzards Light, 28 miles east.† Seas are a sedate 1-foot and the fog lifts somewhat, but we still have heavy haze.† In the middle of this leg, alone on the sea, the Captain decides to take a much-needed shower on the swim platform.† The mate convinced him that it would be much more prudent to perform this operation in the cockpit.† Man, is it cold! Normally, the heat from the engines warms the entire fresh water supply to a pleasant 90 degrees or so.† Not this time!† We apparently hadn't been running long enough.†

 

Buzzard's Light is one of those offshore platforms like Ambrose.† It has a powerful strobe and a radiobeacon. We use the RBN to check that we're on course and in due time the light appears, then the platform.† We round Cuttyhunk Island and start up Vineyard Sound.† By now it is early afternoon and the haze has burned off somewhat.† We can see the string of islands that separate Buzzard's Bay from Vineyard Sound, as well as Martha's Vineyard itself.† The western end of Martha's Vineyard, Gay Head of 1210 fame, consists of high bluffs dropping off into the water.† The AP student will recall that there is deep water near Martha's Vineyard and deep water to the west. On the Vineyard side of the sound, there is a shoal that runs nearly the length of this 15-mile sound.† We could have caught a 1-knot advantage by scooting up the narrow part but we decide that discretion is the better part of valor and take the western side.†

 

We make a side trip to Wood's Hole to have a look around.† Wood's Hole connects Buzzard's Bay with Vineyard Sound, so the currents are strong.† I'm surprised that the waterfront consists largely of the Oceanographic Institute and the ferry docks.† No commercial activity.† Not even a fuel dock.†

 

We continue into Nantucket Sound, skirting the north shore of Martha's Vineyard.† Pleasure boating is intense. About 70% sail.† It looks like Tom's River.† Seas are about 2 feet and visibility is up to 5-10 miles.† In late afternoon we pull into Edgartown Harbor.†

 

Harbors in this part of the country are quite different from home.† First, there are few docks and many moorings.† Second, the docks are very expensive, 75 cents a foot for overnight.† I used to get a haulout and the bottom cleaned for that.† Third, the moorings are operated either by the local government or by commercial concerns.† Mooring rental is about $15 a night.† Fourth, docks and moorings are very crowded.†

 

The problem of getting ashore from your moored boat is neatly solved by another commercial operation, the launch service.† This is a diesel powered double-ended launch carrying about 14 people and looking like a lifeboat.† Two blasts on the horn or a call on channel 68 will bring this water taxi alongside for a ride to a pier at the center of town, $3 a person each way.†

 

When we enter Edgartown, the moorings are filled so we tread our way on up the river to a clear spot and drop the hook.† Some sailing in the Sportyak and a dinner later, we decide to forego a tour of the town. Edgartown is a pretty New England town with narrow streets and clapboard houses.† The waterfront area consists of restaurants, guest homes, and shops.† There is also the famous ferry to Chappaquiddick, shuttling back and forth over the 200 yards between the two islands.

 

An interesting technological effect is the presence of numerous windmills on the islands.† They range from units a couple of hundred feet in diameter to small units on rooftops.† Standard designs show that there are manufacturers building them.† They aren't homebuilt. Apparently the high cost of limited power from small generators makes these devices attractive.†

 

Another thing about the harbors of Edgartown and Nantucket, every time you think you've seen the largest yacht ever, a larger one will pull in.† Some are so large they can't swing on the moorings and have to anchor outside the harbor.† How about an all fiberglass and chrome schooner with a Boston Whaler on the stern deck behind the cockpit?† And the Whaler doesn't clutter the deck!†

 

MONDAY 8:00 am.† We awaken to dense fog.† We're barely able to pick our way down the river to depart Edgartown.† Once in open water it is back to timed courses and current vectors for our trip to Nantucket.† Since it is only 40 to 50 miles to Nantucket, we decide to really troll for fish, so we run very slowly.† The fog remains dense and the fish are disinterested.† An uncomfortable chop has come up.† We use the numerous ledges as signposts and are able to sight most of our buoys.† Finally, we run past our time on the last buoy 5 miles out of Nantucket.† No buoy and no ledge to go with it.† I finally break down and turn on the radar.† The island is laid out before us on the screen.† We've been carried east by wind and current and nearly missed the island completely.† A correction to the southwest puts us back in shape and soon the mile long jetties of Nantucket Harbor appear.†

