May/June 2021 Great Auk trip

Tags

, ,

Leaving Gouldsboro Bay, May 2021, on a nice northerly breeze
Photo credit Bonnie Kane

The bad news is that I have completely abandoned keeping logs. On the brighter side, photos remain both doable and engaging. So the departure date for this trip could be pieced together. It was a Thursday, at the end of May, and I was off for a little over three weeks. This was the sendoff from Gouldsboro Bay, with Chubba, Bonnie and friends.

Photo credit Shemaya Laurel

Initially I had thoughts of sailing to southern New England, and ridiculous amounts of food and water were stowed. But departure was a couple of weeks later than hoped because of how much time it took to complete all the 12 V wiring and autopilot installation. By a week after we were on our way (myself and Great Auk) the weather pattern was getting ready to change over to summer, with consistently south and west winds.

In the end, we went as far as the harbor in the Pemaquid River, on the west side of Pemaquid Point, around the backside of that big peninsula that is about halfway between Penobscot Bay and Portland. This was a good run, including some nice explorations of Muscongus Bay. Muscongus is the next big indentation in the coast west of Penobscot Bay, filled with interesting islands. I hadn’t been around that southwest corner of Penobscot Bay since the big move to Maine, over five years ago. It was nice to bust out a little bit.

The green arrow on the left is marking Pemaquid Point; the one on the right is at Joy Bay. The straight line distance between them is about 73 nautical miles, but it is of course a LOT farther on the water, working one’s way along the coast. It’s longer by car, too, getting around all those bays. The one-way drive takes a bit over three hours.
Muscongus Bay. Louds Island (more about that later) is in the upper middle of this picture, and the indentation in about the middle of the right hand side of the island is its lovely drying harbor. Pemaquid Neck is the big solid peninsula somewhat toward the left of the picture, with New Harbor on its eastern side, by the purple dot, and the Pemaquid River almost directly across on the western side.
New Harbor, on the east side of Pemaquid Point.
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel
In New Harbor. Those skinny vertical sticks keep dinghies from going where they don’t belong and getting into trouble when the tide gets high.
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel
The inner end of New Harbor. That’s a reversing falls over a small dam underneath the footbridge. Originally I anchored right in that pool, but it was going to be tricky when the tide went down. I thought I had it figured just so – you could see the rocks and the nice flat mud, through the incredibly clear water even at 12 feet deep. But one of the local residents was concerned and suggested I take a mooring not presently being used. That was peaceful! Then we were on our way very early the next morning, just before dawn.
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel
Sailing into the Pemaquid River – there was some current helping too.
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel
The day after arriving, Suzanne came to meet at the float in the state park. Then I went back to anchor for the next night. That’s the inflatable Alpacka Raft (seen in previous Auklet stories), being towed alongside.
Photo credit Suzanne Jean
Pushing the limits of anchoring near the shore… On the lower low tide first thing the next morning there was a certain amount of bumping on rocks. But it was easy enough to pull up the anchor, with the bottom so close, and get out the pushpole to move over into deeper water.
Photo credit Suzanne Jean

***

Some adventures were had, over the course of those three weeks, particularly related to sailing in somewhat more demanding conditions in order to take advantage of that early east wind. The boat is more capable than one would think from looking at its flat bottom and straight across barge bow. In a good breeze, down or across the wind, Great Auk likes to sail between 4 and 4 1/2 knots. The boat will go 5, but things start to feel strained, on both rigging and steering, and it makes more sense to reef (or reef more) and take the pressure off.

One morning, after several days of erroneous weather reports that forecast bigger wind which did not materialize, I chose a route that would’ve been perfectly reasonable in milder conditions than the ones that developed. I should not know that the boat is capable of what we did – in theory one would keep oneself out of that kind of situation – but it has been very relaxing to have this benchmark, now that it’s done. Taking smaller waves in this boat no longer fazes me in the least!

Looking off the stern, back at the Muscle Ridge Islands. This was after rounding the southern end of the islands, having gone outside rather than through the opposing current in the Muscle Ridge channel. A wiser, more conservative approach would have been to stay on the Vinalhaven side of the bay overnight, and catch the favorable tide the next day, although the forecast wind direction wasn’t so good for that. Who knew that the wind on this day was going to be stronger than forecast, rather than milder!
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel
You know it’s big when the islands disappear behind the wave when you’re in the trough!
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel
The view from inside the snug cabin. Not long after this, having gotten inside the islands, things settled down a good bit. It was an exciting ride downwind into Tenant’s Harbor, with turning the corner into Long Cove in all the blowing and waves, but once inside the cove the water was flat, and soon we were anchored in a nice, protected spot.
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel
This photo doesn’t do justice to this sweet shallow-water anchorage. Guillemots – small, companionable seabirds with bright orange feet – paddle around the boat, diving for fish, and the shoreline is gorgeous. It’s one of my favorite spots, and was perfect heaven, after all those waves.
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel

***

There were of course many peaceful harbors on this trip, as well as lovely visits with my Aunt Patsy and various friends, and some very sweet days of sailing. An especial standout was Louds Island in Muscongus Bay. This island has a drying harbor on the east side, and I had the good fortune to pass nearby at just the right time to get a good look at it at low tide, and then when the water came back to go in for the night. Bonus, while waiting for the tide the boat got to go down on a sand bar outside the harbor! Drying out on a sand bar was actually one of my goals for this expedition, and I had no idea that I would get to do it this soon. Because of this boat’s flat bottom, it’s perfect for settling down on tideflats. Downeast is almost entirely mud, wherever the water is peaceful enough to do this, which is not terribly satisfying for stepping off the boat when it’s aground. Sand is a completely other matter, and spending time on wide, protected sandflats was one of my motivations for wanting to sail to southern New England. Although I didn’t get there (this time), I did get to have my fun stepping off the boat onto this really nice bar. It made me incredibly happy.