 

Nantucket's moorings are commercially operated and we find an empty one for the night.† Shortly after settling in, the Skipper decides to explore the harbor in the sailing Sportyak.† Now, Nantucket is a busy harbor. Pleasure boats of all sizes, supply freighters, fuel barges, excursion boats, ferry boats, all come and go constantly. When we entered the harbor, there was a huge and very old sailing ship at one of the docks loading passengers. A tug later appeared and it is evident that this ship has no power of its own other than sail.† Now, in my 8-foot pram, tacking upwind along the waterfront in the fog, a whistle blast alerts me that the 150-foot excursion boat that I'm approaching is moving out.† Since I was only 50 feet away, I came about and headed seaward on a starboard tack.† To my horror, I'm now looking at two big black bows, one sailing ship, and one tug.† The tug is moving out with the shipload of passengers!† Reacting with lightning speed, I tack back on a port tack.† Much to my chagrin, I find that the tug captain had determined that I would clear safely on the starboard tack.† What I've done now is put myself squarely in his path.† Both tug and ship let me know of their displeasure with this turn of events by sounding the danger signal.† I never heard such a racket.† So, back to the starboard tack!† Of course, now I have the undivided attention of the entire harbor, including the crew of the Amberjack.† I slide gracelessly by the bow of the ship, some 20 feet away, while all the passengers gaze down on me in amusement. I decide I have seen enough of the harbor for one day and slink back to the Amberjack for a good stiff drink.

 

TUESDAY morning.† We hail the launch and ride it in to town for some shopping and touring.† Most of the town has been restored to the state it was in back when. I say back when, because a fire nearly totally destroyed Nantucket during its heyday.† The paving has been removed from the main street, revealing the original cobblestones.† Most of the sidewalks are brick.† The buildings have mostly been restored and now house restaurants, guest homes, and gift shops.† This being the height of the tourist season, the town is jammed with people and cars.† It is amusing to watch a full traffic jam on the narrow cobblestone streets.

 

Having consulted with the local dive shop, which doubles as a dry goods and camping store, we set out to dive the harbor jetties.† The water is crystal clear by our standards, visibility being in excess of 30 feet.† Depth of the bottom along the jetty varies from 10 feet to 35 feet.† Small fish up to 6 inches long are present by the thousands.† An occasional lobster can be seen peering out from a hole in the rocks.† Don and I travel along the jetty.† At one point, Don points to the dinghy painter.† We towed the dinghy with its dive flag along on top above us.† The dinghy painter is pointing straight up. We have gently gone from 10 feet to 35 feet of depth. Since we're low on air anyway, we surface and find we're on the seaward point of the jetty.†

 

That evening, having gotten the measure of the harbor, we anchor on the edge of the moorings (saves 15 bucks!) and prepare for dinner.† When I start down the companionway, my feet go out from under me and I fall down the four steps, winding up on the deck below. Subsequent X-rays, etc. show extensive contusions and a fractured rib.† For that night, however, I choose to just grin and bear it.† (By the way, I was wearing non-skid boating shoes.)†

 

WEDNESDAY. More fog!† We decide to do another dive.† I pull up to the fuel dock and Marilyn and Don hike off with the tanks on their shoulders while poor disabled me lies off and drops the hook to wait.† This time Marilyn and Don dive and I stay aboard.† By afternoon the weather is showing signs of clearing. During the night a stiff wind comes up and blows from the northwest.† Next morning, the several boats on our side of the mooring (mercifully downwind!) have all dragged their anchors, ours included.† The bottom is soft mud, poor holding.†

 

THURSDAY. Homeward bound!† We leave our stopover undefined and start back.† Despite forecasts of light winds and calm seas, we're soon taking a 4 to 6 foot chop.† Visibility is good but the ride is not comfortable. We cross through Quick's Hole from Vineyard Sound to Buzzard's Bay to get in the lee of the islands.† This gives us a respite and we cross Buzzard's Bay on the way to Newport, which now looks like a good layover.† As we work our way west into Rhode Island Sound, the seas rise into a nasty chop.† We throttle back to nearly an idle and are still taking a pounding on the port bow.† 4:00 pm finds us off the mouth of the Sakonnet River.† We choose to go up the Sakonnet instead of taking another two hours of pounding to make Newport.† At 5:00 pm, we anchor in quiet waters up the Sakonnet.† It is then that Marilyn discovers that we have water up to the floorboards in the bilges.† The pump strainer is totally covered with flotsam that was dislodged during our rough passage.† We get the pump pumping again and slowly empty the boat.† Too slowly!†