This sandbar focus was not only a trip goal, but also a design goal of the boat. It was enormously satisfying getting to see it work.
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel
The boat turned after I let the anchor down, but originally I was trying to squeak into the harbor before the water was gone. I didn’t guess the correct path, but could see clearly to the bottom ahead of the boat, with a nice stretch of sand and no rocks. The breeze was coming from the right in this photo, and we were running downwind toward the left, reefed for slow speed, trying to get into the harbor that’s behind the camera. As the situation clarified, it made sense to let the boat run, quite slowly, right onto the sandbar, intentionally. That was fun! After anchoring, the boat eased over the high spot and floated again, where it turned before the rest of the water went out.
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel
It took two or three hours for the tide to finish going out and then to come back enough to actually enter the harbor. During that time we had a lovely visit from the person who lives right on that shore. So it was not only beautiful, but welcoming. Heavenly.
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel
Anchored inside the protected cove. This goes completely dry at low tide. There are small rocks, and a few spots with bigger ones, but checking when the tide was down there was an area that looked good – pretty flat and almost level, and no big rocks. So we anchored, with two anchors, trying to come down in that spot, which worked out fairly well. The tide was low in the night, and just starting to float the boat again at dawn. Interestingly, this made it possible to watch the boat nudge a smaller rock, maybe 8 inches in diameter, out of its way! As Great Auk came up it would swing gently, a couple of inches above the bottom, and encountering that rock would just push it a little farther with each swing to starboard. Of course this didn’t really matter with the tide rising, but I have the thought that this probably happens on the way down as well. How incredibly interesting to see the boat clear a smoother patch for itself.
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel

On this trip there was also quite a bit of night sailing. This was to catch the favorable wind and tide, but happened to coincide with that I enjoy being out in the night quite a lot. Further, so close to the solstice, one can go to sleep early, wake up at about 2 AM and set out in the dark, and by 3:30 AM the light is already starting to show in the eastern sky.

During the day there was a good bit of motoring, with that hefty 48 V Torqeedo. I do very little motoring at night, as it’s challenging to dodge the lobster pot buoys, which can get hung up in the motor. Under sail, the boat can just run right over them without problems. The boat really could use the second motor on the back – which I haven’t yet done – for good steering control in gusty changing wind when under power. But apart from that complication, the motor arrangement worked out amazingly well. The solar panels all over the top of the cabin make a real difference in range, even when the motor is drawing more electricity than the panels are producing. The solar charging extends the run time for a given battery bank considerably, and if one travels slowly on a sunny day – say about 2 knots on flat water – the charging will keep pace with the draw from the motor, making the run time unlimited. Routinely, dodging that south wind, we would start early before the breeze came up and motor for two or three hours to jump to the next harbor upwind, sometimes driving pretty hard into the breeze as it started to fill in for the day. The batteries replenished easily once the motor was not being used, and the entire trip was done without using any shore power at all, maintaining both 48 V battery banks, recharged to full capacity within a day of even quite demanding motor runs. Cloudy days charge more slowly, but still take care of business.

This is a Torqeedo 4.0 outboard, 48 V, running off of one or the other of two battery banks, each made of 4 (four) 12 volt 100 amp hour AGM batteries, connected in series to make the 48 V. The solar panels for the motor are 4 (four) 12 volt Xantrex 165 Watt flexible panels attached with adhesive to the top of the cabin. Interestingly, Xantrex technical support said that it would be fine to wire these in series, to make the output for 48 volt batteries – and it has been. But the instructions that came with the panels said that they should not be combined in that way. Regardless, it has worked out fine.

The charge controller is a “Victron BlueSolar MPPT 150/45-Tr” with which I’ve been hugely happy. It talks to the smartphone, and shows off how hard the solar panels have been working, including with a very informative history tab. So far, on a day with excellent sunshine and lots of motor use, the maximum energy produced has been shown as 4 kW, which works out to roughly 80 amp hours for that one day. Not bad!

Piecing together the plan for that system was an enormous job. I am not receiving anything for mentioning the manufacturers, and am including the information above only in hopes of helping others along the way.

Anyway, that’s how we got around: sometimes sailing, when the wind was blessedly workable (no significant upwind sailing in this barge houseboat), often motor sailing, and rarely motoring with the sail not even raised. One of the advantages of having put so much time and effort into sailing motorless over these last years is that I was able to gauge situations of limited wind, judging how long it would take to do what I was hoping to do, as far as destinations and timing, if entirely under sail. Those runs entirely under sail can be exhausting, and the comparison to what was possible using the motor was striking. I have rather sheepishly been telling numerous friends and acquaintances that I’ve become “motor woman.” But at least there are no fossil fuels involved!

Eventually it became clear that it was time to turn around, and let go of the big southerly goal. Every single day in the extended 10 day forecast promised south and southwest winds, with the pattern likely to continue. Also, I felt that my health was not as up to snuff as I would have liked, for venturing so far from home. Sometimes being on the boat has been truly magical, with my well-being improving the longer I stayed. This time, it was instead going the other way. Too many crazy nights, and long days, and apparent limits to the stamina I had upon which to draw.

Suzanne came to meet me in Pemaquid Harbor, to help with doing an adjustment on the autopilot motor position, which had been shifted on the day with those big waves. We had not foreseen a couple of tools, and bolts, that would be needed to really complete this repair in a lasting way, and at a three hour drive from home, I was already well beyond how far Suzanne wanted to travel to meet me, though she generously made that trek, with both tools and supplies. All of the various issues converged, and after Suzanne had gone home, I decided to make Pemaquid my turnaround point.

In hindsight, that was an excellent call. There wasn’t another decent batch of easterly wind for close to a month, and it didn’t last – we are solidly into the summer weather pattern. And there was fun to be had along the way, heading back east.

Not being in a rush anymore, I went all the way up to the head of Penobscot Bay, had some lovely visits with sailor friends, and then ventured up the Penobscot River to Bangor, some 25 river miles inland. (In the chart shown earlier, Bangor is a bit further north, outside the frame where the Penobscot River runs off the top edge of the chart.) This diversion was partly for the adventure, but mostly to get to do more visiting, with friends made over this past year and a half via zoom, as we have worked together to address the woeful state of US politics during these last few years. Some adventure was had on the river, which should have its own post. The lovely visits made it all worth it.

Coming into the Bucksport town float, after going under that beautiful bridge.
Photo credit David A. Weeda
Thank you David, and everybody in Solidarity Bucksport, for all of your work, and for making the time to say hello and take this beautiful picture!
Photo credit David A. Weeda
East Hampden, just south of Bangor. Such a treat to finally meet in person! And Great Auk lived up well to its plans as a party boat.
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel

***

Then I ran for home. It’s amazing what the motor makes possible. By motor sailing when the breeze was in those light times, which previously, in other boats, involved tremendous amounts of floating around, Great Auk and I got a good head start on the miles. Once the wind would really fill in for the day we would blast along entirely under sail. We left from East Hampden, a mile or so south of Bangor, at 3:30 AM, just as the tide started to run out. With the assist of that marvelous current in the river – outbound tide plus the river’s natural flow – we had covered the 23 miles to where the river opens into Penobscot Bay by about nine in the morning.

The current has to run pretty hard, to pull a buoy over like that. This is in the narrows just above Bucksport. We flew!
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel

Once out of the river, as there was so much of the day left to go, and another couple of hours of workable tide to make the turn that one really must get to before the incoming tide starts running strongly north, we hustled south, and indeed got around the corner of Cape Rosier before everything turned. This set things up for riding the flood tide further toward home, and by the end of the day we were putting the anchor down in Mackerel Cove on Swan’s Island, some 50+ miles from where we had begun that morning. In a barge houseboat! The design really has been showing itself surprisingly capable.

The next day would have been ideal for sailing home the rest of the way, on a good 10 to 15 southwest wind, but it would have been another long day, and rest was in order. The day off was delightful, in such a pretty spot.

My favorite corner of Mackerel Cove, on Swans Island.
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel

The morning after that the tide was not right until about 10 AM, so there was no need for a crazy-early start. There was also not a tremendous amount of wind. We got underway using the same approach from the other day, motor-sailing during the morning light breeze to get a bit of a head start, and running all under sail once the wind filled in. (I still cringe to admit this part about the motor, particularly on this blog where I know that some confirmed motorless sailors are reading about this unfortunate conversion.)

By evening we had covered another 33 miles, and were back in Joy Bay, anchored for the night and ready to go in to our float with the early morning high tide. This was none too soon, as there does seem to be a more significant health thing going on, rather than the regular run of long-term issues that can be accommodated one way or another. And it’s nice to be home!

6 AM approach to our float in Joy Bay.
Photo credit Suzanne Jean

Now I’ve been back for a few weeks, regaining some strength, and having decided that manual hauling of a heavy primary anchor and chain has become a serious impediment to my solo boat fun, as well as to the range of crew possibilities. Great Auk is in the process of acquiring an electric windlass. Installation is not simple, but is progressing. That will get its own post.

Windlass arrangement in progress…
Photo credit Shemaya Laurel

In the meantime, it was a great trip to start off the summer. The starry and moonlit night sailing was exceptional, and the boat has shown itself to be a sturdy traveler. Being just early July, and with excellent sailing possible through September, we are hoping for a good bit more.

At Louds Island, Muscongus Bay, June 2021.
Photo credit Frank S. Plimpton

~~~~~~~~~~~~