 

Water is streaming in near the chine on the starboard side.† Slowly and painfully I suit up and go over the side in scuba gear.† About 4 feet of a plank near the bow has started.† That is, started to pull away from the frames.† Due to my limited mobility, we decide to look for a yard to haul us.† The pump is staying ahead of the water, but we have to find a dock where we can get power to keep the batteries up.† We call the Castle Hill Coast Guard and advise them of our situation.† A police boat from Tiverton, 12 miles up the Sakonnet, calls and advises us that the Standish Boat Yard at Tiverton can handle us.† At 8:00 pm we tie up and relax.†

 

FRIDAY.† At about 10:00 am, we are hauled on the finest marine railway I've ever seen.† When the boat is up, there are pavement level walkways down both sides. The yard has an extensive ship's store and we have the repairs done in three hours.† The yard's working staff is on vacation so we have to do the work ourselves, but I prefer this arrangement.† There is a 5-foot tide range here and so we have a couple of hours to kill before launching.† We take this time to taxi me off to the hospital for examination and X-rays.† With the fracture confirmed, treatment consists only of strong painkillers. The fracture is too low to be taped.†

 

SATURDAY.† Time is getting short now.† The skipper wants to be at a meeting in Washington on Monday morning.† We leave Tiverton at 4:47 am in dense fog and on radar.† Seas are foggy but quiet to Block Island. NOAA weather is predicting a late afternoon cold front passage with thunderstorms, a sustained 25-knot wind and gusts to 40.† Clearly not for an ocean passage to Barnegat!† The chop is already building at the Salt Pond on Block Island.† I reason that if we can transit Block Island Sound into Long Island Sound, we can run down Long Island Sound in the lee of Long Island, thereby making progress without taking a beating.† This will add 20 miles to our trip.† The big disadvantage is that we will be bucking a strong tidal current most of the way.† I can't tell what Sunday will bring in negotiating the East River and New York Harbor.† For some reason, my copy of Reed's Almanac doesn't include current charts on these bodies of water.†

 

After a long, slow, but relatively smooth journey, we pull into Port Jefferson harbor at 8:30 pm in the dark.† While refueling, we find that we can tie up at the dock.† Due to the late hour, we do this. Some chowder from a dockside restaurant, two big martinis and a dose of painkiller later, the skipper passes out like a light.† The next morning, he's up bright and early and berating the crew for being sluggish.† It is then that the story of the night before comes out.† While I slept, (the medicine warns that use with alcohol will produce extreme drowsiness) the advertised storms swept down on Port Jeff with a vengeance.† Howling winds, torrential rains and much lightning kept the crew up most of the night.† Port Jeff has an 8-foot tide range.† Consequently, dock lines must be very long to accommodate the tide range.† In that wind, which was coming over the dock, the Amberjack was lying about 25 feet off.

 

SUNDAY.† We clear Port Jeff in a haze with calm seas at 7:45 am.† I'm happy to find us moving along briskly at 8.5 knots, about a 1-knot favorable current. But how long will it last?† If it reverses on us at Hell Gate, we will be brought to a virtual standstill in an area full of debris.† Planing to gain headway would be foolhardy.† Much to our delight, the peak of the current is with us and we speed through NYC at speeds as high as 11 knots!† Further, the sun is shining in earnest for the first time in 9 days!† The current carries us all the way to Sandy Hook by 3:00 pm.†

 

We enter Manasquan Inlet and are back in our home slip by 8:00 pm.† Despite the adversity of weather, accidents, and hardware failure, it was an enjoyable and economical return to the world of the cruising boatman.†

 

For documentation on this cruise, we chose the BBA Region 3 chart kit ($40) and Reed's Nautical Almanac ($13).† With the exception of the missing NYC current charts, they were easy to use and right up to date.